Rooting for an NBA team is like rooting for a Fortune 500 company. At the end of the day, it’s still all about one boss against another, capitalist vs. capitalist. A cynic might say that this entire enterprise is nothing but an opiate of the masses. I’d argue that sports, like politics, has gradations of foulness and even as fan-people in the “belly of the beast,” our choices and actions make a difference.
Which brings us back to the question, how evil is your NBA team? Let’s start with some of the remaining playoff teams. This is by no means an exhaustive or comprehensive list, I’d love feedback in the comments about additions or differences of opinion. And if you haven’t already, check out Dave Zirin’s treatise on the subject of bad owners, Bad Sports, How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love.
There’s been much written on this topic from last season, so I’ll refer back to excellent articles on why you’d root for the Heat (players used free agency to their maximum benefit, OKC is even more evil – more on that later) and why you wouldn’t include rooting for the owner Mickey Arison (tax evasion, owing Miami millions). Arison’s political donations roughly split between the D-‘s and R-‘s, no doubt a sign of the shifting politics of South Florida.
Being the favorites this season by far makes it easy to root against LeBron James and Co. Even so, Heat players led the way in the NBA protesting the murder of Trayvon Martin by posing their own hoodie photo. Moments like these don’t make or break a movement, but it is an important boost to the visibility of a fight and there’s something greatly validating to see your sports heroes (and villains!) as people with politics too.
Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC owner Clay Bennett hates Seattle. I can’t imagine why anybody would hate the home of fifty-cent oyster happy hours, but there it is. Prior to moving to OKC, Bennett tried and failed to extort the the city and state of Washington to fund a new arena (voters decided no) and lied about their intentions on keeping the team in Seattle. All this is well documented by angry Sonics fans.
Bennett also donated $7,500 to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012 and since 2009, players and execs on OKC gave at least 70% of their donations to Republican candidates. In total, OKC owners gave $15,000 to Romney. The TrueHoop blog has an great (and fun) video on the Republican and Christian leanings of the organization, which include a pre-game prayer before each home game – something only one other team in the league does.
San Antonio Spurs
Spurs ownership is not progressive (or even liberal) leaning. Owner Peter Holt gave nearly $250k in political contributions, 98% of which went to Republican candidates since 2009. He’s given over $500k to the gubernatorial campaigns of Rick Perry (yuck!). Holt also made his fortune in selling Caterpillar construction equipment, the same equipment weaponized by the Israeli army and then used to demolish Palestinian homes in the West Bank. There are active campaigns for colleges to divest from Caterpillar, to remove the company from socially-conscious investment portfolios and to demand corporate accountability.
In 2010 though, when their then-playoff opponent Phoenix Suns decided to take a stand against the racist and anti-immigrant Arizona legislation SB 1070 that legalized racial profiling (among other ugly, ugly things) the Spurs did support the Suns. The Suns decided to wear their “Los Suns” jerseys and their stars spoke out against the legislation. Spurs coach Greg Popovich had this to say in support of the gesture:
It’s kind of like 9-11 comes and all of a sudden there’s a Patriot Act, just a kneejerk sort of thing that changes our country and what we stand for. This law smacks of that to some degree, so I think what he’s doing tomorrow night is very wise and very correct.
Not surprisingly, Popovich donated $5,000 to the Obama campaign in 2012. Not bad for the former Air Force Academy cadet and coach – a school not known as a bastion of liberal thought. Perhaps it was his short time coaching the Pomona-Pitzer college squad. Pitzer has a reputation for being both the “social justice” and “4:20” Claremont College.
We’ll look at some other teams later this week, but it’s important to note that this isn’t about an “evil Olympics” of any sort. If you dig enough, every team’s got their skeletons and sometimes, things worth cheering for. There’s also the whole “playing ball well” thing too. Bottom-line is that as fans, we ought to know who we’re rooting for, warts and all. Better that than buying the fantasy narratives the NBA and these teams foist on us. I can mix my own Kool-Aid, thank you very much.