If you couldn’t tell from the glut of preseason rankings steadily rolling out, predictions based on teams in their first practices and preseason games, and the subsequent coverage of all of it as if it were a religious phenomena, the NBA season is almost here.
Sincerely, this is an exciting time of year. For players, depending on the length of their summers and how they spent them, many are showcasing physical improvements, additions to their game, some donning new jerseys and others back with a familiar roster of teammates, eager to get started. In all of it, there’s the sense of a clean slate. For fans, there were so many changes that came with free agency and summer, entire basketball ecosystems shifting, that the coming season promises to be one of the most exciting, most wide-open, most interesting in recent memory.
And for media, from the trajectory of the league’s biggest stars to the promise of its anticipated rookies, front office shifts and familiar additions, plus the weird and wonderful things that can happen on any given day in a league with so many autonomous characters, there will be no shortage of stories to tell.
But within all of this, there is a tendency — by the league, teams, fans, and media — to look forward with such force that it encourages a kind of erasure of what came before. The end of another offseason allows an automatic reset of narratives that may not be finished, and the onus of fresh start/best start can quietly shift focus from the stories that are admittedly darker, or more challenging.
Assault and abuse allegations within the NBA have a similar shelf life to your breath on a cold day — visible when they first hit, startling even if a place in your gut has, by now, understood that things like this can happen to anyone, and then fading, for every second out and floating in the world. These kinds of allegations struggle for a shelf life anywhere, with victims reluctant to come forward given the inherent doubt and questioning placed squarely, most often, on its survivors.
Add to that the accelerated ecosystem of the NBA when it comes to the pace of its news, encouraged by the media covering it and the way that, as fans of the league, we all seek the next bigger, funnier, more shocking thing to share, then the shelf life of a violent assault accusation, or domestic abuse, only lives as long as people are talking about it. And that’s assuming those talking about it know how to, if you assume people are talking at all.
In April of this year, Luke Walton was fired by the Los Angeles Lakers and hired by the Sacramento Kings two days later. A week following, sexual assault allegations were leveled against Walton by a former broadcast colleague, Kelli Tennant. Speculation immediately came not on the allegations, but on their timing. Why Tennant would wait until Walton had been hired for a new head coaching role before filing her lawsuit, instead of considering the timing was perhaps suggested by her lawyers because it would give her accounts of assault — precisely detailed and dated — more attention. Because that is what is required to begin these kinds of discussions, at all, within a league like the NBA. Everything about the conversation must be considered before someone opens their mouth.