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Something else is going on, and it’s an unintended consequence of Commissioner Adam Silver’s efforts to keep the anthem protests that sprang up in the NFL from spreading to the NBA.
Before the season began, the league sponsored public-service announcements about “togetherness” featuring star players known for being vocal about police brutality: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade, along with white player Kyle Korver. Silver and NBPA President Michelle Roberts also sent each team a memo affirming the rights of players to speak out off the court, and asking NBA players to contact the league or the union if they are looking for ways to make “positive change.” The approach could not have been more different from the hyper-paternalism of Silver’s predecessor, “Mr. Dress Code” David Stern. Silver’s message was that players could be as woke as they want to be…as long as it would be kept off the court, and as long as it tilted toward service, not resistance.
It has to be noted that this corporate strategy worked only because Adam Silver by all accounts sincerely cares about there being vocal, civic-minded athletes in a way that Stern instinctively opposed. The very reason the All-Star game was in New Orleans was, of course, because it was pulled from Charlotte, North Carolina, over the state’s discriminatory legislation against LGBTQ people. Players took the cue from Silver, holding hands during the anthem to symbolize “unity,” and then saw footage of those very gestures used in the NBA’s very own PSAs.
But then a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to kumbaya. Donald Trump was elected president, and rebellion has been normalized. Americans have been protesting since the inauguration, and a heterogeneous “resistance” against the grifter in the White House has taken hold. With his every tweet, Trump sends more people—even those who never thought about politics—into the streets.
Players and coaches are part of this world, too. Many are just as shocked and enraged as the rest of us who believe this presidency is off the rails. They have chosen to use their platform and take advantage of the oxygen that Silver offered in return for not going “full Kaepernick” during the anthem. They are standing up and not stopping, even if it has gone beyond what Adam Silver could ever control. These are what are called “unintended consequences.”
Adam Silver wanted a “woke league.” Well, he got it and, in the short term, no one is going back to sleep.