The NFL, NBA and Social Justice

Ever since Colin Kaepernick sat and then later started kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, the backlash and reaction from the NFL, its fans and the political world generated a substantial amount of noise and controversy. On the contrary, the NBA has continued to prosper and go without notable issues regarding social justice and protest with a somewhat restrictive rule regarding the national anthem. Nonetheless, the two professional leagues couldn’t further apart when it comes to a consensus on what athletes should or shouldn’t be able to on an international stage to protest social justice. The persisting lack of trust and agreement between the NFL and its players leads athletes to feel the need to protest and at the same time know their protest will likely generate substantial media and league backlash. Not to mention it could potentially end their career in the NFL (Graziano).

In response to players’ national anthem protests the NFL generated a rule that didn’t satisfy the players and consequently multiple coaches said they wouldn’t reprimand their players for kneeling because they don’t agree with the league rule. The rule, which NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said was “unanimous”, received backlash from owners soon after its announcement. It “requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if they prefer”(Seifert and Graziano). San Francisco 49ers owners Jed York announced his difference of opinion just hours after the NFL released its response to the anthem protests. Furthermore, New York Jets owner Christopher Johnson said, he’ll never fine a player who violates the rule (Graziano).

The owners’ disagreement is fueled primarily from the fact that this “unanimous” rule doesn’t address the athlete’s desire to use their elevated platform within sports to be an advocate for social change. In The Guardian NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks about how individual accolades were a secondary goal in his mind to using his status as an athlete to stimulate discussion about social issues. “But that wasn’t my only goal. The even greater significance those records had to me then, and has to me even more now, is in providing a platform to keep the discussion of social inequalities – whether racial, gender-related, or economic – alive and vibrant so that we may come together as a nation and fix them” (Abdul-Jabbar). Remaining in the locker room during the anthem does nothing to advance the goals of athletes who kneel as a way to try and shed light on our nation’s pitfalls.

NFL players feel “disposable” and misrepresented by the league and thus feel the need to protest (Graziano). Any solid relationship requires trust, and when you have players like Kaepernick, who essentially had to sacrifice his football career because he advocated for change, that hurts players’ belief in the NFL as an organization to accurately represent its athletes. If we take a look the “I Can’t Breathe” protest in the NBA, we can see that both kneeling and the “I Can’t Breathe” shirts are protesting essentially the same issue: police brutality specifically against African Americans. NBA stars such as LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and Kobe Bryant wore the shirts in pregame warm ups back in 2014. The “I Can’t Breathe” shirts reference the final words of Eric Garner, an African American horticulturist, uttered before dying from suffocation after an NYPD officer put him in a choke hold while arresting him (The Guardian) and (Adande). No fines or reprimands were handed out to any of the players who wore the shirts in pregame warm ups. Furthermore, according to Steve Ginsburg of ESPN Des Moines, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he supports players voicing their opinions on social issues (Ginsburg).

A statement like the one made by Silver following a form of social protest further aligns the NBA with its players and strengthens the belief and trust the players have that they are properly represented by the league. On the contrary, NFL players are forced to live in fear of losing the opportunity to play football if they were to participate in a social justice protest. Kaepernick is a prime example of how negative backlash from the NFL and especially President Trump endorsement of the rule, framed the former 49ers quarterback as “anti-America” or “anti-military, which has nothing to do with what he’s protesting.

The difference between the two leagues is that the NBA prioritizes its players and their representation, whereas the NFL feels separate from its players and consequently there’s a trust shortage which has created a contentious relationship between the league and its athletes.

 

 

The Fulgent Future Of The Detroit Pistons

Stan Van Gundy has the Detroit Pistons pointed in the right direction.

The Detroit Pistons reached the playoffs this year for the first time since 2009. Despite being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round, Detroit can be extremely proud of what it was able to accomplish this season. After Detroit finished the 2014-15 season with a 32-50 record and failed to reach the postseason for the sixth consecutive season, Pistons head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy began to resurrect the franchise before the 2015-16 season ever began.

With the 8th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Detroit selected Stanley Johnson, a freshman small forward from the Arizona Wildcats. Johnson was limited after the 2016 All-Star break after spraining his right shoulder. However, when Detroit began postseason play, Johnson showed why he is part of the reason the Pistons have an extremely bright future. He took on the unenviable task of guarding LeBron James during the Pistons’ first-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Johnson didn’t back down from the challenge, and the rest of the league noticed when he said he’s “in the head” of James following Game 2 of the series.

Van Gundy worked his magic last summer when he traded a second-round pick in 2020 for Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger. The Pistons’ decision-maker was at it again when he acquired versatile forward Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings just before February’s NBA trade deadline. Jennings’ departure was a difficult reality for Pistons fans to accept, but Reggie Jackson, who Detroit also traded for in 2015, has been just as good if not better than Jennings when he took over starting point guard duties.

