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Just Don’t Do It

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Kaepernick: Just Don’t Do It

Following Colin Kaepernick’s Urges, Nike is Taking a Pair of Sneakers Off the Shelves

July 4th marks the American independence day. For many, that day means celebrating the country’s 243rd birthday with fireworks, cook outs, and time with friends and family. Covered in various versions of red and white stripes, blue with white stars, or some outrageous combination of the two, the Fourth of July has become a day of fun in the sun, usually with little significance placed on the day in 1776 where 56 men signed what was the beginning of this nation. 

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It should be no surprise that companies have found a way to commercialize the patriotic fervor that surrounds this mid-summer holiday. Athletic wear companies usually roll out a line of red, white, and blue paraphernalia for folks to don. Typically, the “more American” the better. After all, that’s who’s birthday it is, right?

This week, Nike was planning to do the same as it has every year. Red, white, and blue swooshes are already all over major athletic clothing stores, and the SNKRS app has shown for a few weeks now that several red, white, and blue sneakers are set to launch this week. The usage of the flag serves as a reminder that the Fourth of July is not just a day off of work, but a celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

Until Colin Kaepernick, famous for taking a knee, took another stand. 

Kaepernick reached out to Nike executives this week to discuss the Nike Air Max 1, set to release for this week, had the Betsy Ross version of the American flag on the back heel. The flag features the thirteen stripes and thirteen stars, as it did in the 18th century, to represent the original 13 colonies. The flag was the official flag of the United States from 1776 to 1792, the earliest stages of the United States. As Colin Kaepernick pointed out to Nike’s executives, this calls back to times of enslaved people. Further, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out in their coverage, some white supremacist organizations use the flag to harken back to “real” America. 

Nike listened to Kaepernick, and is pulling the shoes off of the shelves. 

Nike has utilized activism in several advertising campaigns, notably their LGBTQ Pride and EQUALITY collections. 

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Additionally, Nike has used Kaepernick as the face of the brand’s 30th anniversary Just Do It campaign. Clearly, the company wants to make their stances clear on issues of social inequality here in the United States. 

Further, Kaepernick has made it clear that even as the face of a corporation as big as Nike, he is not settling on his stances on issues. 
For a brand that constantly tells us all to Just Do It, they’re spending the Fourth of July showing us all that sometimes, the answer is Don’t Do It.

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Basketball

Lavar Declares Lonzo, LaMelo won’t leave BBB

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For the Big Baller Brand, it’s all about family.

However, after the Ball family’s company had been hit with fraud, scandals, and faulty products, New Orleans Pelicans Lonzo Ball and top 2020 NBA Draft prospect LaMelo Ball are considering starting fresh with new endorsement deals.

But according to their father Lavar Ball, his two sons aren’t going anywhere.

In his TMZ interview, the CEO of Big Baller Brand stated, “Lonzo can think all day. He ain’t signing with nobody but Big Baller Brand.”

Recently, Lonzo openly stated he is interested in signing endorsement deals with other brands. Lonzo has also encouraged his brother LaMelo to take meetings with other shoe brands before signing a shoe deal.

Lonzo has appeared to be at odds with Lavar all offseason. After Big Baller Brand Co-Founder Alan Foster allegedly stole $1.5 million from the company, Lonzo became wary of the company’s value. In response, Lavar claimed Lonzo is “damaged goods” on their hit reality TV show Ball in the Family.

Lonzo has also gone on record to bash the quality of BBB’s products, claiming he “had to switch [his shoes] every quarter because they would just rip.”

Lavar also said LaMelo would stay with the brand as well, even though he has not worn any BBB shoes while playing in the NBL in Australia. Nike has reportedly scouted LaMelo for a potential endorsement deal with the Oregon-based company.

With the Big Baller Brand facing so much turmoil, Lavar’s fatherly commands may not be enough to keep his sons with the family brand.

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Basketball

Snoop Dogg Unapologetic in Kansas Concert Scandal

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On October 4th, legendary rapper Snoop Dogg performed at Kansas’ Late Night at the Phog, a kickoff event for their Men and Women’s basketball teams. However, his concert did not come without backlash.

In front of what was supposed to be a family-friendly audience, Snoop Dogg cut no profanity from his lyrics, brought out a woman on a stripper pole, and shot fake $100 bills into the crowd with a money gun.

