Amid news that the NBA is clocking record-low ratings for the 2020 NBA Finals, league commissioner Adam Silver told NBA Countdown that professional basketball will leave social justice messages “off the floor” next season.
The 2020 season, played in a “bubble” because of the coronavirus pandemic, prominently featured Black Lives Matter messaging. NBA players were encouraged to replace the surnames on their jerseys with social justice-themed messaging, and the slogan “Black Lives Matter” was printed across the court where “bubble” games were played.
The league’s decision to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement was controversial even among team owners, but Silver demanded that teams comply to show support for the league’s black players, according to NBC News.
“Adam Silver told them, ‘Hey guys, this is what we’re going to do to support our players. Our league is overwhelmingly comprised of African American players. This is important. This is a partnership. We need to work together to get through this season and into next year,’” the outlet reported.
Of the league’s 350 players, 300 chose to wear jerseys with social justice messaging, ESPN’s The Undefeated adds.
“The messages agreed upon by the National Basketball Players Association and the NBA are: Black Lives Matter, Say Their Names, Vote, I Can’t Breathe, Justice, Peace, Equality, Freedom, Enough, Power to the People, Justice Now, Say Her Name, Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can), Liberation, See Us, Hear Us, Respect Us, Love Us, Listen, Listen to Us, Stand Up, Ally, Anti-Racist, I Am A Man, Speak Up, How Many More, Group Economics, Education Reform and Mentor,” that outlet noted.
But the league is now struggling to retain viewership. According to Sports Illustrated, the 2020 NBA Finals, between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat — two teams that typically draw in huge audiences — is the lowest in league history. Game 3 of the NBA Finals drew just over 5 million viewers.
Sports Illustrated cites cord-cutting and bad scheduling for the dramatic loss in viewership, but the league appears to sense another reason for the drop in audience interest — social justice — and Adam Silver, at least, is committed to returning to “normal” league play next year, per Outkick the Coverage.
“We’re completely committed to standing for social justice and racial equality and that’s been the case going back decades. It’s part of the DNA of this league. How it gets manifested is something we’re gonna have to sit down with the players and discuss for next season,” Silver told NBA Countdown.
“I would say, in terms of the messages you see on the court and our jerseys, this was an extraordinary moment in time when we began these discussions with the players and what we all lived through this summer. My sense is there’ll be somewhat a return to normalcy, that those messages will largely be left to be delivered off the floor,” he added.
He also seemed to be in touch with fan reception of the Black Lives Matter messaging: “And I understand those people who are saying ‘I’m on your side, but I want to watch a basketball game,’”