Enough was enough. Shocked and stunned like the rest of the U.S. following a series of appalling murders which have further widened the gaping chasm between the black community and the police, four of the greatest NBA stars took a stand.
When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony surprisingly opened up ESPN’s annual awards show, the ESPYs, with a call for calm and the search for a solution, it was a seminal moment.
“It’s time to look at the mirror and ask ourselves what are we doing to make change, and renounce all violence,“ said James.
“We all feel helpless and frustrated by the violence. We do. But that’s not acceptable.
“Let’s use this moment as call to action for all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence.”
Everyone had their say.
It was powerful, emotive stuff on an evening made all the more harrowing with the presence of Zenobia Dobson, whose 15 year-old son Zaevion posthumously received the Arthur Ashe courage award after being gunned down while trying to protect others.
Not since 1967 when Muhammad Ali, flanked by legendary black sporting legends Bill Russell, Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, took his now-infamous stand against involvement in the Vietnam war, had such high-profile athletes delivered the kind of public protest which makes the world pay attention.
In the lead up to the glitzy LA show, five officers were gunned down in Dallas following the deaths of two black men amid claims of totally unnecessary police brutality.
Anthony’s Instagram post of Ali’s legendary protest – acknowledged as, incredibly, the last time prominent African-American sportsmen joined forces in support of such a controversial agenda – set the wheels in motion. The fabulous four would take a stand.
It was agreed their wardrobe would be sombre and reflective. People needed to fixate on words, not wild shirts.
Kenny Smith urges black NBA athletes to allocate 10% of their salaries to effect change in their communities and will form committee to help— Langston Wertz Jr. (@langstonwertzjr) July 11, 2016
“We quickly arranged a conference call to get on the phone with all four of them at once to hear what they intended to say and the message they wanted to convey,” said an ESPN spokesperson.
“After listening, we decided that the powerful message should live at the top of the show. The four guys worked on their message over the next 48 hours individually and as a group. From the start, this was their message.”
Now comes the hard part.
To have the likes of James openly speaking out with no fear about upsetting Nike, Kia, Beats or any other lucrative sponsor was admirable indeed. Yet the deep-rooted racial and economic problems which sit at the heart of America’s violent social divide won’t be solved by basketball royalty showing serious, albeit highly respectable, bravery in front of a TV audience.
Now is the time for the athletes who are adored by the troubled, lost youths to become part of the conversation 24/7.
Instead of turning up at a charity event once year, they need to be more available. Moments like this need to become commonplace.
The members of broken communities will listen to LeBron. Letures from police officers or social workers will mostly meet deaf ears, no matter how hard they try.
Sport offers a ray of hope. A chance of a better life. But how many are really prepared to put their heads on the block? To really stand up and question the authorities?
The foursome of James, Anthony, Wade and Paul are all multi-millionaires whose legacies are rubber stamped. Would a rookie NFL player be as honest?
“This isn’t about us,” said Paul, whose uncle is a police officer. “There are a lot of people who wonder about our friendship, but what we’re here to do tonight is bigger than basketball. It’s bigger than anything we’ve ever done.”
It must not stop here, though.
This has to be the start rather than a one-off proclamation of intent followed by a depressing return to the violent norm.
It’s already one of the great sports quiz questions. Who were the first three NBA players to earn more than $30 million a season?
Two are glaringly obvious. One, however, is the product of the cash hungry free agency window of 2016 which will go down in folklore as the time basketball changed forever.
For the record – and make you sure you note it down – the answer is Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and, of course, Mike Conley.
Two absolute, blockbuster legends. And a point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Now Conley is no slouch. His career stats – 13.6 points and 5.6 assists per game – don’t do justice to his ability on the court.
He is, however, no Jordan. He’s no Kobe either. Yet like the Jump Man himself, Conley is basking in the kind of riches one can only dream of. His $153m, five-year contract is quite incredible.
“I’ve hit the lottery,” the 28- year-old said of the richest deal in history.
And for that he can thank the good people of ESPN and their fellow TV friends who struck a nine-year, $24 billion deal which comes into force when the new campaign starts later this year.
Considering that is a mere 180 per cent better than the last one, it’s fair to say it’s boom time right now.
Some believe the bubble will burst and that with channels like ESPN received by 92m people, the money for TV rights is simply recycled from ever single cable customer – fan or not.
