To play or not to play?

The global pandemic has not been the coronavirus, but racism. The NBA faces the most difficult season in its history and is in doubt about how to use its influence.


To play or not to play? To go or not to the bubble? What is more important, professional sports or the racial problem? How do we use an influence that we know we have? These are just some of the questions NBA players have had to ask themselves in the last three months. Specifically, since George Floyd was assassinated on May 25 by a police officer in what was clearly an abuse by the state security forces, who placed their knee on the victim's neck and did not move her despite her efforts. complaints. The video, broadcast by different platforms, questioned the resumption when part of the plan for it was already established. And the shooting of Jacob Blake, another act at the hands of the police force, has definitely caused the NBA to face the greatest moral dilemma in its long history.

There are several points to consider in a situation like this, and not all of them have unanimity. The methods of action have never had an agreement, nor have they been prolonged in time or collaborative at the moment. The response to racism, a full-blown global pandemic much more important than the coronavirus (perhaps not at the present time, but depending on history and its consequences), has not had a common struggle either, but it has had some parameters in which most of the NBA has moved. And we do not talk about this just because it is what concerns us, also because within the same American (and world) society there is a division on the subject that is difficult to understand if we take into account that we are in the 21st century. If the problem is more pronounced in North America, it is because of the existence of a president like Donald Trump, who has fanned the flames, has yielded to a self-imposed polarization and has totally rejected both the conflict itself and the protests generated around it. .

It is precisely for this reason that players in particular and the NBA in general have decided to take action on the matter. If it was already a (relative) surprise in the United States that Trump won the elections on January 20, 2017, the need to remove him from the White House has become meridian. Always with the best league in the world against him and with basketball personalities (Popovich, LeBron) who have had little or no problem in openly criticizing his management, the players are looking for the best way to use their influence so that the president does not repeat the next November 3, date of the next presidential elections. And if after the death of George Floyd there was disparity of opinions, the coronavirus has now taken a back seat to let out the voices that the NBA has sung, already within the bubble, almost in unison, to change things. As much as this generates certain contradictions with the behavior of certain personalities in the case of Daryl Morey and his well-known controversy with China. And its large market, of course.

Who needs what?

A question so strangely formulated there can be no entirely logical answer, yes coherent. Or not, always depending on who you ask. The moral dilemma in this case could be to see what is best at all times. And where is the real need. We are talking about a country whose black community represents 13% of the population. And with that percentage, since January 1, 2015, 1,252 African-Americans have been shot by the police, more than double the number of whites. And this, not including deaths in police custody, suffocation, abuses ... The demonstrations since May 25 have ended with more 4,000 arrests and several deaths, and an assault on the White House forced Trump to be locked up in his bunker. And two more murders after the attack on Jacob Blake, including embarrassing images of supremacist groups joining the police to go after racialized people (practically all black), receiving the approval of the agents themselves in the form of bottles of water. .

So what should the players do? At this point, the words of a Spanish doctor talking about the influence of famous people are very recent. And, even being on the other side of the pond and the reality of the continent being radically different from ours, his words are not so far from what they literally represent or from what resembles the moral problem that haunts the NBA. Or maybe not so much. Of course, there were already many voices that refused to return, although at no time did they give the feeling of endangering the resumption. Now, the unanimity is overwhelming, and the need for a tougher response has been coupled with the heated spirits of some players who have not seen their families and friends for weeks and who could not do anything wrong to get out of that uncomfortable bubble (for some) that has been settled without positives (for all) and that has proven to be a success to escape the health crisis, not the racial one. Although for this and unfortunately, there is no bubble that is worth.

Moving in swampy waters is very common in these cases, as is getting into inconsistencies and contradictions. The racial situation is not extraordinarily worrying due to the fact that it is at a certain moment, in the XXI century and in a historical framework of conquered rights that have been questioned with the rise of politicians like Trump himself. It is also so because it developed to a large extent (not exclusively) in a country that boasts of being the cradle of Western democracy or individual freedoms. But it also suffers from a marked absence of the middle class and a huge impoverished class where a large number of racialized people are located. A sector of society that suffers from obvious police abuses according to statistics and which has once again become the most absolute disgrace with the Jacob Blake case, who was shot seven times in the back by a police officer.

