U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA)
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WNBA players call for ouster of Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Georgia senator

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NBA players showed their power by getting Donald Sterling removed as Clippers owner.

WNBA players might be having a similar moment with Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia.

Sterling committed incredibly harmful racist and sexist acts for years. Ironically, something far more benign – telling his girlfriend not to post pictures with black people or bring them to games – did him in. But he went too far in a time of growing sensitivity to speech.

Now, there’s even less tolerance for people saying the “wrong” thing. And Loeffler has said things lately that range from disagreeable to offensive.

The WNBA announced its plans for promoting social justice during its upcoming season:

The WNBA will begin its season in late July with a weekend of competition centered around the Black Lives Matter movement, during which teams will wear special uniforms to seek justice for the women and girls, including Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Vanessa Guillen and many more who have been the forgotten victims of police brutality and racial violence. Throughout the season, players will wear NIKE-branded warm-up shirts that display “Black Lives Matter” on the front.   Additionally, “Say Her Name” will adorn the back of the shirts.  “Black Lives Matter” will also be prominently displayed on courts during games.

In response, Kelly Loeffler wrote a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. A portion of that letter, via Greg Bluestein and Bria Felicien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

All of us have a constitutional right to hold and to express our views. But to subscribe to a particular political agenda undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion.

The truth is, we need less—not more politics in sports. In a time when polarizing politics is as divisive as ever, sports has the power to be a unifying antidote. And now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports.

The lives of each and every African American matter, and there’s no debating the fact that there is no place for racism in our country. However, I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement, which has advocated for the defunding of police, called for the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure, harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country. I believe it is totally misaligned with the values and goals of the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream, where we support tolerance and inclusion.

Amid the recent unrest in many American cities, this movement advocated the creation of lawless autonomous zones in places like Atlanta. I denounced these zones of violence—for which I have been criticized. However, this same group fell silent over the fourth of July weekend when an 8-year-old girl was murdered under the “mob rule” that I warned about days earlier. This is not a political movement that the league should be embracing, and I emphatically oppose it.

Though I was not consulted about—nor do I agree with the League’s decision in this matter, I am proposing a common-sense recommendation to ensure we reflect the values of freedom and equality for all. I believe we should put an American flag on every jersey. Include it in our licensed apparel for players, coaches and fans.

Women’s National Basketball Players Association:

WNBA:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:

“The WNBA is based on the principle of equal and fair treatment of all people and we, along with the teams and players, will continue to use our platforms to vigorously advocate for social justice.  Sen. Kelly Loeffler has not served as a Governor of the Atlanta Dream since October 2019 and is no longer involved in the day-to-day business of the team.”

That is a strong statement from the union. Several players previously criticized Loeffler, especially in the wake of a recent interview.

She was asked, “It is not every day you see people carrying long guns in big cities in America. What is happening on the streets of Atlanta this morning?” While Fox News showed armed black men, Loeffler said, “This is totally unacceptable. We cannot allow mob rule. We’re a nation of the rule of law.”

If Loeffler – a self-avowed Second Amendment advocate – were specifically denouncing legal gun carrying because the carriers were black, that’s racist, hypocritical and completely unacceptable. But it’s unclear whether Loeffler could see the images and videos as she answered. It’s also unclear whether she was answering more generally about everything happening in Atlanta.

Regardless, backlash spread.

Renee Montgomery of the Atlanta Dream:

Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm:

Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Washington Mystics:

Natasha Cloud of the Phoenix Mercury:

Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty:

Sydney Colson of the Chicago Sky:

There is room for legitimate debate on the issues raised in the tweets and articles they link, including gun control, abortion and the best tactics for fighting racism. Loeffler shouldn’t be forced out simply because she disagrees with some vocal players. (I suspect, in a league as large and diverse as the WNBA, some players agree with her on some of these issues.)

But Loeffler’s letter to Engelbert is particularly off-putting.

Disagreeing with some elements of the Black Lives Matter organization would be one thing. But condemning the Black Lives Matter political movement is something else. Within that movement, there are disagreements on methods and goals. The unifying thread: Believing black lives matter. That’s why Black Lives Matter, despite some extreme views, holds such mass appeal.

It’s also gross for Loeffler to use a false claim about Secoriea Turner to fit her agenda. Protesters have decried the girl’s killing.

The players who are using their platforms to promote racial justice deserve praise. Their plan is good for the WNBA. It’s good for the United the States.

The truth is there has always been politics in sports. White people can more easily ignore it, but that’s their privilege. The many black players in the WNBA still live in a country with systematic racism. Their humanity doesn’t end when they show up to work, and they shouldn’t be told to be quiet and just wear an American flag on their jerseys.

It’s telling that Loeffler’s solution to politics in sports is to put a political symbol on jerseys.

She doesn’t want politics out of sports. She wants politics she disagrees with out of sports.

Now, the WNBA will determine whether it wants her out of its sport.

 

NBA to name All-Seeding Games Teams, Player of the Seeding Games

Pacers forward T.J. Warren and Suns guard Devin Booker
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The NBA already held voting for its main awards, retroactively ending the regular season March 11 and defining the eight games for each of the 22 teams continuing at Disney World as “seeding games.”

So, the league found a new way to honor standout players from this portion of the season.

NBA release:

The NBA announced today that it will name the … NBA All-Seeding Games Team and the … NBA Player of the Seeding Games to honor top performers for games played July 30 – Aug. 14 during the 2019-20 season restart at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

A panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who have been on site covering the season restart will select the … NBA All-Seeding Games Team and the … NBA Player of the Seeding Games.  The media panel will vote for five players for the All-Seeding Games First Team and five players for the All-Seeding Games Second Team, choosing a total of 10 players at any position from either conference.

