Complicating the NBA Narrative: A Narrative Analysis of the This Is Why We Play campaign

Complicating the NBA Narrative: A Narrative Analysis of the This Is Why We Play campaign

Asaya Plumly, University of Washington – Bothell



Internationally, the NBA works as an apparatus of global capitalism spreading Western conceptions of race, class and gender through the guise of teamwork, inclusivity and goodwill. This is the essential function of the NBA but its reception can have a myriad of effects outside the economically quantifiable. In this paper, I will analyse the current This Is Why We Play campaign of the NBA in order to demonstrate the ways in which this happens. I will use a narrative analysis to deconstruct the images and representations within the commercial and connect them to the broader effect of the NBA. In conclusion, I hope to point to the potential for social justice within the complexity of a commodified form of basketball.


According to the NBA’s own narrative, it’s current This Is Why We Play campaign “highlights the game’s historical milestones and reverberating cultural impact, and demonstrates many ways teams, players and fans are deeply connected to basketball and the values it teaches (leadership, teamwork, respect, dedication, etc.)” (White, 2015). This statement of purpose is significant in analyzing the goals of the NBA. It is equally significant in what it tactfully omits and also as a source to consider the meanings and implications behind such altruistic motivations.

Depending on one’s positionality, the NBA serves many functions as a capillary of capitalism. On the surface, the images of teamwork, community and inclusivity, that are consistent throughout the NBA narrative, can have significant impact as sources of meaningful representation and inspiration. However, as commodities created to promote a product, they also reinforce a Eurocentric, patriarchal and commodified version of sports while omitting an acknowledgement of the crude economic model under which they operate. Capitalism is intertwined with systems of oppression that maintain the functioning of a system based on the unequal distribution of resources and freedom. It would seem fantastical for a business operating within the confines of capitalism to not perpetrate racist, sexist and classist ideologies.

Throughout this paper, I will analyze the components of the This Is Why We Play commercial, in relation to the wider NBA public relations campaign. I will demonstrate how the representations inform the audience of acceptable ways to perform and engage with race, class, gender and sexuality. The aim of this analysis is not to present the NBA within the confines of a good/bad binary but rather to draw out the complexity of the effects that commodified values and experiences may have on our efforts towards genuine empowerment. In conclusion, I hope to reimagine the narratives of basketball exploited by the NBA and provide suggestions for sites of intervention within the NBA.


In demonstrating the capitalist nature of the NBA, I will be drawing on several sources which I researched to highlight the unequal distribution of resources intrinsic to the NBA, the use of media convergence in their marketing and the ramifications of the multiracial stratification of the league itself. These sources do not provide a theoretical framework, but do show how the economic impetus of the league define its marketing decisions. These sources include material from journalism in the areas of sports, racial justice and the financial world.

In order to critically think about some of the consequences of those decisions, I will utilize the work of cultural studies practitioners who have considered similar circumstances. To analyze the effects of the race and diversity, I will use the work of Shohat and Stam in concerning “voice” and representation. I will also consult the work of Nicola Rehling to consider the perpetuation of “normalcy” in relation to the predominance of African American visibility in the NBA. I will use the Marxist framework that Christian Fuchs elaborates to consider the commodification of work/labor and representation in terms.

I hope to build on these existing theoretical frameworks by combining the intersectionality of oppressions that are at play in the NBA’s marketing campaigns. Furthermore, I aim to understand the complexity of effects that the NBA’s current campaign may have on audiences. These theories are crucial in considering the production of meaning and the functioning of oppression inside the NBA and between the intersection of sports and politics.


I will be using a narrative analysis to closely examine the representations presented in the This Is Why We Play campaign of the NBA. I will be using the work of James Watson in Media Communication as a guide in deciphering how this commercial in particular works to create a narrative about race, class and gender in terms of the United States. In particular I will be using different narrative codes to decipher the meaning of signifiers and symbols throughout the commercial.

