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Golden State Warriors: Superteam of emotional intelligence, empathy and evolved athlete activism

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In the increasingly thorny terrain of athletes protesting racial injustice by kneeling during the National Anthem, the Warriors and the NBA school the world.

Golden State Warriors Media Day
Exemplars of focus and persistence.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBA Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts joined forces last month in support of their players’ rights to voice their views on social-justice issues happening in the company.

In the letter, the two even encouraged players to reach out to the league for assistance in identifying the best ways to effect change:

“None of us operates in a vacuum. Critical issues that affect our society also impact you directly. Fortunately, you are not only the world's greatest basketball players — you have real power to make a difference in the world, and we want you know that the Players Association and the League are always available to help you figure out the most meaningful way to make that difference.”

Yet, as the preseason neared, Silver’s further comments revealed that readers of the aforementioned statement perhaps failed to read between the lines. What appeared to be a commitment of blanket support really turns out to be solidarity in helping players find the best ways to approach social-justice issues — ways that do not involve protesting at games during the National Anthem.

League rules require players during the anthem to “line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line.”

“It’s been a rule as long as I’ve been involved with the league, and my expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem,” Silver said.

Silver, with usual aplomb, offered insightful, well-reasoned explanations for why he prefers NBA athletes stand for the anthem — and none of those reasons have to do with accusations that players who don’t stand are disrespecting the flag and members of the armed forces, or that they are just basic “sons of bitches.”

Instead of going small-minded and petty, trampling on people’s First Amendment rights, and attempting to divide and undermine a private business, Silver went wide — borrowing a page from the Michelle Obama playbook, which states: “When they go low, we go high.”

Silver went high, but also far and wide.

“I should add I have a concern as an American how divided our country is,” Silver said. “We don’t live in isolation. We’re a country that faces extraordinarily difficult, complex global issues, and the fact that we’re so divided puts us at a huge disadvantage on the global stage.”

In other words, the great divisions tearing away at the fabric of the country — “a huge gap ... a gulf,” according to Silver — not only embarrass US citizens and make them miserable and angry on a daily basis, but also lower the nation’s global standing. Silver, like many athletes who have spoken out about current events, believe sports can close in the gaps.

“I believe this league can play a role in attempting to unify people,” said Silver.

And Kevin Durant spoke recently about sports having the a unique ability to unite. “Sports is the United States,” Durant said. “Sports is what brings us all together.”

And when addressing the situation in which Stephen Curry found himself on Donald Trump’s Twitter hit list, Durant offered unique insights about the ways in which the bonds, values and principles of this team put the Warriors in a strong position to lead by example, platform and voice:

“My reaction was we stand behind Steph, obviously. That's our brother, our teammate, and he’s our leader. We follow behind him, and we stand behind him. We support him in this time. It’s a crazy, crazy world we’re living in, especially when our president just goes at people on Twitter. But that’s just the nature of the beast right now.

I’m very proud of how our organization handled everything, all the players handled everything. At the end of the day, we want our voices to be heard, and we want to play basketball and inspire people to be better. And I think playing for the Warriors, playing at the highest level of basketball, it allows us to impact people on another level. So if we focus on that and also using our voice for good, it makes me proud to be a part of this organization.”

If players do violate the league’s rules for conduct during the playing of the National Anthem, both Silver and Roberts expressed they’d deal with any violations on an individual basis. But for the most socially engaged players, it seems unlikely that they will defy protocol.

LeBron James, known most recently for calling Donald Trump a “bum” on Twitter, said, “[M]y voice is more important than my knee.”

This seems to be the long view Silver wants all players to buy into.

“[W]ith NBA players given the platform that they have, whether it’s the regular engagement they have with the media, whether it’s social media, whether it’s other opportunities they have to work in the communities,” Silver said, “they have those opportunities for their voices to be heard ... to act on those voices.”