Even though Detroit didn’t win a game in the 2016 postseason, the Pistons aren’t far from being a consistent playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Bench scoring is something that Detroit will have to address in the offseason, as the Pistons’ reserve guards are the definition of mediocre. Steve Blake has been a decent player throughout his 13-year career, but he averaged just 4.4 points per game this season. Jodie Meeks played in just three regular season games for Detroit this season, as he had a tough time recovering from a broken foot. Meanwhile, Bullock has yet to prove he can be a solid contributor on a nightly basis.

Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield would have been the perfect pick for the Pistons in the upcoming draft. Unfortunately, thanks to his unbelievable 2016 college basketball season (25.0 pts, 5.7 rebs), Hield’s draft stock skyrocketed. Barring unforeseen events, Hield is virtually guaranteed to be selected in the top 10 picks, which takes him off Detroit’s draft board. The Pistons will have the No. 18 pick in June’s draft.

However, Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis, a prospect Detroit should seriously consider drafting if he’s available, could be there when the Pistons are on the clock. Despite his lack of size (5-foot-9), Ulis’ scoring ability and facilitative skills make him a practical first-round pick. If guards to Detroit’s liking aren’t on the board when it’s the team’s turn to pick, the Pistons could take a power forward with jump shooting skills. Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis, who’s physical enough to score down low and an excellent shooter, fits the profile. This season, the 6-foot-11 Sabonis shot better than 35 percent from the three-point line and nearly 77 percent from the free throw line, the latter a place where Pistons All-Star center Andre Drummond will most likely struggle from the rest of his career. If the Pistons were able to draft Sabonis, he could steal some minutes from Morris next season.

Although it would help, Detroit doesn’t need to go out and get a big name free agent in the offseason. The Pistons should be able to contend in the East for years to come if they can improve their bench. However, if the team doesn’t make a big splash in free agency within the next couple years, Detroit will have a tough time competing for a title until it does so.

2016 NBA Playoffs First Round Preview

A preview of the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs.

Eastern Conference

No. 1 seed Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 8 seed Detroit Pistons

Cleveland Cavaliers

If the Cavaliers can stay healthy throughout the postseason, they’ll likely meet the Warriors in the NBA Finals for the second year in a row. James will do everything in his power to win a title for his hometown team, but the x-factor for the Cavaliers is floor-spacing power forward Kevin Love, who has been sporadic at best this season. After the All-Star break, Love shot the ball much better from deep. However, in order for the Cavs to defeat the champions of the Western Conference, if Cleveland makes it that far, Love needs to show the All-Star form he displayed as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Detroit Pistons

Detroit is in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but their reintroduction to the postseason won’t be easy. Despite defeating Cleveland 3-1 in the regular season series, the Pistons will have a daunting task in round one of the postseason against LeBron James and company.

Detroit has an abundant amount of young talent on its roster. Former Oklahoma City Thunder facilitator Reggie Jackson has become one of the best all-around point guards in the league. Jackson averaged 18.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game this season. Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has blossomed into an elite one-on-one defender. Furthermore, recent acquisition from Orlando, Tobias Harris, adds a much-needed wing scorer to a young Pistons team. Detroit probably won’t win the series, but they’re more than capable of winning a game or two.

Prediction: Cavaliers win series 4-2

No. 2 seed Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 seed Indiana Pacers

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors could be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, but they’ll need a spectacular performance from their backcourt to get past Paul George and the experienced Pacers. Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan arguably form the second-best backcourt in the league. To slow down a talented Raptors offense, effectively defending the pick-and-roll will be critical for Indiana.

Indiana Pacers

The x-factor for the Pacers in their series with Toronto is 20-year-old Myles Turner. Indiana may have found one of the more versatile power forwards in the league in Turner, who the Pacers selected No. 11 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. Turner can score inside and rebound, while his shooting ability extends to near the three-point line. He may not start in the playoffs, but if the Pacers pull off the first round upset, it’ll be because Turner played a prominent role off the bench.

Prediction: Raptors win series 4-3

No. 3 seed Miami Heat vs. No. 6 seed Charlotte Hornets

Miami Heat

Miami probably has the best chance of beating the Cavaliers in the playoffs. The emergence of Hasan Whiteside, who has quickly become an outstanding rim protector (3.7 blocks per game), and Josh Richardson allowed the Heat to overachieve in the regular season. Veteran acquisitions Joe Johnson and Goran Dragic have drastically improved Miami’s offensive efficiency. At 34 years old, Dwyane Wade continues to perform at an elite level. The Heat are one of the favorites to reach the Eastern Conference finals.

Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte has quickly transformed an atrocious team into a franchise that will likely be in the postseason for years to come. Point guard Kemba Walker and center Al Jefferson led Charlotte to a 48-34 record this season. Acquiring former Trail Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum has allowed the Hornets to accelerate the rebuilding process. Charlotte has the talent to beat most teams in the East, but their first round opponent happens to have plenty of playoff experience. Veteran leadership will likely lead Miami to a matchup with Cleveland in the conference finals.

Prediction: Heat win series 4-1

No. 4 seed Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 5 seed Boston Celtics

Atlanta Hawks

Because the team enjoyed so much success last year, Atlanta’s surprisingly effective 2015-16 regular season went widely unnoticed. Point guard Jeff Teague and All-Star power forward Paul Millsap led the way for the Hawks (48-34) this year. Atlanta’s starting five reflects the image of a legitimate title contender, but Dennis Schröder is the only consistent scorer off the bench. Unless the Hawks can draft or acquire talented players to enhance their second unit, they’ll probably never become a title contender.

Boston Celtics

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has done an outstanding job bringing young talent to Boston, completely rebuilding a historically successful team. Second-year guard Marcus Smart has blossomed into an effective scorer and passer. Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas has improved drastically throughout his career and his game has reached its pinnacle this season. Thomas was selected to participate in his first All-Star game this season and averaged more than 22 points and six assists per game in the regular season. The Celtics will go as far as Thomas takes them. Regardless of what Boston does in the postseason, the future of the franchise is extremely bright.

Prediction: Celtics win series 4-2

Western Conference

No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 seed Houston Rockets

Golden State Warriors

If you’re a fan of the NBA, you could be a fan of the Warriors; unless you’re from Cleveland or San Antonio. Golden State finished the regular season with an NBA record 73 wins, while Stephen Curry knocked down more than 400 threes, a record that will likely stand the test of time. Despite the heroics of Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the soon to be 2016 MVP (Curry), it’s the Warriors bench that propelled the team to history in the regular season. Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights and Festus Ezeli could give the Warriors’ starting five the extra lift it needs to make a second straight NBA Finals appearance. Meanwhile, Curry and Thompson should continue to “splash” Golden State to the promise land.

Houston Rockets

The fact that Houston made the 2016 NBA Playoffs is somewhat of a miracle. Aside MVP candidate James Harden, the Rockets are an absolute mess. Dwight Howard has shown flashes of the interior force he can be when he gives 100 percent effort, but the former All-Star center lacks a consistent motor. When Howard demands the ball in the post, he can easily drop 30 points and 10 boards. However, Howard’s inefficient play has forced Harden to carry the discombobulated Rockets on his back throughout the regular season. Houston has yet to acquire its point guard of the future as current member of the Indiana Pacers, Ty Lawson, proved extremely ineffective in Houston after having prior success in Denver. Harden will have to average 45-50 points in the series in order for Houston to have a chance. Unfortunately, even if he does, the Warriors will likely advance anyway.

Prediction: Warriors win series 4-0

No. 2 seed San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 seed Memphis Grizzlies

San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio continues to defy Father Time. Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker lead the experienced Spurs into the postseason (again) under head coach Gregg Popovich. Despite the dramatic decrease in Tim Duncan’s and Manu Ginobili’s roles, San Antonio continues to perform at an elite level season after season. The Spurs’ ball movement and Leonard’s ability to play lockdown defense make them almost impossible to beat in a seven game series.

Memphis Grizzlies

If not for a myriad of detrimental injuries, Memphis would probably be one of the top four seeds in the West and Zach Randolph is left as the only proven scorer in the Grizzlies lineup. With Mike Conley out because of an Achilles injury, other Grizzlies players have played prominent roles in Memphis’ playoff push. Unfortunately, Lance Stephenson is probably the most talented guard available on Memphis’ roster. Stephenson has been the definition of inconsistency throughout his entire career, and that didn’t change this season. Given San Antonio’s desire for a rematch with Golden State, the Grizzlies probably won’t win a game in the series.

Prediction: Spurs win series 4-0

No. 3 seed Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 6 seed Dallas Mavericks

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder seem to be in a similar position in terms of their ability to advance in the playoffs. Oklahoma City has the talent to reach the conference finals, but have yet to enter title contender conversation since James Harden’s departure to Houston. Enes Kanter’s acquisition from Utah drastically improved the Thunder’s interior scoring. The sky’s the limit for the Thunder if Oklahoma City’s supporting cast can prove that it can be trusted to consistently score.

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas has reached the playoffs in 15 of the last 16 seasons, but failed to make noise in the postseason since winning it all in 2011. The Mavericks’ recent postseason troubles have stemmed from an inability to acquire their point guard of the future. Deron Williams is slowly declining and Devin Harris is far from an All-Star. Despite the murky point guard play, Dirk Nowitzki has established a high standard for Dallas basketball, but the Mavericks haven’t surrounded him with the necessary talent to contend for a title. Given the Mavericks’ tough first round matchup against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, don’t expect Dallas to challenge the Thunder.