I chose this specific commercial because as a lifelong fan of the NBA I am interested in understanding what role the league plays in contributing to conventional discourse on race, class and gender. As a person living with significant unearned privilege and who holds explicitly anti-capitalist views, I am invested in deconstructing the narratives put forth by the NBA in order to expose the ways in which they contribute to restraining the terms of our livability. I am seeking ways to separate the ritual, analog, joy of basketball from blatant consumerism and place it within a context of liberation or even decolonization.

I chose this commercial in particular because it is part of the current campaign of the NBA to promote the new season. However, it is representative of common themes that the NBA has used throughout its more contemporary form. The NBA also can be seen as a piece of a larger dialogue that happens within (professional) sports overall in establishing acceptable norms and behaviors. Lastly, I selected this commercial because the first several times I watched it, I had a difficult time deciphering any negative implications despite/because of my aforementioned tendencies and privileges.

THIS IS WHY WE PLAY: “A powerful declaration of purpose”

The NBA promotion for the upcoming 2015-16 season is entitled “This Is Why We Play.” This campaign was developed by the advertising agency, Translation (whose clients also include McDonald’s, Kaiser Permanente and State Farm). The promotion includes a series of short (0:31) and long (1:01) commercial briefs. These are accompanied by eight “chapters” which focus specifically on last year’s champions, the Golden State Warriors. Similar to NBA promotions of the past, the commercials follow a similar pattern of including presentations of inclusivity, internationalism, goodwill alongside teamwork, dedication and athleticism, while relying heavily on the images of the bodies of people of color, black bodies in particular.

For purposes of this paper, I will focus on the longer version of the advertisement entitled “Anthem.” The commercial is narrated by a “black” male voice who recites the reasons “why we play” over a Tone and Poke produced instrumental track. There are several narratives playing simultaneously throughout the commercial. For example, high profile NBA players performing feats on court, notable NBA athletes engaged in community service type activities, anonymous athletes playing basketball, fans interacting with the players and reacting to the game, and individuals within the NBA who are recognized for breaking boundaries. In the NBA’s own words, “[t]he film combines electrifying inside-the-arena footage with images pulled from around the world and deep within the NBA archives—showing all the many ways that players, fans, and teams demonstrate their love of the game both on and off the court” (NBA, 2015). The narratives are interspersed with each other and culminate in championship celebrations.

The commercial includes over 30 images, many of those images are familiar to basketball fans. The use of archived footage from previous decades develops the mythology of the NBA as a beacon of excellence and social engagement. The other images are of less recognizable athletes. The background stories to these characters is unknown. Regardless, the combination of the clips showcase a myriad of representations that merit their own attention. For the purposes of this analysis, I will focus on just a few that I feel highlight the socio-political effects of the NBA’s commercialization of basketball.

The global ambitions of the NBA

There are too many factors to condemn the commercial as functioning on a purely exploitive basis. Amidst a society steeped in consumerism, the commercial does retain some amount of positive cultural impact.The NBA has put a substantial amount of time, money and energy into developing itself as a cross culturally marketable enterprise. To this end, the commercials they use display images of a diversity of people engaged in one way or another with basketball. I believe that regardless of the capitalist intentions of the NBA, these images undoubtedly serve their stated objective to “capture[s] the emotions behind basketball’s universal appeal, showcasing stories of what motivates, inspires and excites teams, players and fans both on and off the court” (White, 2015). Basketball can indeed provide an atmosphere for people from all walks of life to share in the competitive joy of basketball.

It is not my goal to diminish the relevance and importance that these images may hold for certain audiences who take them in, especially the more marginalized among them. Young Arab women of color playing in a wheelchair basketball league, developmentally disabled Chinese kids and half the world’s population (women) in general, certainly do not receive an acceptable amount of representation through the mass media. I can’t know what different people might gather from such images without further (ethnographic) research, but speaking for myself I know it is at least refreshing to see a commercial which is not dominated by images of able bodied hetero white men.

In some regards the NBA participates in a shift of concentration from that demographic (normal white dudes) to a more realistic representation of the world. The NBA has 100 international players from 37 countries and territories for the 2015-16 season- marking the second consecutive year that opening night rosters featured at least 100 international players. There were a record 10 African and nine Brazilian players on opening night rosters (Benigno, 2015). This on-court diversity can attribute for the “tremendous surge in multicultural diversity” amongst NBA viewership (Zia, 2015).