Naturally, the university was less than pleased with the concert. Kansas athletics director Jeff Long claimed they “expected a clean version of the show” after discussions with Snoop Dogg’s management before the performance. Long extended a “personal apology to those of were offended.”

Kansas Men’s basketball head coach Bill Self also voiced his displeasure with Snoop Dogg’s performance.

However, Snoop Dogg claimed he had “the time on his life” on ‘The Howard Stern Show’ Tuesday, and is anything but apologetic.

Snoop Dogg went on to say that the crowd loved the show, and the university should know better, as “When you pay for Snoop Dogg, you’re going to get Snoop Dogg.” Snoop also denied the report that he was forced to leave campus immediately after the show.

Meanwhile, raunchy concert only distracts from the real controversy Kansas athletics is facing. Recently, the university was charged with five Level I and two Level II violations from the NCAA, including “Lack of institutional control.” The allegations targets both the Football and Men’s basketball programs.

While Kansas has good reason to be upset over Snoop Dogg’s performance, the university should worry more about cleaning up their athletics than censoring their performers.

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Basketball

Daryl Morey’s Tweet Leads to Complex Issues between NBA and China

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If you’re creating a Venn Diagram of people who know and understand international political tensions in southeast Asia and people who understand the NBA at the level of a high achieving NBA general manager, your graphic organizer may end up looking like a pair of owl eyes. That has not stopped many NBA talking heads from going full discussion into the weekend that the Houston Rockets, and in turn the NBA, have had.

To begin to understand the connection between China, the NBA, and the Houston Rockets we need to go back almost two decades to the 2002 NBA Draft. With the number one overall pick, the Houston Rockets selected the 7’6” Yao Ming. Ming’s participation in the NBA required special exemptions from regulations in China, and part of his release to the NBA was predicated on him being the number one overall pick. Ming was the fourth international player drafted number one overall, and the first ever international number one pick that had never played American college basketball (Mychal Thompson, number one overall pick in 1978, was born in the Bahamas but played high school and college basketball in the States, Hakeem Olajuwon played in Nigeria before coming to the University of Houston, and Michael Olowakandi played at the University of the Pacific).

Fast forward to 2019… Fast forward through the hall of fame career of Yao Ming. Fast forward through the growth of the NBA’s Chinese relationship, the six other NBA players drafted since Yao, the annual Chinese New Year celebrations across the NBA, the preseason games playing in Beijing and Shanghai, the scheduled G-League games in southeast Asia… Fast forward to the beginning of October of 2019, while those same Houston Rockets are in Tokyo, spreading the league’s influence while playing preseason games across the Yellow and East China Seas.

While undoubtedly, and understandably, jet lagged and scrolling through Twitter, Rockets GM Daryl Morey saw a social issue worth making statement about.

***

In the spring of 2006 the Houston Rockets, as well as most professional sports franchises, were caught up in the idea of Moneyball. Michael Lewis’ 2003 novel was changing how executives saw building teams. The analytics wave was in its earliest stages, and across the country statisticians were finding their way higher and higher in managing professional sports. Morey was at the forefront of that movement in basketball, and was one of the first openly explicitly analytics driven general managers signed to an NBA team.

Morey has always been at the forefront of data driven basketball, and has navigated his time in Houston accordingly. His biggest move came in 2012. Letting Tracy McGrady walk, and watching Yao Ming’s body break down, left the Rockets in a rebuild. Morey, in the 2012 off season, traded several key “rebuild” players for the reigning 6th Man of the Year James Harden.

James Harden has gone on to finish top two in MVP voting in four of the last five years, in large part, due to the way he embraces “Moreyball.” Finding ways to maximize efficiency, Harden and the team Morey has put around him continue to push the limits of analytic basketball. Critics ridicule Morey’s Rockets for their commitment to threes, dunks, and free throws… but the results continue to have the Rockets in the top tier of the NBA. Harden has become one of the NBA’s most recognizable superstars, both from his playing style and his facial hair.

That style, while it is polarizing in the United States, has continued to make the Houston Rockets a key draw internationally. Houston Rockets players have, since the drafting of Yao, continued to carry endorsement deals worldwide as guys that played with Yao, or as guys that played for the same franchise. Harden himself led an Adidas basketball tour across China this summer, featuring crowds of kids wearing fake beards and red uniforms. The NBA, logically, has become the most televised professional sports league in China. Chinese basketball leagues regularly seek out older NBA players, most famously Stephen Marbury, to play and bring familiar NBA faces to across the Pacific. The Shanghai Sharks, whom Yao Ming has ownership shares of, came through the United States on a preseason tour just last week.

