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Thursday, August 27, 2020

NBA Strike: What Next?

It is important to use correct and precise terminology. NBA players are currently on strike--resulting in the postponement of playoff games scheduled to be played on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday--and it has been reported that the strike will most likely end on Saturday. A strike is when employees do not report to work on schedule and/or refuse to perform their normal work duties.

A boycott is when consumers decide to not patronize a particular business or group of businesses. During the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. first achieved prominence as one of the leaders of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was a protest against racial segregation on public buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Thus, if consumers decide to not pay for subscription services (cable or satellite providers) to watch NBA games, or to not purchase the products of NBA sponsors, that would be a boycott.

Generally, employees who are considering going on strike first issue a set of demands, and then they go on strike if those demands are not met. The NBA strike did not begin in an organized fashion with a set of demands; the Orlando Magic arrived on time for Wednesday's playoff game versus the Milwaukee Bucks, and were surprised that the Bucks did not show up for the game. Hours after the Bucks refused to play, the team emerged from the locker room, and two players--George Hill and Sterling Brown--read a brief statement but refused to answer any questions. Hill had recently stated publicly that it had been a mistake for the players to resume the season, because he believes that the games have become a distraction from social justice issues. Brown was tased and wrongly arrested by the Milwaukee Police in 2018; he has reportedly rejected a $400,000 settlement offer and instead he filed a civil rights suit against the Milwaukee Police Department.

In rapid succession after the Bucks went on strike, the two other NBA playoff games scheduled for Wednesday night were postponed, and several other leagues--including the WNBA--postponed their games. 

The NBA could have forfeited the Bucks, and fined the team for going on strike, but--taking a larger view of the situation--the league opted to work behind the scenes to salvage the playoffs. The strike has been portrayed as if a collective decision was made to pause the playoffs, but the reality is that the Bucks--seemingly at the instigation of Hill and Brown, the only players who have spoken publicly--acted unilaterally and were prepared to forfeit the game and their salaries while the rest of the league did not know about this beforehand and then just went along with what the Bucks did.

Anyone who has a compassionate heart can understand why NBA players are frustrated, upset, angry, and fearful. Doc Rivers' heartfelt words after Tuesday's L.A. Clippers game are a powerful testament to how he and many other people feel about the Jacob Blake shooting, the George Floyd killing, and other incidents. It is also obvious that NBA players are dealing with a lot of mental/emotional stress from being in the "bubble" environment, as Clippers' player Paul George alluded to after Tuesday's game--and he is not the only player who has spoken about being under mental/emotional stress.

It is understandable why some players may feel like they should not have come to the "bubble" and/or feel like they should leave now. It should be noted that NBA players are not confined to the "bubble." They are free to leave at any time, and--after undergoing COVID-19 testing and quarantine--they are free to return.

That being said, the NBA spent over $100 million to put together a "bubble" environment that--up to this point--has succeeded in being free of COVID-19 while also providing entertaining basketball. If the players continued to strike and forced the playoffs to be canceled then that could cost the NBA hundreds of millions--if not billions--of dollars. If that were to happen, the NBA could exercise a clause that would end the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which could lead to a lockout and result in the cancelation of next season.

The NBA has been at the forefront of supporting the causes and issues that the players are concerned about; a strike that harms the NBA hurts a business enterprise that not only advocates for social justice but also provides billions of dollars in salaries to players, who can then use that money for whatever causes they support.

Further, the general public is only familiar with a select few players; if the NBA were not in the "bubble" now then most people would not know who George Hill is, nor care what he says. The "bubble" provides an opportunity for the league, the teams, and the players to shine a spotlight on a variety of issues.

A prolonged strike would diminish the NBA's power and voice. A strike for a few days is unlikely to accomplish much. Therefore, the players painted themselves into a corner by impulsively deciding to strike, and they are fortunate that their employer is willing/able to provide a graceful exit from that corner by not classifying this strike as a strike.

The longer the players do not play, the less leverage they have, because the owners can ultimately survive without the NBA to a greater extent than the players can; if the league goes bankrupt, then most if not all of the owners can fall back on their other businesses and income sources. A few NBA players may already be set for life, but the majority are not.

