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Saturday, August 29, 2020

Jalen Rose's Mixed Messages

Jalen Rose often provides insightful commentary and analysis, but he made some baffling statements yesterday on the "Jalen & Jacoby" show. Rose expressed concern and disdain about Michael Jordan's reported role as a mediator between the NBA owners and the NBA players during the NBA strike. Rose noted that Jordan is the only black person who is a majority owner of an NBA team, and Rose suggested that it seems like white owners are not comfortable talking to a group of predominantly black players so the owners sent Jordan to speak on their behalf.

I am baffled by Rose's criticism, though I am reminded of the racially charged comments directed toward Grant Hill by Jalen Rose and several of Rose's college teammates. Rose and others consistently assert that there are not enough majority owners who are black in sports where the majority of players are black. Rose and others consistently assert that diversity is important so that players can see owners who look like they do, who have had experiences like they have had, and who can serve as role models for other black people to become owners and executives. We are also told that there are not enough black head coaches, and that only black head coaches can relate to black athletes.

Given those assertions, one would assume that Rose would be thrilled that a majority owner who is black is playing a pivotal role in resolving the strike. If no black owners were involved then it is almost certain that Rose would assert that at a critical time like this there should be a black voice among the owners. Now, there is a black owner, and Rose diminishes Jordan's credibility by asserting that Jordan is taking a major role not because of Jordan's earned status as a great player and successful businessman but rather as a messenger for the white owners. If a white commentator had expressed Rose's take, that white commentator would rightly be accused of racism for judging Jordan not on his merits as a person but rather for the color of his skin.

Rose's take begins with speculation--I have seen no reports suggesting that white owners felt that they could not communicate with black players--and ends with demeaning Jordan (that may not have been Rose's intention, but that is the plain meaning of what Rose said). Also, contrary to Rose's assumption that white owners would not be comfortable speaking with black players, Milwaukee's owners publicly expressed full support for their striking players; that is just one example, and I am sure that there are other examples.

In an ideal world, opportunities to coach, to be an executive, and to be an owner would be available to whoever is most qualified to fill those roles regardless of race, religious preference, political affiliation, or any other categorization that is not related to competency. In an ideal world, a commentator would not assume that a prominent owner who is successfully mediating between the players and the owners was put in position to do so primarily because of his race. When I first heard reports about Jordan serving a mediating role I assumed that he is uniquely qualified not because of his race, but because he is the only person in the room who has experience both as a player and as an owner.

It is bizarre that Rose repeatedly states that there are not enough black coaches, executives, and owners, and then he makes statements that undermine Jordan's status as an important leader who helped resolve the NBA strike.

Rose is wrong about Jordan, and he is also wrong to simply state that we need more blacks in certain roles. We don't need more black coaches, executives, and owners, nor do we need fewer black coaches, executives, and owners. We need to make sure that the playing field is level in terms of opportunity. To the extent that the playing field is not equal, steps need to be taken to level the playing field. Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and Lenny Wilkens are three examples of black players who received NBA coaching opportunities and rewarded their teams with at least one championship each. Masai Ujiri is arguably the best front office executive in the NBA. Michael Jordan has not been the most successful NBA owner, but he is certainly not the least successful owner, either.

No objective person who has any sense or knowledge doubts that there are black people who can be productive coaches, executives, and owners--but there should not be some arbitrary number to determine that there are "enough" coaches, executives, and owners who are black. It is a slippery slope to say that there are not "enough," as opposed to focusing on removing barriers to equality. How many would be "enough" and how many would be "too many" regarding one racial group or another?

Also, speaking of being a mediator or a leader, Rose did not say anything about LeBron James but it is fascinating to see and hear the reports regarding LeBron James' role in the NBA strike. In contrast to Jordan's productive contribution, it has been reported that James walked out of the initial players' meeting on Wednesday, and then in subsequent meetings he spoke last--after an action plan had already been formed and agreed upon--and talked down to the other players. In the days, weeks, and months to come we will no doubt learn more about exactly what happened, but these descriptions of James' shortcomings as a leader align with previous reports about James' shortcomings as a leader in the Olympics, with Cleveland, and with Miami. James is extraordinarily talented, and he has accomplished a lot, but the forced narrative about him being a great leader does not withstand even cursory scrutiny. 

