Monday, October 24, 2011

Are The NBA Owners Racist?!?

For NBA stans like me, the past few days have been horrible. Talks between the union and players association died late last week, and any moment now, I'd expect games through the New Year to be cancelled. The two sides have no plans to meet again, after the owners (allegedly) refused to budge on their profit sharing demands, and things quickly dissolved into a petty game of he said/he said during a pair of godawful press conferences.

So, I'm pretty much officially a Redskins fan now. I gotta watch something, and I ain't thuggish enough to turn to hockey just yet. If there's no pro roundball come January, check back with me.

Anyways, as with anything in America involving people of different races, the element of racism seems to be lying just below the surface of these aborted negotiations. The NBA is lead by commish David Stern and a handful of owners. The players are represented by Laker Derek Fisher and union bawse Billy Hunter. One side's overwhelmingly white (with the exception of Michael Jordan) and the other's almost exclusively black (84% of NBA players are brothas). But does this racial dynamic automatically equal racism?

I typically like The Washington Post's Mike Wise, but his exploration of this (potential) issue was hamhanded and just downright lazy.
The owners “lied to you,” Derek Fisher said, moments after the players union president walked out of fruitless labor talks in Manhattan on Thursday night. And with that the mutual distrust and name-calling began anew.

Now the NBA is again facing the prospect of a bye year. Soon, it won’t be about money. Soon, the Rev. Jesse Jackson worries, it will be personal and irreconcilable and no longer about the color green.

I called Jackson to see what he thought of Bryant Gumbel’s portrayal of NBA Commissioner David Stern as a smug and pedantic bully in his dealings with the players during his closing remarks this week on HBO’s “Real Sports.” Gumbel’s commentary included the misguided characterization of Stern, widely known as the most forward-thinking, ethnically inclusive commissioner in modern pro sports, as a “modern plantation overseer.”

The older white men are now asking the young black men to take a pay cut in order to cover their purported losses, upward of $280 million a year. Given that, it’s almost ridiculous they call “basketball-related income” the elephant in the room.

Once race becomes a factor in the discussion, it begins to tinge perceptions of everything and everyone.

Spurs owner Peter Holt, who heads the owners’ labor relations committee, has been one of Rick Perry’s top 10 donors the past decade, giving the Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate more than $500,000 in political contributions.

A sports owner making contributions to the governor of his franchise’s state might be seen as logical self-interest. But through a racial prism, it can be viewed as Holt being pals with a guy whose family’s hunting camp had the n-word painted on a rock near the entrance for years.

Clippers owner Donald Sterling is a real-estate mogul who owns 10,000 apartment units in Los Angeles and Orange counties, so his being the subject of a housing-discrimination suit might not be a huge surprise. But when former employees deposed in discrimination cases say Sterling did not want to rent to blacks or Latinos because they “smell” — claims his lawyers call “absurd” — that could make his African American players wonder what he really sees across the negotiating table.

And when jilted Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote an open letter after LeBron James bolted Cleveland for Miami in 2010, Gilbert could have been an owner rallying his deflated customer base. But through a racial prism, Gilbert looked like a white owner labeling a black employee who honored his seven-year contract an ingrate — or, as Jackson said in the wake of Gilbert’s letter, “a runaway slave.”

“Gilbert unleashed a whole body of language on him that was so violent and so threatening,” Jackson said Thursday afternoon. “That’s why I used the language I did.”
Look, I'm gonna cut right to the chase here: I don't think there's anything particularly racist about this labor squabble. Sure, the two sides look pretty different complexion-wise, but this is all about green, plain and simple. The owners want the players to take 50% of BRI, the players are stuck at 52.5%. That's it, and that's all. Period.

Is there likely some paternalistic "take this or else!" posturing coming from the owners? Sure. Do the players likely feel they're being shorted here, because the owners are generally more educated and business savvy? Probably so. But that doesn't make anything about this negotiation "racist". Drawing flimsy parallels from Spurs owner Peter Holt to Texas governor Rick Perry is the worse kind of racial guilt by association. If Holt has a problem with putting black players on his team, I doubt he would have ridden Tim Duncan and David Robinson to NBA titles. Clippers owner Donald Sterling is a bonafide douche who has been sued for discrimination before, but there's no proof that his douchiness has anything to do with these negotiations. He's also a well known spendthrift, so he just wants his money. As for Dan Gilbert, well, I'm on record as agreeing with his Dear Lebron missive.

So, sorry, I don't see the race here. This is about money, plain and simple. The players, by virtue of being employees, are at a disadvantage, and that disadvantage probably gets exploited at the negotiating table. But that doesn't make anything about this story racist.

Shame on you Mike Wise.

Question: Am I wrong here, or do you see a racist element to the NBA's labor dilemma?!? Is Wise's piece intentionally interjecting race to sell papers and generate web clicks, or does he have a point?

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