The problem for the striking players is that they want things done immediately that the NBA has no control over. NBA players have repeatedly demanded that certain police officers be fired and/or arrested. The reality is that when a police officer discharges his weapon in the line of duty there will be an investigation that could take weeks or months; that is a formal process that is not going to be sped up no matter who protests, or goes on strike, or who calls a governor, attorney general, or prosecutor. That is why it is odd to act as if it is a great accomplishment that Milwaukee Bucks players reportedly had a conference call with government officials in Wisconsin. One, I am pretty sure that the players could have arranged such calls without striking. Two, such calls have, at most, symbolic value regarding this particular situation. Pressuring the authorities to act before all of the evidence has been collected and evaluated could result in the prosecutor having a flawed case that cannot be effectively prosecuted. One of the cornerstones of our criminal justice system is that there are built in rights and protections for anyone who is accused of a crime; if that process is not followed, then even a person who committed a crime can be set free.

This is not in any way a suggestion that players should "shut up and dribble." Rather, the point is for the players to have a plan as opposed to acting/reacting emotionally, even though those emotions are understandable. A strike will not speed up the judicial process, or change the outcome of that process. A strike will not harm racists, or change their thought processes. The best thing that the NBA players can do is use their voices and their money to advocate for the issues that matter the most to them. Playing the games is not a distraction; playing the games provides a platform that they would not otherwise have.

It is quite telling that when the players had a meeting on Wednesday night the vast majority of the teams voted to continue the playoffs; upon reflection, the players understood how little leverage they have--and how much they could lose if they canceled the playoffs by striking.

The media is quick to apply labels and utilize soundbites. I do not agree with anyone who calls the strike "brave," but I also do not agree with anyone who calls the strike "cowardly." Dr. King was brave; he was willing to be beaten and/or jailed for his cause. Muhammad Ali was brave; he gave up his heavyweight championship and the prime years of his boxing career for his cause. The NBA players know that Commissioner Adam Silver will support just about any social justice position that they take, and they know that unless they just leave the "bubble" en masse they will not face economic consequences for their actions. The players do not face the challenges and consequences that Dr. King and Muhammad Ali did. That safety net does not make the players "cowardly," though; I think that the players acted emotionally by striking, and that upon calmer reflection they are working with the owners to find a path forward that is mutually acceptable.

Much has been said about the importance of voting, and many NBA players, coaches, and commentators have been outspoken about this. Specifically, Shaquille O'Neal mentioned the importance of voting for governors, mayors, sheriffs, and other local officials. That is an interesting point, because it seems like many people are focused on just one line on the upcoming ballot. Over the past 32 years the White House has been inhabited by a Democrat for 16 years and by a Republican for 16 years. Many of the issues that are most often discussed and complained about--including but not limited to police brutality, incarceration rates, crime, poverty, the education system, health care--persist regardless of who the President is, because the importance of the President is similar to the importance of an NFL quarterback: Presidents and quarterbacks tend to receive too much credit for what goes right, and too much blame for what goes wrong. This does not mean that Presidents and quarterbacks are not important; it just means--in this context--that if the problems we are facing could be easily solved by one powerful person, then this would have already happened. If you understand the separation of powers and if you understand how government functions at the federal, state, and local levels, then you understand that it is foolish to reflexively create a positive or negative soundbite about one person every single time something good or something bad happens.

Just like football games are often won in the trenches, the officials who are in the trenches--including governors, mayors, sheriffs, and others--implement the policies and make the day to day decisions that have the most impact on our lives. It is worth doing some research about the states and cities that are faring the worst right now in whatever categories matter the most to you--COVID-19, police brutality, incarceration rates, crime, poverty, the education system, health care--and then examine who are the governors, mayors, sheriffs, and other elected officials in those areas. Has the same party or the same people been in power for a while in those areas? Politicians are great at making speeches and telling people what they want to hear--but did the people who have been running these places for decades build up a track record of success, or a track record of failure?

It is very important not just to vote, but to be an informed voter.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:55 PM



At Friday, August 28, 2020 12:27:00 AM, Blogger RFU said...

Well said!

At Friday, August 28, 2020 2:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you!