The wide range of representation creates possible opportunities for marginalized populations to encounter images they can relate to that may not exist elsewhere. Additionally, or perhaps foremost, this significant increase in an international audience also provides more opportunities for the NBA to market to international advertisers. The NBA is emerging as the number two global sport after soccer and with their growth of social media exposure, their global market for economic growth is expanded by the appeal of their international players (Zia, 2015).

Before analyzing more specific functions of the This Is Why We Play commercial, I believe it is important to consider a key question raised by Beverley Skeggs in Class, Self, Culture, when she asks “‘in whose interests?’ do particular ways of understanding class continue to exist or not” (Skeggs, 2004).  In order to begin to answer this question from a sports industry perspective, we must determine the class structure of the NBA. To this end, and because this underlies the motives behind the functioning of the league, I will give a general summary of the position of the NBA within the larger capitalist economy.

The NBA is a global company that conducts business in over 200 countries, giving them “the most diverse fan base in professional sports” (Playing, 2015). That is an enormously uneven amount of social and cultural capital. Adding to this, is an alarming amount of financial power, a little more than a year ago, the NBA signed a nine-year, $24 billion media-rights deal with ESPN and Turner Sports. How this money gets distributed is a complex process which is not the focus of my efforts here. Officially, the money will be distributed evenly between the 30 franchises in the league but from that point on the distribution between owners and players is less equity based. According to Forbes, the average NBA franchise is now worth $1.1 billion dollars.

While the distribution of such enormous amounts of money is certainly crucial to understanding the NBA, for my purposes the league’s participation in a market based economy is sufficient for my analysis. Within this system, the exploitive function of the NBA is not called into question often enough. Financial commentators and advertising experts seem to be in agreement of the successful approach of campaigns such as This Is Why We Play without consideration of further effects beyond profit. However, the unequal distribution of money within the NBA has many ramifications outside of the NBA.

As demonstrated by the wealth generated from TV contracts, the NBA is a notable player in the realm of global capitalism. However, the focus of their promotions remain largely concerned with demonstrating their social engagement, providing a lopsided construction of their organization. Charity has long been a driving force in NBA marketing campaigns and is certainly highlighted in the This Is Why We Play commercial. Since 2005, over $210 million dollars and 2.3 million hours of community service have been donated by NBA teams and players to charity through NBA Cares. Again, these measures aren’t without real effect but pale in comparison to the billions that owners continue to accumulate.

Despite the contrast in numbers, the promotion of NBA Cares serves a purpose more practical than altruistic. The saturation of NBA Cares in their commercials provide a sense that the NBA as an institution is an effective source for creating positive social change. Or as Emilio Collins, the NBA’s senior vice president of global marketing partnerships would frame it, “the league is synonymous with making a difference in the community” (Jessop, 2013). True enough, but this statement raises as many questions as it seeks to stifle. Which communities receive how much money? What kind of impacts are these initiatives having? How are owners participating in these events? Is the difference equatable to the amount of revenue generated from these communities? The NBA’s social engagement leaves much to be assumed.

This strategy is similar to the case presented in John McMurria’s work on “Good Samaritan Reality TV,” in which he notes that corporations offer “neoliberal solutions of corporate benevolence, individual volunteerism and personal responsibility for solving serious social issues” (McMurria, p. 22). The NBA’s exclusive focus on its own charitable efforts work to invisibilize the organizations and individuals who are continually working to improve their communities at a grassroots level. Within a capitalist society, the defining of social responsibility and engagement is largely in the hands of those with the biggest budget.

Given the NBA’s capitalist structure, I will seek to demonstrate how the This Is Why We Play campaign perpetuates stereotypes and reinforces restrictive norms of how race and gender exist in Western society. The nature of capitalism attempts to force a categorical way of living and understanding upon us. This method works conveniently for analyzing profit margins and as a means of oppressing people. However, when considering the ways in which capitalism has entangled (antagonized) our relationships with each other, thinking in terms of categories is not always the most helpful route. There is a constant tension between the oppressions of race, class and gender that renders them inseparable.


