What should the NBA and its players do going forward to build on the protests of NFL players?
We are now at the point, about a month after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he was taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and killing of civilians around the country, of diminishing marginal returns. Kaepernick has made his point and made the cover of Time Magazine to boot. Several NFL players have supported him with their own gestures during anthems, most recently Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who wore special cleats painted with yellow “caution” tape that is normally seen at the scene of crime scenes in Sunday’s game against Cleveland. Those who disagree with both have been heard -- a few companies have dropped endorsers like Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall.
But, what now?
With preseason games beginning, NBA players that have talked about supporting Kaepernick will get their chance. Toronto Raptors players locked arms during the Anthem Saturday in their exhibition opener against the Warriors. Other players will likely do the same. But, what happens next?
The NBA is not a lobbying entity and its players are not elected officials. Neither is going to solve the killing of civilians by police, or mass incarceration, or systemic poverty, and they shouldn’t pretend they can. What they can do is to try and make a meaningful impact in the communities in which they play -- something beyond photo ops. There’s nothing wrong with going to a soup kitchen or helping to build a house. Those are noble projects that help. But there is more work that can be done. The league and its players can leave bigger footprints in their communities. That would be a good outcome to Kaepernick’s protest.
What follows are some broad strokes toward what such an outcome could entail. I know full well there are things I haven’t thought of, or things that I have thought of that are wrong, or need tweaking. There are people who spend their lives in communities, especially at-risk populations, who have seen do-gooders come their way before. I don’t know what I don’t know about this. But I acknowledge that going in. Others can, and no doubt will, point out the shortcomings. That’s okay. It’s better to try and fail rather than to do nothing.
- It must be well thought out. If doing or saying nothing these days is bad, slapping together a plan of action just to meet some artificial deadline would be worse. No reasonable person expects the NBA and/or the Players’ Association to end racism or solve the problem of police-involved shootings of people of color. Neither entity is equipped to do so. And no one should expect a plan to be in place by opening night. This will take some time. Anything meaningful will have to include the local community/communities, meaning educators, clergy, business leaders -- and, yes, law enforcement -- have to be included.
- It can’t be a one-off. There’s nothing wrong with players doing volunteer work, or donating to a good cause. Everyone doesn’t work the same way. But in these times, people aren’t looking for photo ops. They are seeking real and meaningful change in the status quo. And, like it or not, more is expected from NBA players. They’re more well-known than but a handful of pro athletes. And, not unimportantly, they are paid a lot more money than but a handful of pro athletes. Of whom much is given, much is expected.
- It has to be uniform. There are, to be sure, players who disagree with the bedrock principle of Kaepernick’s stance that police treat African-Americans differently and are quicker to use violence against them. You can’t expect everyone to sign on. If players insisted on only working on Kaepernick’s issue, the story in the NBA world would be the fissures between teams, and possibly teammates, who are on opposite sides of the issue. A 12-man team has a different dynamic than a 53- or 25-man roster. The expectation is that 12 guys should be able to pull in the same direction.
- And, plainly, it should involve local police.Not as a decision maker, but as a gesture -- even though many players are as skeptical as Kaeparnick about law enforcement and its willingness to change, transform or critique its worst members’ behaviors. Yet ignoring or being hostile toward police can’t possibly be helpful in this instance. If having and hiring officers who live in and know their communities is viewed as a positive, why wouldn’t trying to engage police at some level make sense here?
Here’s some unsolicited advice:
1. Have a joint announcement the first week of the season (maybe in L.A., so NBPA president and Clippers guard Chris Paul can take part) with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts. The announcement: the league, union, TV networks and major corporate sponsors have all committed to taking part in a comprehensive investment plan that will take part in all 30 NBA cities. A Steering Committee will flesh out recommendations to be made to the Board of Governors during All-Star Weekend in New Orleans next February.
2. The plan? Something like this: a commitment for 15 people -- the same size as an NBA roster -- to be placed into an NBA/NBPA program in every NBA city, every year, for the next five years. You don’t want to promise too much for too many, hence the relatively small number of people involved each year.
The plan’s financing would be similar to the one that the union unanimously adopted last July, when its players approved a measure to fund a health insurance plan for retired players who played between three and six years in the league. According to the New York Times, the plan is expected to cost between $12 million and $15 million per year. In this instance, the seed money would come from the league, the union, some of the league’s bigger corporate partners and the league’s TV partners, ESPN and Turner Sports (which runs NBA.com).
The program would identify people in communities of need and create opportunities for advancement. But the idea would be to find people where they are, not try to reinvent the wheel. There would not be a one-size-fits-every-city approach.
