Geez, when did basketball become such a political football? It seemed it was going to be all rainbows and balloons after the Warriors won the NBA championship.
There was widespread praise for the joyful, pass-happy team. There was a terrific Oakland parade — well attended but without window-shattering. Newcomer Kevin Durant even took out a full-page ad in the paper thanking the fans.
It really couldn’t have gone much better — until someone mentioned the trip to the White House.
The traditional audience with the president is standard stuff for championship teams. Except that this year members of the Warriors, including head coach Steve Kerr, are not Donald Trump fans, and are hinting that, if invited, they might decline.
It gets tricky. There are several options, but all have their little public relations trap doors. For instance:
IF THEY DON’T GO: This seems like the simplest option. You could say something generic and polite, like their whirlwind schedule makes a visit impossible. Thanks, but no can do.
THE PROBLEM: There are already people insisting this isn’t about Trump, it’s the symbol of the presidency. You may disagree with the occupant, they say, but don’t disrespect the office. Some people will be put off if the team boycotts, no matter how adorable Steph Curry is.
IF THEY GO: The grin and bear theory. C’mon, it’s just a few hours. You go, get a photo and return to whatever you were doing. Maybe if players gave interviews and explained where they disagreed with Trump, they could even aid the resistance.
THE PROBLEM: There is no telling what Trump may do or say. If he launches into one of his riffs about “Crooked Hillary” or the “Russian witch hunt,” you’re going to be standing behind him, looking like a supporter. You can give an interview criticizing him, but (spoiler alert) Trump can dominate a news cycle with 144 thumb punches. Whatever you say will be lost in the news buzz.
IF SOME GO, SOME DON’T: A nice, simple solution. Those who want to go can. Those who object can skip it and go to Hawaii. The visit takes place. No one has to compromise their values.
THE PROBLEM: This isn’t football with 40 or 50 players. A basketball team is a much smaller group. It is going to be obvious who isn’t attending. And those people will be asked — repeatedly and publicly — to explain their position. What seems like a good way to avoid controversy might well create more.
The point is, there are a lot of nuances to these sports-as-a-political-statement moments. Let me give you an example from this year.
When the Warriors held the groundbreaking ceremony for their new arena in San Francisco, they hired former SF Police Chief Greg Suhr to run security. The theory was it would pave the way for Suhr to become head of security for the team.
But when word got out, national police critics mounted a campaign against Suhr. A New York Daily News columnist wrote the Warriors “are propping up police brutality and misconduct.” Warriors guard Andre Iguodala tweeted “On it,” which was seen as a way of saying he was working on getting Suhr off the job.