Is Slavery’s Legacy in the Power Dynamics of Sports?

In the N.B.A., the very term “owner” has come under fire, as players, most of whom are black, assert self-determination.

Comments: 227

  1. This facile "ownership" logic can apply to almost anything and is thus nearly meaningless. I don't shed a single tear for the millionaire players in the NBA having to come to grips with their teams being owned by others.

  2. @Javier Other than professional athletics, what other contemporary situations allow for the employer to "trade" the employee so that person is by financial leverage, de facto "forced" to work in another locale?

  3. @David Trotman. That's a lie. No player is forced to work in another locale. They have options. If they don't think they are being fairly compensated they can play in the Euro league ....a lot of players do so get your facts right please.

  4. @David Trotman Employees at all sorts of companies are transferred all the time. They’re not paid like professional athletes. We’re you being sincere?

  5. Come on guys, this is PC gone crazy. The owner owns the franchise not the players and the players are highly paid athletes.

  6. You clearly missed the point. Oh and this article is not meant for you.

  7. You all need to go back and add about 20 paragraphs to this article about the NFL! I mean you want to show the legacy of slavery in pro sports, right?

  8. Rather than being grateful for the opportunity to earn a multi-million dollar salary, these players focus on the term "ownership". From their point of view, any black person employed by a white person is a slave. This is simply an ignorant perspective. These people have been given a golden opportunity to rise above the slave mentality, and are now becoming slaves to their own greed and selfishness.

  9. Grateful for the opportunity...?! Players bring to the arena their talent and skills that afford the “Chairman” and themselves to engage in this wonderful pass time. In theory it’s an equal trade off. In practice and thought I expect the same. Sadly it’s not. Capitalism and respect toward each principle in this game/business should be acknowledged.

  10. Amen. Plenty of others would just love to be making this kind of money BEING AN EMPLOYEE......so now white people cannot employ black people? And pay them outrageous salaries? Wow. How about getting back to some serious topics for this series and a reduction in the whining about nothing....?

  11. Wow- this series of articles started way out, (implying 400 years of slavery, while making no mention of the fact that we here in the north fought a brutal war to end it 150 years ago) but has now officially gone off the deep end.

  12. @Bob White - The North fought the Civil War to preserve the union, not to free the slaves.

  13. @Bob White Exactly what I was thinking.

  14. Great. More language wars. That will really change things.

  15. @Brian I agree. It seems incredible that in an era with someone as destructive, corrupt, and dangerous as Donald Trump, the left spends so much time having pseudo-intellectual arguments about semantics. If there ever was a time when progressives needed to be able to stay focused its now.

  16. If Robert Johnson owned Ebony and BET, then Charles Dolan can own the Knicks.

  17. Very true — although I wish he didn’t.

  18. It is important that the NBA finally acknowledge the sensitivity of this issue. It's clear that NBA players are among the most vulnerable and marginalized people in society, and they especially are not immune to the effects of racism. It's important that we pay extra attention to marginalized voices such as those cited here: Draymond Green ($16 million salary), Kawhi Leonard ($32 million salary), Kyrie Irving ($20 million salary), Kevin Durant ($27 million salary), Anthony Davis ($22 million salary).

  19. @JasonM Thank you for this brave comment. Millionaire basketball players are among the most marginalized populations in the country. I hope that someday their terrible plight will be duly recognized and addressed by the powers that be.

  20. I think that’s sarcasm? If so, well done.

  21. @JasonM Celebrities who make millions a year aren't 'vulnerable' or 'marginalized'.

  22. Not sure the slavery connection really has much legs. The dynamic between 'owner' -- owner of the franchise, and player can of course be viewed through the lens of the legacy of slavery. But the very same dynamics are at play in sports all over the world, in leagues where there were traditionally (pre 1970, let's say) only whites. An example is european soccer. Now, the leagues (and most professional sports) are highly integrated, but does not mean the system can now be seen as a holdover from the era of slavery (what was it before the race barrier was broken, then?). I think just pure capitalism is the most sensible template to use to explain things. The last 10-20 years have completely changed the balance between labor and management -- the explosion of people as 'brands', athletic wear for even old fat guys, social media as a source of income, etc.

  23. In all honesty, I am glad to see that so many comments here are intolerant of the ideas put forth by Streeter's article. Their attitude shows precisely how much we need Streeter's perspective, and in fact, the perspective of the 1619 series as a whole. The point is: slavery still effects how our society sees black people. So what if NBA stars make millions? They still have the right to push for a deeper understanding of race, culture, and history, and to move the needle toward a better society. These players live the black experience. Stop telling them what to think and how to feel about it. Words such as "ownership," concepts such as being traded, all come down differently than they do for white players; who, by definition ARE NOT AS NEGATIVELY IMPACTED by the continuing legacy of slavery. And that I learned from reading each of the articles in the 1619 Series. I thank Kurt Streeter and the 1619 Series as a whole for pointing out that there is a lot more woke to be woken as we make our way toward a better and more just society. Alle C. Hall, White Lady

  24. @Alle C. Hall I didn’t hear people telling anyone what to think as much as people having opinions and expressing them. About a relatively unimportant topic, considering what is going on in the world.

  25. @Alle C. Hall I don't have to be 'tolerant' of views people who can buy and sell me and my entire family many, many times over, when those views are that they are should get even more money and privilege, just like French peasants didn't have to be 'tolerant' of the views of the nobility on how the latter's rights should be expanded. They are free in our society to negotiate for as much as they can get. God bless 'em when they do so, but they're still creepy rich folks who've lost touch with how the rest of live, or they'd be thanking their lucky stars for their good fortune and trying to make the world a better place, and not just for them and people who look like them. When you have a hundred million dollars, you get to keep it, but that's the limit of the 'tolerance' you should expect from the rest of us in the 99%.

  26. @Alle C. Hall I think you are asking that I submit to someone else. Sorry. I don’t submit to anybody nor do I ask anyone else to submit. I couldn’t care less about what employees call their employers. Usually it’s with language not used by polite society. Everyone thinks they are underpaid and mistreated by ownership.

  27. The real problem with basketball is the system itself, starting with the NCAA. Instead of wasting out time debating the obvious morality behind a title lacking social awareness, we should be thinking of ways to revamp the entire process of becoming a professional basketball player.

  28. @Aaron J Schechter Agreed. If we want to talk about "ownership" in sports maybe we should be talking about how the NCAA sells and profits off of the actions and likeness of uncompensated college athletes.

  29. What salary, bonus money, perks and privileges would Bill Russell gain in today’s market ? Mention of Bill Russell - an Olympic hero, NCAA champion, and NBA great - adds strength to these arguments; Russell’s Celtic teams were players who were mostly quiet sports personalities ; Russell taught his fans and rivals a great deal ; everyone should still be listening ...

  30. They are right about the nomenclature. It is beyond demeaning. I work for a living, as do the athletes, but my employer is emphatically not my “owner”. Marianne Williamson is spot on about reparations. It is time to do more than airbrush over the original sin of this country. In fact, it’s long overdue.

  31. @D. Wagner But if you work for a private company, there is still a person who owns that company. The owner. They don't own YOU, but they do own the company you work for. Is that equally demeaning no matter what industry in, or only if you're a Pro-Athlete?

  32. @D. Wagner You totally missed the point. I have never, ever heard reference to anyone "owning" any particular player in the NBA. The language is always "drafted" or "signed" or something like that. Businesses have owners and NBA teams are businesses. We say "X owns the Lakers" but never, ever "X owns Lebron James."

  33. Democrats’ talk of reparations, among other contentious issues, will almost certainly guarantee us four more years of Trump. Our tax dollars would be better spent on programs that benefit all Americans, such as shoring up Social Security.

  34. The owner owns the team franchise. Not the players as individuals. Just like if you own a company, you own the business, not the employees. You know?

  35. I thought it’s similar to being a homeowner, but perhaps I’ve been wrong all along. Maybe I’m really the chairman of my home.

  36. Exactly! The attempt to equate millionaires playing a sport for teams hired to play for billionaires as slavery because of the use of the word “owner” is degrading and has no merit. So how do NBA players identify Michael Jordan as? But Adam Silver will probably cave in...

  37. Agree. Please help me recall what all these oppressed, talented and highly paid players have done with their money and talents that is of any consequence. I’m having trouble coming up with any names.

  38. If you’re talking about college sports, ok. Pro basketball where millionaire athletes increasingly call their own shots? Not so much. And the owners own the TEAMS, not the players.