The common man unwittingly helping the corporate fat cats. Is it sustainable? Debatably.
The alternative of ESPN, TNT and TBS showing live action would be something like a season pass for the NFL – yet the Sunday Ticket only has sales of two million.
“This is great for the sport, “ countered NFL agent and sports industry veteran Lynn Lashbrook to Sport360. “I don’t think the bottom will fall out. It reflects the popularity of sport.“
The astonishing windfall has ensured teams now have around $24m more to spend and players have the ability to command some quite incredible sums.
Wage caps are on the up. From $70m last season to $94m now. It will smash through the $100m barrier in 2017. It wasn’t just free agents like Conley who cashed in. Timofey Mozgov, who notched an average of 6.3 points last season, has just signed a four-year deal worth $64m with the LA Lakers.
Bit part Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova joined the Milwaukee Bucks for $38m stretched over four years.
Stars like Kevin Durant are deemed to be worth every penny though the so called ‘ Middle Class’ have had no hesitation about jumping aboard the NBA gravy train. Yet while the fans rub their eyes in disbelief, the good, great and concussed of the NFL are fighting with the green eyed monster.
For while in the NBA (and the MLB), the deals agreed ensure guaranteed money, the same cannot be said in the NFL.
Huge signing-on fees help stars cash in. Thanks to the nature of American Football, careers are shorter, futures are uncertain.
Clubs can wriggle out after a couple of years. Andrew Luck , a former no1 draft pick, just signed a five-year, $123m contract. Only $87m, however, is guaranteed.
“These NBA deals are insane. I have to google the players,“ said DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers.
The issue is complex. In accordance with the latest labor deal, NBA players are allocated around half of all revenue – $3bn.
It’s not as straightforward in the NFL. Splits on $12bn are based on income source and money generated by stadiums among other. Yet it’s spread over almost four times as many athletes.
So it means the average NFL salary comes in at $3.5m, while in the NBA that figure is roughly $6.7m. As ever in the often head spinning world of American sport, the minutia is mind bending.
The bottom line is this: It’s one hell of a good time to be a basketball player but they must enjoy it while it lasts.
Tim Duncan is such a winner that we really thought he had a fighting chance against an all-time undefeated opponent: Father Time.
It feels all-too-right, yet bizarre at the same time to hear the words ‘Tim Duncan is retiring’. In a human sense – as in literally based on biology – we knew this day was coming, especially after this past season ended. The guy is 40 years old after all and clearly not the same player.
But it’s still somewhat surprising because even though I can’t prove it, I’ve assumed one of two theories. Duncan is either a robot, or he’s discovered the Lazarus Pit. How else can you explain his 19 years of excellence, season after season, even including the campaign that just ended?
Sure, his numbers were way down this year and he logged limited minutes, but he still looked like his old self at times on the court. For proof, look no further than what will go down as his last game, when he tried to stave off San Antonio’s playoff elimination with sheer will.
It’s also crazy to think he’s calling it a career after the Spurs just enjoyed their best regular season in franchise history with 67 wins, but it’s fitting at the same time. They’ve been a perpetual 50-win team with Duncan, so he’s going out in the midst of the evergreen consistency he helped establish.
Duncan’s just a winner, through and through. There are what feels like an endless amount of numbers and stats to support his title as one of the greatest ever, but they somehow don’t manage to do enough justice to his legacy because they don’t show how he won.
His leadership, personality and unselfishness were just as crucial to San Antonio’s sustained success as his signature mid-range bank shot off the glass. Speaking of his famous bank shot, how symbolic that arguably the first thing we’ll remember about Duncan as a player when we look back is his mastery of the fundamentals.
Tim Duncan is the only player in league history to start and win a title in three different decades. pic.twitter.com/pqR8u7129I— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 11, 2016
Not high-difficulty fadeaways or rim-rattling dunks, but simple plays he wielded like a technician or someone who solved the game of basketball. He was so uncool that he was cool. And that leaked into his fashion sense, by the way. Let’s never forget the department store jeans or dad-like t-shirts.
But all of that, including his soft-spoken demeanour and limelight-shedding attitude, was part of what made him more than great. It made him unique. It’s sad to think we’ve seen the last of someone we never thought we’d see the last of.