The covid influenced season, and social unrest that has also plagued this society during these last several months, was punctuated by NBA players, who are almost 80% Africans, using their platform to demand justice against police terrorism against African people. The way the players facilitated their voices was in using their Players Association, their union, to demand that the league – which is made up primarily of right wing billionaire owners – openly express their support for player sentiments previously expressed. The league did this primarily through having the words “Black Lives Matter” painted on the courts used for games in the covid protected arenas nicknamed “the Bubble” that all games were played once the reason resumed in July. Players were also permitted to wear jerseys that displayed slogans like “I can’t breathe” or “Say her name”, slogans generally connected to the Black Lives Matter movement, on the backs of their jerseys where their names usually are.
The Laker championship culminated with a television rating share of 5.7 million viewers which represented the lowest documented watched NBA Finals game ever. Typically, ratings are in the 20 million people range. Most television sports pundits are crediting the loss in viewership to the masses of white basketball fans who own politics that oppose the Black Lives Matter movement, whatever those people believe that movement to be.
The overt racism displayed by white people towards the messages articulated by African and white athletes in all sports supporting African people against police terror, has impacted me in ways I never imagined possible. I love basketball. Especially NBA basketball. Over the years, many people have tried to throw shade at me for this. Their claim is that revolutionaries cannot love NBA basketball. These are people who smoke, toke, drink, whatever they want to bring balance into their lives. None of those things I do. Instead, I watch a game, or at least portions of a game, every so often. This past NBA season, I probably watched no more than about five or six games in full so I’m not trying to hear those critics, but what was strange was how the social upheaval impacted this process. I actually found myself hoping the Lakers would win. This is overwhelmingly shocking. I’m a life long Sacramento Kings fan. My Kings are almost always a bad team, but that’s my squad, ride or die. No Kings fan ever wants the hated Lakers to win anything. Yet, the soaking racism, so apparent at the NBA in general, and LeBron James in particular, made me want him to win no matter what, even if he is playing for the Lakers now.
Besides my personal realities, the NBA announced after Sunday’s game that the measures enacted over the summer will not be continued for the 2020/2021 season. This is clearly a move to get the perceived loss of white fans back. And, it will work because most people in this society operate on an extremely superficial lack of memory. A few clever promotional moves and no league efforts like those displayed this summer, plus good basketball, will definitely get a lot of those shameless people back in front of their televisions, if not this next season, surely not long after that.
The above is not that difficult to figure out. Capitalists are obviously experts at deceiving and manipulating the people in this society. As Malcolm X told us decades ago, the American propaganda machine is so strong that during World War II it got us “loving the Soviet Union and China and hating Germany and Japan. After World War II, it got you hating the Soviet Union and China and loving Germany and Japan!” What’s much more interesting is the method in which bourgeoisie nationalist politics came to undermine genuine sentiments of struggle among the NBA players. During the month of August, players, reacted to the brutal assault against Jacob Blake in Wisconsin when police shot him seven times in the back, by deciding to not play. The players of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team refused to take the court for their playoff game. Their bold action influenced African tennis player Naomi Osaka to boycott her match. The Women’s National Basketball Association cancelled games (it should be noted that the women’s league has been the most militant in all of sports in speaking out against social injustices). Even traditionally conservative Major League Baseball cancelled games that day in solidarity. This was an unprecedented militant work stoppage. A strike. A demand for better results. Back to the NBA, players met to discuss whether to cancel the entire season at that point and respected players like LeBron and Kawhi Leonard were leading that charge. Then, the usual sabotage of the bourgeoisie nationalist circuit stepped in. Barack Obama encouraged LeBron and other players to not strike, but vote. In our view, that development did more to lead the way for the NBA to officially abandon its support for African people than anything that has happened in the last couple of days.
The role of the bourgeoisie is always to redirect and defuse genuine militancy. The African bourgeoisie, most clearly represented by Obama’s presence, exists specifically to control the African masses. The broader (white) bourgeoisie, leaving the African bourgeoisie to quell the African masses, can focus on the white masses to ensure they continue to believe that the interests of capitalist America are always the same as theirs. You can see this happening as people who couldn’t name a book about China’s history, let alone read one, if you put a gun to their head are now trying to compare the protests in Hong Kong to the Black lives matter movement. They are claiming that Africans like LeBron are silent on Hong Kong which they are arguing is a contradiction. Nevermind that there is no analysis of the Britain’s colonial relationship to Hong Kong and the agreement Britain signed with China to return Hong Kong to China (where it rightfully belongs) in 2047. No discussion about the fact the decline of capitalism is clearly the reason for any reduction in life for people in Hong Kong, not the imminent return to mainland China which isn’t even going to happen for another 27 years.
The point tying all of this together is the imagery of the NBA over the last couple of months has been nice, but as is always going to be the case in capitalism, they will always give you little concessions, but eventually, its always going to be back to business as usual. This will continue to be the case until people start getting serious about getting involved in ongoing organizational work to build capacity to fight back against injustice on a protracted and ongoing basis. Otherwise, again its like Malcolm told us. “You been bamboozeled!”