  39. Nobody owns anybody. The "owners" own the franchise. They are their bosses nothing more. My concern as a basketball fan and a Raptor fan is how there will ever be parity in league where every player wants to go to L.A. The Raptors lost Kawahi Leonard after winning a championship no less, Paul George and Anthony Davis both demanded trades to L.A. How could this possibly good for the leagues others teams? I guess T.V. rating will make Adam Silver happy and the real problem of players abandoning ship will never be brought up. It's still hard for me to Imagine a player leaving a team after winning a championship. Doesn't repeating or three-peating as champions mean anything any more? Disappointed Raptor fan who feels for OKC and NO

  40. @Sam Leonard probably spoke to his friend DeMar DeRozan about how loyal the Raptors are to it's players. I loved the Raptors' championship run; it was one of the most exciting moments of my life. But Kawahi Leonard did what he was hired to do; he brought a championship to Toronto. Leonard chose to do what HE wanted to do, play where he wanted to play and even though I was disappointed, I supported his decision. It's called FREEDOM. Kawahi Leonard doesn't owe Toronto anything. Toronto owes Leonard a little gratitude instead of the whining we're known for when we don't get our own way.

  41. I think you missed the point. Leonard was certainly free to leave, especially as an unrestricted free agent. I'm worried about the small market teams in general and of course Toronto, who although is not a small market resides in the Canada where fans have had to endure players demanding trades or bolting during free agency. As a life long Raptor fan I've witnessed Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady bolt, Vince Carter demanding a trade, Alonzo Mourning refusing to report, Chris Bosh conspiring to bolt before he was even finished playing in a Raptor uniform and now Leonard leaving after a championship (first player to bolt after winning). I see the same problem in OKC. it's not good for overall parity in the league. We traded DeRozan (first and only loyal raptor) for a once in a quarter century chance at winning it all, and luckily it paid off. I do appreciate Leonard's dedication while he was here and I witnessed plenty of great moments that will last in my memory. But if the league doesn't do anything to shore up this problem, it will remain a ten team league with one-offs winning here and there

  42. First of all, the word "owner" goes back a lot further than slavery. It's been a word to describe people who own things since we've had a concept of ownership, which is several thousand years old. Secondly, the owner owns the team, not the players. He/She owns the stadium, the brand, the merchandise, and they make contracts with individuals to play on the team. I really don't see how that is different from anyone working for a private company, owned by an individual. If I work at a store or restaurant, the business has an owner. Is that demeaning to me, or does this indignation only apply to pro-athletes? So unless we're excising the word "owner" from our entire lexicon, and the concept of "ownership" from our society, I do not really see the point of this.

  43. Couldn’t agree more. This is a ridiculous cause to promote. Owner is simply not a derogative term. No need to make it one.

  44. While I am sensitive to the implications of "ownership"in regards to slavery, it's clear that owners of sports franchises own the business, not the personnel. Nothing more, nothing less. All businesses have owners, and all workers have some form of contractual arrangement related to their employment.

  45. @John V maybe “Boss Man “ would be better?

  46. @John V Yup, this is the usual nonsense. Owners own the franchise. Players in all major American sports leagues have unions. Is it outrageous to refer to NHL franchise owners as... owners? Draymond Green wants to be relevant. His immature antics are a disgrace on the court. There are plenty of other NBA players who aren’t buffoons.

  47. The players will come an go, but the teams go on...some will go on for generations. The team is the business, they own the brand (ie team), they provide the training and conditioning, the leadership, the tactics and strategy for the players, the competition, and finally the provide setting and place (ie a venue for the team to compete). The players play and provide some of the entertainment with their athletic skills...no more,no less. The team does not exist because of the players, it is perhaps enhanced by them, but as I said the players come and go. The players have contracts that deliniate what compensation the team provides...typically is mostly $ and some typical benefits, and sometimes trade concessions but hardly does the team allow the players to define what political stances are to be mutually made. A player's social and political aspirations should be separate from the team, just like mine belongs to me, and is not representative of the company I work for.

  48. Calling a team owner “chairman” obscures, in a most amusing way, the reality of the situation—to wit, that owners control the means of production (stadium, branding rights, etc). Regardless of the optics or phenomenological components of the racial dynamic in the NBA, the problem is the same as in all areas of commercial and economic life: the laborers, whether world-famous multimillionaires or minimum-wage workers, are subordinated to and ultimately helpless in the face of their bosses.

  49. Excellent piece! Intricate and still spot on.

  50. Teams have Owners. They own the business not the employees. Why this piece of common sense is somehow now confusing is anyone’s guess. If players are concerned about the state of things in the NBA, they should be willing to put their personal treasures on the line the way the Owners have. Start your own league and make it more successful than the NBA. Good luck!

  51. @BC Why don't you continue the comparison between companies , employees, and sports teams with their players. Don't stop now.

  52. This piece of common sense is unclear to the writer, a Poli Sci major from UC Berkeley. This kind of thinking is also a disappointment to his fellow grads who learned to think and write with intellectual integrity.

  53. I’m not sure if this new-found assertiveness among the players is focused on achieving anything meaningful. Ironically using the term chairman, rather than owner, could be considered sexist. That said, it would be revolutionary if the players used their wealth and influence to form collectives in which they would take full responsibility for running the team. Current owners would become partners with the players, each owning an equal share or stake in the business and taking responsibility for marketing, trades, contracts, ticket prices, etc. Because the players would have equal shares, they’d have an incentive to take responsibility in the franchise’s viability. It would also remove any hint of an owner-servant relationship and could be a model for a post-capitalist economy.

  54. They tried this in China it’s called communism.

  55. Who forced the athletes to sign a business contract with the owner? If the athletes don't like the business model, then go find a job elsewhere or create their own business.

  56. An owner owns the team; not the players. Enough said.

  57. A better organizational/business model for the players on team sports is the "artist-entertainer".

  58. Pro sports are profit-seeking companies and teams are, in reality, a framework of job descriptions to be filled by a changing roster of workers. Of course these companies have owners, whether individual or incorporated. Only someone with a giant axe to grind would see the players as being owned, any more than the rest of the working world is owned by companies.

  59. Okay, some find the noun, "owner" to be offensive. Just change it to something else. How 'bout Michael Jordan, "majority equity holder." He has the equity. Thus, he has final say on what goes on with his team. I fully expect LeBron to be a majority equity holder. If anyone else wants to do that, they can get a consortium together and pony up the dough. Like the $2 billion Steve Ballmer paid for the Clips. And not only that, a person must pass the test with a league on character and non-pecuniary matters. The DeBartolo family of Youngstown, Ohio had their purchase of the 49ers held up by their ownership of a racetrack in Louisiana. MLB investigated them also. Times change. Values change. Attitudes change. An owner is simply a man or woman who has a financial stake in a business. And if they are not careful, the liability also. The ship of Major League Baseball is listing. The same could conceivably happen in the NBA. Fandom is not as ardent as it once was, because people broadcast themselves on social media. So Draymond, be careful what you wish for. Because the NBA owners might one day see the value of their ownership slide substantially, or be on the hook for unpaid bills. Then they can't pay you like the seriously heroic Mr. Curt Flood would have liked.

  60. This is what change looks like. It's slow and encounters resistance but eventually reaches a tipping point. It reflects the direction the country is moving in. It may take some more time for attitudes to change but it will happen. Judging from the comments it's going to take a generation.

  61. One of the key debates in African American search for equality has been whether or not their oppression has been qualitatively different. For people like Martin Delaney and Marcus Garvey, African Americans were so qualitatively different from other Americans, they could not imagine them ever fitting into America and advised the return to Africa. They agreed with whites who led the American Colonization Society and saw the repatriation of black to Africa as the only solution for people who were culturally, spiritually, and socially incompatible with European-dominated white society. Standing in opposition to those calling for repatriation were people like W.E.B. Du Bois and MLK who saw African American inequality as a broader problem of lack of resources. Most importantly, African Americans lacked legal equality and this lack of civil rights made it difficult for them to acquire economic and educational resources that white Americans possessed. Both Du Bois and MLK sought to address this deficit of resources and dignity by working together with other similarly situated groups. Du Bois saw Native Americans and Asians as potential allies in national and global movements to challenge white supremacy. MLK, of course, worked across racial lines and preached a universal message of more perfect inclusion. In the post-Obama America, there's clearly changes afoot as more and more African Americans are rejecting the universal and inclusive vision of equality.

  62. Except for the idea that sports are generally fun. Let’s not mistake the rigors of pro sports for the horrors of slavery. Yes, the terms can be similar but they have completely different contexts. To suggest otherwise is to trivialize the experience of slaves and even the poverty stricken men and women that face racism everyday in modern America in search of a basic wage. One of the worst ways that sports enslaves people, if we want to go there, is by taking a child’s focus off academics by filling his or her head with dreams of gold, when only the top one percent of athletes can actually make a living in sports.

