(Originally Written by B.C. on October 13, 2012)
If you’ve had the opportunity to know me well enough, then you’ll know that I consider myself to be an enthusiast (I’ll refer to enthusiasts like myself as “fans” for convenience sake for the duration of this article) of the sport of basketball, particularly when basketball is played at its highest level in the National Basketball Association. Like many other fans of the sport of basketball, I’ll occasionally engage in conversation with other basketball fans about the current state of the sport, and depending on who you talk to, the NBA is over. Finished. Dead. Being that I’m a young black man who’s been born and raised in a small southern town, I’m very attentive of remarks that are made with a racist undertone, and such sentiments tend to continually resurface whenever the NBA is the topic of conversation between myself and many whites who are generally over the age of 25 . The recurring response regarding the NBA goes something like this: “The NBA players are too flashy”, “They lack mainstream appeal”, or the most classic line that I often hear is, “They’re overpaid”. When I hear such remarks from whites, the question I ask myself is this, “What are they implying , especially when the NBA is approximately 80 percent black, as of 2012?”
As noted earlier, I consider myself an avid fan and observer of basketball, and I will agree there is a noticeable general decline in fundamental basketball skills on every level for the past twenty-plus years, and I’ll be one of the first to admit that. However, no player can possibly play basketball for the best basketball league in the world with no fundamentals whatsoever. Many whites imply that these players attempt to play a style of basketball that exceeds the boundaries and fundamentals of the game. However, I would argue that the high-flying, acrobatic style of play that’s generally been affiliated with the black players of the NBA, is the very same style of play that has made the NBA such a widely popular sports league that’s embraced worldwide. I would also like to add that many of the NBA’s most celebrated and prolific players in history, such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James to name a few, played or are currently playing that flamboyant and explosive style of basketball that white detractors of the NBA are so highly critical of.
Since I’ve just mentioned a few of the NBA’s biggest names in history, it leads me to touch on the topic of the players’ popularity, or a term I’ve heard and read many white fans and white media members refer to as an NBA players’ “mainstream appeal”. The NBA is a global sport, with the 1992 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team, better known as the “Dream Team”, greatly contributing to the sport’s burgeoning popularity on an international stage. That being stated, out of 12 players on that “Dream Team” roster, 8 of those players were black, including their two biggest stars, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Many whites I’ve spoken with on the topic of the NBA claim that they were once fans, particularly from the early 80’s until the late 90’s, which also happened to coincide with the retirement of arguably the NBA’s most popular star ever (and black player as well), Michael Jordan, in 1999. Some of the NBA’s incoming young black players during the late 90’s, such as Allen Iverson, were highly scrutinized and scorned because of his perceived image by many white fans as a product of the 90’s hardcore gangster rap generation, because of his tattoos, braided hair, and history of incarceration. As a result of this contempt for Allen Iverson and others held in the same regard by many white fans, many of these white fans claimed to have walked away from watching the NBA, thus their reasoning for the NBA not lacking “mainstream appeal”. The fact remains, during his tenure there, that Mr. Iverson was almost singlehandedly responsible for positively changing the fortunes of the team that he made his claim to NBA fame with, the Philadelphia 76ers.
One would be lead to believe that this perceived public image shared by many whites about the NBA’s black players would affect the profitability of the league and its business affiliates. I find this premise to be quite the opposite. For example, Nike, the athletic apparel giant, has benefited largely because of its past and present roster of endorsers of its footwear and apparel. Black players such as Jordan, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Gary Payton, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Blake Griffin, to name a few, are among the elite NBA stars to contribute to the financial and pop culture success of Nike, with its customers comprising of people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, gender, and economic status. Other companies, such as McDonald’s, T-Mobile, Gatorade, and Coca-Cola, also have received great financial gain selecting many of these black NBA players to endorse their product, often times doing so by involving these players in elaborate global advertising campaigns. So, with all of this money flowing into the pockets of the NBA and its business partners (the NBA claimed to have lost money in recent years, which resulted in an extensive labor dispute between the NBA players and their team owners in the summer of 2011), many whites continue to feel as if the players are still overpaid, although the owners of the teams are multi-billionaires. and the NBA itself continues to be one of the most prosperous sports leagues despite several of its franchises losing money. Are these athletes overpaid? Or are the ultra-wealthy owners of these NBA teams responsible for allowing their players to even negotiate for a possibility to receive these multi-million dollar contracts that many whites seem to have issue with?
I conclude this by stating that many white Americans seem to have major issues with the professional basketball league that is the National Basketball Association, based off my personal observations. Issues that these whites don’t even seem to have with the NFL, which is also a predominately black sport, yet it is the most popular and profitable sport in the United States. What could the issue be that these white sports fans (and casual observers of the NBA) seem to have with the sport? Is it the quality of play? Is it the lack of likability of its players that seems to ostracize the white fans? Or is it the mere fact that these young black basketball players, often with little or no college education, make millions of dollars annually?
As a follow up to the material that is written above by Yours Truly, I originally wrote those words above back in 2012. Fast forward two years later, and racial tensions have heightened even more around the country. Non-Black celebrities and public figures have taken liberties to utter disrespectful words about the African-American community (Does Paula Deen and Donald Sterling ring a bell, anyone?). There are reports of racial profiling and police brutality towards Blacks on a nationwide scale, and Blacks are taking to the streets in protest of these unjust practices against them. The latest case of racist remarks towards Blacks would be none other than Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson. Apparently, Levenson takes issue with Phillips Arena’s (home of the Hawks) attendees being predominately Black, regardless of the fact that Atlanta is a majority Black city fill with African-Americans who have the disposable income to afford to go to Hawks games as they please. To make matters worse, this summer, former NBA player and current Hawks G.M. Danny Ferry made similarly nasty remarks concerning then-free agent Luol Deng, whom he tried to recruit to come play for the Hawks. I’m stating all of this because despite the NBA being a a predominately Black league with a strong marketing and grassroots connection to hip-hop culture, many non-Black fans share the sentiments of both Bruce Levenson and Danny Ferry, which brings my previously written blog back full circle.