According to the Associated Press, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has been defending his remarks about NBA superstar LeBron James. Some would say that his message has toned down in large part because he has been fined $100,000 by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Rather than actually apologizing for what he said, Gilbert simply stated that he doesn't agree with Rev. Jackson's comment that he sees James with a "slave master mentality." Jackson made the remarks after Gilbert wrote an open letter heavily criticizing James for his decision to play for the Miami Heat.
In his letter, Gilbert said that James' decision to leave Cleveland was "cowardly" and "narcissistic." He also said that the Cavs would win a title before the Heat, an assumption that many consider outlandish. He also tried to say that James gave up on the team during the 2010 NBA playoffs.
Jesse Jackson had some harsh words for Dan Gilbert:
"He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers," Jackson said. "His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner-employee relationship, between business partners, and LeBron honored his contract."
Gilbert responded to Jackson with this public statement:
"I strongly disagree with Rev. Jesse Jackson's recent comments, and we are not going to engage in any related discussion on it," Gilbert said. "Going forward, we're very excited about the Cavaliers and the positive future of our region."
Stern was right to step in and make it clear that Gilbert's behavior was "extreme." Also, the last thing the commissioner needs is another racial controversy staining the image of the NBA. I am not sure if race played a role in Gilbert's behavior toward LeBron James, but race is always the elephant in the room when we think about the NBA -- a league where most of the best players are black and most of the team owners are white. This extreme imbalance in ownership is part of the legacy of slavery in America, since the billions of dollars in capital required to buy an NBA team has been passed from one generation to the next, with African Americans being excluded from the pool of economic access.
The ownership and power structure of the NBA is quite similar to that of other industries across America: universities, television networks and businesses all find that, for some reason, whites are usually the ones telling black folks what to do. Don't believe me? The next time you go to an airport in a big city, count how many of the employees, shoe shiners, bag porters and TSA agents are black and compare that to the small number of black passengers. African Americans, through the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, have been relegated to the working class of our nation, and even though James earns millions of dollars per year playing in the NBA, he is still part of the laboring class of America. We should not, of course, feel sorry for someone earning millions of dollars per year, but LeBron James' wealth and power is nothing compared to those who control the activities of what New York Times writer Bill Rhoden calls "The Forty Million Dollar Slaves" of the NBA.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here.