  63. The New York Times should be embarrassed by this simplistic article. The term owner is a term that far predates slavery and applies to contexts far outside of slavery. The people who own the teams are the owners of the teams. They aren't the owners of the employees but they own they team. Just like the woman who owns the dance studio I just came from is the dance studio owner and the plumber I just hired describes himself as the owner of his business. Nobody thinks that either one of them "own" employees. Its also insulting to the memory of actual slaves who suffered brutal violence and degradation to try to equate top level professional sports in 2019 to slavery in any way. Someone like Draymond Green or Lebron James makes more money in a year than most people will in five lifetimes and if they manage their money well their children and their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren will live lives of privilege and never have to work. There is no question that there are many athletes who are exploited such as college basketball players and minor league baseball players but NBA players are not exploited and are not victims. They live incredibly privileged lives. In a country where tens of millions of people are living paycheck to paycheck and lack any sort of health insurance, they live lives of wealth, power, and fame beyond the wildest dreams of more than 99.9% of Americans. Its insulting to paint them as exploited or victims.

  64. Sports teams are businesses and businesses have owners. One can call the term offensive and say the exact same word was used to denote slaveholders, but it really isn't the same thing. Most of the expenses of professional sports teams are in the form of (often exorbitant) player salaries, which are paid by the fans. The players are compensated far in excess of what the average person receives for their work. To draw the analogy that professional sports and slavery are the same thing is really kind of silly.

  65. Really? As a long time Knicks fan, I think I suffered more under this “ownership”.

  66. I think NBA players and collegiate players should unionize such that more elite athletes can earn a living wage. Maybe there could be hundreds of teams that promote and relegate like in English soccer.

  67. I agree. Instead of calling them Team Owners they should be called Team Masters.

  68. This article works too hard but doesn’t make the argument. The “owners” do own the franchises. They are billion dollar businesses. The players are the employees. Because fans pay to see the players, the best of them make extraordinary incomes and have great clout in the management of their team and league. Like employees everywhere, they can quit whenever they want. But unlike most employees, they can’t necessarily work for whatever team will have them. The terms of their employment are governed by a collective bargaining agreement to which they have agreed. If they want different terms, they should negotiate a different agreement. The slavery parallel is bogus. Worse, it seems ridiculous and somehow diminishing to compare the horrific experience of real slaves to the experience of modern day professional athletes.

  69. NBA teams are the conduits through which players can earn salaries upwards of $30 million per year, and put themselves in a position to more than double that. And the players now have more power than ever to decide where they will play. If only I could be so "exploited". On the other hand, the college players are consumed, used, and discarded when no longer useful. And in many cases, their so called academic experiences are useless. These are the exploited athletes.

  70. Honestly, this is overdoing it. Is no one allowed to OWN a business any more? In baseball, the reserve clause bound players to their teams forever, for 100 years. And for 80 of those years ALL the players were white. The conflict between labor and capital was also the focus of Marxism. To tie it to race in the US is to do honest business OWNERS an injustice, and to overcomplicate and add additional baggage to the eternal class struggle.

  71. This type of emotionally and intellectually compelling journalism is why I read the NYT. I'm not embarrassed to say that the image of these brave multi-millionaires struggling against oppression brought a tear to my eye, just as the knowledge they are fighting so hard to make their world a little better place warmed my heart. March on intrepid soldiers, march on.

  72. If pro basketball players don’t want to have a franchise “owner,” they can always opt not to play in the NBA. “Problem” solved.

  73. interesting article but bear in mind baseball players white and black, starters and superstars like mickey mantle, had no bargaining power. This structure existed until men of courage like curt flood dared challenge the status quo and ALL ballplayers benefitted from his actions.

  74. I fully understand the sensitivity of players towards the term owner. But I always thought it was merely a descriptive term for a person who owned a franchise. I have never thought it signaled that the "chairman" owned the players. I agree that being alert to cultural sensitivities in word use is important to a diverse, civil society. But let's not demonize white participants in the league like Kerr simply because they believe a player should honor the terms of an "arms length contract." This hardly makes Kerr a racist -- indeed he has been the most outspoken coach in the NBA in backing Kaepernick's protest and opposing our current President's racism.

  75. @Peter And I'm not sure Kaeperkick feels vindicated now that he's a "free man."

  76. If the whole problem is that “owner” makes some people think back to slave owners, then would it maybe be easier to ban the use of “slave owner” and refer to those people as “plantation chairmen”? It seems changing either the past or present term should have the same effect of undoing this apparently unbearable association.

  77. Draymond Green's comment had some good opposing viewpoints from Mark Cuban, Dallas Maverick owner, saying in part- "We own equity. We don't own people," Cuban said. "And there's a big difference. This is a country where we have corporations, and you put up your money and buy equity" I'd also say the NBA is pretty good compared to the NFL, that league seems like a disaster, with all the controversy about the national anthem and kneeling. Also, I'd disagree with tying Phil Jackson (kind of an over the hill jerk) with Steve Kerr's comments about free agency. Again, there might be limits, as Kerr notes, to being able to just renege on your contract, or demand a trade. The NBA may change its rules to get a better handle on some of the recent trade issues also, but I do think Silver and the NBA again will try to do the right thing for the players and chairmen/owners? and not blunder around like the NFL with all the anthem drama.

  78. If an owner, which is defined as a legal proprietor of a business, were referred to as "master", then their would be a case for uproar. This faux language outrage takes away from real systemic racial issues that NBA stars can provide significant leadership.

  79. I think this is going a bit too far. By owner, it means they own the business, just like someone who owns stocks is part owner of the business. And far from being slaves, NBA players can switch teams getting paid ridicules sums of money.

  80. @Joseph B Well, I think the word "owner" is just an example. A good example of the way words carry their own baggage with them always. The word "slaves" is not used in the sports media referring to players , for the obvious reasons you mention, their salary. However you should consider that your objection is based on "degree" , the compensation. What we are seeing is the attitudes are also part of the relationships. An owner may pay them a salary which you and I wish for, but the owner may not regard that person as an equal. The degree of difference between a billionaire owner and the average player, who is in our income class, is probably roughly similar to the plantation owner and his indentured servants. that is the basis for inequality. The players have accepted these rules of the game, until now, because they have the leverage based not on salary but on our support. Don't think that attitude is such a small matter, It has to do with the R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  81. What makes you think owners don't respect players? And do owners have to respect players? If so, shouldn't players respect owners? Better yet, both parties should respect the contract. Business is business. Young men and women sign contracts when they enlist in an armed service. I suppose that is a form of slavery, but they have a contract that affords them legal protection.

  82. @KomaGawa Well, yes and no. No one has to "own" or even pay the salary of someone to think them inferior. Nor does the attitude of owners or bosses (another word to get rid of, yeah?) -- thinking of people of lesser rank as working for them (get rid of manager, too) find itself racially limited.

  83. What a great idea! Change the word! A post-modern answer to economic inequality.

  84. Who is Michael Jordan then? The majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets and for how long now? 9 years.

  85. Michael Jordan is an owner.

  86. Articles like this make things worse. Owner? Really? They literally "own" a for-profit business. That's literally no different than owning a coffee shop.

  87. The fact it’s even an issue to change a simple title that carries hundreds of years of institutionalized oppression is primitive and a waste of time. Just get rid of it? Nobody owns anybody, and in a country with a dark history surrounding the word I think it’s obvious that

  88. @Aaron J Schechter Who said they do? They do own the franchise, however.

  89. Correct - nobody owns anybody but people do own businesses. And - believe it or not — sports franchises are businesses.

  90. The NBA draft is mentioned but once, in passing. But if there is anything around today that harkens to the days of the slave auction, it’s the NBA draft (the NFL draft too). Large salaries aside, it’s a bizarre event in the 21st century. Eliminating this demeaning absurdity would improve the sport’s image.

  91. The NBA draft began in 1947, predating the rise of African American players. Like 'owner,' 'draft' can be twisted into different meanings. Just because a thing looks like another thing doesn't mean they're the same thing. Drafted players can negotiate or even refuse the offer.

  92. @CC Study the economics of sport and understand the importance of competitive balance. Then come talk to me.

  93. Somehow weaving the NBA into the pattern just seems to have trivialized the whole quilt.

  94. There's a reason why this article was written. In our current society, aversive racism only protects racism, because we can't seem to challenge our racial filters because we're too afraid to admit that we have them. At the end of the day, we're practicing white progressiveness - afraid we're not racist but perpetrating racism on a daily basis inconspicuously. To most, the term "owner" is just nomenclature. When it comes to the NBA, those who understand the intricate meaning behind "owner", the word means more than just a business. I think the real meaning behind this story is our lack of understanding about implicit biases that lead to this form of aversive racism.

