An open letter from a Chinese NBA fan
Dear NBA commissioner David Stern, and Ira Newble of the Los Angeles Lakers:
As a long time fan of NBA basketball, I can tell you unabashedly: I love this game. I have followed the league since Michael Jordon’s first MVP season in 1988, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching NBA basketball in person in nine different arenas from coast to coast.
Many of my fellow Chinese have also become devoted NBA fans. We appreciate the warm welcome that the league has shown each of our national heroes (Wang Zhizhi, Yao Ming, Mengke Bateer, and Yi Jianlian) as they proudly put on their NBA team jerseys and marched out onto the court. We have also come to love, respect, and root for the talented players from around the world competing at this highest of levels. The NBA has become the world’s game. Regardless of language, time zone, religious affiliation, and political leaning, people from around the planet marvel at another Lebron James 360, another Kobe Bryant step-back three, and another Tim Duncan facial.
The game of basketball is simple and clear. Regardless of where it’s played, the basket is exactly 10 feet high, and the court is exactly 94 feet long. Even if we don’t always agree with the referees interpretation of the action, we understand that there are fouls. And this simplicity is what unites teenagers playing on the blacktop in Shenzhen with teenagers playing in a Spanish gym.
However, I believe this simplicity is being threatened. I am both saddened and worried that your off-the-court actions might be endangering the future of this game.
Over the past year, the media has been filled with reports of Mr. Newble’s activism on behalf of Darfur, and commissioner Stern’s implied support for such activism. No one can find fault with those who work on behalf of the refugees of Darfur. But perhaps what Mr. Newble perhaps doesn’t realize is that a potentially compassionate campaign has been turned into a political agenda that not all of us agree with.
I am not a politician, and I will not try to convince Mr. Newble here that his agenda is wrong or misguided. In fact, as a citizen of America (and of the world), Mr. Newble has the right to make his articulate opinion heard. I note that Mr. Newble has also publicly asked American presidential candidates for their opinions on Darfur, and that’s an admirable act on his part.
But I will ask, as a fan of the game of basketball, does political debate really belong around professional basketball? Unlike the game of basketball, the rules for international politics and intervention is neither simple nor clear. The world can agree that a shot from behind the line is worth 3-pts; we can’t all agree that economic sanctions are the best way of solving a humanitarian crisis. Many of us passionately disagree.
So, does it make sense for athletes to use their basketball fame to push forward such a divisive political agenda? If the Beijing Olympics are an appropriate venue for petitioning the Chinese government on a political issue, then are the NBA Finals also an appropriate venue for petitioning the American government on political issues? Should Ira Newble and the Olympians on this year’s US Dream Team be using their constant presence on national TV to speak out on the other key issues of our times?
For example, Mr. Newble, are you aware of the tremendous suffering of the Iraqi people? Or the continued poverty in inner-city communities? How do you feel about a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage? What is your stance on abortion rights? As a personal of intelligence and conscience, I can imagine you have a clear opinion on many of the above issues as well. But when will you rally your teammates and use the media spotlight granted you to make your stance clear?
Commissioner Stern, you have said that it’s “great” your players are involving them in such issues. Will you make your position more clear? Do you believe that players should also use the NBA playoffs as a platform for making political demands of the American government? Perhaps with a banner, or a well-timed shout just as the Star Spangled Banner hits those high notes before its glorious finish?
And if all of the above comes to pass, what will the NBA become? Will we see more players painted by the media as a political enemy, just because they (like Lebron James) prefer to stay silent on political issues? Will the NBA still be an entertaining game in which the world can be united? Or will it become yet another relic, destroyed by the political issues that divide us?
I love this game, but I do not love the politics that divide man. Please don’t mix these two items together.
– Tang Buxi
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