NBA Commissioner Adam Silver calls it a “missed opportunity” if the league refuses to send members to celebrate the NBA Finals championship at the White House under President Donald Trump.
In an interview with Mike Wise of TheUndefeated.com, Silver seemed to urge players to take their political activism right to the top instead of trying to make a statement by boycotting the Trump White House.
“To me, if a player were to choose not to go to the White House, whether they were choosing not to go to the current White House or a future White House, my response would be: ‘That’s a lost opportunity,'” Silver said. “Because that’s an opportunity that most citizens who have a political point of view would kill for — the opportunity to directly tell the president of the United States how they feel about an issue.”
“Now, if the president were to say, ‘I have no interest in what members of the NBA think about an issue,’ that might surprise me and I might have a different response,” Silver added.
But Silver also noted that the office itself is bigger than any single president. “The institution is bigger than any one man, whether that man be President Obama or President Trump. Ultimately players have to make their own decisions. But if they were seeking my counsel, my counsel would be that they should go to the White House if offered the opportunity,” he said.
Silver’s comments, though, raise the question as to just what he wants players to do. Usually the NBA uses these champion visits to the White House for league advertising, a quick handshake, some short banter, and a photo op with the President of the United States. Never have players used this time for controversial political statements.
But with his interview it appears that Silver might urge players to disrupt the normal photo op of past practice and turn an NBA Finals champion visit to the White House into one pushing Black Lives Matter activism or other such issues instead of selling basketball to America.
In 2017, will members of the NBA use their visit to the White House as a disruptive event instead of a celebration of excellence? Silver seems to say exactly that. Indeed, later in the interview Silver agreed that basketball should be used for activism.
“I do feel a particular obligation to focus on the African-American community in that we have a league that is roughly 75 percent African-American,” the commissioner said. “And I feel part of the obligation comes from the history of this league that I’ve inherited.”
Yet, Silver later tried to roll all that urge to activism back, cautioning against “bright lines” that the league should not toe.
“Let me just say we’re not looking for opportunities to jump in from a political standpoint,” Silver said. “I think we deal with whatever set of circumstances are dealt to us. No one in this league could have predicted when we awarded the All-Star Game to North Carolina that we’d be dealing with the LGBT community and fundamental rights, including access to bathrooms.”
“We don’t like to be in the business of drawing bright lines. We realize the complexity of the world,” Silver added.
It appears the Commissioner wants to have it both ways, he wants the league to indulge political activism while at the same time not doing so. Silver also acknowledged that fans getting sick and tired of having politics served up with their basketball.
“I hear fans loud and clear who say, ‘How is it that you do business in China when you move the All-Star Game out of North Carolina?'” Silver said. “Because there are not a lot of fundamental protections afforded Chinese citizens that are afforded to American citizens. And I … I don’t have a cut-and-dried response to that.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.