  95. @EMC those who understand the intricate meaning behind "owner" First Known Use of owner: before the 12th century Thou sayest? Or just not that history?

  96. "{Sterling's] statements drew immediate wrath from players, who banded together and pressed for Sterling to be ousted." This despicable attitude of Sterling towards his team's players ALSO drew immediate wrath from *many* fans, across the board. I have no idea what the ethnic breakdown of the outraged fans was, but it was pretty universal. And it needed to happen.

  97. This is why political correctness is a spent force. Ok we'll call the owners Chairmen or maybe baby-sitter and all is good. They can continue the economic exploitation but the names are OK so its OK

  98. Steve Kerr offers the opinion that a party who voluntarily enters into a contract should honour that contract, and he’s criticized in a NYT article discussing slavery and racism? Tough crowd.

  99. @JFB Thanks for your statement. I was prepared to make the same point. Steve Kerr was clearly troubled by players under contract forcing a trade. Anthony Davis signed a contract extension in 2015. He didn't have to do that but he did. Had he not signed he would have become a restricted free agent. No one held a gun to his head and said sign. I don't think it is too outrageous to say someone who signs a contract should honor it. Steve is fully aware that when a player does what Davis did it will destroy to cohesiveness of the team. What coach wants to live through that, both for himself and the remaining players trying to build a team? I'm with Steve AND I'm with players having more control over their careers. He doesn't belong in this article.

  100. @JFB If you actually knew what he said/did you wouldn’t have made such a comment. AD didn’t say he wouldn’t play anymore, he told the Pelicans that once his present contract expired he’d find employment elsewhere. His honesty gave the team time to make a ‘deal’, trading his remaining contract for other players, etc. Which they have since done. He didn’t keep them in suspense, didn’t wait until the last moment before becoming a free agent. Considerate. It amazes me how people accept players being ‘traded’ from team to team but if they don't demonstrate total team loyalty, the are pariahs. It’s a job folks. People making a living. Some have the power to decide their terms of employment, most don’t. More power to them.

  101. So you can also draw a straight line between slavery and covenants not to compete? What a ridiculous article. 99.9% of everyone works for a business in which they have no ownership. Everyone works for an “owner.” Would it be better if we said NBA players work for the “boss” or “the man?” I worked in a law firm for 10 years. I had no ownership rights. I worked for the “owner.” Never thought it was inappropriate to call him the “owner” and I’m African American.

  102. Interesting to see the number of people hung up on the nomenclature and not the actual feelings of the players. I’ll defer to the players and not a dictionary definition. It’s not that hard. Ask yourself why is it so important to refute their feelings?

  103. first, adam silver is a remarkable league commissioner, adept in dap and always careful to thread the needle of every controversy. everyone touched by the NBA is lucky to have him. all the recent player asserted trades were executed by black athletes because, sorry to say it, white men can't jump. one online list of 25 all time great ballers includes just 4 white guys. when was the last time you saw a white rookie win the annual dunk contest? that might sound racist to some people, but here's my gripe to them: you like race to celebrate it; you don't like race to deal with it. we like to debate "owner" and "social constructions" when we talk about the "tension" because none of the tension is actually resolved. i mean, the ongoing poverty and discrimination that speaks through lives. the corporate sports i see are far more about corporations and money than about racial history or slavery. corporations ran the slave trade and made it prosper; corporations see a populous planet through the lens of profit. you don't need to draw an academic or symbolic line back to slavery in order to find injustices to battle. words are so much easier to deal with.

  104. Really. If these players are so marginalized do something else.

  105. Even better idea, why don’t they talk about it publicly and initiate a public conversation?

  106. I have always found many aspects of sports reminiscent of slavery. One particular event that bothers me in football is the combine. Nearly naked mostly black bodies being weighed and measured, their physical specifications analyzed and compared. They stand there in full public view as each body part is peered over, compared and contrasted against the rest. They run, jump, throw, and zig zag about for a further breakdown of who is the best physical specimen for the money. If that is not an slave auction block then you have never read a history book. My white husband thinks nothing of the word owner in sports. At the risk of (again) sounding "too sensitive" in his opinion, I did express that I had a problem with it. You can argue all you want that it merely means they own the team and not the players. I can promise you that all of those old rich white men consider themselves as owners of the players. The only thing that can separate their little club from the rest of the mere filthy rich is the notion of owning their very own black men.

  107. @Velvet goss I think it's perfectly reasonable to highlight the troubling similarities between pre-draft workouts, where the talent is stripped, poked and prodded and made to dance, as it were, in full view of prospective "buyers," and slave auctions, but I'm not on board with your arguments about the word "owner." Professional sports teams are businesses, and businesses have owners. You'll note, too, that college teams (and playing for a college team is closer to slavery than playing for a pro team, albeit still not very close) don't have owners. In other words, getting rid of a term you find objectionable won't solve anything.

  108. @Velvet goss Sounds kinda like a modern day beauty pageant. And those young women aren't getting paid millions. I protest that by not watching beauty pageants for the past 30 years. So do that with the NFL.

  109. @Velvet goss I am one of those white guys, who just accepted the process, part of which you are describing, as "necessary" . But now I think, "Is it?" We should always question tradition. If the only defense of it by the owners is "Well, that's the way its done." then we may have to swallow and say, "well, yes its done this way now, but things are always changing. In the future, if the fans have a say, we want choices in the way things will be done."

  110. Everyone knows that the owners of all the major sports teams actually own the players. It’s in the contracts. That’s why all the players go to bed by 9:00pm, never drink alcohol or do drugs or beat their significant others or violate any laws. They must behave like angels or they know they will be disciplined or even sold. All those players who make hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year are really no better off than slaves were up until 1865, more than 150 years ago, when slavery ended in the US. Right.

  111. These people will never be seen as equal as long as they see themselves as victims.

  112. It takes a lot of strength to Question existing structures. I don’t think any of these athletes sees themselves as victims.

  113. Multi million dollar victims. This is going too far.

  114. When I became a teacher, we learned our craft under a 'master teacher.' She was a master at her craft. Now, you aren't supposed to use that term. She was and remains my master teacher. The owners own the team, not the players. Slavery has been over for more than 150 years. My ancestors were also slaves 150 years ago. There might be an echo of influence from my grandparents. My great, great, great, great, great grandparents? No connection at all. Making these ridiculous and tenuous connections to slavery is getting pretty silly.

  115. Thank you for some clear thinking!

  116. I feel so sad for these people who make millions of dollars for throwing a ball through a hoop, or hitting it with a stick, or catching it and running it down a lawn. So sad. Grow up.

  117. I may be wrong but I'm probably not in presuming that all those commenting that have a problem with black players having a problem with "owner" terminology, and who say these black players who make millions should be "grateful", and who say black players should be more "financially responsible" then perhaps they would become owners themselves ... are not black. For the record I am. Maybe that's why I get where this article is coming from and I think it is valid point of view.

  118. This has been an amazing series of articles by The NY Times, and you will not find a white man (i.e. me) more sympathetic to the argument that the continuing treatment of black and brown people in this country has been abominable, considering the legacy of slavery. However, calling a team owner an “owner” is just that. There are many business owners I work with, and they “own” their respective businesses. They do not own me, or any other person working for them. Grouping this article in with the others I’ve read in this series is absurd.

  119. @@waritalks That's not what a lot of people are saying. A lot of people are saying that the decision to treat the word owner as specific to slavery is absurd. They are also saying that the labor practices were indeed far more one-sided when the leagues were white. What I would say is that if you want to have a talk about race, let's do it. But to do so we need to have a language with stable meanings and we need accurately to discuss the history. If we can't do that we're not having a discussion about something real.

  120. @@waritalks The barber shop down the street has an "owner". The Pizza Hut on the corner has an "owner." If you ante- up some money, you can "own" a portion of Amazon, Apple, Google or GE. If you ante-up a lot, you can own a considerable portion of these companies. This is the capitalist business model. If you wanna be an owner, then buy the company. As for the rest of us, we just work for the owners. Any questions?

  121. As far as I know, people have been referring to "team owners" since before Jackie Robinson played in the MLB and since before African-Americans came to dominate NBA rosters. This didn't suddenly become a new term to suggest slavery.

  122. @MTS Excuse me, what you are overlooking, is the roots of the use of this vocabulary, and the structure of the relationships between owner and players, is "intimately" interwoven into our cultural identity , going back to 1619. I may be mistaken but you are appealing to a sports tradition that goes back at best until the late 18th century, if that much. This relationship which we have with the social institution of slavery goes back to 1619. In other words the concepts that we use to defend the sports culture are based up slavery influenced relationships, Honestly, this is not something which I can get my head around, but I can see the logic of the presentation here. You have every right to disagree, but , I would hope you can present your disagreement with equal references, and logic. I think, the basic issue is whether you (and I) believe that slavery ended at some time in the past, or whether its influences affect our day to day life right now.

