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

By: 09.23.11  •  58 Comments
LeBron James

LeBron James (photo. David Alvarez)

What are we really fighting about?

For the scarred veterans of countless throw-downs with significant others, it is the grand question that hovers over each petty incident—the subtitles that clarify the curse words. And every now and then, the more mature versions of ourselves can diffuse a hostile situation by asking that question.

But sometimes it only makes things worse.

The NBA lockout has been the polished version of a lover’s quarrel. Finances, commitment and respect guide the undercurrent of deep-seeded issues between players and owners that have boiled over into a stalemate that must be settled, because there is a Collective Bargaining Agreement that needs to be signed before another minute of NBA basketball is played.

But asking that vital question — What are we really fighting about? – would not diffuse this situation. In this case, it may actually bring to the surface answers that are more disturbing than the issues we’re willing to talk about right now.

The root of the lockout is, of course, money. But at the root of those money issues is power. And at the root of the power dynamic is race.

How could it not be, when 95 percent of the league’s owners are White and 85 percent of the players are Black?

Offended as the basketball world may have been by Brian Cardinal‘s $35 million contract or Nick Collison‘s $13.2 million salary last season, I knew the NBA was inevitably headed for a lockout when one of the few men who would’ve been justified in signing an out-of-the-stratosphere deal — LeBron James — actually took less money than expected to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat.

It wasn’t because LeBron’s addition would likely turn the Heat into a juggernaut. History has shown us that the NBA doesn’t exactly suffer when a small number of dominant franchises hoard championships.

The red flag in LeBron’s decision was that it represented a new breed of NBA player: One that is too smart, too powerful and too rich for the league to control.

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