In theory, the NBA All-Star Game is all about fun, and entertainment.
In reality, no sports league has a history of activism quite like the NBA. And few athletes are as willing to stand up and speak their mind on tough issues as NBA players are.
And in the current climate, there’s been a strong need for people - everyone - to take a stand. That especially includes beloved athletes, whose voices reach the masses.
In case you missed it, LeBron James was involved in a series of headlines this week. In a recent video with Kevin Durant, James stated that President Donald Trump “doesn’t give a f**k about the people.”
Not surprisingly, FOX News ran with the headline. In a statement rich with racist tones, anchor Laura Ingraham said that James should “shut up and dribble.”
James’ response through social media was both powerful, and perfect.
Saturday, at the All-Star Media Day, many of the league’s biggest stars were asked about the exchange, which led to insightful and eloquent discussions about race, equality, and athletes making their voices heard.
Two Golden State Warriors made their voices heard, with powerful statements.
Steph on current activism in the NBA: pic.twitter.com/Wnqi1uUg6e— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) February 17, 2018
“I think it’s a reflection of us being able to own our own voice,” Stephen Curry told the media. “With social media, and opportunities like [speaking to the media] . . . whether [fans] want to agree with what we say or not, or even care to listen, we have the opportunity to speak on what we believe, and take a stance.”
Curry also shared his voice about both racism and empowerment when he was asked about Black History Month.
Curry on black history month. Then sees Stephen Jackson and says “speaking of black excellence!” pic.twitter.com/p3kq0fjC7d— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) February 17, 2018
“The people that have sacrificed, made bold steps to open the door for guys like me, guys like the majority of NBA players in the league, to be able to play this game at the level we do, and use it as a way to impact our communities,” Curry noted. He later added that it means a lot to celebrate black excellence, at which point former Warrior Stephen Jackson made it through the media scrum to see Curry. With a huge grin, Curry transitioned perfectly: “Speaking of black excellence!”
Durant also spoke with the utmost eloquence when discussing these issues, and made it clear that the struggle for minorities in America is ongoing and omnipresent.
KD on black history month: “this is an all year, every day, 24/7 thing.” pic.twitter.com/WEu1kRxMbS— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) February 17, 2018
“[Black History Month] is not just a month for me,” Durant said. “We living black history every single day. Black History Month was cool as a kid, growing up, but we’re doing this every single day . . . we’re making an impact as black men every single day.”
When an athlete speaks out against intolerance and racial injustice, it’s hard not to think about Colin Kaepernick. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who famously kneeled during the national anthem has been out of a job ever since making his voice heard.
Such is not the case in the NBA. With Bill Russell - who broke a series of racial barriers in basketball many decades ago - in attendance, commissioner Adam Silver spent part of his Saturday presser speaking on how activism has long been part of the NBA’s roots. He stated that he is “incredibly proud” of James and Durant for their voice.
Adam Silver says he’s “proud” of LeBron and KD for speaking up. Believes that the NBA can be a big catalyst for social justice change.— Brady Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA) February 18, 2018
H/t to @RobertLittal for the great question. pic.twitter.com/4WIOQCTn4z
“I should also say it’s not lost on me or anybody in this room that there is enormous amount of racial tension in this country, enormous amount of social injustice, and I do see a role for this league in addressing those issues,” Silver said. “But Bill Russell happens to be sitting here at this press conference, and [this topic] sort of reminds me of the role that players like Bill Russell have played historically in speaking out on important issues.”
Silver continued, saying that “To me as Commissioner of the NBA, this is a legacy of important work that I’ve inherited, that I continue to encourage, and it doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with everything that’s said at any given moment, but the fact that these players are not just basketball players, they’re multi-dimensional, they care about their communities, and they care about what’s happening in their country. They then care enough to speak out, and sometimes at great risk to themselves because it’s not lost on them that there are some people who will disagree with them. Social media is full of hate as well. So I just conclude by saying I’m really proud of them.”
As for James, he spoke at length about every branch of this topic. But he nailed his point home by saying, “I will not just shut up and dribble . . . So, thank you, whatever her name is. . . I get to sit up here and talk about what’s really important and how I can help change kids.”
Comments like Ingraham’s should make your skin boil. They should make you mad, make you sad, but most importantly, they should inspire you to fight for equality, justice, opportunity, and morality.
That’s what happened for James, Curry, and Durant.
And their voice is heard.