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Ranking the Second-Best Player on Every 2017–18 NBA Team — and Why It Matters

In a star-driven league, could the second banana be the one that shows us how good a team really is?

Image via FanRag Sports



Two weeks ago, Press Basketball published a ranking of the best player on each NBA team for the 2017–18 season, from LeBron James to D’Angelo Russell. Amidst the many responses (and Devin Booker stans), a few people wondered who was the worst second-best player on each NBA team. One thing led to another, and eventually curiosity ranked the KAT.

Below is a ranking of all 30 second bananas for the new NBA season. Any ranking is fun to argue over, but these rankings turned out to be pretty enlightening, too. The NBA is a league driven by stars, perhaps more than any other major sport. And in a star-driven league, a ranking of the top stars turns out to be a pretty good facsimile for a ranking of the teams themselves.

Let’s take a look at the rankings and draw some conclusions at the end…


Golden State Is Not Fair

1. Steph Curry, Golden State

You can argue whether Curry or Durant is second best, but they’re both top five players and that’s what makes Golden State so dangerous.

But it’s not just that. If we did a third piece (narrator: they didn’t) ranking the third-best players, Draymond Green would be a runaway winner. So too Klay Thompson among fourth bananas and Andre Iguodala with fifth wheels. If anything, the gap between one and two on each list just gets bigger and bigger.

That’s why the Warriors are so unfair. It’s not just the two superstars at the top but also the depth. Think of it this way: if the worst happened and Golden State lost Curry or Durant for the season, they’d still have a top-three best player, Draymond would still be a top-three second banana, and Klay and Iggy would still be top-three third and fourth players. Even without Steph or KD, the Warriors would still be deeper and better than every team in the NBA.

Of course, 73–9 already proved that.


Everyone Wants a Second Superstar

2. Chris Paul, Houston
3. Paul George, Oklahoma City
4. DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans
5. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota

You can tell how good these stars are because you could argue for each of them over their superstarrier teammates any given night. We talked about these four teams all offseason, in part because they’re all so much better than they were a year ago because of their star acquisitions.

You’ll notice they’re all out West. Eight of the top-nine second bananas are in the West. The conference disparity is real. The Thunder, Pelicans, and Wolves have all struggled at times, but they’re three of the five teams with a pair of legitimate superstars, so don’t count on them falling away so easily.


Everyone’s Favorite Underrated Players

6. Mike Conley, Memphis
7. Kevin Love, Cleveland
8. Paul Millsap, Denver

None of these guys are actually underrated after years of Basketball Internet complaining how underrated they’ve always been, but they’re still awesome. Conley has the highest ceiling of the trio as we saw last May, high enough that perhaps Marc Gasol should have been here. He can take over the game for stretches. Love and Millsap can’t quite do that, but they’re the best traditional power forwards in a league that doesn’t really play guys at the four anymore.


The Second Bananas

9. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
10. Al Horford, Boston
11. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto
12. C.J. McCollum, Portland
13. Bradley Beal, Washington
14. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia
15. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio

Every player on this list is a star. Each brings a lot to the table, but they each take something off too. Some of them don’t play defense. A couple can’t shoot. A few can’t seem to stay healthy. All of them feel like second bananas.

Well, all of them except Ben Simmons. He’s the lone rookie that counts as his team’s best or second-best player, and that’s because he’s not exactly playing like a rookie. It’s probably foolish to rank Simmons this high so soon, but not many guys average 18/10/8 with three stocks over their first ten games and it might seem just as foolish to rank Simmons so low a year from now.

You can order the rest how you like. I’d push Costco Kobe DeRozan down a few spots with LMAo if I was being really honest, but the order of this group isn’t really the point of the exercise.

It’s worth noting the gradual slide of the Boston Celtics because of the season-ending injury to their would-be best player. Gordon Hayward would’ve ranked 12th among best players; Kyrie ranked 16th. Irving should have been the sixth-best second player; Horford is 10th. Horford would have been one of the very best third stars. Instead it’s probably Marcus Smart, and he may not even rank in the top half of the league’s third bananas. That’s what happens to a non-Warriors team when a star gets hurt. Everyone has to play one level up. Even if the guys at the top overachieve, it’s the depth that can really suffer if the folks at the end of the bench don’t step up too.


