Opinion: Why NBA Players Missed Their Shot At Sterling


/ April 30, 2014

Yesterday, the world watched NBA commissioner Adam Silver take to a podium in New York City to deliver a passionate message to the NBA family, fans, players and owners: the NBA will not tolerate racism.

Commissioner Silver stood, visibly shaken from the weekend’s events, and said, “I am personally distraught that the views expressed by Mr. Sterling,” acknowledging that Sterling’s words may have “caused current and former players, coaches, fans and partners of the NBA to question their very association with the league.”

“To them, and pioneers of the game like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly Magic Johnson, I apologize,” Silver continued. “Accordingly, effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA.”

In one swift speech, Silver rid the NBA of old-boy’s cancerous way of thinking (which still exists in others, but is surely dying out with archaic-minded people like him), dropped knowledge on the history of the game by crediting the first African-Americans to join the NBA, a league which is now more than 80% fueled by minorities, and made a historic statement that dramatically affirmed what all in attendance and watching around the globe hoped to be true: The NBA isn’t a home for bigotry.

On Sunday, when the eight NBA teams took the floor, including the Warriors and the Clippers, they had the same stage as Silver. The world was watching and waiting to see how they’d respond… and they wore black socks.

Some players like Laker guards Kendal Marshall and Kobe Bryant took to Twitter to sound off. The NBA’s leading man LeBron James went on record to say there was no place for Sterling in the NBA and add, “I believe in Adam, I believe in the NBA.” While it was great to see James and others go public with their opinions, the actions just didn’t hit hard enough.

This was their opportunity to prove that they’re more than just athletes, more than just people who push products through brands. Sitting out of the playoffs until this was issue was resolved would’ve spoken louder than any tweet or post-game soundbite ever could.

Not to condemn or single out Los Angles Clippers star Chris Paul, a person who has earned respect for his conduct on and off the court, but there was just so much room here for him to standup. More than any other player, as the star of the Clippers, this was his time to be the leader we love to declare him to be. Choosing to rock a black pair of socks is the type of fake-caring activism our generation “likes” to casually do on Facebook and Twitter with retweets as if that actually does anything.

Paul—along with every other NBA player that took the floor before Silver’s ruling—failed those before him and those to come. While it has surfaced that some teams were prepared to boycott the playoffs if Sterling’s punishment was demeaned unsatisfactory, we have to ask, why did they need to wait? The greats of our past like Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali didn’t need to see what happened before calling a summit to support Ali’s decision not to report to the U.S. Army. They took meaningful action.

Recently, Brown has made statements referring to that summit. He declared he wouldn’t invite Bryant because he didn’t grow up in America and doesn’t quite get the plight of his athletic forefathers. Well, this generation’s crop of African-American athletes had a chance to take a stance and failed. So just who would be left—from the NBA at least—for Brown to invite?

This isn’t about shamming NBA players; the only villain here is Sterling. Things did move quickly this weekend and perhaps the players felt that by playing for each other and the fans they represent, they’d rise above the hate-filled situation. But juxtapose Silver’s actions and those of the players and it illustrates both how far we’ve come as a country and far removed African-American athletes are from our past.

James said he believed in the NBA as a brand and Silver as a commissioner. However, after the non-action of the players, what are he, and the rest of the league, saying to those who emulate their every move and want to believe in them?