What the NBA’s demoralized boosters have largely overlooked, however, is a critical truth about its reinvention: Its liberal attitude isn’t just good for its fans’ consciences, it’s good for business.
The sports world, or at least the NBA, hasn’t changed its fundamental motive: profit. We’ve changed in what we demand as consumers. Over the past decade, Americans have come to expect an unprecedented level of political transparency from our entertainment, whether it’s the endless Trump-era boycotts of insufficiently ethical corporations, the emergence of identifiably partisan dairy products or the baffling furor over the lack of a 2016 presidential endorsement from Taylor Swift (for our purposes, a corporate empire unto herself).
In the past, multibillion-dollar industries like the NBA have played it safe, conservatively pitching themselves toward as wide an audience as possible. Now, they’ve inadvertently fueled that metastasizing culture war simply by acting in their own economic interest. For the NBA, that’s meant playing up their activism to an increasingly diverse, liberal American majority. By pushing the limits of the league’s tolerance for actual protest, Daryl Morey has inadvertently forced us to confront some uncomfortable truths about what we’ve come to ask from—and the compromises we may have to make with—our corporate and cultural behemoths.