The … NBA All-Seeding Games Team and the …. NBA Player of the Seeding Games will be announced Saturday, Aug. 15 before Game 1 of the Western Conference Play-In, which tips off at 2:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Is it silly to to give awards for such a small sample of what effectively amount to regular-season games? Yes.

Is it also fun? Heck yes.

My early picks:

Player of the Seeding Games

All-Seeding Games First Team

All-Seeding Games Second Team

Kyle Kuzma: ‘Jesus could be in front of me, and I’d probably still shoot’

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Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma hit a game-winner over the Nuggets’ Bol Bol, who’s 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-7 wingspan.

Bill Oram of The Athletic:

Kuzma has overcome so much to reach this point. Of course, he’s confident.

Would Kuzma start on some teams that don’t have LeBron James and Anthony Davis at forward? Yes. Most teams? That’s a stretch.

Regardless, Kuzma doesn’t want to find out what his role would be on a lower-profile team. And the Lakers are happy to have him, too.

LeBron, via Oram:

“In order for us to win a championship, he has to be our third-best player,” James said. “And if I’m struggling or A.D.’s struggling, he has to be our second-best player on any given night. We can’t win a championship if Kuz doesn’t play well.”

It’d work well if Danny Green is the Lakers’ third-best player. His perimeter defense and spot-up 3-point shooting complement stars like LeBron and Davis.

Kuzma creates his own shots in a way Green can’t, and Kuzma’s size makes him an effective defender at times. But he doesn’t mesh quite as neatly with stars. Kuzma can better provide a boost when LeBron or Davis is having an off night. There’s value in that. But how often will the Lakers want to have the ball in Kuzma’s hands rather than LeBron’s or Davis’ – even as much as Kuzma believes in himself?

Donald Trump: NBA ‘in big trouble, bigger trouble than they understand’

President Donald Trump
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In an interview on Fox Sports Radio, President Donald Trump played all his greatest hits on the NBA – teams kneeling for the national anthem, the league’s involvement in China.

Trump on NBA teams kneeling for the national anthem:

I think it’s been horrible for basketball. Look at the basketball ratings. They’re down. They’re down to very low numbers – very, very low. People are angry about it. They don’t realize. They don’t want – they have enough politics with guys like me. They don’t need more as they’re driving down, going up for the shot. They don’t need it. And there was a nastiness about the NBA, the way it was done too. So I think that they –   the NBA is in trouble. I think it’s in big trouble, bigger trouble than they understand.

And frankly, ice hockey which is doing very well, they didn’t do that. They respected the mores. They respected what they’re supposed to be doing. And they’re actually doing very well, as I understand it.

You have to stand for your flag, and you have to respect your flag and your country. You’re making millions of dollars a year to be playing a sport you’d be playing anyway if you didn’t make – they’d be playing it on the weekends. And they have to respect their country.

Kneeling during the national anthem is a patriotic gesture that calls attention to serious problems plaguing our country – racism, particularly through police brutality. The United States would become an even better country by addressing those issues.

In a United States that values freedom, the president should not be saying “you have to stand for your flag.” That runs toward authoritarianism.

NBA ratings are down because [insert a reason that fits your agenda here]. It’s a complicated situation with numerous factors.

Are some people turned off by the NBA’s increasingly visible political actions? Yes. Would some people lose interest in the NBA if the league shut down players and coaches who kneeled during the national anthem and spoke about the most important issues confronting the country? Yes.

NHL players did kneel during the national anthem. Not like the mass demonstrations by NBA teams. But some NHL players have kneeled.

Yet, Trump and many of his followers give more credence to some protesters than to others.

Which gets to China.

Trump on NBA players and coaches criticizing him:

I haven’t noticed them sending things back at me but I will say that I wouldn’t be that surprised. Some are very nasty – very, very nasty – and frankly, very dumb. But I haven’t noticed that. But I will say this: The way they cater to China, the way they bow to China, it’s a disgrace frankly. And they make a lot more money here than they do from China. But we have a system that allows you to disrespect your system, and that’s too bad for them. Too bad for them. They don’t appreciate what they have here.

The NBA has been complicit in abuses in China. It is disgraceful. The way otherwise-outspoken NBA people have been silent on China and Hong Kong – given the financial incentives – has been suspect.

But the NBA is far from the only American entity with business interests entangled in China. The league shouldn’t become a punching bag that distracts from a far wider issue.

The next two questions Trump faced in the interview practically begged him to denounce China for reducing freedom in Hong Kong. He did not.

Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell Tweets he’s back inside NBA bubble

Clippers big Montrezl Harrell
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The Clippers, who have coasted to a 3-3 record at the restart, are about to get a burst of energy off the bench.

Montrezl Harrell is back in the bubble. He Tweeted this out Monday:

Harrell was granted leave from the bubble to help take care of his grandmother — who he was very close to — when she fell ill. She eventually died, and Harrell poured out his emotions on social media for fans. The Clippers told Harrell to take as much time as he needed before coming back.

Harrell is back now, and if he tested negative the last seven days outside he bubble he will be in quarantine on the Walt Disney World Resort property for four days, then he can rejoin his team — possibly for Friday’s seeding game against Oklahoma City, but certainly in time for the playoffs.

Harrell is a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate who averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game for the Clippers this season. More than the numbers, he brought an improved defense and relentless energy off the bench that lifted the Clippers nightly. The Harrell/Lou Williams pick-and-roll remains one of the smoothest and most dangerous in the league.

Harrell also gives Doc Rivers a lot of versatility and options on how to close games — the Clippers can go big, go small, and do either well. It’s that versatility that makes them a dangerous playoff team.

The Clippers needed Harrell back to unleash all of it, and now he is there and ready to go.