Predication: Thunder win series 4-1

No. 4 seed Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers

Los Angeles Clippers

With an abundance of big game experience, Chris Paul and a newly healed Blake Griffin lead Los Angeles into the postseason. Former Duke shooting guard, J.J. Redick is the x-factor for the Clippers’ playoff run. The Clippers have plenty of depth and firepower, especially with Jamal Crawford coming off the bench, but Deandre Jordan’s terrible free throw percentage could prove detrimental for the Clippers late in games. Los Angeles could bench Jordan late in critical fourth quarters, which could open lanes to the rim for the dynamic duo in Portland’s backcourt without Jordan’s shot-blocking presence. Still, with a cast of solid reserves, the Clippers are clearly the more talented team. Bench scoring and big game experience should favor Los Angeles in the series. The Clippers may not make a run to the conference finals, but they should advance past the first round.

Portland Trail Blazers

After LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure to San Antonio, the Trail Blazers weren’t expected to be a playoff team in the Western Conference this season. Halfway through their regular season schedule, the Blazers certainly didn’t look like a playoff contender. Fortunately for Portland, their talented backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum drastically increased their level of play in the final 41 games of the season. Portland’s lack of front court talent and depth is a major concern in the series as the size of Jordan and Griffin could pose serious matchup problems in the paint. The Trail Blazers back court could win a couple of games, but probably not the series.

Prediction: Clippers win series 4-2

The Top 2016 NBA Draft Sleepers

1. Kris Dunn – Guard – Providence Friars

At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Providence Friars guard Kris Dunn’s physical stature would allow one to think the junior is NBA ready. Furthermore, his ability to shoot from beyond the arc and quickness off the dribble make him a complete offensive player. In Providence’s only win in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, a 70-69 victory over the USC Trojans in the first round, Dunn saved several of the Friars’ terrible offensive possessions late in the game by hitting multiple deep threes late in the shot clock.

In addition to his shooting ability, Dunn can rebound surprisingly well as he averaged more than five rebounds per game this season. His ability to score in transition is a big part of his offensive attack, but despite Dunn’s offensive talent, his on-ball defense has to improve at the next level.

Dunn’s devotion to sharing the basketball will serve him well in the early years of his professional career. It’s a given that Dunn’s offensive efficiency should decline from college in his rookie year in the NBA. However, being a willing passer and realizing the talent around him will not only boost his individual statistics, but it will also help the overall offensive efficiency of his new team.

Pro Player Comparison: Dwyane Wade – Shooting guard – Miami Heat

2. A.J. English – Guard – Iona Gaels

A.J. English is one the most versatile players in the 2016 draft. At the collegiate level, he could handle duties at most positions and with his ball handling ability, English can play point guard. At 6-foot-4, English is able to post up smaller defenders, but developing a pass first mentality in the NBA could improve his offensive efficiency.

Iona has rarely had next-level talent on its roster. As a result, English was the Gaels’ primary offensive threat during the last two years of his collegiate career. English averaged nearly 23 points per game as a senior this season. Furthermore, he showed a willingness to get his teammates involved in the offense, averaging 6.2 assists per game his final year as a Gael. English’s ceiling is extremely high, and if he’s able to get stronger early in his professional career, English could become one of the more potent offensive threats in the league. Whether his unique skillset translates to the next level remains to be seen.

Pro Player Comparison: Elfrid Payton – Point guard – Orlando Magic

3. Gary Payton II – Guard – Oregon State Beavers

Being the son of a Hall of Fame player typically wouldn’t put you in the “sleeper” category. However, senior guard Gary Payton II went through most of his career at Oregon State without receiving much notoriety — So much so that most fans didn’t even know who he was until postseason play.

In the Beavers only NCAA tournament game, a 75-67 loss to VCU, Payton II put up 19 points, including a ridiculous alley-oop dunk, to go along with six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Payton II is extremely athletic, and he’s best-known for his unique jumping ability and strong finishes at the rim. His jumping ability allows him to grab rebounds among taller players as he averaged nearly eight rebounds per game last season.

Similar to Dunn, transition scoring is a big part of Payton’s offensive repertoire. Grabbing rebounds and finishing with force on the other end was a primary scoring outlet for Payton as a member of the Beavers. He’ll have to become a better passer in the NBA to fit the mold of a more traditional point guard, but Payton’s extreme athleticism makes him a viable mid-to-late first-round pick.

Pro Player Comparison: Zach LaVine – Point guard – Minnesota Timberwolves

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