The Bledsoe Trade

16. Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee

Sure, Eric Bledsoe is already the second-best player in Milwaukee in less than a week. Jabari Parker is still rehabbing, and a healthy Bledsoe is easily better than even Khris Middleton’s or Malcolm Brogdon’s best day. Already you can see how much speed and dynamism he adds to Milwaukee’s guard rotation.

So how good is Bledsoe? At his best, you could probably place him somewhere between seventh and tenth on this list, a borderline top ten point guard with a penchant for defense and a mini-LeBron on offense. Of course the same player has averaged only 55 games over the past four years with a 33 percent three-pointer and has never really featured on a winning team.

At 16, Milwaukee is the lowest ranked team on the list assumed to be a playoff lock. That’s not great. But once Jabari is back, he, Middleton, and Brogdon will rank among the top third-, fourth-, and fifth-best options, and that’s the strength of this Bucks squad now. One Freak at the top and a deep, long team of athletes around him.


The Old School Centers

17. Dwight Howard, Charlotte
18. Andre Drummond, Detroit
19. Hassan Whiteside, Miami

It’s tough to imagine an old school seven-footer being the best player on an NBA team in 2017, and these guys found that out the hard way. Twenty years ago, each of them would’ve been 12-time All Stars and first ballot Hall of Famers. Now it just feels like they get in the way.

Dwight actually is a surefire Hall of Famer, and he looks terrific in Charlotte. It’s crazy that a decade ago, you could have made a sane argument (and some did) for starting a franchise with Howard over LeBron James. He’s a weird dude and he’s not particularly likable, but he’s still terrific.

Drummond gets the nod over Whiteside in hopes that this free throw thing is real. And the thing is, it pretty much has to be. Drummond was a career 38 percent free-throw shooter coming into this season. He had 40 attempts his first 10 games. Binomial probability gives Drummond about an 8.4 percent chance of making at least half of those, but Drummond hit 30 of them, an incredible 75 percent. The odds of a 38 percent free-throw shooter randomly having a 30-of-40 streak are not good — like around one in a million. So you’re telling me there’s a chance.

Drummond is still 24 and could still be a really valuable player if he isn’t such a black hole on free throws. The advanced metrics always make Whiteside look better than the eye test. At some point it matters that you never pass, block your shots out of bounds, and guys don’t seem to love playing with you. Either way, these three are very close and very good at what they do. It’s just hard to know if what they do is still valuable in 2017.


The Point Guards that Can’t Shoot

20. Ricky Rubio, Utah
21. Elfrid Payton, Orlando

Derrick Favors? Joe Ingles? Rodney Hood? Nikola Vucevic? Evan Fournier? All nice players, but we’ll go with the point guards. Having a good point guard no longer guarantees you anything as deep as the position is these days, but it’s nearly impossible to win without at least a decent point guard in 2017.

Rubio will always be more valuable on the court than any stat can encapsulate. He just makes his teammates better, and he’s a very good point guard, whether he can shoot or not. Payton averaged a tidy 14/7/8 line post-All-Star Break, but let’s see if he can keep that up when it’s not garbage time all game. Neither of these guys can shoot a three to save their life, but they’re both good starting point guards anyway.


The Very Expensive Shooting Guards

22. Victor Oladipo, Indiana
23. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Los Angeles Lakers
24. Tim Hardaway Jr., New York
25. Wes Matthews, Dallas

If you were building an NBA team in 2017, would you want to spend $18 million of your precious cap room on an average shoot-first-shoot-second two guard? Me neither, but that’s the going rate for the guys here.

They all shoot well enough, each of them between 35 and 36 percent from downtown last season. They’re fine passers. They’re okay defensively. They don’t draw many fouls. There’s just not much to write home about. Put one of these guys on the Spurs, Cavs, Rockets, Warriors… are they the fourth-best player? Do they even start? Are they Jamal Crawford with starter minutes?


