By Maura Mulholland
The NBA is overwhelmingly comprised of Black players. Since the 1990s, the majority of NBA rosters have been filled by African American talent. Despite black leadership within organizations and the Players Union, instances or racism from fanbases and league and team executives are still a regular occurrence. These altercations have been on the rise recently, with numerous players and administrative employees speaking out against biases inherent in the sport.
Allegations of racism have recently emerged against Robert Sarver, the owner of the Phoenix Suns. Sarver, a white man, allegedly used the n-word repeatedly when quoting a Black player. When asked to stop, he argued that as an NBA owner, he should be permitted to use the word. The incident was witnessed and reported by former head coach of the Suns, Earl Watson. Since that time, Sarver has been cited by almost seventy current and former Suns employees for fostering a hostile work environment. According to sources, he frequently makes off-color racial comments, and exhibits misogynistic and inappropriate behavior, including making inappropriate sexual comments about his wife to employees. He has also been cited for claiming to “own” someone who works within the Suns organization.
Beyond problematic administration, fans at NBA games have recently exhibited racist behavior against Black players. LeBron James has publicly complained about fans’ racism, especially the fan base of the Boston Celtics. On his HBO show, “The Shop”, James described an incident where a beer was thrown on him while leaving a Celtics game in Boston, a situation that he believes reflects the fan bases racial prejudice. Kyrie Irving, a visiting point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, had a water bottle thrown at him at a Celtics game by Cole Buckley, a twenty-one-year-old student at the University of Rhode Island. Buckley was charged with one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. While Buckley was not charged with a civil rights violation, it was noted by investigators that race was likely a contributing factor to his violent acts.
These very prominent examples fail to illustrate the levels of implicit and explicit racism that NBA players face on a regular basis. Since the first non-white player took the court in 1947, African Americans in the NBA have increasingly moved to the forefront of Black celebrity. While the league, pushed by the Players Union, has actively tried to root out racism within the Association, it continues to be a problem at both an administrative and fan base level. By holding anyone involved in professional sports accountable for any racist comments or acts, we can work towards a more inclusive league that reflects the contributions of African American players, coaches, and executives to professional basketball.