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:10 AM



At Saturday, August 29, 2020 4:47:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


I understand jalen side and urs

My question is something diff

Why are people acting like the nba gonna fold or in finacial trouble

Aint it a 15 billion dollar industry

I dont understand why people think these protest will have lomgterm finacial implications

At Saturday, August 29, 2020 5:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If the strike had wiped out the rest of the playoffs and the NBA Finals, that would have probably cost the NBA over $1 billion in lost revenue. The owners would likely have exercised a clause ending the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which would have led to a lockout and could have meant that there would be no NBA games for quite some time. Add that to the money the NBA lost after the China controversy and during the COVID-19 shutdown and that would have put tremendous financial pressure on the NBA. Also, you have to consider that if the players had conducted a strike that resulted in so much financial damage then the TV networks and the league's sponsors would have to seriously consider their contracts with the NBA; a TV deal with a league whose players may go on strike at any time is not worth very much, and sponsors get zero value from sponsoring a league that is not playing any games.

I don't know how much money the NBA could lose and still survive, but the above scenario would certainly put the NBA's survival in jeopardy.

No business, even a multi-billion dollar business, is immune to failure--and you can be sure that the wiser voices in those closed door meetings made that point. If the NBA folds, the owners would still be billionaires, but most of those players would never again make the kind of money they are making now, nor would most of them ever again have the visibility and influence that they have now.

At Sunday, August 30, 2020 3:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well said

At Monday, August 31, 2020 9:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you.

At Monday, August 31, 2020 10:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I enjoy reading your commentary on basketball but I was disappointed to see you write that:
"In an ideal world, opportunities to coach, to be an executive, and to be an owner would be available to whoever is most qualified to fill those roles regardless of race, religious preference, political affiliation, or any other categorization that is not related to competency......No objective person who has any sense or knowledge doubts that there are black people who can be productive coaches, executives, and owners--but there should not be some arbitrary number to determine that there are "enough" coaches, executives, and owners who are black. It is a slippery slope to say that there are not "enough," as opposed to focusing on removing barriers to equality. How many would be "enough" and how many would be "too many" regarding one racial group or another?"

Primarily, my disappointment lies in that the reality is the world is not ideal. Most owners exist within a boys club and will only hire people who are similar to them or in the same network. As such, they are very reluctant to have black executives, coaches or owners. Look at the NFL, they have the Rooney Rule and they still have a problem in having more black coaches and executives and it is not due to a lack of qualified candidates of color. Until the barriers of inequality are removed (however many 100s of years that takes to happen), they needs to be push to have at least 15-20 percent of these opportunities for people of color which may assist in laying the foundation for equality in these roles....otherwise how do you propose to have these majority white owners look outside their world and hire people of color of their own accord. Its not a slippery slope if you remember that for quite a long time, people of color have been routinely denied opportunities and positions of power.

At Monday, August 31, 2020 2:23:00 PM, Blogger beep said...


what does it matter what color someone is? You put way too much weight on such things, while we - the average people - don't care about your color (or any other physical trait for that matter), we care about what kind of person you are.

By putting skin color on top of requirements you support what you fight against... please, stop that already. It is harmful to your cause and it is antagonizing many normal people out there... because they don't support that, no matter the skin color.

At Monday, August 31, 2020 4:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that the Rooney Rule has made a difference. For those who do not know, the Rooney Rule stipulates that every time there is an open head coaching job in the NFL the team must interview at least one minority candidate before hiring a new coach. The point is that these interviews expand the "old boys club" and force owners to learn about qualified minority candidates. Even if that candidate is not hired immediately, that candidate's name reocgnition is improved. Forcing teams to hire minority candidates or a certain percentage of minority candidates is counterproductive, but forcing teams to open up the interview process is helpful not only by making those candidates more visible but also by giving those candidates an opportunity to work on their interviewing skills; if you are never given an interview then you never learn how to be effective in that situation.