Let’s say, for example, there’s an unemployed mother in Dallas who has her college degree. She doesn’t need tutoring or remedial courses -- she needs a job. The NBA/NBPA program would work with local businesses (maybe with one of the Mavericks’ corporate sponsors, for example), or with local agencies like the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce, to help her find one.
But a teenager in Los Angeles who has decent high school grades might need a partial scholarship to attend, say, East San Gabriel Regional Valley Occupational Program, in West Covina, about a half hour outside of L.A., which is one of the best community colleges in the country, offering degrees in HVAC (installation and repair of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment) and EMT training.
Players are already micro-targeting communities of need. The Heat’s Udonis Haslem announced plans last week to open four restaurants in his native Miami that he hopes will provide up to 120 jobs for low-income residents that are currently unemployed. Giving players who are already inclined toward entrepreneurship a chance to really invest in their communities at a level that works for them is a good idea.
3. The police aspect. I admit, I don’t have a great and obvious idea here. This is way too far gone to think a couple of visits from Officer Friendly are going to undo the damage done. (A Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of what post-Apartheid South Africa created, which would allow victims’ families to hear the unvarnished truth from police officers about what occurred, without reprisal, to their loved ones is but one idea. Obviously, that’s not something this program would create.)
But police have to be involved. We’re not going to be dismantling our law enforcement system any time soon. Perhaps a piece of the program would simply formalize what a lot of players do already -- going to prisons to engage in fellowship with inmates, something almost none of them talk about it publicly. They just go.
But if there was any way to include officers who wanted to be involved, who want to help their communities, who don’t just want to be there at the moment of conflict, is it not worth trying?
Isn’t anything worth trying at this point?
… AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER
Don’t talk to me. Why doesn’t anyone call? From Andre Webster:
I'm cool with KD going to GSW because I'm 100 percent for players’ freedom and choice. That being said, how weak does he look by his continually trying to explain the move and get those who have a problem with it to like it? Just say, "I made my decision for personal reasons" and keep it moving.
I will defend Durant here, Andre. If you’re asked why you did something, every day, day after day, you want people to understand. So KD tries to explain it. And then, he’s asked again the next day. So he explains it again. And on and on. It may well be that he takes your advice once the season starts, though. (And, while I’d love to think that everyone with a credential comes at him dispassionately, you and I both know that there are some reporters who may be trying to get a rise out of him by how they ask their questions.)
Next, you’ll tell me they’re playing NBA basketball in Vancouver again. Wait, what? From Philip Drost:
Bear with me as we play a little hypothetical here. Let's say Chris Bosh can't figure things out with the Heat, but he still wants to play. Let's say the Heat let him go, or buy him out, or whatever they have to do to get him off their hands. Then Bosh is a free man and could potentially sign wherever he liked ... including going back to the city of Toronto. So my question is, in this very unlikely scenario of Bosh being able to go to Toronto and actually be allowed to play, could that put them over the top to being serious title contenders?
Well, that is well past hypothetical, Philip, straight into the land of Oz. But, as my mother used to say: you buy the premise, you buy the bit. So, absolutely: if Bosh ultimately becomes a free agent, and if he were to sign with the Raptors (that would only require Toronto’s doctors to believe that Bosh could play despite the blood clots and despite having failed the Heat’s physical -- we don’t know specifically that it was again blood clots, but he failed it for whatever reason), yes -- he could obviously take them from very good team to contender, given their other pieces and given that their four spot is an area of need. But, as we’ve agreed, that’s hypothetical and not very likely.
At least you’re near Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen. From Ryan Coyle:
What do I have to look forward to as a fan of the Brooklyn Nets?
The 2019 Draft? I kid, I kid. This year, you’ll see young guys, working hard, and getting better under new coach Kenny Atkinson. Check out what guys like Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and Isaiah Whitehead do this year. Are they getting better? Are they more well-rounded players? It’s not a parade down Flatbush Avenue, but it’s the best I can offer right now.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and DearGodPleaseDon’tLetThisBeTrue for next week’s Morning Tip to email@example.com. If your e-mail is funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!
I’M FEELIN’ …
1) Cavs owner Dan Gilbert hosts a fundraiser in Cleveland for Donald Trump Saturday.LeBron James formally endorses Hillary Clinton in an op-ed Sunday. They’re not sticking to sports. Good. ‘Murica.
2) Happy to hear Hall of Famer Mitch Richmond was officially elevated to assistant coach at St. John’s last week, where he’ll aid friend and fellow HOFer Chris Mullin.
3) Happy retirement, Violet Palmer, after 19 seasons.almer and Dee Kantner were the first full-time female referees in the NBA, something that has continued apace, and with next to no attention, with Lauren Holtkamp becoming a full-time ref last year.
