On Friday Night, during the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks playoff match-up, a scuffle between Clippers forward Montrezl Harell, a black player, and Mavericks Slovenian star Luka Doncic resulted in Harrell calling Doncic a “bitch ass white boy”, a blatantly racial attack. No disciplinary action has been announced by the league.
Former player Jay Williams dug into Harrell, commenting “You don’t need to say stuff like that. Now, I’m no lip reader, but I know what I saw come out of your mouth, man. We don’t need that in today’s game, especially with everything that we’re fighting for as it relates to equality. Even if you do get lost in your emotion, not acceptable. Not acceptable,” in a video posted to Twitter.
For a league as adamant on social justice as the NBA purports to be, their silence is deafening. Players openly vocal about social issues such as LeBron James have made no comments nor have been asked about the incident. Even more concerningly, analysts and reporters have even flocked to Harrell’s defense, with CBS Sports’ Doug Gottlieb brushing off his comments as “this is not racist. It’s just basketball.”
Former NBA player Matt Barnes defended Harrell on Showtime’s “All That Smoke” podcast, claiming “There is nothing off-limits on that court. People’s moms, sisters, wives, brothers, kids, colors, it’s all talked about. Does it came from a place of hate? No. It comes from a place of competitiveness. Does it make it right in society? Not in society, but on that court is the one time where it’s a war of physicality and manhood and a war of words.”
However, if the league truly stands against racial attacks and derogatory comments targeted towards race as the social justice messages on the back of every players’ jerseys suggest, Harrell deserves to be suspended. After all, homophobic slurs have been outlawed since the league suspended Rajon Rondo for one game in a 2015 incident where he unloaded a homophobic attack on official Bill Kennedy. For fans, the league instituted a zero tolerance policy regarding non-basketball related language from fans in 2019.
“We’ve added any sexist language or LGBTQ language, any denigrating language in that way, anything that is non-basketball related,” said Jerome Pickett, the NBA’s executive vice president and chief security officer. “So ‘your mother’ comments, talking about your family, talking about test scores, anything non-basketball related, we’ve added that in as well as being something that we will go and pull a fan out of the seat and investigate what happened.”
Yet players launching derogatory attacks against white players will not only be tolerated, but outright defended by the media? Imagine if Doncic dropped the n-word on Harrell. A suspension would be unavoidable and the social media maelstrom would be permanent. Media outlets would paint the story with five thousand word editorials as an example of the deep-rooted racism within the sports world and the poor victims that athletes being played millions of dollars to play a children’s game are. Doncic would become a symbol of the racism permeating throughout basketball and how bigotry has invaded a historically black sport.
Therefore, equality cannot be one-sided. To determine one race immune to bigotry under notions of vengeance and power while victimizing another race, thereby granting them absolute liberty to spread hatred in ways unacceptable for other races will invariably unravel centuries of racial progress. Sins from one race of the past cannot justify committing sins towards that same race today. Believing racial division can be amended by hurling insults is self-defeating, as the blame game and which race owes what only will eternize racial hostility. Though such a simple fact, if racism towards black people is unacceptable, then so should racism towards white people. Equality must exist on a common standard.
And the NBA must stand by that message. One of true equality and justice. Hatred, in any form and towards any identity, will not be tolerated. And, though a heat of the game moment in a sport where trash talking irrevocably intertwined itself with the DNA of the sport, a precedent must be set. The social justice messages espoused on every players’ jersey and the “EQUALITY” on LeBron’s shoes cannot be allowed to wither as wavering tokenism or half-hearted fan service. Equality must be an action, for both the NBA and our nation, not a bumper sticker.