Adam Silver is sticking by his players, even when they don’t just “shut up and dribble.” The NBA commissioner addressed the media in Los Angeles on Saturday and said he supported LeBron James and Kevin Durant and the way they responded to a conservative television host’s declaration that they should “shut up and dribble” and not speak out about politics.
It was James who on Thursday appeared in an Undefeated video where he said Donald Trump doesn’t “give a f*ck about the people” he was elected to govern. That got a reply from Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who said James and Durant should “shut up and dribble” and incorrectly stated James dropped out of high school. Both James and Durant responded to Ingraham, both on Instagram and publicly to the media.
James also stressed on Saturday that he is committed to being politically and socially active and said it’s part of his job as the NBA’s most visible player. That’s a sentiment that Silver emphatically endorsed, saying he’s “proud” of both James and Durant for the way they handled the situation and their work off the basketball court.
“Let me begin by saying I’m incredibly proud of our players for using the platform they have as players in the NBA and on social media to speak out on issues that are important to them,” Silver said. “I was proud of LeBron and Kevin’s response to the comments that were made about them.”
Though the NBA has not encouraged protests during the national anthem, overall the league has been incredibly supportive of its players and coaches speaking out about political and social issues. Silver, for instance, thought the Warriors should visit Trump’s White House should an invitation ever have come. But when individual athletes speak out, the NBA has championed that player’s right to speak and encouraged them to be active in the community to enact real change.
“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 added on Saturday.
He stressed that this isn’t new, either, citing Bill Russell and others in the NBA for speaking out against inequality for decades according to Yahoo Sports.
“Bill Russell happens to be sitting here at this press conference,” Silver said. “[The topic] sort of reminds me of the role that players like Bill Russell have played historically in speaking out on important issues. It’s interesting. Here we are in L.A., and, Bill, you probably remember this, but the first All-Star Game that took place in Los Angeles was in 1963. You were the MVP, and then of course the [Boston] Celtics went on to win a championship that year. But maybe even more importantly, then, in the summer of 1963, you stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech.
“So, to me, there is this direct through-line from players like Bill Russell, here it was roughly 55 years ago, to LeBron and Kevin Durant, speaking out today on issues that are important to them.”
Silver’s stance here is important because he’s not looking at this flare-up of controversy and something new. These kind of political statements and scuffles are just the latest in a long history of basketball players using their prominence to change the public narrative of issues in society. James might be one of the best at it in sports today, but he’s not the first and certainly won’t be the last one to speak out about economic and racial injustice. The NBA, it seems, feels like it’s their job to make sure players feel comfortable doing that, and that they know they will be supported when they do.