NBA Journey Week Twenty-One: Bigger Than Basketball

The 2017-18 NBA season has now passed the All-Star break. There will be scores of articles about questioning good teams, declaring individual award races over, and the bickering over true shooting percentage and defensive rating. There is also a feeling surrounding this season that we're headed towards the inevitability of a Golden State Warriors championship. Thus, some of the fun is met with a bit of gloom. Cheer up, lover of hoops. Basketball is a sport in which the journey of the season is just as important as its destination in the Finals. Here at TSFJ, we're going to highlight some things and people the basketball realm can be excited for between now and June.

Song of The Week: Frankie Beverly and Maze - "We Are One"

Sometimes, we must change our perspective. As stated in every introductory paragraph of this series, we are to enjoy the NBA journey. This season has been wonderful so far, and we still have so far to go. Basketball is a game. The NBA is the highest professional form of that game. While it and the bigger facet of sports are vital to our existence, box scores and highlights do not matter as much as people.

On March 13th, the New York Knicks will host their first and hopefully annually-recurring "Pride Night" at Madison Square Garden. It will include in-game performances, special recognition of LGBTQ members and organizations, and the presentation of the team's Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton 'City Spirit' Award for the month of March to Mary Keane. Keane is the executive director of You Gotta Believe, a nonprofit organization that focuses on finding homes for those in foster care. She's also been an advocate for the LGBTQ community, and has put her time into focusing on helping those in that community. This is the first ever event like this in the history of the Knicks, and other teams have had or will have similar nights this season. I'm glad the NBA is appearing to make an attempt to immerse itself in social issues.

Basketball seems to be the one professional sport in which its athletes – its female and Black American athletes, in particular – are more inclined to provide fully honest comments regarding America's social climate. As the millennial generation finds its voice, it's no coincidence the players are using their platform to speak out. A good number of NBA and WNBA players have decided they will do more than stick to sports, while some in the media and politics are foolishly telling them to keep their social and political opinions to themselves – as if sports has ever been separated from society. From Joe Louis knocking out Max Schmeling in their second fight to most of the USA rallying behind the 2001 New England Patriots because their team nickname meant a little more after September 11th, we have used sports to unite us in troubling times.

Frankly, this is worse than a simple troubling time. We are in a time where chaos and turmoil seem to be behind governing bodies, with those in charge ignorantly or willingly abusing the powers they possess. If we occasionally think of pro athletes as heroes, their abilities are needed to provide hope and security for the people, both on and off the court.

But that's not enough. The number of corrupt establishments increases by the day. More than the players, we need our 'good' establishments to support those players. Billionaire owners of NBA franchises, franchises whose revenues depend on the people, must – yes, must – show solidarity with all just causes. The Knicks having Pride Night is a step in the right direction. The Association is better for events like this, and I hope there are more events that bring awareness and celebrate all the positive walks of life.

Athletes like Chiney Ogwumike of the Connecticut Sun using their platform to speak out is awesome, but we need whole organizations and owners to do the same. (Excelle Sports)

But even that is not enough. A lot of people, especially those with celebrity and wealth, tend to favor neutral silence. While I understand preserving one's livelihood, influence is still a highly powerful trait to have. If a poorly-stated bigoted metaphor can cause an entire NFL team to demonstrate in protest, and an insult can cause widespread positive response in defiance of He Who Lives In The White House, those with power and influence can dictate our social climate. That goes for owners, especially. We should not admonish millionaire players for not speaking out and aiding causes while we allow billionaire owners to say nothing. Or worse, we can't allow those owners to admonish players for their right stances on social issues.

There is such a thing as a wrong opinion, especially when they opinion is rooted in the oppression of a marginalized people. We need whole franchises and organizations to also be willing to put their money and their voices behind what is right. Sports are a huge seam in the fabric of our lives. Those within it should use it to bring us closer together. It's bigger than dribbling and shooting.

Blurb Time:

  • Recently, I learned that Emeka Okafor is still in the NBA. He is a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. I shouldn't be surprised, since he was drafted in 2005 behind Dwight Howard, but here I am, surprised.
  • Speaking of old big men, 37-year-old Nick Collison got some in-game action with the Oklahoma City Thunder due to center Steven Adams rolling his ankle Saturday against the Spurs. Collison, the former star at the University of Kansas, said he now feels like the walk-ons that get in the game during college blowouts. Life is funny that way, sometimes.
  • This week's Hooper Appreciation Blurb goes to Detroit's Ish Smith. The 8th-year point guard from Wake Forest has managed to keep a job and provide quality minutes, even as he regularly switches teams. Smith always seems to play well to ensure himself a roster spot, but he can't seem to stick with a team. I hope he continues to have a long and fruitful career.

Twenty-one weeks, and our journey continues. Happy NBA, folks.

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