Though we spoke about unsportsmanlike conduct with Draymond Green earlier this week, I view player celebrations differently. It seems that in the sports where Black folks are dominating, the powers that be do all they can to have players still play in a fashion they’re comfortable with. The latest instance of this was with Giannis Antetokounmpo last week. He dunked on Isaiah Stewart on a fast break. After the dunk, Giannis flexed for a second and caught himself. But his restraint did him no favors. That behavior earned him a second technical foul in which a player gets ejected.
In the NFL, there were a few years when touchdown celebrations were banned because they began to get too over the top. They still fine players when they feel they take things too far. But the NFL fell back a bit once they realized how dry it had made the game become. In the NBA, it seems that Commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t like the optics of players showing up to one another. But if you ask me, that’s embedded in the culture of the game.
The essence of all sports is it is an exhibition of skill and will against an opponent. When you first begin playing basketball, you absolutely talk smack on the court. So imagine putting all of your time and effort into getting better at the game. You become so invested. And when the benefits of that sacrifice materialize in your play, you deserve to celebrate.
It isn’t lost on me that the censoring of said celebrations tends to be in sports where Black people dominate. And honestly, I hate to seem like I’m reading too deeply into that. But in the world of entertainment and business, I think so many things are connected. These sports leagues are worried about their sponsorships and the ability to generate revenue through that and media deals for instance. So with that, they would hope to produce a more tame product. The league wants to see a pristine product, and I think pristine equals bland. If someone isn’t being physical with someone, and comments don’t cross the line, I think you let it go.
When we ban these celebrations you’re silencing players’ expression. It’s another tool used to keep us “in line” in ways that just aren’t necessary. Personalities are a huge reason why we even tune in. It helps make these games watchable. As great as the play is, when players can feed off the crowd’s energy, it makes the experience so much more engaging. In a perfect world, the NBA would spend less time worrying about banning player celebrations and streamline the litany of their other issues.
In the past, I’ve cited my criticism of how the NBA punishes offenders for their off-court conduct. I think it would behoove them to streamline better protocol for these events rather than worrying about some taunting, or a “DX” crotch chop. Maybe this issue can be worked out in collective bargaining somehow, but players shouldn’t be levied a technical foul for making a superior play. If you get got like this on a play, all you need to do is play better.