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NBA's social currency is gone after national anthem decision

Vincent Goodwill
·7-min read

If there was ever any doubt, a single statement from the NBA’s league office sealed it.

The moment is over.

The racial reckoning that opened eyes around the country, buoyed by the nation’s most prominent Black Americans — NBA players — has come and gone.

Mark Cuban’s subtle but effective act of removing the national anthem before the start of Dallas Mavericks home games caught the ire of the NBA, which stomped all over Cuban and proclaimed things shall return to normal with fans returning to arenas soon enough.

Who knows the reason for Adam Silver squandering a golden opportunity to subtly change a single issue that has caused more consternation than joy, wasting a chance to be this change agent he so boldly wants to be known as.

Yes, it’s Cuban. He’s annoying and searches every nook for the cranny in all of the rules. Nobody has forgotten Cuban allowed an atmosphere of sexual harassment in the workplace, prompting a seven-month investigation, $10 million fine and apology tour.

That makes him flawed, in addition to being a rebel.

But even rebels have a cause.

“We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country,” Cuban said in a statement following the NBA’s smackdown. “But we also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them. We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard, because they have not been.” Perhaps the NBA allowed its collective ego to get in the way, not wanting Cuban to be the change agent in such an audacious and public way on the back end. Cuban created a conversation as opposed to the NBA doing it, so could it be it’s the “how” and not the actual principle?

If not, Silver kowtowed to an enemy who isn’t paying him much mind right now, a treasonous crowd that drapes its betrayal in a flag, assigning a value that is only as valuable as those in power allow it to have.

The lyrics, the problematic subsequent verses we never hear about, don’t have Black people in mind. The same Black people who create the revenue for themselves and other rich folks to get richer from.

Facundo Campazzo (7), R.J. Hampton (13) and Paul Millsap (4) of the Denver Nuggets stand for the national anthem.

The NBA missed a huge opportunity with how they are handling the national anthem. (AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

It’s Black fans, the Black players, who only matter so much in the pursuit of more money and approval of the racists who’ll never give it.

One team owner, nowhere near a rabble-rouser, told this reporter the “The Star-Spangled Banner” should be replaced by “America the Beautiful.”

But nobody would hardly notice, given the fans who pick their noses or are late arriving or in luxury suites getting their second cocktail.

The custom is the issue, not even the song — and truthfully, “America the Beautiful” could be perceived the same way.

Standing is a political statement if the act of sitting or kneeling is to be taken the same way.

So the controversy could be removed, easing the burdens for all parties involved — even Meyers Leonard.

The NBA had its chance to capitalize on the unfortunate circumstances created by COVID-19, an opportunity to establish new norms nobody would truly fight back against once fans are allowed to convene en masse.

Had there been no national anthem played before games, how many fans would’ve truly noticed, cared or made a stink?

Silver and the NBA had a window, opened when it took the bold stance of placing “Black Lives Matter” on its floor in the Orlando bubble for everyone to see every time players crossed half court — amplified when its players had slogans on the backs of their jerseys, reiterated during Zoom conferences during the final regular-season games and playoffs.

And although there was some pushback, the world kept going round.

It was innovative, inspirational, and even if the envelope could’ve been pushed further, there was social currency Silver gained among the players and even the public for the encouragement of employees to be heard.

It was something his predecessor, David Stern, might not have done. But Stern, even as the Emperor, appealed to the aspirational part of fans he had to win over.

Silver had his chance to emulate Stern, to be the best of both worlds. Everyone will grumble about the All-Star day (not exactly a weekend) in Atlanta, but they’ll largely deal when it comes time — a decision made in cold-hearted capitalism, which Stern would’ve certainly appreciated.

But Silver could’ve told the fans, “You will be fine. You don’t come to the game to hear the national anthem. You come to see these amazing athletes and to commune in ways you haven’t been able to in over a year.”

Advertisers weren’t going to run away, because as much as ratings are down for ALL live sports — including the Super Bowl — it is still a bankable commodity with a guaranteed audience.

And it would be a worse look for any company to go against the NBA in the eyes of the public because like it or not, America worships at the altar of sports.

And yes, sports operate at the behest of the money, but the money wasn’t going to put up that fight, not in these times. There was no “Black Lives Matter” on floors this season, and not even a milquetoast saying like “Education Reform” on the backs of jerseys. The NFL has long been the moral punching bag but having “It takes all of us” in the back of the end zone is more than what the NBA has on its floors.

Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban reacts to players during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at PHX Arena on December 23, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said his franchise will resume playing the national anthem. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The NBA has done good things and will continue to do so, even if using HBCUs for its attempt to soften the All-Star Game in Atlanta feels a bit icky.

Opposition was sure to come, but if Silver hasn’t noticed, that crowd is a little busy right now.

If decisions were made in fear of a man in the White House, he’s out of sight and off the Twitter grid, dealing with an impeachment hearing that could keep him from running for office again.

His Republican party, the group that openly claims never to attend or watch an NBA game again, cannot be courted or negotiated with.

Some of them, as illustrated by the events at the U.S. Capitol last month, are terrorists.

Some of them are on trial and won’t have a meaningful say in the future discourse of things anyways.

Why fear them?

But the middle crowd is always growing, and the NBA could still get a piece of the growing pie by pressing just a little bit more, or by doing the right thing and acting in the best interests of its players who clearly feel the words of the anthem don’t apply to them. Perhaps Silver, ever the optimist, is showing the side of a pragmatist. Or maybe even a pessimist.

Maybe he knows deep down this country will never live up to the ideals it purports itself to be with its relation to Black people.

Maybe that’s the case because people like him keep giving country to those who fail to see Black folks as equal.

There are plenty of instances where the anthem has been performed with some of the most soulful voices, be it Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey.

Those voices were often cultivated in the face of struggle, pain and morphed into something beautiful.

But that pain and soul only has a place in the name of capitalistic gain, which makes Silver and the NBA just like everybody else.

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