NewBlackMan: Not About a Salary, but a Racial Reality: The NBA Lockout in Technicolor

Not About a Salary, but a Racial Reality: The NBA Lockout in Technicolor

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

With the NBA lockout reaching a new low (or a return low) with David Stern’s announcement of the cancellation of the first two weeks, the class of pundits have taken to the airwaves to lament the developments, to asses blame, and offer suggestions of where to go from here. Not surprisingly, much of the commentaries have blamed players for poor tactical decisions, for wasting any potential they may have had over the summer, and for otherwise being too passive. Take Harvey Araton, from The New York Times, who while arguing that the players will need to take risks in order to secure leverage, speculates about a potential missed opportunity:

If it sounds unrealistic to suggest that the modern player might have considered striking first — or at least threatening one before last spring’s playoffs — that is only because the tactic has become virtually anathema, which is a mighty curious weapon for a union to concede.

While on the phone, Fleisher looked up the language in the expired collective bargaining agreement on Pages 264-265 that prohibited players from impeding N.B.A. operations. But supposing the players had gone ahead and walked out on the eve of the playoffs after they’d all been paid their regular-season hauls?

Fleisher guessed they would have opened themselves and their individual contracts up to a court action. Or maybe the owners — petrified at the thought of their profit season being flushed — might have agreed to a no-lockout pledge for the start of this season. Who knows? But sometimes risk begets reward.

While abstract at a certain level, the argument makes sense. Had the players been more aggressive, had they taken steps earlier, had they capitalized on past leverage, the situation might be different. Yet, we don’t live in an abstract world. The realities on the ground precluded such steps (see here for my past discussion). If the efforts to blame players, to demonize them as greedy, selfish, and out-of-touch during a LOCKOUT is any indication how the public might have reacted to a player strike, especially one starting at the playoffs, the strategy suggested here is pure silliness.

Moreover, it fails to understand the ways in which race operates in the context of sports and within broader society. The public outcry against LeBron James for exercising his rights of free agency, the condemnation of Deron Williams or Carmelo Anthony for deciding that they wanted to play elsewhere, and the overall vitriol directed at players illustrates both the impossibility of any player leverage and the ways in which race undermines any structural power the players may enjoy. The owners possess the power of the racial narrative that both guides public opinion and fan reaction.

We can make similar links to the larger history of African American labor struggles, where black workers have struggled to secure support from the public at large because of longstanding ideas of the lack of fitness/desirability of African Americans in the labor force. In other words, fans, just as the public in past labor struggles, see the black body as inherently undeserving and thus any demands for fairness, equality, and justice are seen as lacking merit. On all counts, the commentaries fail to see the ways and which blackness and anti-black racism constraints the tools available to the players.

Even those commentaries that ostensibly exonerate the players in highlighting David Stern’s strategy of throwing the players under the proverbial racial bus (his race card) with the hopes that the public will ultimately turn against the players (mostly there already) erases race from the discussion. For example, in “Stern ducks, lets NBA players take hit,” Adrian Wojnarowski highlights the difficulty facing NBA players and how that reality guides the intransigent position from the firm of Stern and owners. “So, there was the biggest star in the sport waddling onto the sidewalk on 63rd Street in Manhattan on Monday night without the kind of big-stage, big-event scene that the commissioner always loves for himself in the good times,” he writes. “He knows the drill now: Step out of the way, and let the angry mobs run past him and the owners. Let them chase his players down the street, around the corner and all the way to the lockout’s end and beyond.”

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Not About a Salary, but a Racial Reality: The NBA Lockout in Technicolor.

NewBlackMan: Taking Their Talents to the Rucker, Watts and Manila: What Lockout?

Taking Their Talents to the Rucker, Watts and Manila: What Lockout?

Taking Their Talents to the Rucker, Watts and Manila: What Lockout?

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

In recent weeks, LeBron James decided to take his talents to a high school gym in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and a number of other NBA players decided to take their talents to the Philippines and Kevin Durant took his talents to Rucker Park. On, August 2, Kevin Durant dropped 66 during a Rucker Park game. For the footage I was able to watch, it wasn’t an average 66 but a performance that included several thrilling dunks, smooth drives to the basket, and a sick number of three pointers over at times three “defenders.” His performance wowed an excited crowd and has mesmerized fans on YouTube (almost 600,000 views for one video of his performance). Marc Berman describes the scene as a reminder of how “how much the hardcore fans still love this game, why it matters, why an NBA season can not be lost so billionaires can get a sweetheart deal.” Emphasizing the context of the lockout, Berman illustrates how this was not just another July game at the Rucker.

It was quite a basketball doubleheader on Monday – covering the lockout labor talks at a ritzy midtown hotel on 52nd Street and Park Avenue, then cabbing it 100 blocks uptown to Harlem for Kevin Durant.

More than 2,500 fans jammed into Rucker Park – standing room only on 155th street and 8th Avenue. The 6-11 OKC superstar played for free and the fans of the EBC Rucker League watched for free, but what they saw was priceless.

Going from the disillusioning labor talks and the dour David Stern bashing the Players Association to Monday night’s basketball bedlam in Harlem was a shot in the arm for this basketball scribe.

The game was living and breathing and still pure, with fans screaming their lungs out, jumping up and down in their metal bleacher seats, almost every time Durant brought the ball up court. Durant, wearing the orange of DC Power, dumped a near EBC Rucker record 66 points on the Sean Bell All-Stars . . ..

Durant was not done. For his encore, he scored a mere 41 in a pro-Am game at Baruch College once again reminding fans around the globe of the amazing talents of NBA stars. Yet, this performance was overshadowed by the efforts of John Lucas III, who netted 60 in that game.

Durant has not been the only one ballin’ this summer. LeBron James played at in the Drew Summer League dropping 33 points at the Leon H. Washington Park gym, which is located in the heart of Watts, California. Casper Ware described the situation as “a great experience.” Challenging the media demonization of LeBron, the senior guard from Long Beach State was immensely complementary of James: “He was still passing even though he was LeBron. He just wanted me to play my game. He told me, ‘Don’t stand around and just throw me the ball. Play your game. I can get mine. Play your game and don’t change for me.’ He was very cool and down to earth. You could talk to him like any other player.” From coast to coast, NBA basketball fans have been treated to the greatness of the league.

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: Taking Their Talents to the Rucker, Watts and Manila: What Lockout?.