NBA Superstars Drop Ball On Protesting Racial Injustice

    Opening night of the NBA season went off without a political hitch. Nobody took a knee and all of the players respected the anthem as the latest narrative surrounding player protests against oppression and police brutality would have it. 

    The media didnt bother to acknowledge it, but on Tuesday night, the fight against social injustice, police brutality and racism took a big L. 

    Daily News reporter Carron J. Phillips broke it down like a James Brown bridge: 

    On a day in which NFL players met with owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell concerning social issues and player protest, there was anticipation in the air that possible protests could take place in the NBA, which would set a tone for the season and take the conversation to another level.

    LeBron James had on shoes that said “EQUALITY” on the back. And three-fourths of the Brotherhood (James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul) who famously made a speech about athletes using their platforms to be vessels of social change to open the 2016 ESPYs, would all take the court.

     However, there wasn’t a single knee on the ground or a fist raised on Tuesday night. The Cavs and Rockets did decide to lock arms during the national anthem. 

    Darren Rovell on Twitter

    LeBron’s sneakers tonight say “Equality” ( by @nba)

    Locking arms is cool and gives a message of unity, but it hardly has the impact of kneeling. The players kneel because they are unhappy with the social injustice in the country. When guys lock arms rather than kneel for the anthem, the message is completely different as is the emotion-provoking effect, especially in light of aggressive efforts by white Americans and league owners to silence the protest, in effect, silencing the cry for justice in this country. 

    It oozes of compromise, and is perceived as weakness to a nation of young people of color trying to comprehend how overcoming oppression through non-violent protest works in this country. They hear the stories of Dr. King and The March on Washington and the change that followed, but for many teens and 20-somethings this is the first time they can touch, quantify and describe the rush that comes with being part of a movement to inspire true social change. They can see it. 

    TheWrap on Twitter

    @KingJames and @Cavs Players Lock Arms During National Anthem @NBA https://t.co/RzSL2IANbx

    So for the NBA players to act as if the country isnt in a world of turmoil is not kosher. The problem is that everything in this country is looked at insensitively like a news cycle. Once people are saturated with the subject matter, they tire of it and seek other stories to talk about. Other conflicts to engage in. This aint a movie though. Colin Kaepernick’s movement is still relevant over a year later, but the enthusiasm for the protests seems to have waned in the players. And he’s still out of a job. 

    I wrote an article in September, imploring the NBAs brightest stars to take a knee and blow Adam Silvers ultimatum to bits. Silvers threatening mandate was insensitive to the cause and reminiscent of a time in this country when the rights and expression of oppressed black folks were controlled with violence, intimidation, and an array of institutional and systematically racist tactics of obstruction. 

    The NBAs biggest stars were on display Tuesday night and they did what they do best, played the role of cattle. Not one knee was taken. The players abandoned the movement and let down a country full of people of color who were looking to gain strength from a display of power and purpose. 

    Instead, the night was all about entertainment. Golden State even had a fancy ring ceremony celebrating their 2017 c’hip. Exactly what the NBA Commissioner, the owners, the advertisers and every other party that helps to continue the oppressive posture in this society wanted. 

    Maybe some of the other NBA teams, with lesser stars, have the heart to kneel for the anthem and blatantly break the chains of oppression that have been so obvious since Kaepernick was blackballed from the NFL. That remains to be seen, but I got no jive for LeBron James, Steph Curry, James Harden, CP3, KD or any of the self-proclaimed faces of the NBA, for they were all just faceless brothers ballin’ on Tuesday night. 

    The movement would have little help from the cast of “Inside the NBA” on TNT. 

    While Charles, Kenny and Shaq could have added credibility and strength to the movement by using their platform to further explain the cause and enlighten viewers, only Kenny seems to be on the side of the players. In fact, they seemed more concerned with hurricane relief abroad and brush fires in California. 

    NBA on TNT on Twitter

    The Inside crew sends their thoughts to those affected by the California wildfires. https://t.co/pMj67pIJHK

    The conversation about protests didn’t have the dedication I was looking for. 

    Kenny Smith: “If they feel they need to create more awareness in certain situations then I think they should do it. I think protests are going to make the comfortable, uncomfortable. And that’s just the natural process of it. There’s no way to protest and make the comfortable, comfortable. Protest creates awareness, then creates change. Those are the steps that you have to take. You can’t bypass it.”

    Chuck and Shaq just want it to go way. They bloviate about the matter and accuse people of color of not doing anything to further the cause. 

    Charles Barkley: “I’m sick of hearing about protests. It’s time for us to put some action. I’m proud of the NFL players for finally getting together with the owners today to come and talk about prison reform and things like that. We’ve got to work with the police. And I want these players, that have so much money and so much visibility that they can go to the owners of these teams and say, ‘Hey listen, let’s go in these communities and put some time and some effort in them.”

    Divisive comments like these suck the energy out of the purpose and goodness of the protests. It affects public sentiment in a negative way. It seems like the NBA has already bowed down to a higher master. 

    Shaquille O’Neal: “I agree with Chuck. Enough talking. When are we going to do something about this? The problem has been, even though one message is being said, when you allow people to deviate from what you’re trying to do then it can create other problems. They always say that we’re not disrespecting the flag. But when people say you are disrespecting the flag by doing it during the national anthem, is the message really being heard?

    What can we expect from guys who never spoke out against any social issues when they were getting wads of cash, being pimped by the NBA and living the celebrity lifestyle, cloaked in an American flag of compliance? 

    Full Dissident on Twitter

    It should also be noted that as active players, Shaq, Barkley, Magic, Jordan, were nonexistent on the issues of their day. (Rodney King)

    They put on a good show for a couple of games, but apparently the NBA is back to business as usual. The players didn’t even bother to take a knee for Jemele Hill, who definitely put herself out there for them in many ways. 

    Full Dissident on Twitter

    Hawkins, Bumpurs, Stewart, King, Louima, Diallou, silence from players in the 1980s, 1990s. And no support for Hodges, Mahmoud-Rauf

    The leaders of the Conscious Players Movement have decided to fade to black. And the worst part about it is, everybody’s watching it sadly go down. 

    JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.