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Watching The NBA In The Trump Era

The NBA is meaningless next to the real world, but it's been a crucial escape during Donald Trump's first few days in office. Here's how I'm balancing the two.

On Monday afternoon a friend asked, "What do you think of the NBA and Trump?" Here's an attempt at a coherent answer. 

On the one hand, Donald Trump—and everything that his administration portends for civil liberties, democratic norms, foreign policy, and the future of America—makes pro basketball seem less important than ever. On the other, since Trump's election in November, I've found myself looking forward to NBA basketball more than any other time in my life.

Obviously, coaches like Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich have been strident critics since the election, and they were vocal again in the wake of Trump's immigration freeze. Meanwhile, Adam Silver and the league office have released carefully-worded statements preaching inclusiveness and seeking clarity from the Trump state department. Michele Roberts and the players association are apparently working behind the scenes as well, and preaching #NoHate in the interim. Everyone from Nazr Mohammed to LeBron James has mentioned Trump in the past week, but my favorite commentary came from Kyle Lowry: 

Whether it's Lowry giving Trump's immigration policy exactly the amount of reasoned criticism it deserves or Steve Kerr elaborating on why it's so irresponsible to think that targeting Muslim refugees makes America safer, all of this is cathartic. The NBA's reaction to Trump sounds like sanity in a country that increasingly feels out of control.

That said, stars and coaches opposing Trump is not why I've leaned so heavily on the NBA since the election. I don't need basketball for clarity about what's happening. The Trump administration's cruelty and lack of basic competence is obvious after this weekend. It'll only get more transparent as we go.


If anything, while Kerr's criticism may be reassuring as proof that the concerned citizens aren't alone, it's also a glaring reminder of a problem that's not going away—when the guy coaching the Warriors understands foreign policy better than the White House, everyone should be freaked out. 

The most effective opposition won't come from celebrities. It will come in courtrooms and mass protests across the country. This is a fight that will take years. It could define generations. It'll include all kinds of setbacks that are disheartening, along with a daily trickle of news that's alarming. 

It can be overwhelming to consider all of this. On most days the news moves in the wrong direction, and it all feels exhausting. It's felt like this since the election. 

That's where basketball has been valuable over the past few months. On a weekly basis, I'm following current events and reading every ominous wrinkle to the Trump story. I'm marching. I'm donating. But there are times when everyone needs a break. The NBA is meaningless next to the real world, but it's been a crucial escape.

I watched an entire Wolves-Magic game Monday night, and it was great. Ricky Rubio hit six threes, and the Wolves nearly blew the game five different times before winning in OT. Later, I saw this Rick Carlisle quote—"We're a shit team, but we're an underrated shit team."—and laughed about it for a solid five minutes. In the middle of the night, I couldn't sleep. After reading several harrowing takes about Trump's decision to fire the acting-Attorney General and the Constitutional breach it represents, I really needed to hear LeBron James go scorched earth on Charles Barkley.

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This is how basketball works for me under Trump. There is entertainment when I need it, and stupid arguments, and trade proposals, and a Washington Wizards team that is currently taking the world by storm. It's all wonderful.

It can be more meaningful, too. I'm thinking of everyone from Blake Griffin to Trevor Booker to Quin Snyder praising Billy Kennedy after he publicly identified as homosexual. Or stars protesting against police brutality, or the league itself co-signing a campaign for better gun laws. I'm thinking of globalism in real terms—Embiid from Cameroon, Dirk from Germany, Giannis from Greece, Jokic from Serbia, Deng from the Sudan—featured on a nightly basis. It's not a perfect universe, but differences are celebrated, individuals are empowered, and progress is a goal. The whole sport thrives as a result. With all due respect to the politics of coaches and players who have spoken out against the President, I'd argue the NBA as a business is the most compelling rebuttal to Trump's vision for the future.

Some nights, that's helpful to remember. Other nights I just need Rajon Rondo lecturing the world about his vets. Either way, sanity is important right now. For me, that means basketball is, too.