In the #Occupy USA movement, there is a debate over the very use of the word “occupy.” One side claims that the history of the word—conjuring images of military occupation and stolen land—alienates People of Color at a time when the movement is striving for more diversity. The other side points out that there is a history in radical resistance movements—from Native Americans at Alcatraz to African American students “occupying” lunch counters—of people "occupying" their space and we should claim the word proudly. It all depends on who is doing the occupying; who has control and who is asserting their power.
We are dealing with a similar "occupy" dilemma in the NBA. On one side, you have the New Orleans Hornets, a team “occupied” by the NBA league offices. They are now officially owned by the other 29 NBA owners and will be league property until an actual owner is found. On the other side, you have the Hornets brilliant star point guard Chris Paul, whose contract ends at year’s end and is looking to leave small market New Orleans. The Hornets General Manager Dell Demps has been trying to trade Paul so they don’t lose him for nothing in free agency. As Beckley Mason of Hoopspeak said smartly, “That’s the thing some owners don’t seem to get. Talent like [Paul’s] is the scarcest quality in the NBA. In market terms, that means he has all the power, all the leverage.”
This conflict between Paul’s power and league control came to a head yesterday with two pieces of blaring, breaking news. The first was that the Los Angeles Lakers, in a three-team trade with the Hornets and Houston Rockets, had acquired Paul, pairing him with aging great Kobe Bryant. The Hornets would have received Lakers All-Star forward Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. The Rockets would then have received Gasol from New Orleans, in return for guards Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic and forward Luis Scola. It was a true blockbuster that spoke to Chris Paul’s talent and leverage. The Hornets were trying to get what they could without losing Paul for nothing in 2012 and Demps, in my judgment, did quite well. But then Commissioner David Stern nixed the deal by saying it “wasn’t in the best interests of the league.” Then came an email meant for Stern’s eyes only, in protest of the trade sent by Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. It reads in part:
It would be a travesty to allow the Lakers to acquire Chris Paul in the apparent trade being discussed. This trade should go to a vote of the 29 owners of the Hornets…..I just don’t see how we can allow this trade to happen. I know the vast majority of owners feel the same way that I do. When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals? [The Generals are the team set up to lose in perpetuity to the Harlem Globetrotters.]