The Milwaukee Bucks have just won their second NBA Championship in franchise history. Giannis Antetokounmpo has become arguably the most decorated 26-year-old in NBA history. However, the Bucks title comes 40 years after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the team to victory in 1971. Kareem recently took to the internet to discuss the meaning of the NBA Championships. He compared those of modern-day to his own win in 1971. But, most importantly, he discussed what the event meant beyond the hardwood court.
"Although winning is exciting, fulfilling, and pretty much everything you imagine it would be, I’m also well aware that whether in 1971 or 2021, an NBA championship is often about more than just a team hoisting a shiny gold trophy. It can also be a reflection of the country’s zeitgeist with all its cultural, social, and political turmoil."-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Jacobin Magazine
Kareem discusses what the social landscape was like for both eras of the NBA and how the Championship can reflect the state of the country and world even. Furthermore, he states how basketball is different from all other sports leagues when it comes to representation. For example, "83.1 percent of the players and 60 percent of the fans are non-white, making it the only major North American sport in which the majority of fans aren’t white".
Abdul-Jabbar talks about the 2020 Lakers Finals victory in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The NBA overcame all odds to create the Orlando bubble, embodying American perseverance. However, it was also important as it coincided with some of the largest protest movements in US history. Most of all, Adam Silver and the NBA backed their athletes and allowed them to speak their minds as free as can be, embracing social justice. So when LA won the title last year, it stood for much more than an NBA championship trophy.
"This year’s NBA Finals took place in a different America than last year. Vaccinations have allowed the country to open up more, BLM protests have trickled away, the government is more stable. The national mood is one of standing perfectly still and holding our collective breath in fear that any sudden move might bring back all the turmoil."-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Jacobin Magazine
The Bucks win this year, though, occurred within a very different social setting. The snowball continues to roll downhill towards a life closer to what it was before Covid-19. Then, an NBA title celebrated by thousands of roaring fans was just another checkpoint of hope for a brighter future. There is still a long, long way to go, but this year's Championship can inspire the country to continue rebuilding.
The most interesting thing that Kareem discussed in his article, though, was America amidst his 1971 NBA Championship. Then, America was knee-deep in the Vietnam War, and protests ran rampant in the country. War, racism, and sexism plagued the country. These issues are still present in the modern-day United States, but it surely was more prevalent in 1971. However, Abdul-Jabbar gives his input on how it felt to play in the league during this social divide.
"What did it feel like to play basketball during all this civil unrest? It felt like we were helping to keep the lid on, to give people something to cheer for rather than just protest against. This wasn’t to minimize the righteous need for those protests — I had participated in some myself — but to remind everyone that life was a balance of joy and sorrow and that it was our job to bring some of the joy."-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Jacobin Magazine
Also fascinating was Kareem's insight on the relationship between NBA players and fans. There's a symbiotic connection between them that benefits them both. "Without them, the game is about ego; with them, it’s about community."
As America was transitioning itself as a nation in 1971, and continuously over time, sports evolve along with it. Sports have always meant more than just scoring more points than your opponent. The world is an ever-changing place, and sports is cemented in its atmosphere, reflecting its growth as time passes. As Kareem says, "The NBA Finals will always be more than a battle between two teams — it will be a milestone of where America is on its journey to being a better home for all."