This Is Why Your Team Is Awful

26. T.J. Warren, Phoenix
27. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brooklyn
28. Robin Lopez, Chicago
29. Taurean Prince, Atlanta
30. Buddy Hield, Sacramento


You can rank this quintet any order you like, and you could talk yourself into another option or three on any of the teams, too. And not because there are so many good choices, but because there are so very few.

Phoenix, Brooklyn, Chicago, Atlanta, and Sacramento are going to be really bad. Go ahead and combine all five rosters — could you find a starting five that contends for the playoffs? Even in the East?

Last year’s worst second-best players included names like Jrue Holiday, Nikola Vucevic, Joel Embiid, and Devin Booker. Those are good players! A year ago, there was hope. With these five teams, the only hope is for a high lottery pick next summer. The other end of the spectrum has expanded too. Last year, guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan were top-seven second bananas. This year guys like Boogie, KAT, and PG-13 took their spots. The good teams got much better, and the bad teams got much worse. There is a chasm between the top of the league and the bottom.


Scroll back up and look through the list one again, focusing on the teams instead of the player names. It’s not a terrible power ranking of the real-life NBA, is it? The Warriors are at the top, with the Rockets just behind them. The Rockets, Thunder, Timberwolves, and Pelicans made the biggest jumps from a year ago, just as they did in our minds. The Cavs and Spurs fell off from last year. The Hawks, Bulls, and Knicks bottomed out completely.

The NBA is a star-driven league, so perhaps it’s not surprising that we can determine so much just be looking at the top couple stars on each team. Depth matters, along with coaching and defense and all the other stuff, but it still comes down to the stars at the end of the day.

Who’s the top third banana outside of the Warriors? A year ago it was Kevin Love, and that’s part of why the Cavs have been in three straight Finals. Who’s Cleveland’s third-best player now? It will be Isaiah Thomas by playoff time, but who is it right now and are they even among the top half of the league’s third bananas? No wonder the Cavs are struggling so much.

Is Carmelo Anthony a great third banana? Could Otto Porter or Andrew Wiggins be the best non-Warriors third banana by the playoffs? For all the great pairs around the league, we are seriously lacking in threesomes. That’s why the Warriors are so darn good, and that’s why this is such an interesting season anyway because it’s so hard to figure out who their top contender is. One role player making the leap (think Gary Harris or Marcus Smart) could send a team to another level, one key injury could doom a sure playoff team, and one superstar leap (Giannis or Porzingis) could change everything.


This wouldn’t work in any other sport. Just having Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell isn’t enough to make the Pittsburgh Steelers a sure contender. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols can’t drag the Los Angeles Angels to the playoffs. Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic haven’t returned Manchester United to greatness.

But basketball is different. Just five guys share the court, and a couple players can dominate the shots or have a supersized impact on defense. One star isn’t enough to make a team, but two just might be.

So next time you need to decide which NBA teams are best, do like the astronomers of old and turn your gaze upon the stars. But instead of focusing on the one shining brightest, look for the second star to the right — that might be the one to lead you to the Promised Land.

Brandon is a lifelong sports fan across NBA, NFL, soccer, baseball, college sports, Olympics, reality TV, and Netflix binge watching. He’s a proud North Dakotan (which is almost Canadian) trying to make it as a freelance writer and consultant. You can find his words at Medium or on Twitter @wheatonbrando. Brandon was last seen at SI’s The Cauldron, Sports Pickle, Bleacher Report, Yahoo, and that one long email chain with your other sports geek friends.


An Ode to the 2007-2008 Warriors

A reminder that joy and excellence are not foreign concepts to those living in the San Francisco Bay Area.



A reminder that joy and excellence are not foreign concepts to those living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sometimes messy can be better than perfect, right?

Well, no. Perfect is better than messy, but when it comes to sports, the picture gets murkier. Sports has a way of instantly anchoring in time, era and context – we’ll always remember where we were when Baron Davis yammed on Andrei Kirilenko. That sort of deal.

When you factor in context like that then yeah, messy can feel pretty damn perfect.

