The NBA Players Walk Out

Yesterday, I wrote about declining NBA TV ratings and potential reductions in broadcasting rights fees that might come from those declines if they are not reversed.  I had NO foreknowledge of the NBA players’ choices to refuse to play their playoff games last night when I wrote what I did; now that I know what transpired last night, I am concerned by the idea of a “players meeting” with the stated objective of “determining the next steps”.

Let me get three things out of the way from the beginning so that there can be no misunderstanding:

  1. The shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI that is the foundation of the current protest and “walkout” by NBA, WNBA and MLB players is a horrific event.
  2. The perpetrator should be arrested charged and tried – – and if convicted – – should be punished to the maximum extent provided by the law.
  3. It stretches one’s imagination to conceive of a justifiable reason for any person to shoot another person in the back seven times; that stretch of the imagination goes beyond the strength of the warp and woof of the universe.

I presume that anyone who reads further into this rant understands my revulsion related to the events in Kenosha, WI this week.  If anyone might be unclear on that point, please go back and read those statements again; there are no mitigating adjectives and adverbs in there.

Now comes the time to consider the pragmatic realities that professional athletes must recognize as they demonstrate their revulsion to the events that cause my revulsion.  Here is some of that reality:

  • I write these rants 5 days a week because I find it fun and challenging to do so.  I do not derive a nickel from any of them.  There is no way that the existence of these rants in this backwater eddy of the Internet will confer any sort of “celebrity status” on me.  My writing here is my way of consuming time in my retirement years and a critical element in my continued pursuit of ways to avoid driving my long-suffering wife teaspoons.
  • It does not matter even a little bit to me if the NBA playoffs take a night off – – or take the rest of the season off.
  • For the NBA players, such indifference is hardly the case.  If they take a night off as a symbolic gesture, the NBA can find a way to adapt its schedule – and the TV networks will get over their hastily mandated scramble to fill the air time vacated by playoff games that were boycotted.
  • However, if they decide to double down on their efforts to be “social justice leaders” and refuse to play the rest of the NBA playoffs – – if that is the outcome of “determining the next steps” – – then the NBA players are playing “You Bet Your Career” and the NBA may be playing “You Bet Your Existence” very soon.

According to reports, two NBA teams – – Lakers and Clippers – – have pushed to end this year’s NBA season.  No other teams supported that position, but it appears as if Thursday’s NBA scheduled playoff games will also need to be “postponed”.  I believe the players here are walking a very fine line.

There are economic ramifications here:

  • The NBA playoffs present the league with approximately $1B of the $2.7B that the league collects for TV rights.  Cutting the playoffs off in the early stages will not make the “broadcast partners” happy.
  • As reported yesterday, TV ratings for NBA games are down significantly.  Add to that fact, all the TV networks are financially strapped.  Any cancellation here costs the networks the ad revenues they have already sold; any cancellation here will cost the NBA some of the current – and potentially some of the future – TV revenue for its broadcast rights.

Players who make millions of dollars a year “to play a child’s game” and then walk off that job will not make friends with many NBA fans who may be out of work and scraping to keep their lives together in the days of COVID-19.  Those fans are the eyeballs in front of the TV sets that provide the money to fund those multi-million dollar guaranteed contracts.  Not only might the players risk their financial status here, they can risk losing their “platform” or their “influencer status” if they lose the support of the “fans on the street”.

The players in the NBA – – and in other leagues that have leaned toward supporting the players in the NBA – – are adults and they can and should make their life decisions for themselves.  I am in no way interested in trying to alter whatever course(s) of action they find to be appropriate for them in this matter.  AND, because they are adults, they will need to face and endure any consequences that may come from whatever actions they choose to take.  If the Lakers’ and the Clippers’ players carry on and refuse to play in any future games this year and if the NBA playoffs continue without them, then those players will need to shoulder any and all of the economic and social consequences that come to them.  What will not be tolerable will be for any of those players to try to paint themselves as “victims” in this matter’ they are doing whatever they do by choice – – and by the fact that they have the economic wherewithal to make such choices for themselves.

  • The ONLY victim here is Jacob Blake.