Now, within the NBA there is a large percentage of black players who are in an uncomfortable position. Many of them come from the poorer suburbs, they have to support a family and all that that entails, and they must adjust to a type of life that they choose but that is already initially high in American society, with a marked tendency to consumerism and prices that are always on the rise, which go from the most common to the tickets of basketball games, something that has changed close and noisy hobbies for others with an idiosyncrasy that is slightly different from that of their predecessors. And not all of them are LeBron and charge the same as him. The percentage of money that players have already lost due to the stoppage and the economic consequences that the definitive cancellation could have has made more than one wonder which side they are on ... if there are two sides. Because yes, there are, but advocating for the resumption can be a decision, for many, more related to their own survival than to a social issue that a good part of them have suffered in their flesh.

The moral, the economic and the middle ground

That last one is what has already been tried, to finish the course so that the economic consequences are not so great and to wear logos on the back, while the NBA itself shows off its usual progressivism and does not sanction protests in the anthem. In fact, Adam Silver, a 58-year-old man who studied Political Science at Duke and Law in Chicago, has a flexible way of working things out, with magnetic speech and a sharp verb. He already demonstrated it when he had barely been in office for two months after replacing David Stern and solving the Donald Sterling case with enormous poise and efficiency before the public opinion, which set a precedent within a competition whose owners have supported their players today. more empowered than ever, without hesitation. With a statement included (brief and light), this time yes, from the Knicks, who were conspicuous by their absence after the death of George Floyd, emboldened by a James Dolan who is a personal friend of Trump and has the same social empathy and ability to lead a franchise.

We return to the subject of referents. What Colin Kaepernick did in his day the NBA has imitated him under the protection of a Silver who, being a great communicator, wants a League of firm pillars but liquid formwork, easily mutated. And adapted both to the changes produced by the boycott of black players who protested against Sterling in 2014, and to those of an unprecedented situation called coronavirus. Now, the players, of enormous social influence, doubt what decision to make. Something that can affect the intention to vote in elections that are held in just two months if we take into account the audience that the competition has, always growing and that gathered, for example, 20 million viewers on average in the four Finals played by Cavs and Warriors this past five years.

Today the NBA is a global phenomenon at levels that leave other American leagues (MLB, NFL, NHL) with their mouths open and whose protest they have imitated, in this historic moment, in the MLB and the WNBA, whose players have each left with a letter of Jacob Blake's name and a T-shirt with seven holes in the back, one for each shot the victim received. Of course, his influence in the United States is notorious, but it cannot be forgotten within an international community where there is also the problem of racism and where the NBA has something to say. Not surprisingly, it has 12 offices around the world, its matches are broadcast in 200 countries, it has a policy of productive action that has even extended to Africa and a League Pass whose subscriptions grew 21% last morning. Because yes, it is about eradicating the problem and changing the course of elections in the country. But if we influence the rest of the world, all the better. Or so some will think.The solution, very complicated, seems a chimera that only players can solve. The meeting they had after the historic suspension of the day already hinted that the boycott of the day was just a warning. The economic consequences of a cancellation that finally has not occurred has made the players rethink things, since everyone voted in favor of continuing except the Lakers and Clippers. The first, the largest market in the competition, beyond the monetary value that the Knicks and company may have; the latter, an emerging market that is valued at 2.15 billion dollars, more than Steve Ballmer paid for it after the departure of a Sterling that acquired them for 12.5 million in 1979. This shows two things: that the market suffers and that the richest franchises have less to lose. Especially LeBron, in another salary dimension (for sports contracts, advertising ...) and with fewer concerns in this regard than people from the lower middle part of the League or those who, as McCollum said, "live from day to day" .

The moral dilemma is enormous. It goes from the personal to the collective, from harming fellow professionals or an entire underprivileged class. The Lakers and Clippers refusal was not decisive and everything remained as a warning (historical, but a warning) prior to a new restart, this time after a smaller stop than the previous one. And yes, there is a general opinion that the bubble should not have been used, but when it comes down to it, you vote what you vote. Of course, it is clear that while the black population languishes, the NBA is a focus of attention that captures a few glances that are distracted while (some, of course) ignore the real problem. The demonstrations continue, the deaths do not stop, the coronavirus tightens and the players move in a moral battle resolved with the continuation of the playoffs and that continues to define a competition whose dose of progressivism continues to reach historic heights, championing a cause of which They have never reneged, but with which they have never gone so far. Adam Silver watches the toughest campaign ever continue; and LeBron, goes from incessantly asking for a resumption to leaving a room after advocating for cancellation. And of course, to see who says no to LeBron. The NBA faces the toughest yet. In a chapter that, it is already known, will remain for the annals. For better or for worse.

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