It’s been a month already. Can you believe it? On November 8, we were crowded around our TV sets, collectively trying to make sense out of what was happening.
The congregation of hate, the acceptance of widespread bigotry, the disappointment of losing — how do you make sense of all that? Even a month later, I still get the familiar wave of nausea when I think about something new that Donald Trump could break. The man has the nuclear codes. He has power over the largest military in the world. He’s selecting one or more members of the Supreme Court — the decisive votes on abortion, voting rights, and health care.
It’s overwhelming, what this result means; what it means for minorities, for global relationships, for anyone who already felt “less than”. For every bit of news on Trump’s inner circle, for every tweet that attacks the freedom of press, there’s another reason to remember and plan for the worst. A President so woefully ignorant and under-qualified is impossible to imagine, and that makes for a lot of sleepless nights.
This result affects everyone, and our empathy opens first to minority groups who have watched the floodgates open for demonstrations of hate. In my life, I never thought I would see a weekly New York Times article called “This Week in Hate” — but here we are. These are the times we live in.
That empathy we feel is obviously not directed to the NBA community, and it shouldn’t be. The NBA is very low on the totem pole of “groups that will be affected by a Donald Trump presidency”. This being a basketball site, though, it’s worth noting that the sport will be affected. A Trump administration’s reach doesn’t have boundaries.
There’s a few ways the NBA will be affected, not the least of which being the ball lifer status of outgoing President Barack Obama.
He was ours.
Obama embraced the NBA, and it embraced him back. Forty years deep as a player and fan, he was publicly invested in the game, and we saw it with regularity. He ribbed the Warriors in the Rose Garden after they gave up the 3-1 lead, reminding Americans that their Finals loss meant the 1995-96 Bulls were the best team ever. He watched a Michigan State-North Carolina game from the deck of the USS Carl Vinson. He’s had ESPN come into the Oval Office, just to parade his (terrible) March Madness bracket. Hell, Barry’s even out there getting challenges to play from Kendrick Lamar.
To put it simply, Barack Obama was ours; he was a President who put basketball before football, the favourite of many leaders for its military culture. He ditched the posh tennis courts and put up two cloth-netted hoops at the White House. He used them too — just never in shorts. His absence alone, regardless of the replacement, will change the NBA’s relationship with the White House.
Of course, that replacement isn’t anybody. It’s Donald Trump. In response, NBA players, coaches, and general managers have expressed disappointment and downright condemnation at the hateful bigotry that Trump has promoted and refused to silence.
Sharp reaction from the NBA family
“We just elected an openly brazen misogynist leader,” said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who’s become a powerful voice of reason in the NBA landscape. “And we should keep our mouths shut and realize that we need to be learning from the rest of the world, because we don’t got anything to teach anybody.”
Learning about reason has been central for Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri. He has a wonderful track record of supporting peace and prosperity as the face of the Giants of Africa program, which gives young African basketball talent the opportunity to realize their NBA dreams. Ujiri has met and spoken with Nelson Mandela as well — celebrating him this week in Toronto on the anniversary of his death.
“Racism is barbaric. Making fun of people, what they do and who they are and taking advantage of people is not who we should be,” said Ujiri in a recent interview with ESPN’s The Undefeated. “I feel strongly that we give a platform and see what that presents, and then maybe we can make judgment from there. But to me, all that stuff wasn’t America. Everybody knows that, that is not America.”
These great presences in the NBA are speaking their mind, protesting in their own way. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is another. “It’s tough when you want there to be respect and dignity, and there hasn’t been any,” said Kerr in November. “And then you walk into a room with your daughter and your wife, who’ve basically been insulted by (Trump’s) comments, and they’re distraught.”
Women weren’t the only group that felt marginalized during Trump’s campaign. Anyone outside the expansive category of “white man” has reason to be nervous these days — and that includes those in the NBA family.
Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims would have huge ramifications on the basketball community. The President-Elect famously could not name a single Muslim-American sports hero in July — not Muhammad Ali, not Kareem — and probably has no care for the several Muslims playing in the NBA today. They include Al-Farouq Aminu, Dennis Schroder, Dion Waiters, Shabazz Muhammad, Kenneth Faried, and more. Would Trump deport these players? It’s hard to imagine, but we got this far without thought to reason.
There’s also the fact that 75 percent of NBA players are black. Trump’s idea of extending his hand to this community has been limited to “what have you got to lose?”, likening the concept of inner cities to black communities in vaguely masked racism. Oh, and he also pointed out “his African-American over here” at campaign stops.
Many NBA players are selflessly committed to helping the communities that raised them. While they are not the impoverished, I’d expect that their silent protest will be to redouble efforts to help the helpless.
They will find other ways to fight back. Three NBA teams have already removed Trump hotels from their road trips. Stars like Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade have already condemned police brutality, a concept dismissed by Trump’s base. There’s even a question as to whether championship teams will visit the White House, whether invited or not.
Those visits are the closest the NBA gets to the White House, and will likely be the most visible difference between a level-headed President like Obama and an unhinged one like Trump. We will remember Obama reminding Magic of the ‘91 Finals, or Iman Shumpert’s wonderment at a podium, or actually playing pickup with members of the 2012 Miami Heat.
Under Trump, we can’t expect any of that. The NBA is not the first group we should be thinking of when we consider how life is about to change — but change it will, and we have to accept that.