After the diplomatic incident with China in 2019, the players’ strike in the midst of Black Lives Matter in 2020, the vaccine showdown in 2021, the NBA is not immune to another tumultuous return with the Sarver and Udoka cases, which came damage his image.
The season begins on Tuesday, with two enticing posters: the Golden State Warriors, defending champions, against the LA Lakers, preceded by Boston, last runner-up, against Philadelphia. They will mark the return of the self-proclaimed best basketball league in the world, which is ever more popular.
In the United States, with 12.4 million viewers on average, the final, won in June by Golden State, accredited a recovery in audiences, which had fallen below 10 in the two previous editions.
Everything would therefore be fine under the skies of the NBA, if heavy clouds had not gathered this summer.
The biggest shock was the confirmation, by an independent commission of inquiry, of the racist, sexist and misogynistic behavior of Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, as denounced in an ESPN article dating from November 2021. Accusations substantiated by the testimonials of more than 70 franchise employees.
However, if the latter has started the process of selling the club, it is because many voices have called for his departure, from LeBron James to Chris Paul who plays there, via the players’ union (NBPA) and the Reverend Al Sharpton, figure of the civil rights movement.
– “Examination of conscience” –
Before this outcome, criticism rained on Adam Silver, for the sanction pronounced – one year of suspension accompanied by a fine of ten million dollars -, considered insufficient. The NBA boss, however, had not lacked a grip in 2014 by banishing Donald Sterling for life and forcing him to sell the Clippers, for his racist remarks recorded on audio tapes.
He struggled to justify this disparity in treatment, assuring that “the two situations were different” and that he had “access to information that the public does not know”, adding that an “owner has special rights in relation to an employee”.
So many unwelcome arguments, even if, according to the Bleacher Report, Silver worked behind the scenes to force Sarver to let go of the Suns.
“The NBA needs to do its soul-searching,” Reverend Sharpton scolded her. “A new era is upon us where it is intolerable to view black players as property. It is imperative that the league, teams, sponsors and new owner continue the commitment to eradicate racism, misogyny and hate.”
A big call to order, for the sports league yet considered the most progressive in the United States, which has been fighting against racial injustice for several decades, and which supported Black Lives Matter in the summer of 2020 , allowing players to strike in the middle of the play-offs.
Silver had found the words, helped by Michael Jordan, to convince them to resume the game despite the anger resulting from police violence against the black population, promising more commitment.
– Tarnished image –
Perceived, among other things for these reasons, as the best manager of all professional sports, the NBA commissioner has made few missteps since taking office.
In 2019, he was criticized for his hasty apology to China, furious at the tweet in support of the Hong Kong protesters, posted by Daryl Morey, then general manager of the Rockets. But he had made up for it, refusing, in the name of freedom of expression, to sanction him, despite pressure from Beijing, which then severed important commercial ties.
He was the first, in March 2020, to have the lucidity to suspend the championship, from the first case of Covid identified in the NBA. A decision immediately followed by the other sports leagues. But he failed to achieve the desired 100% vaccination, some players refusing to submit to it including Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn), who paid the price for many months.
Finally, even if Silver has no role in this story, the case of Ime Udoka – the Celtics coach suspended for a year by his leaders for having had an “inappropriate” intimate relationship, the contours of which remained unclear, with an employee of the club-, came to tarnish the image of his league a little more. Which would also have happened without the indictment of winger Miles Bridges (Hornets), suspected of having hit his wife in front of their children.
Racism, sexism, domestic violence… so many troubled waters in the not so calm river of the NBA.