The NBA semifinals have started with Boston brushing aside defending champion Toronto in Game 1, and Miami upsetting Milwaukee, if we can call it that, in the opener.
This, while the Lakers await the Game 7 result between Houston and Oklahoma. After trailing in the series at 1-3, Denver beat Utah three straight times to set up a showdown with the other LA team, the Clippers.
But until it was averted, basketball fans almost missed the chance of seeing how the NBA season would end with a finals’ game, between the West and East conference champions. My “fearful” prediction is the Lakers facing the Celtics. Fearful, because I believe either the Bucks or the Heat can enter the championship against the Lakers, with of course the Clippers’ fans disagreeing with me.
And for this piece, I will not dare analyze it based on multiple statistics, I leave that to analysts. I will go with gut feel. Instead, I will dwell on the reason why we almost saw a sudden end to the in-the-bubble NBA season.
Milwaukee initiated it by refusing to play, following the shooting in the back by the Kenosha, Wisconsin police of black man Jason Blake. A few months earlier, another black man, George Floyd, died at the hands of the police in Minneapolis, triggering nationwide protests in America against police brutality and systemic racism that for me has been a problem for generations in the the US.
As internet technology and social media came into being, it seems what had been happening before, with black people feeling the brunt of blatant discrimination and police brutality, is now being recorded everywhere and going viral that even white folks are shocked and have been actively participating in the nationwide protest movements that followed Floyd’s death.
Sports has been an area where racial discrimination in American sports had been widespread. And now, black athletes are using their opportunity and popularity to speak out against these race issues.
Come to think of it, way way back, blacks were nor allowed to play in major sports leagues. Take the case of basketball in America, the game was invented in 1891, but it was only in 1950 that black player Earl Lloyd was allowed to play in the NBA, suiting up for the Washington Capitols. He was followed by Sweetwater Clifton and Chuck Cooper.
Even the likes of Hall of Famers Bill Russell and Sam Jones, playing for the Celtics, suffered discrimination and were denied the use of hotel restaurants, where their team was booked, mostly in the Southern states.
Ironically, the NBA was eventually dominated by blacks due to their superior playing skills, so much so that a few years ago, the league forced a racist team owner, Donald Sterling, to sell his team, and was even banned in the NBA for uttering racist words in a private conversation that became public.
In another American game, baseball, it was only in 1947 that future MVP Jackie Robinson became the first black to crack the pro league, signing up with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Tennis had its share of heroes, led by Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, with Ashe being the first and only black man to win the Wimbledon, Australian, and US Open titles in the late 60s, although Gibson did it even earlier, winning the French Open in 1956.
But the truth is, it was Bob Ryland, who was the first black man to play as a professional in 1958, but Ashe’s accomplishments on the court were far better than his. But no question, in whatever sport they were at, black athletes had to live through lots of discrimination, though open protests then were not in vogue yet.
It was in 1968 at the Olympics when a duo of track stars, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medal winners in the 200m, who dramatized their protest on racial discrimination by raising their fist salutes at the awarding ceremonies, for which they paid the price as their careers ended.
Four years ago, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt when the American anthem was played before games, as a sign of protest for the same reason and police brutality.
Now, in the NBA, players have been given the freedom to use their uniforms, shoes, their own social media portals to express their feelings on the seemingly never ending issue of racial discrimination. How far it will go, I really do not know.
But yes, I share in what they and other athletes, even non athletes believe in—that color is not and will never be a reason for discrimination, in sports and in life.