I don’t get to talk about it a lot, but I’m a huge sports fan. My dream as a child was to be a general manager of a sports team. Since I was a little boy, I’ve followed and watched as many games in as many sports as I could. As 5 & 6 year old boy, I’d study box scores, and stats lines, and win-loss records. When I was 10 & 11 years old, I started winning the company-wide NCAA bracket tournaments at the local factory where my mother worked. One year I won nearly $500 and you couldn’t tell me I hadn’t just hit the lottery.
And even though my life has changed so much since then, I still follow and track sports every second I get. I said all of that to say that everything I’m about to say, I am saying as a lifelong sports fan.
I’ve seen two things happen during the NBA Finals over the past week that disgust me. I think each of them have a real component of racism and white privilege – and I just want to unpack them for a few minutes.
For any NBA fan, last night was an amazing, stressful competitive game 5 of the NBA Finals. It was in Toronto – the Raptors, who’ve never made it to the NBA Finals before, came into the game up 3-1 in the series. If they won just one more game, they’d win the championship. It was also the first game back for Kevin Durant – who is arguably the best player in the NBA right now – it was his first game back in over 30 days after injuring his calf earlier in the playoffs.
And last night, when the game started, he was spectacular. Right away, as soon as the game started, it was clear he was going to give the Raptors trouble, and started draining 3 pointer after 3 pointers – and helped the Warriors go up big early. And he changed the entire game for the Warriors – he made everybody better and seemed to give the whole team life.
Then – without even being touched – it was clear Durant injured himself. Reports this morning are that it is highly likely that he tore his achilles – which is a catastrophic injury for a basketball player. And as he collapsed onto the ground – clearly and unmistakably injured – fans all over the stadium started cheering his injury – started waving goodbye – started smiling and laughing – and being the investigator that I am – I’ve looked at videos from every angle. It wasn’t a few people. It was hundreds of fans – who – in an instant – saw that his injury likely meant that their favorite team had a better chance at winning the game.
And for me, it was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen in my life as a sports fan. It was so bad, and so noticeable, that several Raptors players had to motion to the fans to stop cheering while this man’s career was in the balance.
And what it brought to my mind is that for so many of these fans, most of them increasingly rich and white, to these fans, these players aren’t human, they are objects. This injury is brutal. It will take a year of recovery and one of the most painful surgeries a person can have. At the point in which we ever cheer on the injury of an athlete we’ve lost touch. And I think these fans have a sense of entitlement and privilege that has completely gotten out of hand.
But we also saw this same ugliness in Oakland at another game between Golden State & Toronto last week – when Kyle Lowery – the point guard for the Raptors – went running after a ball – and fell into the front row seats. He didn’t hurt anyone. But a Warriors fan, again, a super rich white man – literally shoved Kyle Lowery. And Lowery had to restrain himself – because if he dared touch the man – he’d likely be suspended for the rest of the playoffs.
And it turns out that man was an investor in the team. Notice I didn’t say owner. Just a few years ago, Draymond Green suggested we stop using that word, owner, and instead switch to investor – and I think he’s right. In no other place in society would that frail white man have put his hands on Kyle Lowery. Nowhere. But in that place, he knew the rules protected his privilege.
And the NBA needs to do something about it. This morning I counted at least a dozen times this year where NBA fans said or did something horrible to NBA players and the players had to do everything they could to restrain themselves – as fans said or did something to a player that they’d never say or do anywhere else.
I love the NBA – but the league is going to have to proactively address these problems. I think it’s a sign of the times – a sign of 2019 – a sign of the loss of civility in the age of Trump.