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The NBA vs. Racial Inequality

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

The NBA is probably the most involved sports association in the fight against racial injustice, and for good reason. Over 80% of the league is of color, and they want justice for their communities who are suffering. Many protests were being held throughout the league, from wearing phrases on the back of jerseys, to even boycotting NBA games.


Many people might remember Donald Starling, the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, making racist comments about African-Americans in 2015. He saw a photo of his then-girlfriend, V. Stiviano, along with Magic Johnson, and was recorded saying:

"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to? ... You can sleep with them [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that...and not to bring them to my games."


Of course, this enraged the entire NBA, especially Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who himself was African-American. He called for Sterling to be removed as team owner, which was a success, and Sterling was subsequently banned from the NBA for life. He sold the team to Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, for $2 billion. Donald Sterling's name has never been mentioned in the league after the incident.


But there have been times where the NBA was also being racist on its part. Perhaps Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is the best-known example of facing discrimination while in the league. Abdul-Rauf was having the season of his career in 1996, before he was involved in a controversy surrounding the "The Star-Spangled Banner". Mahmoud refused to stand for the national anthem, as he believed that the flag was a sign of oppression and that the United States had a long history of tyranny. The NBA suspended him for refusal to stand and fined him $31,707 per missed game. Abdul-Rauf eventually worked out a medium with the league, in which he would stand for the national anthem, but could keep his eyes closed and look towards the ground.


Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf dribbling past Michael Jordan

In both of the scenarios, racial inequality existed in the association, but the times changed. From blackballing an all-star for refusing to stand to banning a team owner for life because of racist comments, the league is adapting towards today's perception of equality irrespective of race, color, or religion. It's come so far that teams and players have even threatened to boycott games. Before the restart, players were petitioning to wear phrases promoting racial equality on their jerseys, which the league initially declined. This was later changed, and players realized the platform they had to make necessary changes. After the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, players of the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott, and even lose, their playoff game against the Orlando Magic. Both teams warmed up, but retreated to their respective locker rooms when the game was supposed to start. This started a stir among the sports community, as in baseball, players were boycotting games and were leaving symbols on the home plate, such as a shirt with seven holes in the back, indicating that Jacob Blake was shot seven times. The NBA also postponed all of its games after the boycott of several other teams.


James Harden (left), Russell Westbrook (middle). and P.J. Tucker (right) are kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial inequailty

The association was lauded for this act, and it seems like there is more to come.

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