It would obviously be silly and counterproductive to say that a certain percentage of the players must be white or Asian or anything else. Whites and Asians can try out--and may have to overcome the subconscious notion that they are unlikely to be good enough--but the best athletes should be signed.

The Rooney Rule or something like it should be adopted by other leagues. There should also be mentoring programs to help minority candidates polish their networking and interviewing skills; such candidates have been wrongly excluded from the process in the past, but they should be welcomed, included and helped now.

Hiring quotas provoke resentment and also undermine the perception of those who benefit, because the quotas create an underlying assumption that the minority candidates were only hired because they had to be hired by rule or law. If I were Tony Dungy or Mike Tomlin--two of the best coaches of recent times--I would not want the presence of a quota to enable anyone to think that I was hired because some team had to hire me. Those guys earned their way to the top, and the league has to make sure that all qualified candidates receive such opportunities.

At Monday, August 31, 2020 4:56:00 PM, Anonymous John M said...

It's a good article and unenjoyed it as I have so many that you've shared.
The conundrum is that we need more African-Americans in roles they have not had fair playing field/opportunity to take part in and we know the playing field and opportunity is not fair because historically the numbers are unlikely to be false about the disparity in opportunities and playing field. It happens in every facet of everyone's life. We cannot acknowledge the low numbers and then say it's not the number being low that is ultimately most important. The numbers are low and the playing field is uneven at best.

At Monday, August 31, 2020 6:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

John M:

Thank you for reading and for commenting here as well as on Facebook. It is good to be able to have these conversations online while COVID-19 has put a damper on having such conversations in person.

I agree that the playing field needs to be leveled. There has been progress in terms of player wealth/empowerment from Dave Bing to Magic to Jordan and hopefully that will continue. I just found this specific reaction by Rose to be odd. Jordan just filled exactly the role that so many had hoped and expected that a black owner (and I hate to limit/label Jordan or anyone by race but that is the subtext of this particular conversation) could fill, so why would Rose criticize or diminish that moment? If there were no black owners then Rose almost certainly would say the league needs black owners and especially in times like these. Jordan’s ascension to this level is great. I am sure that others will follow. The reality is that few people of any race can afford to buy a team. Creating equal opportunities in coaching and management is perhaps even more important and realistic.

I should add that in addition to Bing, Magic, and Jordan--three Hall of Fame players who have demonstrated great business acumen during their post-playing careers--Junior Bridgeman and Vinnie Johnson may not be names widely known to the general public but they both have built tremendous business fortunes after retiring from the NBA. While systematic racism exists and must be addressed, it should also be acknowledged that the system provides opportunities at the individual level, and the leveraging of those opportunities can help create a better future. The businesses built by Bing, Magic, Jordan, Bridgeman, Johnson and others can provide service and employment opportunities to underserved communities. For example, Magic built movie theaters in communities where no one else would build movie theaters; he figured out a way to make money while also providing entertainment (and jobs) to underserved communities. Magic also debunked the idea that movie theaters could not thrive in those communities, which could inspire other companies to follow the business model he created.

There is much to justifiably complain about and try to improve, but there are also positive examples that should be highlighted and discussed. The success of those businessmen listed above (and others who I did not list by name) does not prove that racism does not exist, but it shows that there are ways and paths to create positive change. That is why I would disagree both with people who say that there is no problem, and with people who think that the problems are so deep that they cannot or will not be solved. I want to believe in the Dr. King quote that I have on my refrigerator and that I read to my daughter: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Rachel said to me, "Daddy, what does that mean?" I told her that it means that it may take a while, but in the end right triumphs over wrong. In moments of suffering and despair it can be difficult to keep faith, but if we lose faith what do we have left, and what can we give our children?


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