GET HYPED: This NBA season will be its most woke yet

There’s plenty to be excited about for the upcoming NBA season.

Russ has new friends to play with. Kyrie gets to be “the man” in Boston. Giannis and Kawhi join the MVP discussion. Lonzo. The Process. LeBron and Wade together again. The Warriors and their star-smashing Line-up of Death.

The SLAM PH team got together to add to that list. They wrote about why they’re personally excited for the return of the NBA.

So, get hyped. The NBA is back!

ABC's Coverage of The 2016 ESPYS

In the age of a Donald Trump presidency, “stick to sports” isn’t just dead. It’s dust.

Sports in America has always been a battleground for civil rights. Decades before Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended in 1996 for refusing to stand during the national anthem to protest racism, segregating teams and leagues made every sport inherently political.

Whether they crossed the color line or played within the system, the achievements of black athletes functioned as a protest in itself. The idea that a group of people is naturally inferior to you simply cannot hold up if they are kicking your ass.

In the 1940s, Negro League legend Satchel Paige, the greatest pitcher ever excluded from Major League Baseball, forced white fans to take notice when black all-stars would beat white teams in exhibition games. In 1942, he became the oldest rookie to enter the Major League. In the NCAA, Texas Western College’s 1966 championship with an all-black starting five remains a landmark achievement in the struggle against discrimination.

The more powerful an athlete is in their field, the more powerful their statements become. Muhammad Ali’s protest against the Vietnam War was potent precisely because of his dizzying celebrity. Today, NBA stars stand toe-to-toe with Hollywood celebrities and world leaders when it comes to name recall and social media capital—and this both enables and emboldens them to speak.

It’s been five years since LeBron James and the Miami Heat wore black hoodies after the killing of Trayvon Martin, and racism has continued to plague American society in new and familiar ways. Police brutality is more likely to strike African-Americans than any other group. “I’m calling for all my fellow ATHLETES to step up and take charge,” Carmelo Anthony posted in a 307-word essay on Instagram. “There’s NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone.”

During the Obama administration, Trump took to the media with the “birther” conspiracy theory to de-legitimize the citizenship of America’s first black president. Meanwhile, Obama had become the “NBA’s president,” watching games, hanging out with players and coaches, and using basketball metaphors in his speeches.

This is the first time this many players and coaches have been so vocally against a political figure. Melo. Steve Kerr. Joel Embiid. Shumpert. Stan Van Gundy. Boogie. Pop. Draymond. Dame. Wade. Kobe. This is also the first time that a president has directly tried to start shit on Twitter with athletes.


So here we are, in a perfect storm. As the Trump administration shows no signs of curbing his policies or rhetoric, it’s a safe bet that even more will speak out this year.

Once “U bum,” you never go back.

It’s worth noting that the activism has always been led by athletes and coaches rather than team management, which remains predominantly white-male-CEO-driven. And this isn’t to say there are no risks for the athletes and coaches. Abdul-Rauf believes his career prematurely ended when he was 29 years old because he spoke out, and he believes the same is happening to football player Colin Kaepernick.

In the NBA, at least, we’ve come a long way. In the wake of the Steph-Trump-LeBron exchange, commissioner Adam Silver said: “I am proud of our players for taking an active role in their communities and continuing to speak out on critically important issues.”

LeBron James - Stephen Curry

I’m reminded of something a professor once told me about the ethics of protest.

There will always be a cost to protest, whether economic or social, and not everyone can afford to pay. Even if they receive social media backlash from the right, past a certain level of pay grade and fame, an NBA star becomes too big to be black-balled.

Privilege is protection, my professor told me. If you have it, it is your duty to stand in front of those who don’t. LeBron James and several NBA stars have chosen to do just that.

LeBron James, leader of the free world. I can get with that.

LeBron James

Photos from Getty Images


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