The “We Believe” Warriors, they of the 8-seed-playoff-upset and the sea of yellow towels and raucous Oracle Arena, were feted all of last season. It was a reminder that joy and excellence were not foreign concepts to those living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

However, the real peak of that iteration of the Warriors occurred the next season, this 2007-08 team that’s easy to forget now, was actually the first of the “We Believe” teams to play a full season together. That team has always been this Warriors fan’s favourite for the entirety of my life, that’s for sure, and it’s easy to understand why.

They didn’t make the playoffs. Let’s start there.

They didn’t make the playoffs, becoming the first team in NBA history to win 48 freaking games and not qualify, because, as you know, the 07-08 season happened sometime over the last 20 years while the Leastern (nice!) Conference couldn’t pull its head out of its own ass. They didn’t make it, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. They finished two games behind the Denver Nuggets for ninth in the Western Conference, and three games ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth in the East.

These Warriors rode the previous season’s playoff high and played 82 games, or 3,936 minutes, at the league’s fastest pace and in front of an attendance that ranked sixth in the NBA while employing a motley crew of preposterously entertaining characters, each seemingly more insane than the previous one.

Seriously, just take in the following. Rookies Brandan Wright, C.J. Watson, and Marco Belinelli hadn’t become the mere expiring contracts they would eventually be, while Patrick O’Bryant wasn’t a full-on bust yet, but they were mere appetizers here. Matt Barnes played almost 20 minutes trying to drive all the way out to Temecula if that’s what it needed, Mickael Pietrus was a knockdown shooter, Austin Croshere was the token white guy, at the same time that Andris Biedrins lead the NBA (!!!!) with a 62.5 field goal percentage. (This Warriors fan called him Prom King back then. He would always don the same gelled hairdo you had for prom. Just look at this.)

Only Jason Richardson was missing from the previous year’s roster, but it didn’t matter. Al Harrington was the foremost irrational confidence guy in a team full of them, Stephen Jackson was the God personified, Monta Ellis had it all,and our point guard followed his all-time dunk over Kirilenko by turning in the best season of his career that ultimately, much like the team he so brilliantly led, fell short of notching him an All-Star berth (he still smiled though).

It had no reason to work the way that it did, but goddamn if it didn’t, and if it didn’t constitute the greatest thing in the world for us Warriors teens. They were a cartoon of a team, and we mean this in the best of ways. The 2007-08 Warriors played their NBA games like they played ball in NBA 2K, and if you can’t see the beauty in this then we probably can’t ever be friends.

This Warriors team that season were, ultimately, just like the young man I was a decade ago: frustratingly irregular, talented but lazy, and ultimately they fell short, much like we all do.

However, when they clicked, boy did that machine click. Golden State scored the most points per game in the NBA on the league’s fourth-ranked offense. Biedrins, as mentioned, had a career year and Ellis shot over 60 per cent from the field for the entire month of February. Seriously! Head coach Don Nelson’s system was ultimately player-proof as the numbers and successes of players like Corey Maggette, Reggie Williams, Corey Crawford, Cartier Martin or Anthony Morrow would attest in later years. But okay, sure, let’s keep this focused on our favs.

The Warriors didn’t play any real kind of defense, none whatsoever, let’s mention this too. That’s probably why they were doomed. “You need to play defence in the NBA to have success”, they said. However, we say “That’s what made them thrilling!”. In 2007-08, Golden State was the bastard stepbrother of Mike (No) D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds Or Less Phoenix Suns”, who somehow never changed as he grew up and graduated college—well, almost graduated. They didn’t make the playoffs, remember? It’s a loss in the penultimate game against big freaking brother, the Suns, that doomed them.

Over time, the Warriors and this writer grew up and cleaned their act up, and learned not to mess up as often as they used to. Regardless, this 07-08 team has maintained an alluring sense of awe and wonder, constantly pulling. us. back. in. These current Warriors, the supernova of supernovas, may have perfected basketball (or thereabout), but the messiness of a decade ago still appeals to this now adult fan: it’s comforting to know that you’re not alone in messing up, that those you look up to also do it.

