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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

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Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Opinion | The NBA needs to face the music

NBA+Commissioner+Adam+Silver+at+a+game+between+the+Cleveland+Cavaliers+and+Washington+Wizards+at+Verizon+Center+on+Nov.+21%2C+2014%2C+in+Washington%2C+D.C.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on Nov. 21, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

Trigger warning: This article discusses sensitive topics, including sexual assault and domestic abuse. The content may be triggering and emotionally distressing to some readers. 

 

This past Tuesday, Oct. 24, National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver joined the hilarious, candid band of former NBA players on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” pregame show for the NBA’s opening night. Silver attended the ring ceremony, presenting the defending champion Denver Nuggets with their bejeweled championship rings.  

Lovingly blunt, analyst Charles Barkley ignored a call for a commercial break, saying he had a “serious” question for Silver. 

“There’s been a couple disturbing incidents of domestic violence in the NBA right now, what we doing to address that?” Barkley asked. “Because you can’t put your hands on women, man. And we should be on the forefront in sports… So what are we, as a league, going to do about that?” 

Silver returned with a milquetoast response and evaded the question by saying they aren’t in competition with other leagues to be at the “forefront” of the issue. He acknowledged the NBA Players Association for supporting a revised program of counseling and training to address accusations of domestic violence. He ended with, “So, we’re addressing it. We have state of the art counseling professionals dealing with our players, but of course if a guy does cross the line, the consequences are enormous.” 

Are they, though? In the last three years, the NBA has not spoken out against four players who faced charges of sexual or domestic assault. Take Miles Bridges, for example. Bridges was arrested in June 2022 and charged a month later on one felony count of injuring a child’s parent and two felony counts of child abuse. 

Mychelle Johnson, his ex-girlfriend and mother to his children, posted a photo of her bruises, detailing the assault. The post showed the discharge from the emergency ward and included her personal statement that Bridges strangled her, concussed her, fractured her nasal bone, bruised her rib and tore the muscles in her neck. Bridges’ arrest led to his absence in the 2022-2023 season, as his contract expired and his team, the Charlotte Hornets, did not re-sign him. Prior to this season, the Hornets signed him to a one-year, $7.9 million contract.

In April 2023, the NBA concluded their investigation and released a statement that declared Bridges’ punishment to be a 30-game suspension. If that seems light, the NBA equated his absent 2022-23 season — remember, because he was arrested — to 20 of the 30 games, leaving him to serve eight more games at the time of writing this article. This overly generous sentencing was spoiled by Bridges— he turned himself in for violating a protection order in which he threw pool table balls at Johnson’s car with their kids inside, threatening to withhold child support.

A month prior, on Sept. 12, Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. assaulted and strangled his girlfriend at a Manhattan hotel. The criminal report states Porter fractured one of his girlfriend Ksyre Gondrezick’s neck vertebrae. Gondrezick reported to police that Porter repeatedly punched her above her right eye, causing a deep gash and severe bruising and pain. According to prosecutors, Porter didn’t stop until Gondrezick ran out into the hallway, covered in blood. The NBA has remained disappointingly inactive on the violence of these acts, sending a message to survivors. As recent as these may be, this behavior isn’t new.

This past February, the NBA hosted its annual All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, Utah. Hometown hero Karl Malone — the third all-time leading scorer in NBA history — emerged from a 20-year period of recluse to be honored by his franchise, the Utah Jazz, for his accomplishments along with legendary point guard John Stockton.  

Malone was elected a judge for the Slam Dunk Contest and posed for pictures at the center of the court with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James, who surpassed them both two weeks prior to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. In this public celebration of his achievements, the NBA and Utah Jazz swept the abhorrent sexual history of their beloved Malone under the rug, much like they do for other players in the league.

As a 20-year-old sophomore at Louisiana Tech, Malone impregnated 13-year-old Gloria Bell. The family did not file statutory rape charges but elected to file paternity charges, to which Malone refuted and settled outside of court. No amount of career success can wash away this stain of his and the NBA’s legacy — rape is rape. When asked about it by Salt Lake Tribune reporters at All-Star Weekend, Malone said, “I’m not discussing any of that backlash. I don’t care. That’s my life, that’s my personal life, and I’ll deal with that like I’ve had to deal with everything. So, whatever.” It seems as though the NBA took a similar approach to ignore reality.

It doesn’t stop there. Third-year coach of the Portland Trail Blazers Chauncey Billups was accused of raping a woman with teammates Antoine Walker and Ron Mercer at Walker’s home in 1997. The Portland Trail Blazers conducted their “own investigation” into the matter, which curiously did involve contacting the accuser or her lone attorney. 

Six years later, the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant was charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year old concierge at a hotel in Edwards, Colorado, in 2003. The district attorney defending the woman, Mark Hurlbert, accused Bryant of “sexual intrusion” through “physical violence.” Criminal charges were dropped in Sept. of 2004, but a civil suit filed by the accuser was settled out of court in March 2005.

For context, 2003 is one year past Bryant’s “three-peat,” where he won three consecutive NBA Championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He was the league’s up-and-coming star — seen as an heir to the throne of Michael Jordan’s supremacy. The NBA didn’t so much as make a statement about these accusations, and it may have exacerbated the situation — the accuser was threatened with murder by a Swiss bodybuilder, had death threats left on her voicemail and was sent malicious threats laced with profanities to her residence after the accusation. UC Berkeley professor Derek Van Rheenen said male athletes are deified by the media, and it seems the NBA fell into this. With such a huge figure committing this crime, what would that mean for their revenue? Their image?

These hand-picked incidents don’t exist in a vacuum — the spotlight is now on former player Dwight Howard for his perpetration of an accused rape. 

The common denominator is the NBA’s shamefully neutral response. Enough is enough. According to section A-18, Exhibit A, Article 16 section A of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams have the right to terminate a contract if the player “at any time, fail, refuse, or neglect to conform his personal conduct to standards of good citizenship, good moral character.” Governed by this CBA, which was initiated July 1, 2022, the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Hornets had the ability to terminate these abusers if they wanted to.

It’s not just teams, either. As Commissioner, Silver has the executive power granted to him by Article 35 of the NBA’s Constitution, “Misconduct.” Section (d) of Article 35 gives the commissioner the power to suspend and/or fine a player who has said or done something “prejudicial or detrimental to the interests of basketball, the Association, or a Member” or guilty of conduct that breaks League rules or local, state, federal laws. In other words, both the teams and Commissioner have sat idly as these events repeatedly happen — both Porter and Bridges (during Silver’s tenure) have multiple documented events of abuse on the same partner.

The time is now to show fans and survivors that this multibillion-dollar, globally beloved organization has basic morals and the guts to stand up for them. 

 

Jake Vasilias writes mostly about the environment and sports. Write to him at [email protected]

About the Contributor
Jake Vasilias, Staff Columnist
Jake Vasilias is a junior Public/Professional Writing major from Evanston, Illinois and is unfortunately a Chicago sports fan. He is interested in social justice, indigenous rights, sports, plants/animals, and music. He loves to keep active and hike— you can catch him at Trees playing basketball. His email is open: .