While the NBA’s community of Black players, coaches, executives, employees and fans can consider it a victory — or at least a step in the right direction — that the league decided Tuesday to hand racist L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling a lifetime ban and may also force him to sell the team, Larry Johnson is looking at the national scandal from a different perspective.
Johnson, the No. 1 pick in the 1991 NBA draft who starred for the Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks and converted to Islam during his career, wrote on Twitter that the Black community is “focusing on the wrong thing” in regard to Sterling and should be focused on having “our own, own team own league.” Johnson currently works for the Knicks in a front-office role.
Speaking out on the NBA’s racial dynamic is not new to Johnson. During the 1999 NBA Finals, while his Knicks were playing the San Antonio Spurs, Johnson said, “We’ve got a lot of rebellious slaves on this team.” Asked by a reporter to clarify, he said, “I’ve got to explain that to you? We don’t go with the mainstream.”
The idea of an all-Black basketball league isn’t unrealistic. The manpower and the money is certainly there to make it happen. There wouldn’t be a problem finding potential owners, players and personnel. Sponsorship would be a hurdle depending on how high expectations are set. But of course financially it will be almost impossible for any new basketball league to compete with the juggernaut that is the NBA, barring a mass exodus of the NBA’s top talent. The all-Black league Johnson envisions could be an alternative to the NBA, but like any niche attraction (e.g. the WNBA), it won’t be replacing the establishment.
More importantly, I don’t think enough people (including Black people) think it’s necessary to create an all-Black basketball league. This isn’t Major League Baseball pre-Jackie Robinson, where Blacks are being kept out of the game and the Negro League had to be created. Despite the presence of men like Sterling — and I doubt Sterling is the only racist NBA team owner; he’s just the one who got caught — the league has done an admirable job promoting and practicing diversity.