NewBlackMan: They Ain’t Wealthy, They Are Rich: Economic Lessons from the NBA Lockout

Shaq is rich; the white man that signs his check is wealthy. Here you go Shaq, go buy yourself a bouncing car. Bling-Bling . . . . I ain’t talking bout Oprah, I’m talking about Bill Gates. OK!. If Bill Gates woke up tomorrow with Oprah’s money, he would jump out a …window. I’m not talking about rich, I’m talking about wealthy—Chris Rock

They Ain’t Wealthy, They Are Rich: Economic Lessons from the NBA Lockout

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

In headline after headline, in commentary after commentary, the NBA lockout has been described as a battle between “millionaires” and “billionaires.” Reductionist in many ways, the effort to construct the lockout as a struggle between two different yet similar parties (the owners are not part 99% although some of the players surely are) reflects a problematic conflation of two distinct groups. In “Why We Can’t Dismiss The NBA Labor Dispute As ‘Millionaires Versus Billionaires,’” Scott Keyes warns against the tendency to link and otherwise obliterate substantive differences between players and owners: “Conflating the two groups as similarly-placed economic royalists, neither of whom deserve sympathy from an American public grappling with a depressed economy, is understandable. But to create an equivalency between millionaire players and billionaire owners obscures a scarier picture regarding the players’ long-term economic prospects.” Discussing the very different long term economic prospects between owners and players, Keyes points to several larger issues at work: the differences between workers and owners, the differences between a salary and an investment, and the very different economic futures of each group.

Yet, one of the more striking aspects of the media coverage and public discussions of the NBA lockout is a continued inability to distinguish between income and wealth. This isn’t surprising given shows Cribs and media focus on player salaries. The danger, however, is quite evident. In a society where, according to a recent study from Brandeis University, black and white wealth inequality has dramatically increased in the 23 years from 1984 to 2007, the failures to distinguish between the wealth of players and owners has a larger context. Accordingly,

The gap between Black and white households ballooned during the 23-year study period, as white families went from a median of about $22,000 in wealth to $100,000 – a gain of $78,000. In the same period, Black household wealth inched up from a base of $2,000 per family to only $5,000. The sweat and toil of an entire generation had netted Black families only $3,000 additional dollars, while white families emerged from the period with a net worth of 100 grand that can be used to send a couple of kids to college, make investments, help out other family members, or contribute to the larger (white) community.

In other words, despite the accumulated income (some wealth) by a handful of African American athletes and entertainers, and a growing black middle-class, black-white wealth disparities have increased and that was before the economic downturn. The NBA lockout offers a window into the larger issues of wealth disparity and power differentials and the ways in which race-based wealth disparities operate in myriad of American institutions. The efforts by the owners to further the disparity in income and wealth, while very different given the salaries of scale, illustrates the level of disparity that defines class and racial inequality in the twenty-first century.

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: They Ain’t Wealthy, They Are Rich: Economic Lessons from the NBA Lockout.

NewBlackMan: Not a Question of Courage: Anti-Black Racism and the Politics of the NBA Lockout



Not a Question of Courage:

Anti-Black Racism and the Politics of the NBA Lockout

by David J. Leonard

Following an exhibition game in Philadelphia, Michael Tillery asked the following of Carmelo Anthony:

Michael Tillery: Carmelo I don’t know if anyone asked you this but the fans are wondering why there isn’t such of a…NBA presence…NBA players coming out and speaking on this issue (NBA lockout) publicly like in the NFL…like in other situations.

Carmelo Anthony: “We’re not allowed. We’re not allowed. I mean everybody has their own opinion…you hear people talk here and there…but nobody don’t really come out and say what they really want to say. That’s just the society we live in. Athletes today are scared to make Muhammad Ali type statements.”

Not surprisingly, his comments have led to questions about today’s NBA players, their resolve, their commitment, heart, and courage. For example, one blogger offered the following: “What does Carmelo mean by “we’re not allowed”? Who’s stopping them? Is Carmelo right? Do you think athletes are punks in the modern era as opposed to the way Muhammad Ali stuck his neck out for Vietnam? Maybe these guys should just man up and make changes!” Kelly Dwyer was similarly dismissive, questioning Anthony’s reference to Ali:

Oh, Carmelo. He’s not lying. He’s not wrong. But comparing Ali’s stand against a conflict in Southeastern Asia that had gone terribly wrong to a discussion over the sharing of actual billions of dollars in Basketball Related Income is the absolute height of absurdity. Yes, athletes today are scared to make Muhammad Ali-type statements (as is the case with most people that want to keep their jobs), but the application of an anecdote like that to a situation like the NBA lockout is completely and utterly wrong.

While folks in the blogosphere used Melo’s comments to incite division and to chastise the union for silencing its members, it would seem that his comments demonstrate the ways that race impacts the lockout while illustrating the potential efforts from the union to manage and mediate the racially based contempt faced by NBA players. As Michael Tillery told me, “The NBA more than any other pro league seems to have an image problem based more on race than anything. You could say the league is more popular when a white player is doing superstar things.” As such, you cannot understand these comments outside a larger of this large racial landscape.

To understand Carmelo Anthony’s comments require a larger context. His comments (and the lockout itself) are very much tied to the larger history of the NBA and race. For example, in wake of the Palace Brawl, the NBA implemented a series of draconian policies that sought to both appease white fans and corporate sponsors who were increasingly uncomfortable with its racial optics, all while disciplining the players to comply and embody a different sort of blackness. According to Michael Tillery, the brilliant commentator, “Since the Brawl and even going back to Kermit Washington’s punch of Rudy Tomjonovich, a case could be made that any outspoken player in any regard is influenced to be silenced simply to protect the NBA brand because of an apparent race disconnect.”

The owner’s intransigent position and demands for a hard cap (although at the time of writing the owners appear to have softened on this position, at least at a surface level), major reduction in player access to league revenues, and a myriad of others positions all seem to reflect a sense of leverage. In other words, the owners seem to be trying to capitalize on the contempt and animosity that has long plagued NBA players, a fact worsened by the assault on blackness that followed the Palace Brawl. In a brilliant interview with Michael Tillery, Ron Artest reflects on the public perception and demonization of NBA players that reflects larger racial animus and ideology: “The NBA is not a thug league. There’s a couple of players that grew up similar to rappers who have grown up. What are they going to lynch us for that too? It’s not our fault that we grew up that way. We are talented and smart.”

The lockout represents an attempt to capitalize on the perception of NBA players as thugs, as criminals, as greedy, and undeserving anti-role models. It appears to be an effort to convert the leverage and power that comes from the narrative and ideological assumptions so often linked to black players into greater financial power for the league’s owners.

In thinking about Melo’s comments and the overall reticence of players to speak about the current labor situation leaves me thinking that this is a concerted strategy to combat the advantages that the owners possess (the NBA version of a southern strategy). The union is most certainly trying to correct the public relations difficulties that faced in 1998 (and throughout its history), obstacles that emanate from America’s racial landscape.

Continue reading NewBlackMan: Not a Question of Courage: Anti-Black Racism and the Politics of the NBA Lockout.