The NBA Once Had Its Own National Anthem Conundrum

    Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr ripped into the NFL and praised his own leagues diversity and open mindedness towards the social issues that players hold important in the aftermath of the NFLs controversial and offensive new policy forbidding players from kneeling during the national anthem.  

    The Shadow League on Twitter

    Steve Kerr went hard at the NFL’s recent change in the National Anthem policy. “I just think it’s typical of the NFL…Basically trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic.” https://t.co/fuWuWtEbjF

    While the NBA is considered a league whose white hierarchy is more supportive of their predominantly black players expressing their social views and more welcoming of dialogue between players and owners/management, it wasnt that long ago that the NBA had its own national anthem conundrum. 

    When former NBA star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, then a guard for the Denver Nuggets, refused to stand for the national anthem before games there was no social media to drive the intensity of the conversation. President Bill Clinton didnt get involved and flame the conflict with racism and divisiveness.

    Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf | Relentless Scoring

    Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (formerly Chris Jackson). Ahead of his time. Destroyed defenses IN THE 90s–when hand-checking was allowed. “Stephen Curry before Stephen Curry.” ________________________________________________________________ MAR was an absolutely relentless scorer; he is one of the most prolific shooters in NBA history, leading the league in FT percentage twice.

    Abdul-Rauf said at the time that his Muslim faith informed his actions:

    The flag is a symbol of oppression, of tyranny, (Abdul-Rauf) said. This country has a long history of that. I dont think you can argue the facts. You cant be for God and for oppression. Its clear in the Koran, Islam is the only way. I dont criticize those who stand, so dont criticize me for sitting. I wont waver from my decision.

    He did, however, soften his rhetoric later, in a television interview.

    Im able to make a lot of money in the United States, he said. Im from here and Im not saying, again, that it represents everything bad. I never said that. Im just saying that it also represents the bad.

    Clay Travis on Twitter

    In 1996 Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf did the exact same thing as Colin Kaepernick, he refused to stand for the national anthem. Do you know what the NBA did? Fined & suspended him until he stood for the anthem. The NFL should have done the same thing to Kaepernick. https://t.co/Q9NsnSMzQQ

    The NBA wasn’t having it and the Colin Kaepernick treatment followed. 

    Via Deadspin: 

    Abdul-Rauf was suspended indefinitely by the NBA. He sat out one game before compromising with the league by standing, lowering his head, and praying while the anthem played. But despite averaging respectable scoring numbers after a trade to the Kings, the 29-year-old Abdul-Rauf was unable to sign another NBA contract after his deal expired in 1998, and left to play overseas. He would come back with the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 2000-01 season, but only had minutes in 41 games.”

    So when the NBA pats itself on the back for not being like the NFL, thats actually not true. They were just lucky enough for it to have happened 20 years ago and the backlash the league received from people of color and Americans of the muslim faith, the death threats Mahmoud-Rauf received for his refusal to stand for the anthem and his treatment by a much less tolerant NBA, didnt play out over social media, on a world stage for everyone to see.  

    NBA players have worn I Cant Breathe shirts and represented different social causes through various designs on their sneakers, but they’ve never taken a unified stand against the owners or the league in the name of social injustice. 

    When they had the chance, when athletes all over the sports landscape were taking a knee in support of Kaepernick’s efforts, the NBA players chose to lock arms in unison as not to “disrespect the flag and military,” giving credibility to a false narrative created by 45

                                               Image result for nba players lock arms photo

    Even when Donald Sterling was recorded making the most incendiary comments about blacks, the players threatened to boycott but never seemed to be seriously considering it. 

    The league has been in a safe place with the players. The abundance of money being raked in has created a peaceful working relationship in which both sides want to keep the prosperity going. 

    The NBA players could have joined Kaepernick in kneeling, but instead they chose to stay out of it by locking arms and wearing black armbands and other gestures of support. 

    Its change and support of diversity and inclusion that we all can see. But what about the systemic oppression that we cant immediately see?

    The Shadow League on Twitter

    The @NBA’s Dark Diversity Ceiling Full story: https://t.co/FNqPlrD4B0

    In  2015, Dr. Richard Lapchick and The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) released the National Basketball Association Racial and Gender Report Card, which covered the leagues diversity hiring for the 2014-2015 season.

    The report gave the NBA an A overall, an A+ for racial hiring practices in mens sports, and B+ for gender hiring in mens sports.

    The NBAs score was the best in all of mens professional sports. The rhetoric was much of the same in the latest 2016-17 report. 

    No other mens league reaches the same points for race, gender or the combined score, said Lapchick. The NBA remains the industry leader among mens sports for racial hiring practices…overall, the NBA more than understands that diversity and inclusion are business imperatives.

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    The Shadow League | 5-on-5: Stern’s Diversity/Cultural Legacy: http://t.co/aERU54k0 via @ShadowLeagueTSL. One of the five. Check it. #NBA

    The progress has actually slowed since the days of David Stern and despite all of the impressive grades the NBA received in its hiring diversity, a deeper look revealed that the NBA received a D+ for senior administrators at the team level and an F for team vice presidents.

    This makes sense. Senior administrator and president gigs usually are appointed by the owner, so being that 99 percent of ownership is non-African-American, most of the people that would be considered an owners right hand man or woman tend to be similar in gender and race. 

    Its a commonality and comfortability in hiring practices that tends to leave African-Americans on the outside looking in and shows how far the NBA has to go to be considered the complete opposite of the NFL.

    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.