NBA Stars Speak Out About Gun Violence
The NBA is in a fascinating place right now, not only as a sports league, but as a potential instrument for social change. While basketball has long been very popular in America, it can be justifiably argued that we’re witnessing a golden era of the NBA – or possibly just a new peak at which the league can operate for some time.
Television ratings indicate clearly that the NBA’s rising popularity amounts to the largest increase of any major professional sport, with 4 percent growth year over year. That doesn’t mean, as some have suggested, that the NBA is replacing the NFL as America’s “favorite” sport – but it might mean that it’s on its way. Those who follow professional basketball in the U.S. will undoubtedly agree that for each of the past several seasons, or arguably dating back to win the legendary 2003 draft class joined the professional ranks, the league has been more interesting with each passing season.
Fan interest can be measured in other ways as well. For instance, despite the fact that we’re only in November of an 82-game season featuring 30 teams, the betting markets for the NBA are already busy. Daily fantasy sites like DraftKings and FanDuel do massive business relating to basketball every single night, and odds for year-end awards and playoff placements have already shifted significantly from the beginning of the season, indicating that people are indeed placing their bets. Some of this has to do with accessibility – daily fantasy, after all, wasn’t even a thing a decade ago – but it’s also another indication of the virtual fever pitch of NBA interest among fans.
What this means, clearly, is that people are paying attention. And that, coupled with arguably the most relatable collection of superstars in modern sports history, makes the NBA a powerful tool for social awareness, and possibly social change. In this current era of surging popularity for the NBA, the veteran generation of All-Star talents – players like LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade – have made it their business to speak to their legions of fans about issues that matter to them. And when they speak, their fans listen.
The NBA is not like the NFL, in which even star players might be unrecognizable because of helmets, or the MLB, in which for whatever reason players seem only to ever speak about their sport. In the NBA fans get to know players sometimes from the age of 18. We see their faces, watch their struggles and triumphs, follow them on social media, listen to their interviews on TV and podcasts, and ultimately develop a sense that we know them. We are inclined, whether or not we think of it this way consciously, to think of them as role models or examples to follow.
This is why it’s no small thing when stars like LeBron James, not to mention the league commissioner Adam Silver, take a stance even on something as polarizing as gun control. Following the tragic Thousand Oaks shooting in California last week, James and the Lakers, as well as the visiting Atlanta Hawks and subsequently other teams around the league, wore warmup shirts that were all black but for the bold white word: “ENOUGH.”
Now, a cynical observer might scoff at the idea of yet another slogan-style protest, and it’s true that many of us in modern society rely too much on social media posts, statement t-shirts, and hashtags to feel as if we’re making a difference. However, a more logical take on the matter is that we will never stop the American epidemic of gun violence if we stop talking about it. And for the biggest basketball on the planet, in a league with rising popularity whose stars are adored, to drive conversation in this manner, is not insignificant. It may not solve the problem in one fell swoop, but it’s another stone laid on the long path to a solution.