Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Fun While It Lasted

Come back, Phil. They didn't really mean it. Fox News (online, where it usually is accurate) reported a couple of days ago that

Jalen Rose, a former NBA star who currently serves as an analyst for ESPN, took issue with Phil Jackson’s comments on the state of professional basketball and why he does not watch anymore.

Jackson said on "Tetragrammaton with Rick Rubin" podcast the game has become too political and was catering to a certain audience when the NBA plastered social justice slogans on the court and on the backs of jerseys during the bubble portion of the 2019-20 season in wake of the death of George Floyd.

Rose responded in a video Sunday.

Jackson explained what turned him off to the game when the league went to the bubble format in Orlando, Florida.

"They went into the lockout year, and they did something that was kind of wonky. They did a bubble down in Orlando, and all the teams that could qualify went down there, and stayed down there," he said. "And they had things on their backs like ‘Justice.’ I made a little funny thing like, 'Justice just went to the basket and Equal Opportunity just knocked him down.’ … So, my grandkids thought that was pretty funny to play up those names. So, I couldn't watch that."

Jackson continued, "They even had slogans on the floor, on the baseline. It was catering. It was trying to cater to an audience, or trying to bring a certain audience into play. And they didn’t know it was turning other people off. People want to see sports as non-political.

Of course, sports have (has?) always been intertwined with politics, inevitably. After Russia invaded Afghanistan, Jimmy Carter inserted the USA into politics by ordering the boycott of the Olympics in Moscow. If Carter had not done so, the USA still would have imposed its politics by offering de facto support of the invasion. It was the right decision because some things are more important than sports.

Therefore, if Jackson was appalled at the National Basketball Association mixing politics with sports during the 2020-2021 season, he was being, at best, naive.  Naive and oblivious. Evidently, he made the same mistake the vast majority of us made in those heady days: he took the players seriously.

Phil Jackson apparently believed guys with slogans on the back of their jerseys and a league with slogans behind the baselines were protesting. No doubt a few players, notwithstanding the absence of evidence, really are concerned with issues of police reform and of racial justice, beyond how the latter directly affects them and their teammates.

Nonetheless, most are not, and were not. It doesn't take holders of doctorates in psychology (of whom few would be so candid) to recognize as primary motives virtue signaling, team camaraderie, and the feeling that the player was one with his colleagues. Those were good times, and few dared criticize the greatest athletes on the planet.

It is now two-plus years later. More municipalities have increased their police budgets than have decreased them. Relatively few politicians of note have aggressively pressed for replacing money for law enforcement with money for essential social services, while Republicans attack Democrats for their imagined advocacy of "defund the police." Police still too often shoot unarmed black men unjustifiably and civilians are arming themselves at a frightening rate. The President who once was a prime supporter of the war on drugs is expected to face off in the next presidential election against the guy who has proudly encouraged police violence against suspects. Progress?

And what of all those slogans, sometimes accompanied by linking of arms, which so antagonized Phil Jackson? They are gone. They are gone because most of the players and the league which sported them never were more than minimally sincere.

So, Phil, come on back to the NBA! It was all for show, and things are back to normal, where the league and its owners are even wealthier than previously, and the players don't want to make a scene less it jeopardize their multi-million dollar contracts.


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