Unacceptable Blackness: The NBA Lockout As A White-Collar Race War

By: 09.23.11
Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson (photo. Gary Land)

Under the rules of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that NBA owners want, players will receive less money over shorter contracts thanks to a hard salary cap, as well as a smaller percentage of the overall revenue pot.

Less money means less power, and less power means less entitlement for players to make the decisions that dictate the league’s future. Again, the racial demographics involved in this scenario cannot be overlooked.

Now here is where a lot of people will call BS. “NBA players are given millions of dollars to play basketball,” they’ll say. “Now you’re calling the league racist? Really?

These are many of the same people, mind you, who use terms like “post-racial” and claim racism is dead because Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. And to the segment of America’s Black population still living under the omnipresent uncertainty of what White people will let us get away with, that thinking makes sense: If they let Obama be president, if they let Oprah be a saint, if they let O.J. get off (until Vegas), then letting NBA players make so much money means it can’t be a racism issue.

But I’m not saying this is racism. I’m not saying David Stern is the devil or that James Dolan hates Black people or that Clay Bennett is part of the Klan.

Stern is the one caught in the middle here, the guy trying to appease his employers (the owners) while maintaining authority over his subordinates (the players). Dolan and Bennett and every other White owner in the league (even Dan Gilbert) surely appreciate the contributions of Black players and employees to boosting their personal fortunes. I’m sure some of their best friends are Black.

I’m not saying it’s simple racism. I’m saying it’s a racial issue. There’s a difference.

The NBA has been teetering on the edge of being unacceptably too Black for years. There was Allen Iverson, and then Ron Artest, and then Kwame Brown and his band of high schoolers. The mostly-White owners frowned upon it and the mostly-White media bitched about it, but as far as threats go, the braids and brawls were blue-collar problems. Those were easily fixable with a few updated policies governing clothes, age and aggressive behavior.

The NBA lockout is the manifestation of a white-collar problem. Under the old CBA, the likes of LeBron and Chris Paul and Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony could have essentially run the league, because they’d finally realized they had the talent and the power and the money to do so.

The owners need some of that power back, to restore the balance to which they were accustomed. They need to be able to cut players loose from big contracts at a moment’s notice like they do in the NFL — the league whose practices were referred to as modern-day slavery by multiple players during its recent lockout.

The NBA owners need to be able to keep their players in check.

Otherwise, the alternative would be an uprising of billion-dollar proportions. Call it a power struggle. Call it a white-collar race war. Call it the unthinkable fantasy of the Jack Johnsons and Curt Floods of eras past.

Just don’t call it strictly business.

Follow Austin on Twitter at @AustinBurton206.

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