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80% Of NBA Players Are Black. Is Slavery’s Legacy In The Power Dynamics Of Sports?

Is the NBA run on the plantation model? Modern-day sports, not just the NBA, have often been compared to slavery, where rich white men control the lives of Black players. 

Now players are fighting back by speaking out, starting with the term “owner.”  Think about it. There are multimillionaire ball players and 80 percent of them are Black, yet very few have and ownership of teams or executive roles in the NBA

“The vast majority of head coaches are white, as are most general managers and other league executives. Of the men and women with controlling interests in NBA teams, only one, Michael Jordan of the Charlotte Hornets, looks like most of the players on his team,” New York Times reported.

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This has caused tension where some players feel like they are on plantations and this has resulted in players striking back in the form of “transformational” free-agent signings.

And players are speaking out. Golden State Warriors’ All-Star forward Draymond Green recently noted: “The word ‘owner,’ it dates back to slavery.”

He recommended that “maybe use the word ‘chairman’ instead.”

Green isn’t the only one thinking this way. The NBA is actually veering away from the “owner.” The the word “governor” is being used at N.B.A. headquarters.

“Draymond achieved the desired effect,” Commissioner Adam Silver said, by provoking increased sensitivity about the relationship between players and “team owners.”

But it all comes down to power and money — and who truly has both in the NBA? And some experts say, the dynamic is similar to slavery.

“One way to think about slavery is as a history of confinement and the struggle of movement — being moved against your will or seeking to break free of those chains,” David J. Leonard, a professor at Washington State University who has written about race, culture, and sports, said, “A connection can be made to what we’re seeing in the league today, to the drive among black players to freely move and control one’s future, control one’s life, and likeness, story, and voice. All of this is part of a larger history in Black America.”

The setup can’t last forever, especially as NBA players are being more determined to be empowered.

“At some point,” Mark Anthony Neal, chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University, said, “those folks are going to mobilize to push back.”


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