“Now we’re judging people by their religion—trying to keep Muslims out. We’re getting back to the days of putting the Japanese in relocation camps, of Hitler registering the Jews. That’s where we’re heading.”
—Detroit Piston Head Coach Stan Van Gundy
“I agree with that description [that Trump is an ‘real asset’ to the United States] if you remove the ‘et’ from asset.”
—Steph Curry, two-time MVP
Throughout the NBA, respected coaches and the most decorated players—from Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr to LeBron James and Steph Curry—are speaking out against the new president. This is happening throughout much of the sports world—even in NASCAR—but most notably in the NBA. Over the All-Star weekend in New Orleans, the question was raised: Why is this happening in the NBA—and why now?
I have asked coaches, players, and beat writers this very question. The consensus is that the NBA revolt against the Trump administration is the result of a perfect storm; the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement, greater comfort with social media, and the multicultural and global nature of the game have all inspired this majority-black sports league to stand up to the white nationalism of Muslim bans and border walls.
Many journalists and players also believe that the particular outspokenness of LeBron James and Gregg Popovich has provided political cover for anyone wants to follow suit. Others point out that being anti-Trump, is good for business. Nike is commodifying dissent with a beautifully filmed—if crassly opportunistic—commercial starring LeBron himself. (Hopefully this ad will age better than the company’s 1980s Rebel with a Cause campaign, starring John McEnroe.)
All of these theories have merit, but they don’t explain everything. The NBA was largely silent during the Bush years, except for the continual antiwar voice of 10-year veteran Etan Thomas and a T-shirt worn by Steve Nash. Players like Craig Hodges and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf were driven from the league in the 1990s in part for their political outspokenness. Yet now Hodges is interviewed about his “courage” on Dr. King’s birthday for Inside the NBA and Rauf is the subject of a beautiful Outside the Lines special on ESPN, celebrating his “revival.”