Mission Creep at the NBA
Larry Thornberry
by

The tease on the Drudge Report page on Sunday gave patriotic readers a reason to be optimistic: “NBA Tells Players to Stand,” it said. But this was a bit of a false alarm, if not a bait and switch. When you read the Associated Press story, you see the suits at the NBA are taking quite a bit mushier approach than the clear Drudge tease would imply.

On the up-side, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver reminded players last week of the NBA rule requiring players and coaches to stand during the national anthem saying, “It’s been a rule as long as I’ve been involved with the league, and my expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem.” He added, “Many of our players have spoken out already about their plan to stand for the anthem, and I think they understand how divisive an issue it is on our society right now.”

No mention, however, of any players who have spoken about plans not to stand. And should any players not comply with this reasonable rule, Silver, the very model of the modern Manhattan progressive, is not at all clear what the consequences might be, if any.

“If that were to happen, we’ll deal with it when it happens,” he said. This is the part of the message where the word “suspension” should have figured prominently. But our Adam is too much of a carin’ ’n’ compassionate guy to for such a harsh, retro word, so often used in all major league sports before league executives became social justice warriors. After all, millionaire NBA players need safe spaces too.

More disturbing than Silver’s lack of firmness on the stand-during-the-anthem rule is a memo sent to teams Friday by Deputy NBA Commissioner Mark Tatum. Tatum called on teams to use their opening games — NBA pre-season begins next weekend — to “demonstrate your commitment to the NBA’s core values of equality, diversity, inclusion, and serve as a unifying force in the community.” The AP story says Tatum “recommended an address by a player or coach to fans before the anthem, or a video featuring players of community leaders speaking about important issues and showing photos from past community events.”

Oh, goodie. Just what sports fans want — go to a ball game to be lectured to. Apparently Silver and Tatum aren’t nimble enough to realize that the NBA was a unifying force in the community when its core value and its sole mission was to PUT ON BASKETBALL GAMES while leaving the political editorializing to others. Sports fans of vastly different social and political views could come together and pull for the home team — everybody’s home team –—when sports leagues were about sports, and league executive and players felt no obligation to improve their fans while entertaining them.

Now sports leagues, especially the NFL and the NBA, are dividers. They unnecessarily take positions on controversial issues about which people on both sides feel strongly. The fun leaves the stadium or the building when the political nagging begins. Happy talk about unifying forces notwithstanding, the NBA has been an offender. In 2016 the league moved the 2017 NBA All-Star Basketball game from Charlotte, North Carolina because the North Carolina state legislature approved a law, which most North Carolinians considered common sense, obliging men to stay out of the ladies’ room. This did not comport with the Brave New World of Adam Silver and other NBA executives (though I’m sure they didn’t consult the players on this one).

In a league statement, here’s how the NBA explained going so far afield from basketball on this one: “Since March, when North Carolina enacted HB2 and the issue of legal protection for the LGBT community in Charlotte became prominent, the NBA and the Charlotte Hornets have been working diligently to foster constructive dialogue and try to effect positive change. We have been guided in these discussion by the long-standing core values of our league. These include not only diversity, inclusion, fairness, and respect for others, but also the willingness to listen and consider other opinions.”

As a North Carolina farmer might say, “That’s pure heifer dust.”

Apparently the NBA’s willingness to “consider opposing views” does not include the views of a majority of North Carolinians who believe Uncle George, and all other XY chromosome persons, should stay clear of the ladies’ room, no matter how womanly they happen to be feeling. This branch of androgyny may be what Senator Ted Cruz was talking about when he referred to “New York Values.” I don’t know. The last time I was in the Big Apple long enough to get out of the car, Tricky Dick was president. This kind of forced togetherness may be fine for the city that never sleeps, or at least for Adam Silver’s part of Manhattan. But it’s not Adam Silver’s business, or Roger Goodell’s, or Rob Manfred’s, to try to impose this practice on everywhere out of the five boroughs and other trendy precincts.

No one I know is enjoying the agony the NFL is putting itself and the country through just now by not insisting that their players, on the clock, stick to football. Can’t imagine Silver wants this for the NBA as well. He needs to learn something from Roger Goodell’s failure of leadership and tell his players to stand respectfully during the anthem. Make it clear there will be consequences if they don’t. Use the S word. This way the NBA could return to being the unifying force it once was. This way everyone in Cleveland can care about the Cavaliers, not just those who share Adam Silver’s and LeBron James’ politics.

Larry Thornberry
Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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