by Dr. Boyce Watkins
For New Pittsburgh Courier
Many of us read with interest the blow up between NBA superstar Dwyane Wade and Commissioner David Stern. In a heated discussion taking place during the pending NBA lockout, Wade told Stern that he “isn’t his child,” and then stormed out of the meeting. I read about the interaction with curiosity, wondering whether or not I was witnessing the kind of revolt that hasn’t been seen among Black athletes since the 1960s.
DR. BOYCE WATKINS
If that is the case, then NBA team owners are rightfully nervous. If Black professional athletes were to get even a whiff of the power that they truly possess, they’d be amazed at what they could do. Here are five reasons that the NBA now has good reason to fear Black men:
1) The athletes have options: Unlike the NFL, there is a strong global market for well-branded professional basketball players. When I taught a class in China, I was amazed by the fact that every single boy in my class loved the game of basketball; every television in the cafeteria featured the NBA finals, and one of my students actually told me that every boy he knows plays basketball at least once a week. There are opportunities for players around the world, so most high quality players (except for the perpetually sad Delonte West, who is working in a hardware store) have something to do during the lockout. What’s even worse for team owners is that the longer the players spend time playing overseas, the more they may realize that it’s not such a terrible existence after all. As in any relationship (dating, professional, etc.), having options is almost always a good thing.
2) They are not afraid: Wade’s blow up at Commissioner Stern has all the racial undertones of a scene from the movie “Roots.” The fact that Wade referred to Stern as “David” on multiple occasions also says that Wade is not interested in submitting to the standard social hierarchy that exists between Black men and wealthy White guys. When one puts intelligence, power, unity and courage all in the same room, you’ve got the socio-political equivalent of a nuclear bomb.
3) They know how to work together: The fact that Wade conspired with LeBron James to play together in Miami says that these guys have risen above the divide-and-conquer mentality typically held among professional athletes. They communicate with one another and seem to have realized that joining forces gives them a tremendous amount of power both on and off the court. Historically, NBA labor negotiations have been heavily skewed in favor of team owners, who vote in lockstep on nearly every issue. By engaging in the same degree of collusion, Wade and his colleagues have tipped the scales back at least a little bit.
4) They’re a lot more educated than they used to be: With the advent of the Internet, there has been an explosion in the sharing of ideas and information. It’s no longer cool for Black men to be ignorant, and athletes can not only reach the public on their own, but they also have unprecedented access to intellectual resources. By watching many of their predecessors end up broke and powerless, some (not all) NBA athletes come to the league equipped with the tools necessary to be successful in both life and sports. They realize that being financially and politically savvy are just as important as being able to dunk a basketball.
5) They are principled and battle-hardened: Dwyane Wade (I’ve never met him) appears to be a battle-scarred man with a certain degree conscientiousness that goes above and beyond the size of his paycheck. I watched this single dad fight like hell for the right to see his sons, and in quite a few ways, Wade is openly defiant of nearly every stereotype the American public wants to have about Black men in America. The fact that he and James have already stated that they have no problem sitting out for an entire season serves as notice to NBA owners that by utilizing hard ball negotiating tactics, they are jeopardizing the existence and economic stability of the NBA.
Beyond the financial implications of the NBA lockout negotiations lies a deeper and more serious display of racial dynamics at work. While team owners are still likely going to put the hammer on the heads of the athletes, we may see a dramatic shift in the athlete-owner paradigm. In the nervous eyes of NBA owners, this is the rise of the planet of the athletes.
(Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.)