What is basketball to you?
It might be history for some, something to watch on a Saturday night for others.
For many, though, it’s escapism. It’s a way to get lost in folklore decades in the making. Living within the legacy of the sport, losing yourself in it. The silence in an opposition dagger. It’s the roar of a poster dunk, a constant, a form of unity.
It hasn’t always been that. There have been incidents since the inception of the NBA which have raised moral concerns. The consensus, however, remains that the league has usually done well in levying appropriate consequences for vile actions and comments. The NBA is considered one of the most unproblematic sports leagues out there, standing at the forefront of social causes and generally letting fans be more immersed in the game rather than the opinions of those who make it what it is.
This, unfortunately, led to a certain and inevitable sense of dissociation between players and the fans. Insults and ridicule became commonplace in conversations online. Athletes were left utterly dehumanized, which led to them being either deified or told to “shut up and dribble.” This ongoing evolution of player-fan dynamic and its expression on social media was a ticking time bomb, waiting patiently to one day expose just how flawed the perception of athletes was.
For the NBA, this season has been nothing short of a gut-wrenching eye-opener.
It is difficult to pinpoint when the chaos for the season started. Was it the domestic violence case surrounding Charlotte’s Miles Bridges? Maybe the wide array of atrocities by Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver? Perhaps the suspension of Celtics head coach Ime Udoka for the 2022-23 season due to “violations of team policies,” only for him to be the frontrunner for the Brooklyn Nets head coaching role mere weeks after? Chronology aside, the last few months have been downright uncomfortable and disheartening for the common NBA fan.
The two recent atrocities have brought dread to the forefront.
2021 lottery pick Joshua Primo was waived by the San Antonio Spurs after nine alleged counts of indecent exposure. The team was made aware of the situation by former Spurs psychologist Hillary Cauthen 10 months before he was waived. In the meantime, Primo’s third-year option was picked up. Cauthen’s contract, meanwhile, was not renewed.
On the other side, the actions of Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving led to his suspension for no less than five games for sharing the contents of an antisemitic film on social media. After having been given numerous opportunities to elaborate on his stance and apologize to the millions of people he directly hurt, Irving hit back each time with denialism and a laughable display of smoke and mirrors.
It has been exhausting to be an NBA fan. Basketball action every night feels irrelevant. It is a sheer indictment of how broken the perception of athletes has become.
There is absolutely no subjectivity when it is a matter of equality. You cannot play devil’s advocate when it’s a matter of general safety and well-being of other communities, races, sexes, and sexual orientations. More importantly, the platform celebrities and athletes possess comes with severe consequences. Words have power, just as much as actions.
The reaction of other players and fans have been eerily alike. The defense of abhorrence in the name of supposed “truth” and “honest dialogue” is just as prejudiced. The notion that truth, much like human beings who choose to speak it, is complicated leads to a false understanding of virtue. Truth in its very nature is objectively simple. Certain words and actions hurt larger communities that are generalized far too often and far too easily. Abhorrent acts of sexual harassment being covered up until they reach the point of public coverage are cowardly and a terrifying thought regarding the cases yet to be brought into the public light.
Being a fan of the NBA sucks right now. The discourse on social media is toxic, and the truth of the actions in question even more so. It is impossible to find that feeling of warmth that basketball brings. The league stands bare as an organization more concerned with its perception than the safety and well-being of women and larger communities.
The NBA has devolved into a microcosm of what social discourse has become in modern society. An uninformed amalgamation of biases and toxicity. Worse of all, it is far from the escapism we crave. Maybe this is how it is from now, maybe the carnal need for nuance will rip away the objective essence of why it’s necessary. Maybe sports and our beloved basketball are just next in line to fall into the macabre loss of entertainment.
For the sake of the game, however, we can’t see it that way. Not yet.
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