“Shut Up and Dribble”

Fractured Race Relations in the National Basketball Association (NBA) during Times of (Perceived) Corporate Crisis

  • Till Neuhaus Bielefeld University
  • Niklas Thomas University of Münster
Keywords: basketball, NBA, race, corporate response, Black Lives Matter, Malice in the Palice, Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant


The National Basketball Association is first and foremost a company which tries to generate revenue. As such, the NBA is embedded into a system of mass media and thereby influenced by cultural, social, and political events. Simultaneously, the NBA can also (partly) cause such events. Lastly, the NBA (and professional basketball at large) has always featured a racial component. Thereby, the NBA features three key American concepts and/or conflicts (corporate interest, meritocracy, race) and, through critical as well as historically-oriented analysis, allows to grasp the interplay of these concepts, at least in a temporally and spatially defined context. This article discusses three individual cases in which the NBA had to react as a race-related image crisis doomed or, in other words: a representative of corporate America had to react to fractures appearing on its otherwise coherent and shiny outside caused by (implicitly or explicitly) racialized aspects. As such, the NBA can be read as a larger extension of American culture and life. In order to understand these three cases as well as the corporate responses in their specific context, the paper will start by providing an overview of professional basketball’s history with special consideration of racial aspects. This is followed by the illustration and critical discussion of the three cases and results in a short summary. The overarching focus of the paper is the question of what keeps the NBA – as a company plagued by racial fractures – together at heart. It is assumed that the NBA, as a proto-American sports league, is held together by the same unifying moments which keep America (at least partially) intact and running.

Thematic Section