#BLM, Sport

Must you use your voice in order to be heard: is an NBA boycott a good idea?

In a recent players’ group conference call, a faction, led by six-time All-Star Kyrie Irving, put forward the idea of staging a boycott against the proposed resumption of the NBA season in Orlando.

The theory behind the suggested boycott is to help maintain the momentum of the BLM movement in the media, for once the NBA season resumes, significant American coverage will be dedicated to results and team performances, as opposed to issues of social justice. In a league where more than three quarters of the players are Black, the killing of George Floyd has encouraged several stars to participate in the subsequent protests occurring across the United States.

This is not the first time that a boycott has been mooted, with one having been threatened to take place as recently as 2014 had NBA commissioner Adam Silver not issued a lifetime ban to Donald Sterling, who owned the LA Clippers at the time, following his widely reported racist remarks. However, several individuals disagree with this latest boycott proposal, including, most notably, former NBA player and eleven-time All-Star, Charles Barkley. Barkley has stated that by boycotting the return to the season, NBA players would be failing to take advantage of their most powerful weapon in the fight against racism; their media presence.

Stars like LeBron James, whom Barkley claims is the most influential athlete in the United States, would remain out of the spotlight, unable to send anti-racism messages to his countless number of fans. Those on this alternative side of the argument do not dispute that the planned Orlando return will be heavily covered by the American media, but instead believe that this coverage can be used as an opportunity to protest on a heavily publicised scale, just as Premier League players have been doing by symbolically kneeling prior to kick-off.

Furthermore, with NBA players already having forgone an estimated $300 million in salary due to cancelled games, they could stand to lose up to $1.2 billion if the season was curtailed as a result of a boycott. This further $900 million, if they returned to play, could be donated by players to causes that can help the fight against racism.

Forbes estimates that the average NBA team is worth more than $2 billion. Consequently, a collective boycott of the NBA would have a huge impact on the American economy and could encourage political change by the Federal Government. However, this is very much uncertain, whereas salary donations will have a guaranteed impact that the NBA stars themselves would be able to control and manage.

Therefore, although I support the principle of a boycott (no matter how much I love basketball), as I do believe it sends a powerful message, realistically one is unlikely to be effective unless all NBA players were to participate, which, from the divisions that arose from the player conference call, it seems clear that they will not. Only certain players sitting out the return to the season would disadvantage their respective teams unfairly and may unfortunately lead to resentment against those players by their teams’ fans. This I believe sends a much weaker message than a collective NBA response to the protests currently taking place.

Therefore, I believe protesting throughout the return to the season and players donating their salaries to social justice causes is the best way forward for the NBA as it is this author’s opinion that, first and foremost, we must present a united front in the fight against racism.

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Luke Saward

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January 2022
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