Sunday 25 February 2018 / 04:34 AM

The state of racism in today's NBA

When it comes to writing an article on racism in sport (or racism in general, for that matter) it’s always going to wind up being an op-ed piece.


Because determining whether or not certain actions or words are to be deemed racist, or the extent to which they are so, is a subjective task.

And face it, whether the writer is white or black (white in my case just to get that elephant out of the room), readers will understandably take the race of the author into consideration when judging the point of view of the content.

There’s no reason to get all up in arms about this, it’s simply human nature.

While certain elements surrounding the current racial controversies facing the NBA are indisputable facts, others are not. Bear in mind that the following narrative is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the sentiments of everyone here at Commentary Box Sports.

Donald Sterling sets the stage for a new playing field

As with every other major sports league in the United States, the NBA has a dark history when it comes to racism. As late as the 1980’s, the league was still struggling to grow as vast swaths of the American public found the NBA to be “too urban” for their liking, a PC code for “too black” long before political correctness had taken center stage.

Nowadays the idea that teams line up with an excess of black players to suit the tastes of a white audience sounds absurd. The general consensus is that only the most backwards of honky-tonk rednecks would choose their favorite player based solely on race.

Go to any NBA arena and the stands will be packed with white fans wearing the jersey of black players.

As far as fans are concerned, racist elements in the NBA had all but dried up and gone by the wayside with the tri-colored ball and high-riding three-stripe shorts.

And then Donald Sterling strolled in to bust up the party.

The recorded comments of the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers caused this whole castle of illusion that “racism in the NBA is gone” to come crashing down in a pile of dust.

The league swiftly moved to kick “the one racist guy” out of the picture and tried to clean up the mess by forcing Sterling to sell the franchise. But the damage has been done.

Sterling has increased the size of the microscope under which all future racial controversy will be viewed.

Danny Ferry and his leave of absence

Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry recently began a leave of absence to undergo sensitivity training following the release of a recorded conference call where he described free agent Luol Deng as someone who ”has a little African in him.”

”He’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back,” Ferry went on to say.

Deng, who was born in what is now South Sudan, went on to sign with the Heat, but he had this to say about Ferry’s comments:

“I am saddened and disappointed that this way of thinking still exists today. I am even more disturbed that it was shared so freely in a business setting.”

And the second part of this comment is really what’s most telling.

Ferry and the Hawks are reeling now, trying to pin the blame on Ferry alone, but his statement was made during the context of a conference call with several other team leaders. Considering the fact that nothing was said about the comments until after the tape became public, it’s safe to say that the other executives on the call had no problems with Ferry’s racially-charged analogy that truly had no reference point to the basketball court.

If one team’s upper management condones racist statements behind closed doors, so much to the extent that a General Manager feels comfortable enough to make them on a recorded call, one has to wonder what’s going on behind the scenes with other front offices around the league.

Off with his head!

Many fans and media outlets are calling for Ferry to be sacked, but both Commissioner Adam Silver and Hawks CEO Steve Koonin have resisted the idea that the GM’s actions are an outright fireable offense.

I tend to agree.

Assuming that the comments are an isolated incident, Ferry’s words are something that ought to be punished severely but they are also being blown slightly out of proportion in light of the added pressure surrounding the controversy’s close proximity to the Sterling fiasco.

That being said, it’s possible that Atlanta will have their hand forced to take a different direction down the road at GM should players and free agents take issue with playing under Danny Ferry.

Bruce Levenson to sell his share of the team

During the process of investigating the Ferry incident, an email from Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson surfaced where he had made several polemic remarks about the role black fans were playing in ticket sales.

As soon as the release of the email came to his attention, Levenson announced on his own accord that he would be selling his stake in the franchise.

Personally I don’t find the content to be racist, but instead of using a few quoted lines read entirely out of context, a better approach is to read the entire email before making your own judgment as to whether or not you believe Levenson’s observations were racist in nature.

While he could certainly have reworded many of his sentences, overall I didn’t get the impression that he himself is a racist. If anything he was expressing his frustration with marketing to a white fan-base in a historically racist region.

I argue that had an owner expressed similar ideas about increasing the attendance of black fans by playing less country music and making the game experience less “white” that few people would have batted an eye.

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar issued a similar sentiment. He wrote, “I read Levenson’s email. Here’s what I concluded: Levenson is a reasonable businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats.”

Of course, once again, given the fact that Levenson’s email cannot be read in isolation from Donald Sterling’s audio recording, it makes sense why he and the league are taking the safe, apologetic approach.

Just to clarify, I am not saying that there was nothing wrong with Levenson’s email, just that I don’t believe him to be a racist or his comments to be intentionally racist.

But my purpose behind this article is not to determine the extent to which Donald Sterling, Danny Ferry and Bruce Levenson are guilty of racism.

The idea here is to point out that the issue of discrimination in the NBA hardly went away with Magic vs. Bird.

Where do they go from here?

In the short term, Commissioner Silver will continue to take swift face-saving measures in an attempt to slap a Band-Aid on the wound.

The problem is that the laceration is far too deep and gaping to be properly healed with a simple plaster

Only a fool would believe that replacing Sterling with Ballmer is all it took to get that one bad seed out of basketball.

“Yup. Right. Sorted. No more racism in Los Angeles!”

At least for the NBA’s sake Ballmer is just bonkers enough to create alternative headlines with his antics and shenanigans to divert fans’ attention.

In the end, there’s one thing to be taken away from all of this:

Don’t be fooled by white kids wearing LeBron James jerseys and white owners shaking hands with black superstars on the podium. Racism is alive and well in the National Basketball Association.

Now, by no means am I saying that every white owner or executive is racist; this couldn’t be further than the truth.

But … there still exists systemic racism at the upper echelon of the NBA.

If V. Stiviano hadn’t released her audio tape we wouldn’t even be discussing racism right now. We’d still be living under the delusion that racism was swept out the door and not under the rug.

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Commentary Box Sports

Commentary Box Sports invites a forum of truth and uncensored discussion of not only Australia’s greatest pastime, the world's. We offer around the world, up-to-date coverage of the sports we love and live by.

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