The NBA Should Join the Struggle Against Institutionalized Racism

A police officer once head-butted my dad in the face after he was arrested protesting against Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. My mother, during a different protest, was grabbed by the hair by an officer on a horse and brutally dragged on the ground. These stories shocked me when I first heard them, but now as I watch the brutality of the police in the US, I realize that my parents’ experience was mild when compared to what happens to blacks every day.

I am 15-years-old and moved to London after residing in Israel, where I went to one of the only Jewish-Arab schools. In Israel, it is extremely uncommon for Jewish and Muslim kids to play together, but for us it seemed natural; we were friends. We saw firsthand the terrible injustice, racism, Islamophobia and prejudice that occurred every day, but, obviously, we Jews experienced it differently from Muslims.

From time to time, we had to stay home in bomb shelters following Palestinian responses to Israel’s military attacks on Gaza, but this never created animosity between my friends and me. However, when we would walk downtown, we would get cursed just because we were together, Jews and Palestinians. My Palestinian friends were considered “blacks,” and as a Jew, I was deemed a “black” sympathizer.

NBA Players Take a Stand

When we moved to London, I began playing basketball, and many of my new friends here are black.  In basketball people of different races, ethnicities and religion play the game together, and your teammates become family. White or black hardly defines us.

But this is us, not the world. My black friends describe how every time they step out the house their parents get very anxious. My parent’s reaction is different, but that is because I am white.

Together we were outraged about George Floyd’s murder, and when some NBA players jumped into action, connecting between their sports stardom and politics, we were particularly proud.

We watched as Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics and Malcolm Brogdon of the Indiana Pacers organized protests against police brutality and racism, and  thrilled that superstars such as, Trae YoungStephan Curry  and Klay Thompson appeared at the forefront of protests in their hometowns.

Portland guard Damian Lillard posted a song he wrote, criticizing those who remain silent in the face of racist evil. “As a brother with a good heart / I say f*** you if you racist / Or whites staying quiet / You disabling the changes.”

And the legendary coach Greg Popovich also spoke out, claiming “I think I’m just embarrassed as a white person to know that that could happen — to actually watch a lynching.” “What’s it going to take?” he asked, “Two more people with knees to their necks?”

Solidarity is more Important than the Game

These NBA celebs are very different from Michael Jordan, one of my basketball idols, who failed to take a stand against racism when he was under the spotlight; his infamous statement that “Republicans buy sneakers, too” just shows how for him profit came before people. Times have obviously changed in the basketball world, and I imagine that it was the interventions of the new NBA generation that propelled Jordan to finally speak out against racism.

NBA games are now due to restart on July 31. But, as a young player and fan, I believe NBA players should refuse to play until there is a commitment by government and law enforcement to address institutional racism.Kyrie Irving among several other players have also registered their belief that the decision whether to return should be based on social justice. This will show solidarity with those who are most suffering from white supremacy is more important than the game.

This will undoubtedly hit hard an already depleted economy and NBA players will no doubt disappoint millions of fans. But by refusing to play they will raise awareness about the injustices to a whole other level and exert considerable pressure on the government to undo social and political wrongs. Now more than ever we need them to stand up to the racial injustice and the corrupt system that sustains it.

Ari Rottenberg studies at Stoke Newington School and Sixth Form in London.