4) A wonderful but horrific story written by Robin Williams’s widow about her husband, the brilliant comedian, and his ultimately unsuccessful fight with Lewy Body Disease, a rare neurological condition that drove him to suicide in 2014.
NOT FEELIN’ …
1) This is not going to end well between Chris Bosh and the Heat. No, sir, it is not. There is no way the Heat won’t end up paying Bosh every dime of the $76 million it owes him for the last three years of his contract. But, what team would pull the trigger and sign him?
2) The Sixers … goodness.When they do catch a break, of course, it’s a bad one. A real bad one.
3) Eight games for the Kings’ Darren Collison, to me, feels a little too light.The league says he cooperated fully with both the NBA and with police before he pled guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, and that that played a role in the decision. Fair enough. But compared to the 24 games that Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor got in 2014 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge and malicious destruction of hotel property stemming from a domestic violence incident with his girlfriend, Collison’s eight…I know every case is different, and the same panel of domestic violence experts that aided the league in the Taylor case weighed in on Collison’s case. I’m not trying to be arbitrary here. But maybe 12?
4) Quietly lost amid the opening of camps last week: Mo Williams’s decision not to return to the Cavaliers. Since he’d just said on his Twitter a week before that he was coming back for one more season, and since it’s not my first ride on the turnip truck, I reckon there’s a possibility that Mo Gotti could change his mind and play this year. But if not, he was always an accessible and interesting guy to talk with.
BY THE NUMBERS
10 -- Teams with new coaches this season -- Brooklyn (Kenny Atkinson) Houston (Mike D’Antoni), Indiana (Nate McMillan), L.A. Lakers (Luke Walton), Memphis (David Fizdale), Minnesota (Tom Thibodeau), New York (Jeff Hornacek), Orlando (Frank Vogel), Sacramento (Dave Joerger) and Washington (Scott Brooks). This does not count holdover coaches who took over during last season -- Tyronn Lue in Cleveland and Earl Watson in Phoenix.
15 -- Years since the Bucks won a playoff series, the longest current streak for an NBA team entering this season. Milwaukee last won a postseason series in 2001, when it beat Charlotte in the Eastern Conference semifinals, advancing to the conference finals. There, the Bucks lost to the 76ers in seven games, and have lost all six of their playoff series since.
1 -- Players remaining from Miami’s last Finals team -- just two years ago. Longtime vet Udonis Haslem is it, after Pat Riley’s announcement last week that the Heat was no longer planning or working toward Chris Bosh’s return.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
And this week's winner is ...
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ pic.twitter.com/2loCjd4Zhf— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 3, 2016
-- The PGA Tour (@PGATOUR), Sunday, 5:36 pm, after the U.S. Ryder Cup defeated the European team to win the Cup for the first time since 2008. The U.S. victory, 17-11, was its biggest in Ryder matches since 1981. (The single fellow in the middle amidst all the couple canoodling is Rickie Fowler, who defeated England’s Justin Rose, 1-up. In singles play Sunday.
THEY SAID IT
“So I said, okay, this is worth the effort. Because Sacramento -- no matter what Phil Jackson says about the cowbells, and no matter what you guys say about that Game 7 refereeing, and even though Vlade (Divac) flopped his way to a successful career … the town, itself, was so, so worthy of the effort.”
-- Former NBA Commissioner David Stern, at the ribbon cutting ceremony last week in Sacramento for the Kings’ new Golden 1 Center Arena -- whose official address is 500 David J. Stern Walk, in honor of Stern’s role in keeping the Kings in the city rather than letting them move to Seattle in 2013. Stern cited the city’s consistent support of the team in good times and in bad during two-plus decades as a chief catalyst for league owners to back the city.
“He’s entitled to his opinion. I feel I have no regrets about my time in Chicago. I gave it everything I had. To me that’s all that matters. I did everything I could for that organization. I thought it was a little bit of a low blow, but at the end of the day I have nothing but respect for that organization.”
-- Joakim Noah, to reporters last week, on comments from Bulls’ owner Jerry Reinsdorf that Chicago didn’t try to re-sign Noah as a free agent this summer because the team felt Noah “wasn’t going to be a frontline guy anymore.” Noah signed a four-year, $72 million deal in New York.
“I just messed it up. I take the blame. At one point you have to look at yourself in the mirror and be a man about it."
-- Kevin Seraphin, to the Indianapolis Star, on why he had a subpar season in New York for the Knicks last season. Seraphin acknowledged he came to camp last year out of shape, but says he didn’t make the same mistake this summer before signing with Indiana.
Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT.