• Matt Esposito

Hot Take Marathon: Get Ready for a Protest


The Daily Beast

Yes, this piece is a basketball entrée drizzled in a political sauce that has been simmering for quite some time. Yes, the expectations of Sportlandia, America demand that ESPN remain impenetrable to any talk of the isms which currently plague our society. No, this will not remain the status quo for the upcoming season, sorry.

Despite having densely populated stations across not only America but, the world at-large, the NBA Hypetrain is headed for one explosive destination. All the tracks are leading to a hub that is stocked with coaches itching for an anti-Trump rant, players recognizing the loud echo of their social-media enhanced voice, and journalists prodding for a soundbite that will surely ruffle feathers on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

Oddly enough, since the Trayvon Martin protests, the league has been fairly lowkey regarding political issues. Commissioner Adam Silver somehow escape progressive scourge for deftly eliminating the chance of any kneeling during the National Anthem. If you squint, however, you will see that the signs have been present for a while.

For starters, let’s cover some of the major political moments in recent NBA history. Although now more of a standing occurrence than individual moment, notable coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich remained primed for an anti-Trump/anti-GOP one-liner. LeBron James and Stephen Curry both publicly stated their unwillingness to go to the White House as long as its current resident calls it his home. Additionally, James has feuded with conservative turned provocateur TV host Laura Ingraham when she told him to “shut up and dribble.”

Not everything revolves around Trump, however. Kyle Korver wrote about racism and the state of the NBA. Russell Westbrook engaged in a shouting match with a white fan, that yelled racially charged comments at him. Anytime Enes Kanter plays basketball in Toronto he could literally be arrested by Interpol on orders from an authoritarian ruler simply because Kanter publicly criticized him.

The organization itself has managed to wade into a Liberal kiddy-pool of sorts and done so without major backlash. It has taken progressive stances on a handful of issues, some controversial, some not.

For example, the league commands an environmental initiative called NBA Green, has participated in a “Community Conversation” about law enforcement relations with the Charlotte citizenry, and is taking steps to help players struggling with mental health issues.

What’s more, the NBA allowed the Memphis Grizzlies to honor the Civil Rights Movement in their statement jerseys and also pushed a trailer promoting basketball’s connection to MLK Day. And with their now famous Basketball Without Borders initiative, it seems Commissioner Silver is asking for a fight with President Trump’s Buildthatwallian immigration policy. At the risk of sounding too blunt, what do you think a league full of people of color and immigrants will do when Trump – a president whom millions of people believe to be racist towards people of color and immigrants – deploys a culture war as his 2020 reelection strategy?

It is safe to say that the Association has dipped its toes in political waters in preparation for an all-out pool party. In a divided nation crawling with _____ phobes (insert Islamo, Xeno, Homo), Xeno is the one which most applies to the NBA. How will a country teeming with anti-immigrant hatred respond to a league that saw a migrant of African-Greek descent win its MVP Award? Or when Cameroonian Pascal Siakam makes his first All-Star game? I can already envision a reporter asking Joel Embiid for his thoughts on the American migration system when he steal’s Giannis’ MVP away him next year.

What about a pair of non-Americans leading a Dallas team in a state that is the epicenter of anti-immigrant partisanship? Surely, some reporter will ask either Luka Doncic and Kristaps Prozingis about the anti-immigrant rumblings that spread throughout Texas state politics on a daily basis, wondering why some migrants are welcomed and some are not. Perhaps they dodge the question. Perhaps they respond and make headlines.

Still, there is something I remain more surer of. The beginning of the NBA season will coincide nearly with the one-year countdown to the 2020 presidential election. Rhetoric on both sides of the aisle will ramp up. Yet, the ramping up of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric seems to amplify racial and migrant tension via language coded in white nationalism. In a league demographically dominated by people of color and immigrants, well…you do the math.

It just so happens that the game’s most outspoken stars on these issues live in major progressive cities. James is in L.A. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in Brooklyn. Kanter and Jaylen Brown in Boston. Westbrook in Houston; a city that leans liberal in a state becoming purpler by the year. Even Giannis resides in a swing state that will feature prominent rallies from both parties during the season. If you think these stars are going to keep quiet on what will could be the most hyperpolitical year in our country’s history, think again.

So, what could realistically happen? Will players go on strike? No. Too drastic. A protest seems more likely. Think back to the Heatles donning hoodies in protest of George Zimmerman. I expect players to be louder than ever. In-season appearances on the nightly news shows. Guest spots on Kamala Harris’ next periscope video. Funny yet politically charged exchanges on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. A leaked memo written by Adam Silver encouraging players to, “promote their values while not discouraging fan turnout due to political tensions.”

What will set it off? A blatant, discriminatory defamation from a conservative anchor? Some 4 AM Trump tweet? No one knows. Yet, do not expect powerful, culturally smart players to sit voiceless on the sidelines while every political tension imaginable reaches new, nasty heights.

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