Say it ain’t so, LeBron.
Late Wednesday, reports surfaced from the fragile bubble in Orlando that the two Los Angeles NBA teams want to end the season — during the playoffs, no less — in response to police-involved shootings of black people. The walkout began earlier in the evening when the Milwaukee Bucks did not take the court prior to a game against the Orlando Magic. Milwaukee is about 40 miles from Kenosha, Wisc., where a video surfaced of an officer allegedly firing seven bullets into the back of a black man.
Just moments ago, the rest of the NBA denied LeBron James, the Lakers and Clippers. The season will go on.
It’s the right call.
In a year marked by snap judgments, particularly from the kangaroo court of Twitter bots, at some point someone has to be the mature voice in the room. Someone has to plead for normalcy, for cooler heads to produce sober, thoughtful positive results.
James, a three-time NBA champion and once-in-a-generation talent, chose to make a rash judgment.
I know it’s rash because apparently every other team said they wanted to continue to play. Even the Milwaukee Bucks.
I know it’s rash because — where we can safely assume the death of George Floyd was not justified — there has been a lot of misinformation regarding the shooting of Jacob Blake. Was he corralled by the police when he was simply trying to break up a fight? Was he the actual target of a 911 call? Was there a weapon on him? On the floorboard? Did he fight the police? Dip your toe in the info sewage dump of Twitter and you tell me what the facts allegedly are.
Not that Blake deserves to be paralyzed, mind you. But the question is, was this incident really worth ending the season?
People have varying beliefs regarding ethics and sport. That’s fine. I don’t count myself among those who take offense at kneeling during the national anthem. I don’t like it, but I don’t hate those who do.
I can’t even get upset over the teams that didn’t play last night. They rightfully wonder if the message of black lives mattering is being received. For Pete’s sake, the shocking nature of the Blake shooting itself is an understandable rationale to pause. I get that.
But a fundamental principle that overrides the bloodsport of politics is that we eventually finish what we start. That goes beyond sport. That goes to humanity. We eventually get back to life after grieving, after debating. Life is not meant solely to argue.
That means in sports, there must be a champion.
If there isn’t, there is a cost.
Sports has endured self-inflicted wounds in the name of politics before. The most profound damage always comes by not playing, particularly for the championship. Always. For instance, you could argue that a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics — a protest in the wake of the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan — became a blight for the Carter administration.
How about fair pay? There have been work stoppages before, and fans have complained about billionaires arguing with millionaires, but the people came back immediately. The exception came during the Major League Baseball strike of 1995, when pay disputes forced the cancellation of the World Series.
What was the fallout of not finishing the year? The national pastime suffered attendance and ratings declines for three years until the nation took note of a home run duel between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Three years of hardship cut so deep that at least one team never recovered — the Montreal Expos.
Look around the NBA and ask yourself which teams would survive not finishing the season? The Lakers and Clippers? They’re in Los Angeles. They’ll make money. Same for New York, Brooklyn and Chicago. What of Memphis? Oklahoma City? What of the defending champion Toronto Raptors?
Is it worth folding or moving the Orlando Magic, especially when the message of black lives matter is being sent and received?
As I mature, I realize sports has consumed a smaller slice of the attention pie. I enjoy museums, reading, music. As a child, I loved the Showtime-era Lakers. Love of the Lakers has diminished to like. It’s not a passion. I am left asking myself why James, the Lakers and the Clippers insist they should speak for the rest of the players. I wonder why they this minority of two teams tried to speak for a disagreeing majority.
Perhaps it’s because two wealthy rosters will not feel the burden of their hurried, extreme stance.
I know many people who claim they now hate certain sports over politics and won’t attend any more events. Maybe that’s true. What I have learned is that I don’t need the NBA. Hate? No. But need?
Let’s just say when I buy a book or go to a movie, I need to know how it turns out.
For the record, I am ill-equipped to offer solutions in regards to policing and race relations. I’m not a cop and I surely do not speak for black people. Maybe my thoughts on policing or race wouldn’t be rash, but they would surely be coming from a place of ignorance.
But I do know sports, at least enough to know cancelling the season accomplishes nothing positive.