Is the NBA truly WOKE? Robert Silverman at the Daily Beast is calling into question the NBA’s progressive bona fides, notwithstanding the uplifting social justice stands taken by everyone from Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to superstar LeBron James, who has been publicly criticized by President Trump for his support of WOKE causes.
But Silverman says the support — and the NBA’s condoning the outspokenness of its players and coaches — is purely a marketing move. It’s more capitalism than progressivism, he claims, because — just as Nike understood when it gave #resistance icon Colin Kaepernick a sponsorship deal — the NBA benefits as a brand from its leniency/support on social progressivism. If push ever comes to shove, however, Silverman is betting the capitalist agenda will beat the progressive agenda into submission quicker than Klay Thompson sets his feet for a jumper. (This despite NBA commissioner Adam Silver much-praised moving the NBA All-Star Game out of North Carolina, late and inconveniently, as a principled objection to that state’s trans-phobic legislation.)
Think the NBA has your back, players, if you start really getting progressive on Twitter? That depends, Silverman contends, on what happens to the NBA brand at the cash register. Think about this: Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer is no race-baiting Donald Sterling — instead Ballmer’s an enlightened 21st century owner. But Ballmer didn’t buy Sterling’s Clippers for $2 billion to have the Clippers stage a national protest on the issue of police brutality — or on anything else. Ballmer bought the Clippers to make money and burnish his reputation and to get one of those big trophies. Silverman’s point is that it’ll be very interesting to see what happens if Ballmer’s Clippers investment starts to go the other way because of a few challenging #resist tweets from some fed-up power forward.
But maybe the NBA will have the players’ backs — and so far the record is pretty good if not perfect, even in this complex environment. (Anybody with a perfect record on social justice, please step to the front now.) Besides, what’s inherently wrong with the idea that being on the side of fair and equal treatment is also profitable? As Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told Vanity Fair recently: “One of the most underrated skills in business right now is being nice. Nice sells.” Nice very often means fair. Fair is always hard to measure, but the NBA is trying to do it. Reaping rewards for doing the right thing isn’t assured, but it isn’t historically unprecedented either.
With the NBA, so far so good, you might say. The players certainly don’t mind how successful the marketing of the NBA has been, whether it’s 100% sincere or not. The NBA is an isolated case where trickle-down economics really does work — and million-dollar bench players of today aren’t dissatisfied with their lucrative lot. The NBA players, owners and non-naive fans for the most part all think the same way about the NBA’s liberal stand on social justice issues: if it’s woke — and it ain’t broke — don’t fix it.