Occupy the NBA!

Occupy the NBA!

If we are going to Occupy Wall Street, DC and other locales, let’s take the fight to corporate greed ground zero: David Stern’s NBA.


“The purpose of Occupy Wall Street is to reclaim the country from corporate interests. The protesters feel as though their political system has been hijacked by Wall Street’s corporations, and as a result their elected officials now serve the interests of the wealthy upper 1 percenters instead of what they call the ‘99 percent.’ ”   —Allison Kilkenny, Citizen Radio

After decades of corporate greed run amok, a viral clarion call has sounded to strike back and “occupy everywhere.” What started as several dozen people saying they would “occupy Wall Street” has become a national movement. Now we have thousands of people who are part of Occupy Boston, Occupy DC, Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Las Vegas, even Occupy Nebraska. Now we have labor organizations like the Transit Workers Union and 1199 joining the charge. Now it’s high time to take this movement and bring it to the National Basketball Association. We need to “Occupy the NBA.”

Why not? Do you really want to talk about corporate greed piledriving the interests of “the other 99 percent”? Look no further than the NBA. The League’s billionaire owners have locked their doors and threatened to cancel the 2011-12 season following the most lucrative year in league history. They haven’t only locked out the players union but thousands of low-wage workers—the people cleaning the arenas, parking the cars and selling the overpriced flat, foamy swill the league calls beer. They’ve also locked out secretaries and scouts, managers and mascots. Somewhere in Phoenix there’s a guy in a gorilla suit with a sign that reads, “Will dunk for food.”

It’s Wall Street’s version of the high pick-and-roll, their go-to play: magically turning our tax dollars into their profits. Look at the billions that have gone to NBA arenas while public workers are laid off and the infrastructure of our cities rot. As economist David Berri has noted, $2 billion has gone into building eight new facilities. Of that amount, 84 percent, $1.75 billion, has come out of our pockets. That number also doesn’t include the $2 billion in tax dollars being funneled into the Atlantic Yards Project for the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets. David Stern’s claim that twenty-three of thirty owners are “losing money” on the NBA, while leaving public subsidies out of his math, only demonstrates his ugly contempt for us 99 percenters.

Is it the arrogance of the privileged class that makes your blood boil? Listen to Ted Leonsis, the owner of the NBA’s Washington Wizards. In September, Leonsis said, “Economic Success has somehow become the new boogie man; some in the Democratic party are now casting about for enemies and business leaders and anyone who has achieved success in terms of rank or fiscal success is being cast as a bad guy in a black hat. This is counter to the American Dream and is really turning off so many people that love America and basically carry our country on their back by paying taxes and by employing people.” So we pay for their stadiums, we buy their sweatshop-stitched crap, we work for poverty wages at the park and they’re carrying us on their back? Please kiss me where the good Lord split me.

So what would an “Occupy NBA” look like? The demands are bothobvious enough and placard-ready: “Stop the lockout!” “Public ownership of teams that take public money!” “A living wage for stadium workers!” “Better beer!”

The method should be encampments out in front of every arena. We could gather with food, water, tents, “people’s libraries” filled with the collected works of Zander Hollander and of course, a bunch of basketballs and a hoop. We would also need to dialogue with players and encourage them to start their own league until David Stern stops using his head as a rectal thermometer. As Henry Abbot wrote on ESPN’s True Hoop blog before being methodically tortured in an undisclosed Bristol, Connecticut, safehouse, “So long as taxpayers pay for the stadiums, and players do the work, why, again, do we cut owners in on the deal?

The players have clearly also had enough of the arrogance and absence of accountability in the owner’s box. Last week, the stars finally came out to the negotiations with Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony making themselves heard. When David Stern pointed his finger repeatedly at Wade, the all-star guard responded, “Don’t point your finger at me. I’m a grown man. I have children.” Later, Lebron, D-Wade, Durant and Carmelo all stood at attention, arms crossed, behind a sitting Derek Fisher, the union president, as he resumed negotiations with Stern. Now that’s how to do a union negotiation.

Watching the NBA players develop a backbone, and seeing the reemergence of fightback against corporate greed, it’s difficult to not think about the words of Troy Polamalu during the NFL’s lockout over the summer. The Steelers safety said: “I think what the players are fighting for is something bigger. A lot of people think it’s millionaires versus billionaires and that’s the huge argument. The fact is its people fighting against big business. The big business argument is ‘I got the money and I got the power therefore I can tell you what to do.’ That’s life everywhere. I think this is a time when the football players are standing up and saying, ‘No, no, no, the people have the power.’ ”

Yes we certainly do. I want my basketball, and I know I’m not alone. Let’s Occupy the NBA.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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