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Tuesday, June 20, 2023

NBA Gives Ja Morant A Path Away From Oblivion

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver suspended Memphis Grizzlies All-Star Ja Morant 25 games without pay for "conduct detrimental to the league." The NBA issued an official statement about why Commissioner Silver suspended Morant; here is the pertinent portion of that official statement:

Morant posed with a firearm in a car during a live-streamed video on May 13, less than two months after he was suspended eight games without pay for the live streaming of a video on March 4 in which he displayed a firearm while in an intoxicated state at a Denver area nightclub.

The league office found that, on May 13, Morant intentionally and prominently displayed a gun while in a car with several other individuals as they were leaving a social gathering in Memphis. Morant wielded the firearm while knowing that he was being recorded and that the recording was being live streamed on Instagram Live, despite having made commitments to the NBA and public statements that he would not repeat the conduct for which he was previously disciplined.

Regardless of whether or not Morant's conduct broke any laws, it is incorrect to suggest that Morant's Constitutional or legal rights are violated by this suspension. Morant's suspension is not a Second Amendment issue because the NBA is not challenging Morant's right to legally own a firearm; the NBA, like most corporate organizations, has its own internal rules and codes of conduct, and it has the legal right to enforce those rules and codes. The NBA has every right to make it clear to Morant that he must choose between two paths: he can be a highly paid NBA superstar who abides by the NBA's employment rules and guidelines, or he can be a guy who rides around in a car wielding a handgun in live social media videos. 

Far from punishing Morant, Commissioner Silver is providing Morant a path away from oblivion: if Morant proceeds down his current path, he will be out of the league and he will have thrown away hundreds of millions of dollars--but Morant now has an opportunity to seek counseling, make smarter and more mature decisions, and return to a path filled with riches, praise, and likely basketball immortality. 

Morant's suspension is far from the longest or most severe suspension in NBA history. Not including several players who received lifetime bans after repeatedly violating the league's anti-drug policies, here is a list of just a few of the players who have received longer suspensions from the NBA:

1) O.J. Mayo was suspended 164 games (two full seasons) in 2016 for violating the league's performance enhancing drug protocol.

2) Ron Artest was suspended 86 games in 2004 for his role in the infamous "Malice at the Palace."

3) Latrell Sprewell was suspended 68 games in 1997 for choking his then-coach, P.J. Carlesimo.

4) Gilbert Arenas was suspended 50 games in 2010 for bringing guns into the locker room during a dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton (who was suspended 38 games for the same incident).

5) Stephen Jackson was suspended 30 games in 2004 for his role in the "Malice at the Palace."

The Arenas/Crittenton incident is perhaps most relevant to Morant's situation. By age 30, Gilbert Arenas--a three-time All-Star and three-time member of the All-NBA Team--was playing for the Shanghai Sharks. Arenas, who never seemed to understand the gravity of what he did, should consider himself lucky to be alive; he thought everything was a joke, but Crittenton was recently released from prison after serving 10 years for homicide, so if Arenas had pushed his luck a little further with Crittenton then Arenas may no longer be with us to offer weird NBA takes on his podcast. 

Hopefully, Morant will use his time off without pay to change his thought process and improve his behavior. It would be a shame if he threw away his promising career the same way that Arenas squandered his talent, and it would be a tragedy if Morant ended up like Crittenton.

NBA coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich have been silent about Morant's public embrace of gun culture, and Morant's alleged involvement in multiple incidents during which he engaged in violence or threatened to engage in violence. I mention Kerr and Popovich by name because both men have not hesitated to loudly and repeatedly state their opinions about national gun laws and about politicians who they accuse of not taking gun violence seriously enough. Do Kerr and Popovich approve of Morant's conduct? Do they think that the suspension is long enough, too long, or not long enough? Once you open your mouth and assert that you have an opinion worth hearing on national policy issues, you accept the responsibility of speaking out about those issues moving forward. I am not naive enough to think that Kerr and Popovich will say anything about Morant other than "This is a league issue and I trust Adam Silver" or "I will not comment about discipline involving a player from another team," but those are cowardly responses. If you feel strongly about gun violence, gun laws, and the behavior of certain citizens, then let us know how you feel when a member of your corporate organization steps out of line. 

One would think that anyone who protests about systemic racism and lack of economic opportunities for various ethnic groups would be at the forefront of encouraging Morant to not squander the chance to obtain generational wealth that could be used not only to benefit himself and his family but also underserved communities, many of which are filled with young people who idolize Morant. In that regard, the critical response of the NBA Players Association to the 25 game suspension is as unsurprising as it is disappointing. The NBA Players Association presents itself as an organization that promotes social justice, but in fact it is an organization that primarily conducts public relations campaigns on behalf of players while remaining silent, at best, when players conduct themselves inappropriately; we saw this when Kyrie Irving exposed himself as an unrepentant antisemite.

Like the Commissioner, several coaches, and other members of the NBA community (including media members who work for companies with huge NBA contracts), the Players Association (and individual players) often makes statements about social justice and public safety. Does Morant's behavior fulfill their expectations? If a fan showed up at an NBA game or event behaving around NBA players as Morant behaved in public, would the Players Association defend the fan's Second Amendment rights and emphasize that the fan did nothing illegal? Or would the Players Association demand that the league and the police protect the players? Again, once you open your mouth about public policy issues, you accept the responsibility of speaking out about those issues moving forward.

It could be argued that the NBAPA is a union whose main task is to support its members no matter what, but if the NBAPA does not have a higher calling then it should be honest about that instead of purporting to be an organization filled with social justice warriors: an organization that is silent about antisemitism and complicit with Morant's reckless behavior is hardly an organization that is taking the lead to improve society.

One last point to consider is that some people suggest that Morant is being led astray by his friends and associates--but the reality is that Morant has been front and center leading the way in each incident involving him, so at some point we have to consider the possibility that Morant is the one leading the way as opposed to someone who is being led astray. Regardless of whether Morant is the leader or the follower, this may be his last chance to correct his course; hopefully, Morant will follow the path away from oblivion that Commissioner Silver has provided.

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:36 AM



At Tuesday, June 20, 2023 1:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

slap on the wrist in light of recent past offense

At Wednesday, June 21, 2023 2:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The "right" discipline would be discipline sufficient to change Morant's conduct for the better, but the reality is that (1) it is not clear what that discipline would be, and (2) if the NBA issued a suspension longer than 25 games then that would increase the likelihood that an appeal would be successful.

At Thursday, June 22, 2023 12:30:00 AM, Anonymous Michael said...

I was hoping for a suspension of at least 41 games and a firm warning from the league that if anything like this happens again a lifetime ban from the NBA will be the final nail in the coffin of his career in the league. For reasons that you mentioned, that could backfire on the league and give the NBAPA a ton of fuel for a lengthy appeal process that would make this situation even more toxic. I’m not even remotely convinced that Morant will take the 25 game suspension seriously and I am expecting this issue to resurface in the future.

At Thursday, June 22, 2023 1:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I expected a suspension longer than 25 games, but I think that Commissioner Silver believes that a longer suspension would be reduced on appeal.

Only the league office and Morant know what kind of warnings the league issued privately.

I hope that you are wrong and that Morant changes his path, but to some extent I share your pessimism/skepticism until proven otherwise.


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