Clean up they did. They drafted Steph Curry, because it was the smart thing to do and, when it had become clear it should be his team, when it was clear they believed in him and his faulty ankles, they traded away Ellis and our Lord Stephen Jackson and received Andrew Bogut in return. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing. Sometimes you need to study for the stats exam even if it’s fucking great to just play the PS4 all day long with the homies.

But then the Warriors went ahead and added Kevin Durant, whose legal name might as well have been Kevin Freaking Durant. Now all of a sudden, college doesn’t feel so bad.

You can’t ever front on KD.

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Something Out of Nothing



It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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Progression is Power: On Social Justice in the NBA

The path to becoming the most progressive major sports league in the world hasn’t been a simple one.



Art by Meaghan Engels

Cyntoia Brown and Trayvon Martin. Two names that went viral on social media, two teens that were both failed by the American criminal justice system, two lives that ended far too young, and two people that gained the attention of NBA All-Star LeBron James. Trayvon Martin was tragically gunned down while returning from the corner store with a drink and candy in his hand. His killer was never brought to justice, but instead was acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter. Cyntoia Brown was 16 when she shot and killed a man that had solicited her for sex after being forced into prostitution. She was tried as an adult and sentenced to 51 years to life for first degree murder. James chose to reach out to his roughly 30 million followers across his social media platforms to demand justice for these individuals. But this story doesn’t start with Martin and won’t end with Brown. This story is more about the social justice movement in the NBA that has been in the making for decades, inspired by individuals just like these.

Earlier this year the NBA placed itself into a category of its own in an unprecedented move across the sports community. Commissioner Adam Silver and Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts co-signed a letter for players encouraging their social awareness and pledged their full support. In an excerpt obtained by ESPN, part of the letter reads:

None of us operates in a vacuum. Critical issues that affect our society also impact you directly. Fortunately, you are not only the world’s greatest basketball players — you have real power to make a difference in the world, and we want you to know that the Players Association and the League are always available to help you figure out the most meaningful way to make that difference.

To the public the NBA might look like a leader in the industry, but it has never been a short or easy journey. To understand how far the league has come we have to look back at its controversial past.

I’ll start with the more recent history of the Chicago Bulls NBA championship visit to the White House in 1992. A dashiki-donned Craig Hodges showed up with a handwritten letter to former United States President George H. W. Bush opposing the administration’s treatment of the poor and minority communities. That same year Hodges was then waived by the Bulls and failed to receive an offer or tryout from any of the other 29 teams. Hodges was only 32 at the time and not only a three-time three-point shootout champion, but a two-time NBA champion. Four years later he filed a $40 million lawsuit against the league and its teams claiming they blackballed him. In his complaint he listed reasons that included his association with African-American social activist Louis Farrakhan, and his criticism of other African-American professional athletes not using their wealth and influence to enact change, most notably calling out former teammate Michael Jordan.

That same year the league saw more controversy when Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the American anthem in protest against a country and flag he deemed a symbol of oppression and a conflict with his Islamic beliefs. The league’s commissioner at the time, David Stern, handed Abdul-Rauf a suspension that carried a $31,707 fine for each game missed. It seemed like a clear message from the league to its players: Either stay in line or there will be consequences.

It then took almost a decade for Steve Nash to place himself in the middle of political controversy by sporting a shirt during the Mavericks’ pregame warmups that read: “No War. Shoot for Peace.” Progression was happening slow in the social athletic world, but two years later the Wizards’ Etan Thomas echoed his sentiments and developed his own reputation as a political activist by delivering a powerful anti-war speech at a rally.

The cries of players’ voices did not go unnoticed as the NBA started to see entire teams rally around social justice causes. Nash (traded to the Phoenix Suns) was placing himself in the center of controversy again—this time being joined by the team’s managing partner. Together, the two of them lead the “Los Suns” movement. The team sported custom jerseys for a playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs in support of the Hispanic community that was facing Arizona’s highly controversial law heavily criticized for encouraging racial profiling.

