Basketball writer Bethlehem Shoals argues provocatively that NBA Commissioner David Stern should take a stand on the Arizona “Show me your papers” law.
Enter the NBA’s éne-bé-a campaign, launched at the beginning of this season in attempt to capitalize on and expand all manner of “Hispanic” interest in the league. There were web pages in English and Spanish; promotion of players and just plain promotion of the sport in certain neighborhoods; and most controversially, “Latino Power Rankings” that made absolutely no sense.
What exactly “Hispanic” meant was up for grabs, since they brought in both English-speaking Melo and non-Latino Rudy Fernandez. The distinction between Afro-Latin players like Nene and the Italian-by-descent Manu Ginobili has always been sticky, and rarely so — sorry for this one — black and white. But as tone deaf as the éne-bé-a effort may have been, it showed the NBA — not the Players Association — had an undeniable interest in this demographic, just like the MLB union.
Here’s the massive irony, one bigger than Nash the hostage do-gooder, or LeBron and burden of greatness. The Players Association just isn’t going to touch this issue because of another racial element in this equation. The league doesn’t have enough Latinos to make a union statement look like an act of solidarity. It’s not truly diverse enough to appeal to notions of universal justice. This league is still seen as African-American, and from a public relations perspective, nothing’s scarier than a bunch of black men who stake out a strong political position.
David Stern is notorious for being a ruthless capitalist who, on his own time, lends his support to Democratic causes to a degree that would put Steve Nash to shame. For once, the two seem to match up well. Strange as it is for the league to show more political gumption than its players, in this case, Stern’s the one whose hand is being forced. And, you’ve got to figure, he’d be more than a little happy to take the bait.
The NBA may not be heavily Latino, but it does have a lot of foreign-born players in it, some of whom may have a few thoughts about this issue. Maybe if someone like Yao Ming said he thought this law wasn’t such a hot idea, it might get some people’s attention. I don’t mean to single him out, I just think there would be value in reminding people that “immigrant” does not necessarily mean “Latino”. Even in Arizona, as the Canadian-born Steve Nash could attest. But I agree that Stern is more likely to speak up, and may be a better fit for it anyway. And regardless of that, more sports leagues and teams should be a part of this conversation as well.