  123. @KomaGawa No, it isn't. Go tudy feudal relations and you'll see it there already. I suppose you could call players indentured servants, but no one makes them ssign multi-year deals.

  124. @[email protected] The reason that it does not suggest slavery to a white athlete is rather obvious. The term in reference to a black player changes the dynamics completely. If white players don't mind the word, so be it. It's quite understandable for them to be able to dismiss it as no big deal. And this flippant explanation of "it's the same as saying one owns a business." Give me a break. A business suggests brick and mortar. Owning a team equals owning players. No one equates owner Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys with the secretary, promotions guy, or groundskeeper. It's the players on the field that people think of him as "owning".

  125. This is absurd. Is there any sport that progressive fanatics can't ruin? First the NFL, now the NBA. I understand why NBA athletes feel pressure to be "woke". But they are being used as disposable pawns by the far left for their own cynical ends. Truthfully those who are using them don't care that much about the game or the players. All they have managed to accomplish so far is to ruin Colin Kaepernick's career. What the left is pushing is more than a semantics debate, though. They demand that you see this world exactly as they do, reach the same moral judgments about it, & confess your sins. That's not happening, ever as far as the fans go. The NBA is entertainment. It isn't essential. The fans are middle class, NBA junkies who year in & year out, plop down millions for tickets, & assorted basketball paraphernalia. Keep this up & they'll stop watching. The left has become obsessed with trivial issues that have made them a national laughing stock. The people leading this movement are irrational zealots. The owners are just that: OWNERS...they own the franchise. They direct the conduct and play of the players in accordance with agreed-upon rules just like any other business. There are NO real issues here and to believe otherwise is fantasy. All that normalcy aside, if any of those 20 million dollar a year players find it uncomfortable to use the word owner, trust me: a hundred other athletes are ready to take their place and cash their check. Today. Not tomorrow. Today.

  126. It's insulting to the intelligence of athletes who take a principled stance when it is said that anyone manipulated them into doing so.

  127. @Ed Davis I don’t remember anyone from the “left” ruining Colin Kaepernick’s career. I do know that NFL Owners helped ruin his career. Enlightenment can come from many directions, open your eyes. Oh, and that defensive, aggrieved tone is certainly illuminating even if it’s not enlightened.

  128. @mch It's not a principled stand. It's a hypocritical stand. Period. End of story. The owners own the franchise. Just like the athletes OWN the business they are involved with. How is this any different. It isn't.

  129. Words can mean different things to different people. Is it so unreasonable for people who have endured the legacy of slavery to object to working for an "owner"? And what does it matter how much money they are paid for their services? How much is their dignity worth???

  130. @mch apparently it is worth less than they are paid.

  131. @mch Please!!! You really think this is a dignity question for these players? There are literally millions of businesses in the U.S. where people work for owners. If I have stock in a company I am considered to be a part owner in the company. Does that have to change or only for businesses where the employee base is mostly black? The players do not have to sign the contracts they sign. They do so of their own free will. They can quit whenever they want to. Most are able to join any other team within a few years of becoming a professional. Many then sign one year contracts. Yes, they have a risk of being traded/transferred but many can also block the trades or dictate to whom they could be traded. To consider this use of the word "owner" as it relates to the NBA as being connected back to the plantation days is ludicrous and just shows how absolutely overly, excessive and ridiculously sensitive to pretty much everything we have become.

  132. @mch Unless you own your own business, people work for owners. Even if you do own your own business you still have owners, they are just called customers. If you are employed by government the owner(s) are citizens/taxpayers. We all have someone to answer to unless you are a trust fund baby. These crybabies are not suffering from diminished dignity. They are insulting the descendents of people who were enslaved. They make millions playing a game. They can own their own plantation and be the owner/master, they choose not to. My paternal great-grandmother was born a slave and my great-grandfather was the master's son. My maternal grandparents were born slaves to the Russian Czar. So these fools need to be set straight.

  133. Do I have to explain to the author the owners own the team, not the players? Seriously? Today’s NBA players make outrageous amounts of money, no matter the color of their skin. I say great that 80 per cent are black and can make so much money from white fans. This series is getting very weird and is in danger of becoming tiresome or irrelevant if these goofy themes keep up.

  134. The analogy of the NBA to slavery might seem goofy to you but Consider discussing this article with a black person and just listen to what they say.

  135. PC on steroids. 93% of NHL hockey players are white, with basically the same business model. At one point, 100% of NBA players were white. The same terminology and mostly the same draft/trade rules were in effect then as are today. If I own a Wendy's franchise, I own the franchise, I do not own the employees. The NBA is a business, no more, no less. With all of the injustice in the world today, this is the tree you chose to bark up?

  136. @Get Real; that's a fair point, but consider that while most of the money is US, the culture of the NHL is decidely Canadian. It may be the longest unsecured border in the world, but it separates two countries divided by much more than a common sport.

  137. @JS The business culture of the NHL is 100% American and has been since day one. Where were the Original 6 located? The majority of the teams were in the US with US Owners. Who owned the teams? People who had other businesses and expected these teams to make a profit. Norris was a to work for as I heard 1st hand. Other owners were not any difference. The owners were loyal as long as you delivered what they demanded. Ilitch was somewhat different and treated most players like family. Wirtz was fair and decent. Hockey doesn't easily compare because the revenues just aren't the same. The NBA and NFL were smart and didn't over sell franchises. The NHL needs to shed 6-8 teams and CBC needs to handle all the TV for whole league.

  138. @Get Real -- stirring the racial pot works. This is why these racists do it.

  139. I love it when racism deniers immediately hang their hat on some label or pedantic point (all lives matter, you know) while obscuring the central injustice. 80% of players in the nfl and nba are black while coaches and “owners” are white? How is this acceptable? Why would people support this exploitation by watching these? Software engineers get equity in their startups - why doesn’t each player get equity in the franchise?

  140. As an engineer who has worked in startups, the amount of equity that is distributed has been steadily declining for the same position over the last 20 years. The owners hoard more and more of the equity, and often put more and more restrictions on disposing of vested equity on the engineers. The NBA, as a professional sports team, is at the vanguard of dealing with social issues. But it is a business, with investors, cash flow, debt, expenses. Teams make plans to invest in players, build up team talent, etc. When players can seemingly break contracts at will, form super-teams where they chose, it does diminish the value and competitiveness and fairness of the sport. Most of us work “at will” - mainly, the will of the employer. Pro athletes (who do risk injury) have a contract that is exceedingly generous to most of us (but justified by the revenue potential they bring) with some significant portion guaranteed. But yup, my CEO pays the bills. I may not like him or her, but I still do my job. If I don’t like it, I move. Maybe craft a contract that allows some flexibility? The NBA is first and foremost a business. Nothing personal.

  141. @gizmos Of course, unlike the owner/slave dynamic of the slavery times where the slave basically got nothing, the owner/coach/player dynamic now has the player often getting much more than the coach. Hey, the guy or gal, white, black, or purple, who put out the money for the team and bought it is, in fact, the owner.

  142. @gizmos I opposite of love it when people just say stuff.

  143. No doubt that in America organized athletic teams operate with such devotion to hierarchy and military structures that the relationship between the players, coaches, managers, and owners is very close to the master-slave relationship. Throw in the commercial and financial incentives that are not distributed equitably, like in the NCAA, and it appears even more like a master- slave dynamic. The fact that so many descendants of former slaves are now athletes who are bought, sold and traded by owners who live in plantations, it does appear to be a structural and psychology heir to the former enslavement society of the Southern states.

  144. @tony Don't forget education. And the Church. And the factory. And anywhere else capitalism is practiced.

  145. @tony You have the following choice to make: Work for the median American wage, 47K/year (with cost of living raises) from ages 18-70. You'll make roughly 3 million dollars for 52 years of work. Or be a "slave" in the NBA making the NBA minimum salary (840K/year with mandated raises) for the five year average length of an NBA career. You'll make roughly 7 million for five years work. What's your choice Tony?

  146. To remain an informed reader of current events is to receive ongoing sensitivity training. One does one's best. But campaigns as trite as taking on the word "owner" in this specific context -- as well as any number of similar arguments I've read that explore the outer realms of wokeness -- do so much, I feel, to undermine the genuine fight for equality ongoing within the world. Choose your battles wisely lest you trivialize the larger objective.

  147. Well said @ Brian.

  148. Why don’t the players abandon the league and start their own? They are the asset of basketball. The possibilities of licensing a new league online seem endless, and no one would watch a second rate game featuring NBA leftovers if the new league offered superior competition. The league would lose the arena infrastructure, but that can’t be hard to replace if players were willing to play for profit sharing. The internet simply changes the possibilities (like everything else).