Less than two years later, the league would see one of its most recognizable pictures to date and it would be the beginning of the movement of players and teams proudly standing together in unison in an attempt to enact change for individuals being targeted—predominantly in the black community. In Florida, the Miami Heat were only a few miles away from where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed after walking through a gated neighbourhood back to his uncle’s house wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Dwyane Wade’s wife, Gabrielle Union, brought the issue to her husband’s attention and in a revolutionary move, LeBron James and Wade spent several days planning a social justice plan of action. All it took was a photo that spoke a thousand words and a hashtag that read #WeAreTrayvonMartin.

The killing of an unarmed black man, or in this case, a child of only 17 years old, is not anything new for many people in America. This time it happened to hit Wade a lot harder than he ever expected.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Wade stated, “This situation hit home for me because last Christmas all my oldest son wanted as a gift was hoodies. So when I heard about this a week ago, I thought of my sons. I’m speaking up because I feel it’s necessary that we get past the stereotype of young, black men and especially with our youth.”

This was also one of the first times where it seemed a social issue was spreading beyond individual players, beyond a single team, and was being acknowledged league-wide. Further acknowledgement towards Martin’s death was displayed by New York Knicks teammates Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. Although we may not know the depth to the role that the Heat and players across the NBA actually played in garnering attention to Martin’s death, there was still traction and at that same time a petition had already gained almost 1.5 million signatures. Wade had retweeted CNN journalist Roland Martin’s tweet asking people to keep using their voices to demand justice. A Florida lawmaker further pushed Heat players to show up to pregames in hooded sweatshirts, and although the NBA’s uniform policy didn’t allow it, James and Wade were seen with “We Want Justice” and “R.I.P. Trayvon Martin” written on their sneakers. And in yet another groundbreaking move, the National Basketball Players Association released a powerful statement not only listing the standard condolences but went further to call for a permanent resignation of the Sanford Chief of Police and a full review of its police department as well.

Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Freddie Grey. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Cyntoia Brown.

These names are far from the only ones that should have gained attention over the years, however, in the case of Eric Garner, players and teams across the league were seen protesting his killing by wearing “I CAN’T BREATHE” shirts during warmups. Under new Commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA had taken a step forward by choosing not to fine players for not wearing Adidas as the league rules require. Silver stated his respect for players voicing their personal views but added that he would still prefer they abide by the rules. Over the years he has continued to progressively lead the way in the sporting community. In addition to not fining players for violating league rules with their shirts, he had previously fought to remove Donald Sterling as L.A. Clippers owner after his racist comments went public. The NBA commissioner has also shown his support for the LGBTQ community by withdrawing an All-Star game in Charlotte after it passed a discriminatory bathroom bill, and rode on a float the past two consecutive years in New York City’s pride parade.

The players, the coaches, the owners, and Silver have all taken the NBA to new places as it’s become the most progressive across the four major sports leagues (Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association). If you’ll recall, it was not so long ago when players, most famously Michael Jordan, refused to address political issues in fear of hurting their brand or alienating some fans. Jordan has had the quote, “Republicans buy shoes too,” follow him throughout his career and life, and regardless of whether or not he actually said those words, he publicly refused to take any political stances during his time as a player. It’s uncertain whether or not the movements of players have forced the league to progress, or the NBA’s adaptability has allowed the players to. But second to the changes in the league has been most recently MJ himself. Last year, he took the opportunity to speak out for what was possibly the first time in his career.

In a statement published to ESPN entitled, “I Can No Longer Stay Silent,” MJ wrote, “As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers.”

The former apolitical player and current Charlotte Hornets principal owner and chairman also donated $2 million between the Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Whatever caused him to finally use his voice proves that change is possible.

In LeBron’s famous 2014 Sports Illustrated article, he said, “I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead …”

James has arguably been the most politically vocal sports figure (especially since Donald Trump took office) and one can only conclude there’s no silencing him in the future. His and others’ voices across the NBA and the rest of the sporting community are so important today and will only continue to grow and inspire others in sports to speak up and hopefully one day provide justice to those like Trayvon Martin or Cyntoia Brown.

Progression is possible, and if the NBA is any indication, I think it simply proves the point that athletes should absolutely not just “stick to sports, and that social change is possible. I look forward to the future where sports figures, celebrities and those in positions of power will all use their voices to inspire and enact change in their communities and our society.

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