Marc Lamont Hill: NBA impasse: Owners & the ‘help’

ON MONDAY, the NBA Players Association formally rejected the NBA owners’ most recent offer and unanimously agreed to dissolve the union and take the owners to court.

The decision virtually guarantees a protracted legal battle and places the 2011-2012 season on the verge of disaster. As this news settles into my brain, and with games already canceled through at least Dec. 15, I feel overcome by a range of emotions.

As someone who studies inequality, I can’t help but resist the popular “billionaires vs. millionaires” narrative that has been attached to the labor dispute. That allows us to ignore the fact that the NBA (like America itself) is an institution built upon the exploited labor of black and brown bodies.

Despite agreeing to reduce their revenue share from 57 to 50 percent, the owners are still trying to squeeze more money from the players, not to mention compromise their long-term security by reneging on the owners’ promise to yield on systemic issues.

The players might be rich, but the owners are wealthy. And they’re committed to keeping it that way.

As a black person, I can’t help but feel sickened by the tone of condescension that spews from the mouths of NBA owners.

As Bryant Gumbel accurately pointed out, the owners speak with the indignation of plantation owners who are outraged that their “uppity” slaves are acting in their own best interest.

From their commitment to restricting the freedom of players to their arrogant “take it or leave it” ultimatums, the owners have committed to treating the players not as partners, but as “the help.”

No, these uber-rich players aren’t slaves. But the owners damned sure have the slave/master routine down pat.

As a labor advocate, I can’t help but sympathize with all of the working-class people hurt by the lockout. Even if you can’t side with millionaire players, it’s easy to connect with all of the parking attendants, vendors and ticket takers directly affected by the work stoppage.

It’s also easy to see the impact of the lockout on local restaurants, bars and other institutions that make income from game-day traffic. These are the people who will be most profoundly and irreversibly hurt by the labor impasse.

As an avid basketball fan, and Sixers season-ticket holder, I feel indifferent to the details of the negotiations. I just want to return to my courtside seat, waiting to see if Elton Brand can keep drinking from the fountain of youth that revived his career last year. I want to continue watching Jrue Holliday gain confidence and blossom into an elite point guard. I want to find out if space cadet Evan Turner can change the collective opinion that he is the worst Sixers draft pick this side of Leon Wood and Al Henry.

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