NBA Twitter’s been in a bit of a tizzy today after former commissioner David Stern said that embattled quarterback Colin Kaepernick “would still have a job” if he played basketball instead of football or, along the same lines, if the NFL were as progressive as the NBA.
— Nick Turner (@NewsyNick) February 14, 2019
Which…well, Stern is right…and Stern is wrong.
I’m going to do my best here to try and make the situation with Kaepernick as apples-to-apples as possible with what could happen to him in an NBA context as opposed to what happened to him in football, so I’m going to lay out my core assumptions here so everyone knows where my argument is coming from.
Point the first: Kaepernick had lost his starting job with the 49ers to Blaine Gabbert, and even though he’d been in the Super Bowl, the change in coaching regime and Kaepernick’s perceived decline coupled with his salary meant that the 49ers were very likely going to cut him if he didn’t restructure his contract on a team-friendly deal. Bluntly, this doesn’t really have an NBA equivalent because if he played basketball, Kaep’s contract would’ve been fully guaranteed.
Which, in turn, means that Kaepernick, who needed to do anything to stay relevant, cooked up the anthem protest; the fact that it went viral and he got to be a martyr is, in my estimation, the real reason he did it. He wanted to try and carve out a niche as a victim of a racist league, and inflaming the powers-that-be was the best way to do it.
Now, you can (and I’m sure most of you will—go ahead and roast me on Twitter @RealFoxD) say “Fox, that’s ridiculous, you’re talking out of your ass”, but we forget because of the narrative that’s been crafted around Kaepernick’s “I got blackballed, come see the violence inherent in the system, help help I’m being repressed” victim play that by 2016 Kaep was, in essence, washed up.
He always seemed to conveniently undermine efforts teams made to bring him on board, either through refusing to promise to behave (and thus creating a giant media sideshow that no team in need of a backup quarterback would in a million years want to deal with) or setting his salary demands too high (and then claiming that racism, and not his own absurd demands, was why he didn’t get a job.)
Which, in turn, allowed him the convenience of not having to actually prove on the football field that he was still deserving of a shot. This is classic hey-look-at-me BS that the right wing media always skewers the left for in politics and sports alike.
But absolutely none of it addresses the core at issue here.
What if Colin Kaepernick, all other things being equal in terms of career accomplishment, played in the NBA instead of the NFL?
For one thing, he wouldn’t have to make a grand gesture in order to stay in the spotlight. With a guaranteed salary that would very, very likely have been a max deal (he was basically in the Super Bowl what Kevin Durant was in the 2012 NBA Finals, the best player on the losing side), if Kaepernick wanted to talk about social justice, he’d be plenty able to do so without making anyone angry.
A person who has something to say and a secure forum to say it in will say it in a civilized manner.
Don’t believe me? OK, go ahead and Google “LeBron James social justice”.
The fourth result is an article on NBA.com that outright points out that commissioner Adam Silver said publicly that he’s “very proud” of LeBron!
Would Roger Goodell have said that about Kaepernick even if the 49ers won four straight Super Bowls and Kaep was Super Bowl MVP in all four of them? Of course not!
The NBA is a social justice league. Players like LeBron do not keep their mouths shut, nor are they expected to. But there is also the social norm among players that these issues are going to be handled in a positive way, in partnership with a league that supports them.
This is also why you didn’t see a lot of kneeling at the national anthem in basketball. Players simply didn’t see a purpose in the muddied message (are they disrespecting the flag? The troops? America?) because they had other, far less ambiguous places to argue for better treatment of minorities in America and a league and commissioner willing to support them in their social-justice work.
This, fundamentally, is the difference between the NBA and the NFL, and it speaks volumes about human nature and the value of progressive commitment to positive social change without screeching and causing a scene.
So yes, David Stern is absolutely correct.
Colin Kaepernick, if he were the best player on an NBA Finals team, even if his skills had declined (Derrick Rose may be a good comp here, although in Rose’s case it was due to injury), would still have a job if for no other reason than because teams wouldn’t want the cap hit of shedding his giant guaranteed max deal.
But even without that, he would never have had the incentive or any reason at all to make his protests as extreme as they were by NFL prevailing player conduct standards. He could become a leader in the black community and the civil rights and social justice movements with, ultimately, no controversy at all.
And if he could play a lick of basketball, he’d always have a roster spot somewhere.
And that, in turn, is a massive credit to the culture of social justice in the NBA. The NBA is simply a better, more socially responsible sports league than the NFL, and we should all stand proud as basketball fans during All-Star weekend.
And may Adam Silver never, ever turn into Roger Goodell!