At Friday, August 28, 2020 2:57:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

millionaires striking for what? social justice? hypocrisy levels of NBA players are astonishing, even if their feelings are true and not for show, which I sincerely doubt

You are right when you say they have all the powers to help do good through NBA and its platforms... yet they act like spoiled brats and put it under the bus.... but then again money talked and season would likely resume


At Friday, August 28, 2020 4:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really wanted the NBA to forfeit the Bucks. And yes, at least handle the strike properly and not at the last minute. And then it sounded like the NBA caved and postponed the other 2 Wednesday matches, not the players on those other 4 teams striking.

The NBA seems like they're most interested in money and their own image more than anything else. Look what happened last year when Morey said something about China. And now they're doing all this social justice stuff. It seems more surface than actuality.

Look what happened with Harrell. The NBA did nothing to him. I'm not sure if they should've or not, but it seems highly contradictory especially this season to not discipline someone who's making racial comments. Just think what the uproar would've been if the roles were reversed and a white player(Doncic) made a derogatory racial comment to a black player(Harrell). I only caught a little of Rivers' interview afterwards, but he was saying both players were swearing, etc, he was kinda brushing it off like it wasn't a big deal.

I'm confused what purpose the players thought striking would solve or do. I was kinda hoping the season would be canceled in some ways. It's so weird they're finishing the season like this, and a huge asterisk on it whoever wins if they do end up finishing.

At Friday, August 28, 2020 4:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


We have no way of knowing if the players' feelings are sincere or not. I believe that the players are genuinely upset about things that have happened, and I believe that they are stressed out from being in the "bubble" environment. I don't believe that they have figured out the most effective and consistent ways to express these feelings and to act on these feelings.

I agree that there is a lot of hypocrisy here, and that most of the parties involved (both owners and players) are placing a higher value on their own money than anything else.

At Friday, August 28, 2020 4:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


There is no way that the league would have forfeited the Bucks with emotions being so raw and so volatile. If the NBA had done that, I think that many players would have immediately and impulsively left the "bubble," which would have created a logistical problem for continuing the season even if the emotions could subsequently be calmed down.

I also think that Adam Silver and the owners were shrewd enough--or cynical enough--to realize that once they made it clear to the players exactly how much money the players stood to lose that then the players would quickly return to work. Every NBA work stoppage has reached that kind of conclusion, albeit usually over a longer time frame than a few days.

The NBA's hypocrisy about China's concentration camps and other totalitarian policies is appalling.

The NBA's hypocrisy with the Harrell-Doncic incident is evident, albeit not as serious as the hypocrisy pertaining to China. At the very least, Harrell should have received a technical foul during the game, and/or a fine after the game. Perhaps the referees missed what he said in the moment--though it is hard to understand how they could miss it in an arena with no fans--but the NBA office obviously saw the footage after the game.

I am glad that the season will continue, because I enjoy NBA basketball despite its flaws (and hypocrisies), but I am sure that you are not alone in wishing that the season would be canceled. The ratings are down, and I am sure that the owners emphasized to the players that a prolonged strike could do serious damage to the league's future. It will be interesting to see if subsequent ratings are up, down or stable. I suspect that after this strike the ratings will be stable, or decline slightly.

At Friday, August 28, 2020 4:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't say the NBA would've forfeited them, but they should've and I wanted them to. You can't have a few players(who knows how many on them really didn't want to play) dictate like this. What's happening in Wisconsin has nothing to do with the NBA bubble.

Yes, true about Harrell. But, now it's water under the bridge. Like I mentioned previously, this would linger with Doncic for the rest of his career and the uproar would be deafening with Doncic said similar things to Harrell or any other black player.

It's sad what's happening with some of these shootings, but do we actually know race was involved, at least with Jacob Blake? Maybe, but I haven't heard anything specifically.

Watching the NBA for the most part is great, but with the way this season has gone, it just seems really weird to me they're playing like this and now there's a 3-day strike(for now), who knows what else will happen. The league and players have turned me off quite a bit recently.

At Saturday, August 29, 2020 3:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I know that you did not say that the NBA would have forfeited them. I am just emphasizing that it does not seem like there is any way the NBA would have forfeited them in the current climate.