  149. @David E The players run the league - as they should. The owners add some value and are allowed to remain.

  150. @David E. They don’t abandon the league because they know that they have talents the owners do not and vice versa.

  151. @David E The arena infrastructure wouldn't be hard to replace ? Get serious .

  152. The word owner also cuts another way and it applies to all US major professional sports teams: the behavior of the "owners" . Characters such as James Dolan, NBA, Robert Kraft, Dan Snyder, NFL are hardly comparable to the villainous owners of the slave era. These ownerships are more characterized by self absorbtion, arrogance, paternalism, and textbook megalomania, a far cry from the sadism and gratuitous cruelty that persisted through the Civil War. Nevertheless journalists and historians took note of the culture of slave ownership throughout the period and wrote extensively and in detail of the depravity of that class.

  153. Besides the use of the provocative word “owner” in the context of the NBA, referring to a player as being “sold” to another team is similarly offensive and should be replaced by another term, for example “transferred” as in European football parlance. Language matters.

  154. @John Grillo So the exact situation occurs in every professional sport where the players are more white than other races. Why is there not a concern of the use of the word "owner" with those teams?

  155. @John Grillo I find it somewhat offensive that the topic of slavery and the terms associated with it are being discussed in the context of the NBA and its players with such a high level of supposed gravity and importance. The example is given of NBA players who, after years of earning millions of dollars on certain teams, decided to move to another team where they had more control over the franchise. This is progress, empowerment, or some rebuke of the legacy of slavery that is supposedly reflected in the language used to describe the economic roles played by various individuals in the context of a sports franchise? It is not. Drawing these parallels is, I must say, obscene.

  156. @John Grillo I wouldn't cry about being "sold" to another team if I were making $5M/year.

  157. There is too much emphasis on sports in this country, period. African-Americans in particular are doing themselves a great disservice by focusing on player rights and encouraging children to become pro athletes. Even if these athletes go to college, most don't learn a particular skill or trade. They are pushed through for the purpose of the school making money through sports. What about their minds? What do they do after an injury? As usual, everything is backwards in America.

  158. Not just America. We see a similar trend in New Zealand with a certain ethnicity who excel in certain sports (rugby) being encouraged to develop that rather than focusing on acedemics. But the reason for that is cultural. Its much harder for them to succeed in acedemia due to cultural barriers and low expectations. Its not fair for them, but its understandable they would have more confidence in rugby where they excel and where there are many examples of successful players of their race. Whereas the opposite is true for acedemia. There are no role models.I shinning examples. No people like them. Sport is more social as well where acedemia is essentially a solitary activity. People from communal cultures naturally dift towards community based endeavours rather than individualistic ones. Hopefully some of what I'm saying makes sense to you.

  159. Can we have an honest conversation about race? No. Apparently, only certain viewpoints are open to discussion. But unless we talk about what the excellence we see in professional athletics and the racial disparity it reflects says, we cannot honestly discuss it.

  160. Glad to have an honest discussion about race in the context of sports. But racially twisting an objective and accurate term such as franchise Owner is neither honest nor worthy of discussion.

  161. I for one support ridiculous euphemisms applied on an inconsistent basis only to the nation's 3rd most popular sport. I also think we should do away with the terms "field goal" (also "in and out-fielder" in baseball), "downtown" (is that where you find the other?), "key" (private property = privilege), "official" (sounds Latin) and "foul" (just seems offensive to someone). But then again, I wish I owned a basketball team and could call myself NBA Team Majority Equity Holder on my business card.

  162. @Mmm Unfortunately, some of Mr Streeter's fans will think your brilliant for solving the "owner" dilemma. That is, up until they start thinking about what "equity holder" might imply.

  163. To the dismay of many brick and mortar retailers perhaps Amazon will take note of racially provocative words and phrases by being the first retailer to do away with the term “Black Friday” in marketing for the day after Thanksgiving sale day.

  164. @Mmm Mmm, you missed the most important one: we no longer can have winners, because that implies some players are losers, and that certainly is not a nice thing to call a person. Also, if your wish is fulfilled and you do get to be an NBA Team Majority Equity Holder, would you kindly send me some game passes, because I do not want to support another invidious racial stereotype by having to buy "scalped" tickets.

  165. The world's richest union members do indeed have it tough. These arguments prior to free agency had a few more teeth but they are slightly embarrassing now. Go out and buy a team if you can find a seller. Or start a competing league. The average franchise can probably be had for around $2 Billion. Start squirreling away some of that $20 Million per.

  166. I cry for these obscenely wealthy black basketball players.

  167. I have always considered the "ownership" of professional athletic teams to be the latest incarnation of slavery, i.e ownership control of human beings for commercial purposes. This is particularly true with regard to black athletes. The same is true for white athletes, but given the persistence of blatant and despicable white supremacy on the part of a substantial segment of the population, Donald Trump's so-called "political base" anyone? The fact that professional athletes in "major" team sports in particular are paid massive amounts of money for limited periods in return their being "owned" by the payers is irrelevant. That reflects the economy reality of professional sports, as opposed, for example to the slaves who picked cotton for economic benefit of owners in the south of what became the USA.

  168. @Wendell Murray Ridiculous. They don't want long-term "ownership" they can sign one-year contracts and risk injury and the end to their careers. Ask DeMarcus Cousins about that, would you?

  169. @Wendell Murray Your argument is completely ridiculous. I can confidently say 99 per cent of most Americans would trade places with the right to be employed at 20 million dollars a year. The NBA players are not owned. They entered into a voluntary lucrative contract that most people would kill to have They are free to leave once they fulfil their obligations. Get real.

  170. @Wendell Murray Do you really not understand the difference between slaves who were literally the property of their masters and contracts which are signed voluntarily, have fixed terms and provide guaranteed incomes? Do you think the tears shed on draft nights when players and their families realize their childhood dreams are being shed by people who are simply too stupid to know they've just become slaves?

  171. Chairman literally reminds me of Chairman Mao. Is this where we’re headed now, where the workers own the means of production? Trump wins again.

  172. Many comments have rightly criticized this article' attempt to compare NBA players to slaves . Unlike real slaves,NBA players can leave the NBA without being subject to dogs hunting them down.Too much emphasis in placed on sports and the NBA is an unrealistic goal for most player, the odds are about 3 in 10,00 thousand. And the average NBA career lasts about 5 years see https://www.nba.com/nuggets/features/junior_bridgeman_20100610.html So by the age of 30 most players are out of the NBA and aren't college grads. Playing pro sports are fantasy for most people, but poverty isn't, unless a person has marketable skills.

  173. Major problem with the logic of this essay is history. For a lot of years (way too many) African Americans were kept out of professional basketball, and the teams still had “owners”. Nice effort for trying too tie “owners”, “basketball” and “slavery” together, but you failed in your argument. I might suggest you look at the NCAA if you want to tie sports and slavery (modern day) together.

  174. I hate to say the typical “I’m black” response although you cant see me but honestly I’m black lol. I’m black and i have no problem calling out racism but your post made a lot of sense. Also the NCAA would be the best comparison. Pro sports NO

  175. There were owners of acropolis in Greece. Owners of sheep in the Golan Heights before Jesus was born. Owners of fishing boats in the Bay of Bengal. Owner dates way back. The word does not equate to slavery. Please. This is ridiculous. It depends on what the word "is" means. Besides is MJ now a slave owner now? These men make so much owner they dwarf most owners of businesses in America. Shed a tear.

  176. So please tell, what other business ‘trades’ its employees? GM? Amazon? Facebook? Only recently did professional sports accept players negotiating a ‘No Trade’ clause in their contracts. Pro Sports aren’t normal businesses. Only recently did the owners lose their legal battle to ‘own’ a player’s playing talent(Reserve Clause) for life - or until the team decided to trade them. Pro Athletics is an entertainment business, not a garment manufacturer, with the teams behaving as the Hollywood Studios of the 30s - 50s. Thankfully it is changing.

  177. @Victor Victor, actually many big businesses, especially in the tech world, now force their employees to sign various "non-competition" contracts, greatly restricting their employment opportunities and rights in their own profession. And 99% of those who have to sign such contracts are not earning million dollar salaries as are the N.B.A. players.

  178. I suppose if the players don't like the idea of owners they shouldn't be negotiating contracts with them or taking salaries from them, either.

  179. Really. Players perform according to contracts. They are contractees and the team is the contractor. The equity of the team belongs to the owners. The players are not the property, the team is the property.

  180. Actually, many big businesses, especially in the tech world, now force their employees to sign various "non-competition" contracts, greatly restricting their employment opportunities and rights in their own profession. And 99% of those who have to sign such contracts with owners are not earning million dollar salaries as are the N.B.A. players.

  181. Who owns a team is its owner. Fact is fact. If players on a team don't wish to be thought of as elements of an owned entity, they have every right to exit the relationship, and can do so instantly. That owners are overwhelmingly white men is a direct result of the inequality manifest in the U. S. over the last 400 years. But changing the word used to describe team owners will not rectify that. Leave my language alone. Fix the problem otherwise. Confusion introduced by a sincere desire to be do good is counterproductive.

  182. @George How should we fix the inequality in NBA team ownership that you've pointed out? We attempted to fix it in other areas with affirmative action. Should we be looking for a way to force NBA ownership to reflect more diversity? If so, are we ready to do the same with NBA teams?

  183. LeBron James continues to be the preeminent star and face of the NBA. The league is fortunate to have LeBron who athletically and intellectually is simply the best. He also shows leadership in community involvement and the art of parenting. Some day politics? There is no limit to this man’s talent.

  184. An obvious, and long standing remedy to ownership is to have co-operatives. Think of the possibilties! Promising NCAA seniors could organize as co-operatives, form companies and float IPOs, the better to get richer than any NBA salary could possibly make them. The NBA would be forced to include these new type of player-owned teams in the season schedule, because there would otherwise be no talent available. Talented labor organizers should get to work immediately. Pro basketball could be transformed in a few years. Or we could all just grow up, and recognize that the word 'owner' refers to the business, not the employees.

  185. All this begs the questions ,is the NBA and the game better now? Are rules and organization a thing of the past? Are the participants at all levels responsible in some small way to the consumer and the sources of revenue? Who are those sources and are they sustainable based on the product? Why isn’t the team ownership dynamic changing and wouldn’t the stigmas stay the same?

  186. The racial divide between the owners and players in the NBA is important to notice, but the truth of the matter is a classic class division in all the pro team sports. Why should their be such a thing as a draft? Can you imagine graduating from university and being told that you had been drafted by Microsoft? Can’t work for Apple, IBM, or Dell... Microsoft has your rights for the next five years and there is a cap on how much you can get paid. Oh, and when you do change teams, there will still be restrictions on you. Again, people will say, “but they are so well paid.” But without control of the means of production and freedom to move where they want, the players are just very well paid proletarian workers. Pro sports generates a ludicrous amount of money, no doubt about it. But all that money is generated by the entertainment provided by the players. The teams merely facilitate the delivery of that entertainment.

  187. @Makidadi Unlike recent college grads working for Microsoft or others, NBA players are members of a very strong union. Their work rules, and indeed the league’s rules, are governed by a collective bargaining agreement which the players approve.

  188. @Makidadi Oops... Why should there...I blame autocorrect. Even unionized workers get to choose where they work. My dad was a Teemster, my mum was in the CAW, I am in OSSTF, but we can choose where to work. The leagues have a monopoly. The teams compete, but it's really one business whether it's the NBA, NHL, NFL,...

  189. Let's stop beating around the bush and playing games with semantics like changing the name of "owner" to Chairman" or "Governor". If you want to make change,change the whole structure of the NBA. Instead do away with ownership altogether and make each team a cooperative. Each player has a ownership interest until they retire or leave or violate whatever the cooperative document says. I am advocating this approach, but if the consensus is that the NBA is an outgrowth of slavery, then it demands a radical change not semantical change.

  190. @johnlaw I meant to say " I am not advocating this approach..."

  191. I’ve found it disturbing for years that words like “owner” and “selling players” are used in sports. How dehumanizing, particularly for those players with a family history being bought and sold into slavery. I’m amazed these words weren’t somehow updated a long time ago.

  192. "Selling" players may be jarring to an American sensibility because the term is used across international soccer, not among US pro sports leagues. Players here are "traded," never sold.

  193. How about a look at the NCAA, where athletes work for free for up to four years while generating a billion dollars worth of revenue for the NCAA. Sounds like indentured servitude to me.

  194. Oh for Pete's sake. They make millions of dollars a year. If they don't like the term "owner", then they should find another li e of work.

  195. Comparing some of the most successful athletes in the country, who sometimes get paid as much as $20 million a year or more, to slaves in bondage? Not much of a stretch there, unless of course you are writing a “series” in the Times and you have to prove slavery affects every aspect of current life. Of course there are issues of race in the NBA, but to compare team “governors” (how is this better?) to Plantation “owners” in the South, not even a stretch, just plain silly. In addition, the structure of owners and rules that govern players in Professional Sports have existed since the founding of all of these sports. The most restrictive trade rules were in Major League Baseball, which began 100% White and at its maximum had 15-20% black players, now Asian and Hispanic players make up over 25%. Ice Hockey? They make way less money and there are owners and similar trade rules in their league. Did these rules also exist because of the history of slavery? No, of course that’s ridiculous. They existed and still exist because of the nature of Professional sports. In order for a league to be wildly successful and pay their players millions of dollars, they must have contracts, and players cannot leave and join any team they want whenever they want. That would be chaos and any league that gave all decision making to players would fail rapidly. It is fine to discuss race issues in a league where most players are black but the premise of this article is wrong. It’s ridiculous.

  196. There were slaves. Millions of them. And those who were alive after the Civil War suffered a century of Jim Crow as did their descendants, among them my parents. My parents were in their 50's when they finally acquired their full legal rights as citizens with the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. It is deeply, deeply disrespectful to their memory and to the memories of their parents, their slave grandparents and the tens of millions of others who suffered slavery and what came after to in anyway compare them to modern day athletes. Here are some differences: Slaves were brought here or were born into bondage. Some who had escaped or were born free were kidnapped. Families were separated through sales. Slaves worked for as many years as they were able at any tasks they were given. None of them retired from their chosen professions rich in their thirties, their families financially secure and went on to other well paid pursuits, (like talking about sports on television). Here's one more. I've seen athletes yelled at by their coaches, seen them yell back too. Never seen one whipped. So can we please, out of respect for those who actually suffered, stop trivializing their suffering by writing and publishing things like this?

  197. I would bet that just a few years ago there wasn't a single NBA player who was offended by the word "owner." Then, some academic probably wrote a column about how offensive the word was. It spread like wildfire on social media, and now we have a commissioner who has to spend a good deal of his time addressing an issue that is such a non-issue, it is laughable.

  198. Interesting. I wonder what it says that the professional sports teams in the most racist areas (and with the most racist owners) were the last to integrate (similarly for the integration of college sports teams). Did the last ones set the mould, or did the first ones follow their lead? Or did everything just change?

  199. We could actually use the word "principal" as in principal stock-holder, principal owner, principals on the boards of directors, for example. The idea of trades, however, needs to be ditched. The sports world is a most peculiar mix of agents, free agency, waivers, salary caps, and you got it, "overseers," "owners" and "controlling interests." Arcane language! Wow.....do we speak of teachers and actors with the same weird business-speak? And why do players earn so much? Shouldn't tickets to these sports be affordable to everyone? And what is it that a quarterback does which is so different from a fire chief directing a crew against a massive conflagration? Who earns more money, a firefighter or a football player? A teacher, or a football player/entertainer? Who contributes the greater value to society? What do we, as a people value the most in individuals?

  200. Players earn many millions because the owners of their franchises earn many millions because Americans would rather watch very tall men flip a ball into a hoop than read a book or visit a museum or do anything requiring a modicum of cerebral action.

  201. @ultimateliberal The market determines their salary. It’s quite simple.

  202. @Shamrock And I suppose sports enthusiasts who spend $50-80 per ticket must be simpletons. I just cannot understand why any athlete earns more than $300K per year........particularly when firefighters and teachers (who contribute much more to our society) are earning less than $100K/yr. Does not compute in terms of value to humanity.

  203. For the commenters who say owners own the team and the players should be happy to be paid, without those particular players each teams would be virtually worthless. GO ahead, NBA Owners, replace Lebron, Durant, etc with good college players. Are they still billionaires? Imagine all NBA players simultaneously released from their contracts, then forming the PBA(Player’s Basketball Association), competing with the Owner’s NBA. Now Tell me who draws the bigger audiences, gets better television ratings, and makes more money. NBA players aren’t your average ‘workers’, easily replaced by moving the business offshore. They’re special talents that deserve more of the revenue pie than some random rich white guy who ‘buys’ a team. One day it will happen.

  204. Evaluating how racism and bigotry - lingering results from slavery - have kept African Americans from participation in more traditional avenues like medicine, academia, and business, and thus pushed them into professional sports, would have been a much better, more important read. It would help to dispel the very alive and deeply racist idea that African Americans heavily participate in athletics because they are more physically inclined than others. That idea then perpetuates racism which says African Americans are not as adept at business, academia, and medicine, among others.

  205. "Yet, for all of their success, most of [the players] cannot look at N.B.A. leadership and see their own reflections." As it turns out, neither I nor 99% of Americans can look at the multi-millionaires who own and play in the N.B.A. and see our own reflection. In fact. most of us can't even afford the mirrors they are looking at reflections in. In fact, I doubt that the vast majority of Blacks, who clearly have genuine problems with racism, consider the ownership of N.B.A. teams in their top ten list of problems American Blacks face. I'm a big fan of Draymond Green the ballplayer, and I have absolutely no problem with him saying whatever is on his mind, but the fact that he is a great player, fun to watch, and actually has something to say makes him no more of an authority on racism in America than a homeless Black Viet Nam vet.

  206. The players are handsomely paid and under contract to provide services, like many workers in the public and private sectors. This is not slavery. The "owners" own teams (business entities), not people. If everything is racism, then nothing is. There is such a thing as going too far.

  207. “Each, for long stretches, had been treated as a business asset, a cog in a machine who could be dumped or traded on a whim.”... A statement that applies equally to every employee, ever.

  208. Given the real problems that African Americans face, this article is lightweight. Firstly, the minimum NBA salary for the 2018-2019 is about $800,00 per year. Secondly, the term owner was used in an era when the NBA had mostly white players.Thirdly, the idea that players have achieved "power"because the top player can demand a trade to a preferred location is an illusion. At the new location, the player is still enhancing the value of a team which may be owned by a billionaire like Steve Ballimer of Microsoft (net worth abut $30 billion) African Americans should strive to become owner like Michael Jordan. But ironically, the path to ownership is more difficult for players. since even top player aren't earning enough to buy a team. Finally,Bill Russel was famous for earning $100,00 a year in the late 1960s, now Steph Curry earns $40 million a year. Too bad other African Americans have not seen their salaries like that.

  209. Great, this problem is easily solved. 1. Buy out the existing owners. 2. Call yourself anything you like.

  210. Amazed at how many defensive, obedient people reading this article are thrilled to have "bosses" who decide their personal value, can fire them at any time, and have effective control over much of their lives. If you missed the memo about American capitalism descending from slavery, you have some reading to do on this site. The article is not about the word "owner" - it's about the feeling of being owned and the particular sting of that feeling if your family or likeness has been owned in the recent past.

  211. @Jig No, it is about the word owner. Draymond said exactly that. Even suggested a different word. Ridiculous article.

  212. If I were talented enough to command an NBA salary, I don't think I would quibble with the semantics. Good grief! Get a grip. There is so much more to be concerned with in this day and age.

  213. It’s a business. Not a game.

  214. Great article! This is a long needed discussion.

  215. Some months, maybe years, ago NBA players asked for more diversity in their teams' front offices,i.e., among general managers and other executives, et al. This made sense then and makes sense now, as mainstream U.S.A. admirably strives for diversity. But, then, if the rosters' numbers are 80 percent black, who is asking for diversity among the players?

  216. "Owner" is used for anything from single proprietors to small business to conglomerates that are privately held to sports teams where there is one or a few people who have paid for and finance the entire operation. Sorry, but this is way overblown as if it is unique to only basketball because most of the employees seen by the public happen to be black. These "owners" typically employ many more people in addition to the players but those are the ones who are known by the public. Every professional sport has a players union which typically has considerable power. This is not even remotely close to the same situation faced by slaves and the plantation owners. If I have a farm I own the land and the product produced on the land. I am a land "owner". I may or may not have people who work the land. If I do they they are workers or employees. Unfortunately none of them get the opportunity to be called a "player" which has nothing but positive connotations. Eventually we cannot call anyone or anything a name because there will be someone who is offended by any word or reference. Please tell me this is not the biggest problem that these multi-millionaires have.

  217. @DC You miss the point. "Owner" implies certain rights which have no place in the NBA. I found it weird to watch that short little white guy wrest the championship trophy from Kawhi Leonard's hand when the Raptors won the NBA. Who was responsible for winning the championship? The players or some little white guy heading a billion dollar corporation who allowed his (black) General Manager to do what was best. The little white guy was there only because of the implied rights that the term "owner" gives him. As chairman he gets to represent the company that owns the team of players who won the championship. Good for him - give him some more money.

  218. by contract they also "own" the players unlike other businesses with few exceptions

  219. Contracts to play are traded, not people. Teams are entities engaged in the commercial venture of providing entertainment. Ownership of businesses is the same regardless of function””. It is a fact that ownership of property is also descriptive of the relationship of owner to property. The reminders to slavery as people treated as property is inescapable. Avoiding the words related to it is futile because it pretends that the words somehow give the behavior power. Any human or human organization which owns anything is an owner.

  220. As a non-sports person who happens to also be white, I have always found the term “owner” as it is used in sports to be absurd and racist. In no other business is the sole shareholder referred to as an “owner” in relation to the group of people whom he or she employs; rather, he/she is referred to as the CEO, president, proprietor, founder, or “business owner”. Only in the context of slavery - as in sports - are the [white] people who own the team/business called simply the “owner”, implying ownership of workers. And as other commenters have noted, words do matter. Just because these athletes make a lot of money does not mean they shouldn’t criticize offensive, outdated terminology; they have the right to do so. (And those doing the offending do not have any right whatsoever to tell someone else what they can and cannot be offended by!) So for all the sports fans wearing giant blinders to the historic pain the term “owner” induces, I would like to know how you would feel if your boss announced that the chief executive of your company refers to himself as your “owner”, “trading” you to an office in another city you’ve never heard of, and publicly weighing and measuring you as part of a “draft” (read “auction”) to determine your physical suitability for the job. You would be offended, and if you had enough power in the organization, you would mount opposition to the new regime or you would quit, simple as that...which is exactly what these elite athletes are now doing.

  221. How does this have anything whatsoever to do with slavery? Think of how a CEO owns a company. They don't own the workers, they own the franchise itself. The NBA is one of those franchises. Players have rights and autonomy, far removing them from even barely resembling slaves. Wouldn't this apply to white players as well? They're just as liable to be traded. Football and baseball teams have owners and trades too, and you don't see anyone making a fuss about that, huh? This is such a non-issue.

  222. @Insert Original Pseudonym You are quite confused. CEOs own companies only if they hold majority shares; many don't. To refer to companies as franchises is wildly incorrect, unless that's how they're incorporated. The NBA is not a franchise. Yes, "ownership" refers to players of all races. You forget Colin K. and Eric Reid, Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood, also NFL players standing up on the issue of concussions.

  223. Kurt Streeter's essay connecting the present day NBA to the legacy of slavery is a real stretch. First, Streeter focuses on the 'blackness' of the NBA and franchise 'owners' power over the players as being akin to chattel slavery. He then merely glosses over other professional team sports here in America and Europe, where the same concepts of drafts, trades, etc. apply. All have varying numbers of black players, especially hockey. Second, Streeter lauds the 'wokeness' of black NBA players. As others have commented, when an employee brings unique talents and success leads to becoming a public figure with multimillion dollar compensation, through playing as well as through endorsements, you have a much higher degree of latitude to express your opinions. However, it's a double edge sword as not only the owner Donald Sterling of the LA Clippers found out, but as did Colin Kaepernick and Michael Richards (aka Kramer from "Seinfeld"). Finally, Streeter's 1st paragraph stated about black NBA players: "Its rainbow jump shots, rim-rattling dunks and heart-pounding drama are gleaming monuments to black America. Nearly 80 percent of league players are black. They are multimillionaire superstars, international icons and global purveyors of African-American excellence and culture." Quite a statement. Yet think if it was changed to multimillionaire and billionaire Wall St titans and being mostly white? Wouldn't this paper be decrying it as racist?

  224. Wow, This has taken hypersensitivity to an all-time high. So, the term "owner" is construed to be offensive to the NBA multi-millionaires, who are living their childhood dreams and getting rich in the process. In doing so, they have to play for billionaires who own the teams, paid serious cash to acquire said properties and pay the players ridiculously-high salaries. If these multimillionaires are so offended, perhaps they should invest their vast resources in their own business ventures and quit playing NBA basketball. But wait, then they wouldn't get those high salaries.... #GetAGrip

  225. Uh, these are grown men being paid millions of dollars to throw a ball through a hoop, so, as far as logic is concerned...

  226. I guess when politicians and economists talk about "small business owners" they are being racist and dehumanizing.

  227. I'd be very curious to see what would happen if billionaire Trump funders Stephen Ross and Robert Kraft tried to buy an NBA franchise. Both make money off the bodies of black and brown athletes yet support white supremacists like Trump. NBA players might not want to play for either one.