Tonight is gonna be another one of those nights. I’m supposed to write about 2010’s “Everybody Loves Me,” an upbeat, almost comical song that feels more at home on an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba than it does on a Prince album. I can see Muno and DJ Lance Rock dancing to it. Yet, the Prince song that’s weighing heavily on my brain tonight – and too many nights recently – is “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night.”
I love the NBA. I have since I was a kid. My team is the Milwaukee Bucks. Sure, I flirted with the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1990’s when The Reign Man was relentlessly attacking NBA rims and The Glove was throwing lob passes and talking shit to everyone who wasn’t wearing Sonics colors. The Bucks are Wisconsin, though. I was there in Game 6 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals when Ray Allen shot AI and that miserable Sixers team out of the Bradley Center. I shared season tickets with my sister, brother-in-law, and friends during the bleak post-Ray years when the highlight of the Bucks season was wondering if Desmond Mason would be in the dunk contest. I waited 18 long years for them to win a playoff series and had my heart broken when they lost four in a row to the Toronto Raptors in the EC Finals last year. This year looked like it’d be the year that I’d fulfill a lifelong dream and attend an NBA Finals game in Milwaukee. Then Covid hit.
In my mind, the moment the NBA pulled the players off the court in that Utah/OKC game in March and announced that Rudy Gobert had tested positive for Coronavirus was when everything changed. Not just in the NBA. In America. The NBA stopped operations. It started a domino effect. The NBA took action that our government didn’t have the courage to, and I believe their action saved countless lives.
The NBA started playing their bubble games again a few weeks ago. It’s nice to see them back, but I’ve been kind of bitter about it. As a Bucks fan, I keep saying this is a lose-lose. If they don’t win the title, people will say they blew it. We’ll have to listen to more talk about Giannis leaving, something that I’d find devastating as a sports fan. If they win the title, it’ll have a fat asterisk next to it. They’ll always be the bubble champions. They won’t have a title parade or any of the other fun that comes with being the fan of a champion. Believe me, I’ll take it, but it won’t be the same.
For some reason the NBA has relegated the Bucks to the weekday afternoon game throughout this first round playoff series. I haven’t been able to watch because I’m working. The funny thing about the NBA continuing to bury Bucks games early in the afternoon is that they gave them the opportunity to change history. I expected the Bucks to defeat the Orlando Magic today and advance to the second round of the playoffs for the second year in a row. That’s something I couldn’t fathom even 2-3 years ago, yet doesn’t have the same excitement in our current state.
Instead, the Bucks made me more proud to be a fan than any title ever could.
I got a notification on my phone that the Bucks were refusing to take the court for Game 5. They were sitting out today’s game as a protest over the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. The Bucks were in their locker room and weren’t coming out. I scrambled to get in front of a TV and started furiously refreshing Twitter. I spent the next few hours glued to Fox Sports Wisconsin, TNT, and NBATV. Games were postponed. Doc Rivers, Chris Webber, and Kenny Smith spoke more eloquently about the state of race in America than any politician or public figure. Specifically, C Webb really shook me up. Seeing one of the great power forwards who ever played the game and one of the most influential figures in basketball culture from my youth reduced to tears talking about his frustration was moving.
I’ve heard two arguments against this already and let’s squash them right now. First: What do these guys have to complain about? They’re rich. The system in America that they’re protesting is the same one that allowed them to get rich. They should shut up and dribble. First, if you’ve ever said “shut up and dribble” I say “fuck you” from the bottom of my heart and I sincerely mean it, Laura Ingraham. NBA players are good enough to entertain us on a basketball court but their opinions don’t matter? This coming from people who give a microphone to D-list clowns like Ted Nugent and Scott Baio? People like C Webb, the Bucks, LeBron James, and Colin Kaepernick do this not only because they’ve certainly all been victims of racism, racial profiling, systemic racism – you name it – for their entire lives. They also do this because they have empathy for others who are not as fortunate as they are, and that’s a quality that we could all use more of. They can’t bring themselves to play a game during this injustice. They’re so frustrated they can’t focus. I can relate to that feeling and I salute them for it. They know they have a platform to make change happen and they chose to use it.
This leads me to the second thing I’ve heard today: What’s the point? They’re not actually going to change anything. First off, there’s always a point. They’ve already drawn attention to Jacob Blake, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. Now where they can truly make change is by doing something no athletes have done yet. Hitting old white men where it hurts them: in their wallets. Kaepernick tried and they killed his career. If the NBA players all stand up and say they won’t play anymore until there’s real systemic change, suddenly people need to pay attention. If hundreds of NBA players are willing to possibly throw away a season, their careers, or an entire league, they will make something happen. I was truly filled with pride today knowing that my Milwaukee Bucks had a hand in starting this protest and demanding change. They were in their locker room speaking to the Wisconsin Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor asking how they could help get legislation passed to put law enforcement in check. This wasn’t a publicity stunt. They’re making a difference. If the Milwaukee Bucks can help bring systemic change to my state, they’re accomplishing something far more important than a championship. I’m so proud of my team tonight.
This brings me to my final point: The NBA has somehow become our nation’s conscience. Why did the NBA have to shut down their league for people to start taking Coronavirus seriously? Why is Chris Webber on TNT speaking more eloquently about race than anyone in six ridiculous hours of the Republican National Convention? Why are the Milwaukee Bucks doing more to effect systemic change than the United States Senate? These are easy questions to answer but far more difficult to fix: Because too many white people with too much money have too much to lose if things change. I’ve spent my entire life listening to more white people than I care to remember mocking me for my love of the NBA. Thinking they’re really funny and clever dismissing it as the N*gger Basketball Association. I’m so fucking tired of their bullshit. I’m tired of all of it. I can’t fathom what it must be like to be black or brown in this country and be treated like a lesser person by these morons. It’s time to do something. I don’t know what yet, but I’m tired of watching this shit happen from the sideline. I thank my Milwaukee Bucks for being an inspiration.
I didn’t even mention the hurricane that’s barreling toward Louisiana and Texas as I type this. Thoughts out to everyone in the storm’s path. Please stay safe.
After all of this, how ridiculous was it that the Prince Song Randomizer chose “Everybody Loves Me” today? It’s a silly and completely unnecessary song. If there’s some deeper meaning that Prince was getting at, I’m missing it. I’ll hope for an anthem like “Baltimore” to write about tomorrow.