Please recall that I said above that the perpetrator of that shooting should be “arrested charged and tried – – and if convicted – – should be punished to the maximum extent provided by the law.”  I stand by those words and I presume that every concerned NBA player would not disapprove of that position.  Now I have something dark to say:

  • Even if the maximum penalty is assessed here after a conviction of the murderer of Jacob Blake, these sorts of incidents will not stop overnight.
  • Even if the NBA players cancel the rest of this season and sit out all next season, these sorts of incidents will not stop overnight.

Several reporters this morning have characterized the walkout as the players sending a strong message that the social conditions in the US need to change.  I agree the players have sent a message and I agree that social conditions in the US need to change; but sending a message only begins the process of change.  First that message must be received; then it must be understood; then it must be acknowledged as valid; then it can – not will but can – spark change.

  1. The message has been sent.
  2. I think most folks understand the message, but some will deny understanding and try to deflect any explanation of the message to other issues.
  3. Sadly, I think there are too many folks who are not convinced of the validity of the message; and to make things worse there, I am not sure they will see a walkout by millionaire athletes as a reason for them to accept the validity of the message.  For many folks in this category, the linkage between an NBA walkout and the social issues here is tenuous at best.
  4. Change may begin to happen in areas where the first three of these milestones have been accepted and perhaps those changes can spark progress in stagnant communities in the US to move along this path to identify with and to act on the message that has been sent.

And that takes us back to the players.  A symbolic strike and a blizzard of Tweeting gathers attention.  But a symbolic strike and a blizzard of Tweeting will not create the momentum necessary to achieve the change sought by that Tweetstorm.  The need now is for people – – fans and also observers who are not NBA fans – – to see action(s) by players that move things closer to the goal of the sent message.  Actions – – not photo ops.  Actions – – not one-off donations to an NGO.  Actions – – not an Instagram video.

The players have the spotlight; they have the microphone in hand and the cameras are turned on and recording.  It is time for them to lead.  I hope that is what the players meant last night when they called their meeting to determine “the next steps”.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a civil rights movement that accomplished many important things.  He led with words and symbolic gestures – – and then he led with repeated and consistent actions over the course of time; and it was the actions that forced the changes.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



10 thoughts on “The NBA Players Walk Out”

  1. Strong words, and like well written articles easy to follow your thoughts. It will be interesting to see if these words collect other words or as you prescribe action.

    In my lifetime we have seen considerable changes in how people have adjusted thinking and their actions about numerous cultural shifts. The concept is a marathon not a sprint and all the shifts are gradual and seem to have have two steps forward and one step back momentum.

    1. bob:

      The players say the time has come for change. I agree. They have seized the moment and have demanded to be heard. Fine. Now I want to see what they are going to DO to effect positive change.

      Here is something I am pretty sure of. The root cause(s) of the social injustice that they seek to change do not emanate from an NBA basketball court. That is their platform. If they give up their own access to an NBA basketball court, their platform will crumble quickly.

  2. I agree with all but one statement. There are three victims other than Jacob Blake. And, perhaps we are all victims to a lesser extent.

    1. Doug:

      Yes, you are right. I see Jacob Blake as THE victim here simply from a causality standpoint. I take your point.

    1. Doug:

      [Aside: I think we have two “Dougs” commenting here because the two questions seem not to go with each other. Right?]

      American basketball players do well financially and as “fan idols” in China. Let me cite Stephon Marbury as an example. However, any NBA player who would even think of moving to China had best learn to hold his tongue when it comes to any sort of political expression that is counter to a proscribed playbook.

  3. He had a knife. He even admitted so. The man who filmed the shooting said he heard the cops yelling drop the knife. They tried a taser, it did not work. The cops were told he was wanted for felony sexual assault when they took the call. What happens if the cop is exonerated?

    1. Ed:

      You notice that I separated carefully that the shooter needs to be arrested, charged and tried – – and then if he is convicted – – yada yada yada. The revulsion I feel for a situation where a man was shot in the back 7 times does NOT supersede a fundamental element of social justice which is the presumption of innocence.

      For the record, I would not want to be a juror in that trial situation. Period.

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