Are Black Athletes and Executives Qualified?

By Deric Muhammad -Guest Columnist- | Last updated: Nov 6, 2011 - 10:03:16 PM

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"Mama may have and poppa may have, but God bless the child that's got his own." -Billie Holiday

Lebron James is one of the finest athletes that the Black community has ever produced. He's also a budding businessman who keeps company with the likes of Warren Buffet and Jay-Z. He and other young, gifted and Black ballplayers appear to be looking forward to winning not only dunking contests, but winning thinking contests, as well. This thinking contest is critical to any professional athlete's future; personally, professionally and financially. While the vast majority of ball handlers end up broke, directionless and unprepared for life "after the game," this year's NBA lockout could very well be a sign of a potential paradigm shift for the embattled Black athlete in American sports.

The dispute between owners, players and the reputed ego-maniacal Commissioner David Stern has become such a "spectacle of disrespect," that veteran sports journalist Bryant Gumbel, known for the " safeness" of his opinion, accused the commissioner of acting like a modern day plantation owner. From his critically acclaimed HBO show "Real Sports," Gumbel accused Stern of talking to NBA players like they were his "boys." During negotiations, Stern has been documented as having put his finger in the faces of certain players, acting unnecessarily aggressively towards men who are clearly, physically, his superior. Gumbel's statement, to many, was like Clarence Thomas wearing an "I AM TROY DAVIS" t-shirt. When Bryant Gumbel makes a statement like that, it must be high time for change.

But, what will this change look like for Black NBA players and Black athletes, in general? Will it mean more money, benefits and less risks in THEIR league? Should we take a closer look at the term "owner" and why Stern's attitude is the way it is towards players? We all witnessed what happened when James opted to pursue what he believed was in his own best interest by leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and joining the Miami Heat. While Cleveland spent millions courting him to stay, the moment he made his decision they showed how they truly felt about him all along. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert derided him as a coward while the very fans who once professed their undying love for him threatened him and burned his jersey in the streets.  If this happened to Lebron, any player who thinks it can't happen to them is two fries short of a "happy meal." In the NBA, you're only as good as your last bucket.

NBA players are paid millions.  NBA owners are worth billions. Something tells me that if the owners were to acquiesce to players' legitimate and fair demands that the owners' lifestyles wouldn't be affected at all.  And on top of that, anything they relinquish in negotiations they'll find a creative way to take it back.  The great warrior civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer used to say, "If the White man gives you anything—just remember when he gets ready, he'll take it right back."  Let us think over these wise words, for history bears witness to the truth that Sister Fannie Lou spoke.


If Black athletes decided to "do for self" and start their own league, where would it leave the NBA? The NBA without Black players would be like a bicycle without a chain; going absolutely nowhere.
Sometimes when negotiations break down between two parties it is because the issue is no longer about fairness and truth.  The issue becomes about power and control and the NBA's owners believe they own not only the teams but the human beings who make up the team as well. Mr. Gumbel was right. Human beings who think they own other human beings usually reside on plantations. There is only one real solution to this problem.

Point blank, Black NBA players and executives should pool their resources and organize themselves toward starting their own league. The slave mind will automatically compute this as an impossibility, but a free-thinking man and woman who has studied history only sees it as "returned independent behavior."

Rube Foster is an iconic figure in Black history that we should teach our children about. Acknowledging the accomplishments of Steve Jobs in this day and time is fine, but Black men like Foster did what many see as impossible today. He was a phenomenal pitcher who became the owner of his own team and president of the first successful Negro League, a thriving baseball association that created opportunities for Black talent when Whites would not allow them to play in the "major" leagues. Black people supported the league in droves.  The "swagger" of Black athletes outstripped their counterparts with such class that even Whites became fans. The Negro Leagues became a competitive entity. The idea of integration proved to be the undoing of Negro League baseball with Black-owned teams.  Now you can hardly find Black players in pro baseball and they no longer have the alternative of a league of their own. It is recorded that Rube Foster suffered a mental breakdown and mysteriously died in an insane asylum. He probably went crazy envisioning the future.  He probably had nightmares of David Stern pointing his finger in the face of a Black athlete twice his size.

My point is if it can be done then, with less resources and technology, it can be done now.  But who would have the courage, vision and testicular fortitude to make such a bold and independent move?

If Black athletes decided to "do for self" and start their own league, where would it leave the NBA?  The NBA without Black players would be like a bicycle without a chain; going absolutely nowhere.  Ticket sales would plummet right along with fan interest. While we undoubtedly have the athletic talent to suffice a league of our own, I submit with humility and confidence that we have the intellectual power among us to manage the executive aspect of such an avant-garde move, as well. Brothers like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Bob Johnson and others are but signs of the boardroom greatness produced from our ranks. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad once asked if Black people in America were qualified to have a nation of our own.  He answered an emphatic "yes" to his own question.  I humbly submit that if we are qualified to build our own nation, then we must be qualified to start our own sports organizations.

NBA players and executives should wise up.  As long as they are the owners and we are just players, they will see us no differently than plantation owners saw sharecroppers. The players may be well paid, but they fail to understand that the more they pay you, the more of you they think they own.  Once an agreement has been made, you still have no choice except to return to their houses (NBA teams), because you have failed to see the writing on the wall. Once you have returned to their houses, they will craftily find a way to make you play by their rules.  White people have been making treaties for a long, long time. They've been breaking them just as long.

It is a good thing to see players unite and stand for their own enlightened self-interest, but I say take it a step further.  If you don't like the way your boss treats you, then hire yourself.  Will opposing forces come against you?  Of course they will.  As a matter of fact it appears they already have.  The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan recently reaffirmed for us that "Business is Warfare."  It just makes sense that if you are already having to fight, you may as well be FIGHTing FOR YOUR OWN.

(Deric Muhammad is a Houston-based activist. You can follow him on Twitter at @dericmuhammad)