Black, green, and white. Three colors that are related to sports and a developing story out of Cleveland this past week. Any person in the world who has even the slightest interest in professional basketball couldn't resist tuning into ESPN's razzle dazzle, over-the-top one hour special where superstar LeBron James informed millions of what time he would be playing for in the upcoming season.
James spurned his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in favor of playing with other league stars for the Miami Heat. South Beach rejoiced while Cavs fans burned James' jerseys in the streets. It was undoubtedly a kick in the groin for a city that seems to have little going for it. James had fulfilled his contract and was considered a "free agent," meaning he could move to whatever team he chose.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, however, was not taking James' decision very well at all. In fact, he issued an open letter to Cavs fans stating, among other things that James' choice was a "cowardly betrayal" and even suggested his former star player quit on the team during the playoffs. The letter, which you can read in it's entirety, sounds reminiscent of a letter from a jilted lover. The National Basketball Association was not pleased with the letter and opted to fine Gilbert $100,000.
Ordinarily, this would have been the end of the story until the start of basketball season. However, the Reverend (and honestly, I use that term loosely) Jesse Jackson deemed it necessary to take up for LeBron James. Jackson's defense of the NBA's biggest start actually made sense in discussing how James had lived up to his contract and had a right to explore a contract with another team. Then the "reverend" (who ironically has no church and never seems to discuss God or Jesus) dropped a bombshell.
Jackson stated the Cavs owner saw James as a "runaway slave" and even suggested a "plantation mentality" existed among owners in the NBA with respect to their players. He specifically called out Gilbert for having the "slave master" role and has since defended his analogy. This development in the story forces me to ask a few questions:
1. Why did Jesse Jackson enter this media frenzy in the first place?
I can't give you a single good answer. As far as I know, Jackson has no connection to LeBron James. Jackson does, however, have a fondness for the spotlight. Is it possible Jackson genuinely believes the evil hand of racism is at work? Perhaps so, but I'm not buying it. The only color people in the NBA really care about is green. Gilbert stands to lose countless millions in revenue from merchandise, ticket sales, etc. I really doubt he cares what color James' skin is. His letter to the public was probably meant to bolster fans, the team and create a rally point for a downtrodden city.
2. Why would anyone compare multi-million dollar athletes to runaway slaves?
Jackson's analogy is insulting at best and borders on lunacy. The more I think about it, the more I believe his statement was a verbal slight at most NBA owners. Currently, the only majority owner of a team who is black is Michael Jordan. That's is. The rest are white. Jackson seems to believe the white owners exploit a sport dominated by black athletes.
Do the owners make a great deal of money from the players in the league? Absolutely. But the players in the NBA make obscene amounts of money and to even loosely use terminology associating them in a pattern of slavery is insane. Many players not only profit from the outrageous salaries provided for by the "man" but they have even more lucrative deals in endorsements. Perhaps players -- white or black -- are the ones involved in exploitation. How many times have we seen a player "hold out" for a larger dollar amount? Anyone remember Latrell Spreewell turning down a $24 million contract from the Minnesota Timberwolves because he had "kids to feed." After having a good season, players often want to "restructure" their contract instead of fulfilling their obligation. And what do they do to earn such a lofty dollar amount? They play a game.
3. Should either Dan Gilbert or Jesse Jackson apologize for their comments?
I believe they both should offer an apology for their statements. Gilbert was wrong to throw LeBron James under the bus. Gilbert has a right to be upset but his comments were over the top. He is, however, being fined by the NBA.
Unlike Gilbert, Jackson is beholden to no one. His statements have accomplished little and if anything, furthered the divide between black and white citizens. I cannot understand why the media even allows him on camera.