“Basketball and Chain” by Hank Willis Thomas
Putting the “Run Away Slaves” Ahead of the Plantation:
Parity, Race and the NBA Lockout
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
In wake of LeBron James’ decision to take his talents, along with those of Chris Bosh, to South Beach to join forces with Dwayne Wade, the NBA punditry has been lamenting the demise of the NBA. This only became worse with the subsequent trades of Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey and New York respectfully. Described as a league “out of control in terms of the normal sports business model” where player power “kills the local enthusiasm for the customer and fan base,” where superstars leave smaller markets with no hope of securing a championship, where manipulating players and agents have created a game dominated by “players whose egos are bigger than the game,” much has been made about player movement.
Commentators have lamented how players are yet again destroying the game from the inside, thinking of themselves ahead of its financial security and cultural importance. In “NBA no longer fan-tastic,” Rick Reilly laments the changing landscape facing the NBA. Unlike any other sport, the NBA is now a league where “very rich 20-somethings running the league from the backs of limos,” are “colluding so that the best players gang up on the worst. To hell with the Denvers, the Clevelands, the Torontos. If you aren’t a city with a direct flight to Paris, we’re leaving. Go rot.” In other words, this line of criticism have warned that “the inmates are running the asylum,” so much so that the league “is little more than a small cartel of powerful teams, driven by the insecurities and selfishness of the players who stack them.”
While such rhetoric erases history (of trades – players of the golden generation have certainly demanded trades; the same can be said for other sports as well) and works from a faulty premise that parity is good for the economics of the NBA (the very different television monies for the NBA and NFL proves the faultiness of this logic), the idea that the league needs more parity remains a prominent justification for the NBA lockout. “The owners believe that the league should be more competitive and that teams should have an opportunity to make a profit,” notes David Stern. Similarly, Adam Silver, deputy commissioner, argues, “Our view is that the current system is broken in that 30 teams are not in a position to compete for championships.”
Such rhetoric and Stern’s ubiquitous statements about the NBA needing a dramatic restructuring builds upon argument that the NBA’s future is tied to its ability to thwart players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, and potentially Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and others from taking their talents anywhere.