Unlike his polarizing predecessor David Stern, new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has clearly tried to chart a different path. The Silver way, to his great credit, seems a sincere aspiration to make the NBA something that unites instead of divides. Under Silver, two owners have been shown the door for comments the league has judged to be racist. Those protected under Stern have been exposed.
Clearly Adam Silver wants the league to steer clear of looking like a divisive force, and that is exactly why it is so difficult to understand how a fundraiser for Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces is a part of the NBA preseason. The “VIP Event” is taking place before an exhibition game between Euroleague Champion Maccabee Tel Aviv and the Brooklyn Nets.
It is also difficult to understand, given the Israeli Defense Forces summer war on Gaza, why the NBA decided that two of the three international teams to tour the NBA this preseason would be from Israel. Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Maccabi Haifa will be criss-crossing the country, from Washington, DC, to Portland, in a series of celebrated scrimmages. Why Maccabi Haifa is one of the three teams is a mystery. What is not a mystery is the fact that protests are going to follow the teams to NBA arenas. This includes a picket of Friends of the IDF at the Barclays Center on Tuesday, which as of this writing has 150 confirmed attendees on Facebook.
I asked the NBA why Friends of the IDF was doing a fundraiser before a preseason game. I also asked why Maccabi Haifa was a part of this tour, and whether there were future plans to host a Palestinian team. NBA spokesperson Michael Bass replied:
The NBA is not involved in any private reception arranged by Maccabi Tel-Aviv at Barclays. Regarding Maccabi Haifa, our NBA teams want to get prepared for the season by playing against strong international competition. Maccabi Haifa, which beat Maccabi Tel Aviv to win the 2012-13 Israel League championship and featured future Dallas Mavericks player Gal Mekel on its roster, is one of the European teams that our teams have played against in preseason games.
In a previous comment, Bass said:
For more than a decade, the NBA has supported Seeds for Peace and each year our NBA and WNBA players attend the program’s annual summer camp that brings together Palestinian and Israeli kids to foster cultural understanding. As it relates to preseason games against international teams, our NBA teams want to get prepared for the season by playing against elite international competition and traditionally have played preseason games against Euroleague teams, such as CSKA Moscow, FC Barcelona and six-time—and reigning—Euroleague Champion Maccabi Tel Aviv.
After reading Bass’s comments about Seeds of Peace, I did receive a call from nine-year NBA veteran Etan Thomas, who was involved in the NBA Seeds of Peace program. He said: