Woop!-woop! That’s the sound of da (NBA picture) police.
The NBA’s latest attempt to make its seemingly black league more palatable to a mainstream audience is to crack down on swearing. Of course there must be limits to what players say, even beyond the obvious to avoid insults – I’m not explaining why black people who use the N-word on court don’t qualify. If you don’t get it, pick your ostrich neck out of the sand.
Players should not frustrate referees or children, or berate reporters in press conferences for asking difficult but respectful questions. But aside from those situations, this is 2022 and the NBA is a product mostly consumed on cable TV and social media. Bob Costas feels that LeBron James not Coming along with the level of class that Michael Jordan had due to frequent use of language that wouldn’t have met NBA standards for NBC broadcasts shouldn’t be the sensibility the NBA rules by, but here we are.
The latest from Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated story follows the NBA, which is cracking down on profanity this season by handing out the most fines it has ever issued for the offense since the data became available in 2003 — around $95,000.
“We have to get better,” Byron Spurell, NBA president of league operations, told SI. “This is about league standards and making sure we have the right appearance and behavior for our game, on and off the pitch.”
This is a new age. Charles Barkely’s “I am not a role model” commercial is no longer polarizing. Personalities have always sold this league, but players don’t have to smile as broadly as Brent Musburger Magic Johnson once described when he said he “lights up a TV screen from here to Bangor, Maine.”
League fans like me have been cultured through the NBA Home Video and NBC era. The high points weren’t a click away in 1993. So to watch your favorites, you had to rewind and play your favorite parts of your NBA Jam Session videotape so many times it almost caught fire. Then, on Saturday morning, access outside the space we had to the players was turned on NBA Inside Stuff where we’ve seen Michael Jordan in his backyard or David Robinson playing the piano. Yes David Stern, your evil plan worked and you lured this kid and many others into your league, rest in peace.
Forget that young people today have never seen a videotape, they don’t even know the concept of schedule television. Today they play video games with players and get notifications when they post a new Instagram story. They follow beefs on Twitter and laugh while shaking their heads at Giannis Antetokounmpos dad is joking on tik tok. The “Hulu Has Live Sports” ad is okay, but that’s not why the NBA is there #1 trending Google search in 2021. Fans connect with NBA players like they know them. You can assign names and, perhaps more importantly, voices to faces. How many people know what Debbo Samuel sounds like, yet Tyler Herro is the title of a song by Jack Harlow.
Players are not just jersey numbers and names, we experience them as full human beings more than any other sport. And guess what, people curse. Not all, but certainly some.
That doesn’t mean press conferences should be turned into dirty nightclub routines or players should act like The Rock when interviewed on the court and call the Madison Square Garden crowd 18,000 pieces of trash or worse, but the emotions and Feelings should always be expressed. That’s part of what helps create conflicts that create stories and more interesting games. How will the young “We’re not dodging the smoke, we’re running down the chimney” Memphis Grizzlies react to Draymond Green and his open mouth? How will the Philadelphia 76ers deal with grouchy Jimmy Butler?
Don’t penalize them for knocking out the FedExForum crowd or for lightly bumping into the pool after watching a teammate make a big play. It’s entertainment, let it be entertaining. In Beck’s story, Demarcus Cousins was even warned about the offensive language he used in a story on Andscape, and while nothing is set in stone, league officials told Beck they don’t mind blaming players for their offensiveness in their Podcasts punish the future.
I understand it’s a new world and it’s kind of weird that people can swear freely on the internet and it’s easily accessible. Decades ago, it was a little easier to ban kids from bringing parental advice music and R-rated movies into the home, but how can parents stop a kid from using profanity over something meant to be “family-friendly” like sports.
Millennial and Gen X parents, you haven’t been shielded either. Your friends cursed, some of their parents did too. You watched and listened to what you wanted, you just didn’t watch or listen to that material in front of your parents. It was a lost battle. How parents handle swearing is up to them, not the NBA. His job is to make your product as fun as possible, and if that includes Kevin Durant and Green swearing on podcasts and Twitter, leave them alone.
The feeling of a real human connection with these players is the NBA’s only real advantage over the other major American sports. The best way to stay competitive and ahead of most is to really lean in. The more fans develop a real relationship with the league, the more likely they are to stay. Ahmad Rashad and videotapes did it for my generation, and now athletes are doing it themselves. Don’t stomp it out of the NBA because it’s a little blue, let it grow because the people who follow and like those swear words, are your future season ticket buyers.