The long view requires persistent focus on the message, but it also requires keeping the message clear and free of distractions.

The team did not kneel during the anthem at its first preseason game and Draymond Green, the beating heart of the team, explained the reasoning this way:

“There wasn’t a discussion or a decision. We said what we had to say. Everybody knows we don’t need to do anything else to show where we stand. Everyone knows where we stand. People make what they want out of it. It’s at a point now where everyone knows where the conversation started [with Kaepernick]. It’s [now] about capitalizing on that and making things better. ... The more you make gestures, [the gestures] become the conversation.”

And the more money one makes, the money becomes the conversation, which is an issue Curry dressed down recently.

Rich athletes are accused of living in bubbles and, therefore, having no right to talk about matters that don’t concern them. Curry pointed out two important facts on this:

  1. Their money is only relevant to the conversation when athletes are giving it to causes that support social justice and communities (which many of them have supported for a long time, before Kaepernick ever took a knee); and
  2. Athletes, outside of their jerseys, are just black men unless they are of the stature of Warriors’ players — like Durant and Curry — who are household names (which means they are targets for the same racial injustices).

When a lesser-known player is in regular clothes, he is just a black man perceived to be a threat. As Curry explained to ESPN:

“When we’re not in between these lines and with a jersey on, in our casual dress or whatever, we could be targets. My guy Anthony Morrow went through a terrible situation in Georgia. Driving home from a workout in a nice car, a black dude dressed with a fitted hat backwards. Has a little bit of tint on his window and ends up getting searched on the side of the road for no good reason. Little things like that, you’re affected by because it tells you no matter how well you play basketball and how much money you make, when you step foot off the floor, if people don't know who you are or your name, then you’re subject to the same targeting as other people. That’s what we’re trying to change.”

Takeaways for the world

  • Golden State is made up of the most emotionally intelligent, spiritually evolved people in all of sports. They will not be distracted from their goals — on or off the court — especially not by weak, petty arguments.
  • But try to distract them anyway because a hearty laugh does the body good. And everyone could use a good chuckle fit these days.
  • The NBA is not a bear you want to poke. At least, that’s the resounding message sent to the Tweeter-in-Chief from around the league and beyond. Poke the bear if you wish, but be prepared to get your face chewed off.
  • Rise up to the bar the NBA and the Warriors have set. Unity, working together for the greater good and open dialogue seem to be working great for the NBA and Golden State Warriors. Maybe these are strategies we can adopt in our individual lives — personal and professional. Lo and behold, these concepts would be great for government, too ... whenever dignity is restored to the Oval Office with a president behind the desk who is capable of self-reflection.
  • Systemic racism pervades every aspect of society and costs Americans their lives. This is the one and only issue these athletes and those who support them are attempting to address. If your concern is more about how public figures protest injustice rather than the injustice itself, you are complicit in maintaining a society that crushes people of color under racist beliefs and stereotypes that: a) cast people with brown or black skin as threats (no matter where they are, what they’re doing, or what they’re wearing), b) keeps them on unequal economic footing by paying them less for doing the same job as their white counterparts (despite often having more education and/or experience), c) making home ownership impossible for many African Americans because they are charged higher interest rates on home loans than other groups, d) making the concept of safety a mere fantasy, when jogging is perceived as running away from a crime, wearing a hoodie is considered an attempt to hide rather than keep warm, and driving a nice car means getting stopped by police because, surely, the person is a drug dealer or the vehicle is stolen.

Poll

Do you view racism and racial injustice as major issues in our society?

This poll is closed

  • 88%
    Yes.
    (252 votes)
  • 8%
    Somewhat.
    (23 votes)
  • 3%
    No.
    (10 votes)
285 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which do you prefer?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Athletes to keep their mouths shut so I can watch a game in peace.
    (25 votes)
  • 90%
    Athletes to speak out on social-justice issues to try to effect change.
    (232 votes)
257 votes total Vote Now