And, with a mere tweet, it seems this entire relationship, nearly two decades in growth, is defunct.

On October 4th, Morey issued a tweet that supported protests in Hong Kong. “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Morey deleted the tweet within hours, but the damage may have been done.

The Chinese Basketball Association, and their president Yao Ming, has already suspended relationships with the Houston Rockets. Chinese sportswear brand Li-Ning and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank have also cut ties with the Houston Rockets, and Tencent (a television streaming company) declared they would not air Rockets games.

Now, the NBA’s most popular franchise internationally and its biggest overseas market have officially cut ties over Morey’s single tweet.

Tilman Fertitta, owner of the Houston Rockets for just over two years, has since publicly stated that Morey does not speak for his organization, and the thoughts were his own. Mike Bass, the NBA’s chief communications officer, has also called Morey’s statements both “regrettable” and “not representative” of the league as a whole.

Since deleting the tweet, Morey himself has issued an apology on Twitter. Fertitta, who calls Morey the “best general manager in the NBA,” has claimed that since the public apology, everything between the two are fine.

But what is concerning to NBA fans, stateside, is the backlash Morey received. It has been reported both that the Houston Rockets have debated and not debated letting Daryl Morey go for the commentary, and the sheer thought of letting him go for his political opinions have shaken up much of #NBATwitter.

Political candidates, ranging from obscure senate racers to Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, have commented on the NBA’s actions.

The NBA choosing it’s “pocketbook over its principles,” as Warren put it, makes it far from the first American professional sports league to make its capitalist motives clear. While it feels expected from a business as big as the NBA, it has been a brutal reminder that the same league that is at the forefront of social issues in the United States is still a business. Hurting relationships with its partners is frowned upon, if not more serious.

The NBA, and Fertitta, are left in a tough disciplinary spot. Because of the quick and intense response from the league’s Chinese business partners, the NBA may feel the need to punish Morey or the Rockets as a way to save face.

But where would that bended knee put them with their American fans?

In a time of political turmoil stateside, all sides of the political spectrum have agreed China banning the Houston Rockets puts them in the wrong. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Texas Congressman and Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, and the aforementioned Warren span the gamut of political ideology. Each has managed to be unified on this issue: Morey was not in the wrong for vocally supporting the Hong Kong protests, and Chinese businesses cutting ties with the NBA have been in the wrong. On an issue that has oddly united so many American political ideologies, can the NBA really go the other direction?

We have praised Adam Silver’s NBA as the league that supports the individual voice since he came into the league and was immediately hit in the face with the Donald Sterling controversy. In an incredibly tough moment, less than two months into his official tenure, Silver came face to face with one of the ugliest moments in the history of the NBA. His response was simple: that racism wouldn’t be tolerated, and Sterling had to sell his team or be banned from the league.

When the complexities of his current dilemma are completely unpacked, denouncing racism seems like the far simpler task. Now, in a league Silver has been intentionally growing in Asia, Silver is stuck between the American NBA supporter and the region his commissionership has been focused on.

Where the commissioner has been unclear, China itself has been clear in its response. In translating the American response into Mandarin, the translations have consistently emphasized an apologetic tone that feels absent in the original:

Further, Harden, who was the face of the aforementioned Adidas tour of southeast Asia, has already apologized for his team:

This all complicates a very clouded issue. Some parts of the NBA, even the Rockets’ own superstar, have apologized… So does that make it clear Morey was in the wrong, and the NBA should act? Or, does it prove that the NBA can move past it? Does it come down to the dollars and cents of the issue?

The truth is, the vast majority of this only scratches the surface of the intricacies  of growing an American professional sports league in China. There are many, many more layers to unpack (for instance, how did Daryl Morey’s tweet cause a disruption in a country that doesn’t allow Twitter?), but for those following at home, just who can do all of the unpacking? Again, the Venn Diagram circles of people who can confidently talk on the politics of southeast Asia and NBA general managing don’t overlap.

As they seem bound to collide shortly, are they going to overlap like a traditional Venn Diagram? Or bounce off of one another, heading back in their respective directions?

And if Chinese NBA Hall of Famer and Chinese Basketball President Yao Ming are there for to catch the rebound of that sphere on that side of the Pacific, are we confident we can secure the rebound on this side?

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