Kevin Cody

Ball sports: NBA players refuse to ‘shut up and dribble’

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 by Paul Teetor

A log-jam of anger, frustration and despair broke loose this week and washed over the NBA and the wider world of sports. 

It was long overdue.

Individually, NBA players have been talking about taking on racial issues and social justice for several years. Collectively, they finally turned words into action this week.

They finally decided to do more than just wear one of the 29 league approved slogans – like Black Lives Matter, I Can’t Breathe and How Many More? — on the backs of their jerseys.

And what a crazy, up-and-down week it turned into for the NBA — and for the other sports, including baseball, soccer and tennis, which followed their example.

Led by the Milwaukee Bucks, NBA players first did something really smart. They refused to play a playoff game. Wednesday afternoon to draw attention to a video of a white Wisconsin police officer shooting Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, seven times in the back like a rabid dog being put down.      

Then, led by the Lakers and Clippers, they did something really dumb – they threatened to take their balls, leave their Florida bubble, and go home for the rest of the season. Not only would there have had significant financial consequences for the players, their teams and the league but they also would have lost the very platform that allowed them to get the world’s attention in the first place. 

But a day later, after a series of meetings with the team owners led by Michael Jordan – the only Black owner among the 30 teams — they again did something smart. They leveraged their united stance to win concessions from the owners that will help them – and the country they love — address racial and social justice problems.

Chief among the concessions: the owners agreed to allow their stadiums and arenas to be used as polling places in November and pledged money for voter registration initiatives. That’s right: the glitzy, glamorous Staples Center will be a convenient voting place for many downtown LA voters – rich and poor alike — come November 3. So will the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood.

The owners also pledged to establish a social justice coalition with a focus on promoting civic engagement, voting, and police and criminal justice reform.

For students of NBA history, Jordan’s pivotal role in pulling the players back from the brink of a truly awful, self-defeating move was rich with irony when you consider the big picture.

Back in the day Jordan, who grew up in North Carolina and attended college there, explained why he refused to get involved in the 1990 North Carolina Senate race between black Democrat Harvey Gantt and notorious race-baiter Senator Jesse Helms this way: “Republicans buy sneakers too.” 

In other words, why alienate half your buying public? Play it smart and don’t rock the boat. Don’t stick your neck out for your brothers and sisters with less power, less money and less access to justice.    

That one infamous comment alone worked to stifle political activism by most Black athletes for more than two decades until finally San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a pre-game knee four years ago to protest police brutality against black men.

President Donald Trump willfully ignored Kaepernick’s true message and twisted it to say he was deliberately disrespecting the American flag. He then called Kaepernick and the few players brave enough to follow his lead “SOBs” and kept repeating his smear about the players hating America and its flag until it became the conventional wisdom.

When LeBron James tweeted that Trump was a “bum,” Trump’s media noise machine fought back. The assault was led by Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham, who advised James to “Shut up and dribble.” 

But now, after the mostly-Black NBA players spent a week explaining why they are all – including their mostly white coaches and support staff – taking a knee before every game, the general public finally understands they are protesting police brutality, not spitting on the American flag.    

And that they love their country and are trying to help it live up to one of its founding ideals – equality and justice for all.

Score: Players 1, Trump 0. 

Meanwhile, on the court

After three days without games, the playoffs got back on track Saturday and soon the Lakers and Clippers had taken care of business and advanced to the Western Conference semifinals. The Lakers beat the Trail Blazers 4-1 and will play the winner of Wednesday night’s game 7 between the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers beat the Mavericks 4-2 and will play Denver.

If they each win the next round, the historic, long anticipated, much-hyped match-up of the two LA squads in the Western Conference Finals will finally take place. Not only have they never played each other in the playoffs, this is the first time in history that both teams have advanced to the second round in the same season.

The Lakers would not have beaten the Trail Blazers without Anthony Davis, the 6-foot-8, two-way dynamo who scored 43 points in the clinching game Sunday night. He has always been recognized as a great player, but his true level of talent is being brought out by playing with LeBron, to the point that he looks like the most talented teammate LeBron has ever had.

Dwayne Wade, who lured LeBron to play with him in Miami and won two titles with him, was a great player who happened to play the same position as LeBron – ball dominator. That led to some chemistry problems and it was only when Wade decided to play second fiddle to LeBron in their second season together that they won the first of their titles.

Davis, on the other hand, is the perfect side-kick for LeBron. He is an all-league defender and a shot-maker who is equally proficient swishing three-pointers or operating deep in the post area. A typical Laker sequence goes like this: LeBron busts a move, draws several defenders and either scores himself or finds Davis for an easy shot.

If their two super-stars continue to play this well together, it won’t matter that the rest of their roster would be hard-pressed to beat a team of Live Oak All-Stars.

That’s how well LeBron and AD are playing right now. But Kawhi Leonard is playing equally well for the Clippers. If Paul George can ever get his groove back – he played well in only one of the six games it took to beat emerging superstar Luka Doncic and the Mavericks – then LA hoop fans can look forward to an epic showdown in the Western Conference Finals.

A few hundred miles south of the men’s bubble is the WNBA bubble in Bradenton, Florida. That’s where the LA Sparks continued their amazing winning streak and clinched a playoff spot with seven games still to go. They won their ninth straight game, 84-79 over the Atlanta Dream. This time point guard Chelsea Gray was the hero, drilling back-to-back clutch hoops in the last minute to pull the victory out. The great Candace Parker took a back seat in this game, chipping in with nine points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.   

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com. Follow: @paulteetor ER

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