NBA Commissioner Adam Silver may get the official credit for making the right call. But it was the Los Angeles Clippers and the rest of the NBA teams in the playoffs that brought down the hammer on Donald Sterling.
The players flexed their collective bargaining muscle to send an emphatic message to the current Clippers’ owner (that is until he is voted out by the other league owners) that resonated with ghosts of the past.
While all the media hoopla fell on Silver’s head for dishing out Sterling’s lifetime banishment, the Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and other teams playing in the postseason operated under the radar doing what unions have been doing for years: negotiating their power behind the scenes.
There is always a story behind a story. Sure, the gravity of Sterling’s bigoted remarks about African Americans and minorities rocked America’s boat to its core. But how the players handled the delicate situation with race being mired deep in the middle of the issue was something that civil rights icons of yesteryear would have been proud of.
And they did it on their terms. The thing about history is that it repeats itself. The beautiful thing about it is learning from it. Labor unions have been at the heart of this country’s foundation since the National Labor Union came into prominence during the late 1800s. The American Federation of Labor is another union to gain popularity for fighting on behalf of workers.
Unions were formed to protect the interest of workers in the case businesses and companies exhibit unfair labor practices such as discrimination, low wage pay, sexual harassment and just fighting for equality on behalf of employees. Teachers have a union to back them up. Steelworkers have unions to rally around their cause. Hotel workers around the country have unionized to get better pay and to be treated better.
This model was used by leaders in the Civil Rights Movement to help further their cause. When he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
had rallied around the cause of sanitation workers in Tennessee to see if working conditions would improve for these individuals. What does this have to do with professional basketball players? Quite a bit, I would think.
There’s an old saying out there that says you can’t know where you are going unless you know where you have been. There’s been a lot of uncertainty in recent years about how the young cats on the floor today embrace and/or appreciate the legacy of those who paved the way and came before them. The hip hop generation of NBA players has been railed against from time to time by the old school guard in their approach to revering the game.
I don’t think they have worry about that anymore. As we see this whole scenario play itself out in front of our eyes, it looks as if the league is in good hands. John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell and all those who fought for equal rights for African Americans during the highly combative resistant period in the 1960s, would be proud of the way the NBA players handled the situation.
Backed by the mouthpiece of Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and others, the NBA players flexed their muscles to get what they wanted. Their collective voice and the price of economics is what drove Silver’s announcement to ban Sterling. This was not a solo act. Using a page from the history books, the Clippers and other NBA players went down the economic turnpike to get their justice.
A great chunk of the Civil Rights Movement was making a beeline to impact the revenue stream wherever they could during the Jim Crow era. A prime example of this is the informal economic sanctions King, Dr. Ralph Abernathy and the movement imposed on the Montgomery, Alabama bus system.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott brought that city to its knees economically until the black community had their demands met.
With the real threat of a players’ boycott hovering over the playoffs, Silver was left with little choice in the matter but the one he executed in formally announcing Sterling to be gone. When you have the marquee players in the league making statements about removing Sterling, someone in the NBA’s front office obviously listened.
But they paid more attention when they found out that a widespread players’ walkout in the middle of the postseason was valid. The players acted as one and the league heard their collective voice. The unification of one is a powerful tool to model after. That is exactly what the NBA Players Association did. Bravo to them. And kudos to the players for standing up for what they believe in.