I agree with you that Doncic would have faced a huge and long-lasting backlash if he had said to Harrell (or any black player) something equivalent to what Harrell said to him.

Until all of the evidence is examined, it is irresponsible to draw any conclusions about any event--of course, that does not stop many people from drawing all sorts of conclusions.

I am sure that you are not the only person who feels turned off by the league and the players.

At Monday, August 31, 2020 10:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it interesting as a Black male that everytime, black people bring up issues of social justice or racism, there is always such backlash. Regarding NBA players or athletes in general bringing up these issues there are always all these claims: this isn't the right time to bring up these issues, oh you are spoiled, just play the game, oh you are misinformed, etc. The reality is that racism and social justice are hot button issues which reflect an ugly underbelly of American society which some of America, in particular White America does not feel comfortable addressing.

Even the argument that NBA players are being hypocritical in not standing up for Human Rights issues in China earlier in the season. I agree that they should have done more to publicly stand up for the Uyghur Muslims but a majority criticizing them for it are being disingenuous in that they had nothing to say or exhibited any concern when prior to China, Black NBA players were speaking on Tamir Rice, Travyon Martin or the litany of Black people killed unjustly prior or after China.

The NBA players are not social scientists, politicians, billionaire businessmen, etc. They are mostly young men who come from impoverished backgrounds who have an elite skill. They are not happy with the systemic inequality issues and prolonged racial issues that have affected America, and they are doing what they feel is right to change these problems for the better. The question shouldn't be why are they bringing it up now or why don't they have better foresight in planning their actions in regards to their activism but rather why does it fall to primarily black athletes to motivate change rather than politicians and billionaire owners who have to more money and power to truly assist in changing society for the better (even if that may affect their bottom line).

As black men even though they are in the bubble, most are always affected by issues affecting the black community because it is shared lived experience. I live in New Jersey but I am still aware, saddened and frustrated by the police shootings in Wisconsin because I know it can happen to me and I know other black people who have experienced dangerous police interactions. Black people regardless of their social status and wealth dont have the luxury to ignore racism. And if people say they are turned off by the players and league because they are addressing these issues, then quite frankly that is why racism and social inequality are still issues within this country-a majority of those who have the luxury to "ignore" the lived oppressive experiences of the oppress continue to do so because they want to be inconvenienced.

And yes the statement said to Doncic was inappropriate but if he said the equivalent to Harrell or any other black player, he would have faced a rightfully larger backlash because of the historical precedents of racial statements and actions taken against black people in American which in large part still continue to this day.

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


I am not sure if you consider my article to be "backlash" or if you are referring to other people's comments or if you are making a more general point. I can only speak to what I have written and what I believe.

I do not question that the players have a right to speak up. I do not say that the players should only speak up at certain times. I have not categorized them as a group in terms of being "misinformed" or "spoiled," though I have sometimes addressed specific comments made by specific players.

I have criticized the league for being hypocritical regarding China and other issues, and I have said that for a while.

I sympathize with how NBA players feel, and I am moved by some of their raw expressions of emotion. That does not necessarily mean that I agree with their policy prescriptions for how to address the issues that so deeply move them.

The NBA players can strike if they feel like striking. Individual players can leave the "bubble" at any time. My point is to focus on whether or not those collective or individual actions would be productive. Actions have consequences: the players can strike, but in doing so they could lose money, destabilize the league, and deny themselves a platform that can be used to amplify their viewpoint(s). Striking may also turn off potential supporters while not having any impact on people who are racist. These are things that should be considered strategically and tactically before deciding to forfeit a game and/or initiate a strike.

I don't buy the notion that a racist statement by a member of a majority group is more offensive or should be punished more heavily than a racist statement by a member of a minority group. Right is right and wrong is wrong. The NBA needs to figure out what constitutes acceptable "trash talking" and what is out of bounds, and then apply the same standard to everyone. Racism is racism, period. I think that people confuse racism with persecution. Anyone can be a racist, but persecution can be done more systematically by people or groups who have power. If a business does not hire people from a certain race, that is racism and persecution--but any employee of that business who makes a racist statement is a racist, whether or not that person has the power or inclination to persecute someone.


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