Acknowledging this tension, I will focus on three examples of racism within this commercial and the NBA. First, racism exists within the structure of ownership. Second, it is in present in the strategic placement of white male bodies amidst people of color. And lastly, racism as seen in the correlation of the representation of black coaches and the reality of a white dominated field.

Racial disparity in NBA ownership

Race has been integral part of basketball since its inception in the late nineteenth century. The early formations of leagues were white male only. Originating in 1949, the NBA has continued to mimic the larger society in struggling with conceptions of race. Similar to other professional sports leagues, the inclusion of players of color was gained as part of an overall struggle towards basic human rights. Today, the league continues to ineptly deal with issues of racism despite being a league composed with over ¾ African American players. Structurally, of 30 owners in the league only three are not white men. Individually, those same white men owners publicly demonstrate a severe lack of respect for people who are not affluent white men – Donald Sterling (LAC) and Bruce Levinson (ATL) for example.

These predominantly white owners continue to exploit the appeal of their black players while promoting an image of welcome diversity. In the context of a society that loves black culture but does value not black lives, this exposure warrants more than casual consumption. The black male body, masculinity and the values associated with sports become commodified and seen as products for consumption. Through over proliferation on the screen as extraordinary athletes and rarely seen in the full spectrum of their lives, black male athletes are used as sources of income for the capitalist owners of the league.

Centering whiteness

In considering the diversity of images throughout the commercial, the work of Nicola Rehling in Extra-Ordinary Men becomes particularly relevant. Rehling notes the “dominant, structuring norm” white heterosexual masculinity has been charged with being in a state of crisis (Rehling, 2009). She explains that much of the over saturation with white heterosexual masculinity is in reaction to the growing tide of diversity, which unlike whiteness retain a “surplus of signification”. A form of this reaction can be seen in the ending sequence of the This Is Why We Play commercial.

Throughout the commercial, the majority of the people shown are not white men or rather they are people who are meant to represent an international appeal. However, the NBA has market concerns about white male demographics and is concerned to not leave them feeling excluded. Reflecting this concern we see an interesting arc throughout the commercial that shows a range of diverse demographics but ends in a flash of three consecutive images of white men. Of the final four shots of the commercial, three of the four close-ups are of white (or white presenting) males – John Stockton (Spokane), Manu Ginobli (Argentina), Dirk Nowitzki (Germany). The final spots are designated to the MVP of last year’s NBA Finals, Steph Curry and a shot of the Warriors crowd at the Oracle arena.

The relevance of these particular white men is debatable in context of the succession of championship celebrations which the commercial seems to be playing on. John Stockton is a Hall of Fame point guard who played for the Utah Jazz and retired in 2003 without a championship. Manu Ginobli plays for the San Antonio Spurs and the image of his celebration is from 2005. Dirk Nowitzki plays for the Dallas Mavericks and they last won a championship in 2011. Of the 36 images overall, six are camera shots where a white male is the center of focus. Three of those shots are mixed throughout the beginning and as I noted above, the rest comprise three of the last four shots of the commercial.

This is seemingly an innocuous editing decision. But considering the fact that the white audience compromise 13.7% of viewership and African Americans total 62.9% and the Bruce Levinson revelation that the predominance of African Americans at Atlanta Hawks games was keeping white audiences away, the amount and placement of white bodies in the commercial may be slightly more strategic.

Racial disparity in NBA coaching

Another instance to consider the influence of race is during the commercial two coaches are shown. One is Doc Rivers who is a black male and the President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Clippers. Doc Rivers is shown from a ‘medium shot’ and from a worm’s eye camera shot, presenting him in a position of authority. He is wearing a suit and tie and his image corresponds with the spoken words “shot callers,” letting us know he is a man who assumes a position of power. The focus on Doc Rivers as the only head coach represented is a somewhat dishonest portrayal of reality. Of the 30 teams, nine have a man of color as the head coach. Thus, Doc Rivers position serves to present a facade of greater diversity than actually exists.

The choice of the use of “shot callers” in designating Doc Rivers as a notable figure is also worthy of comment. The NBA (along with marketing in general) exploit aspects of black culture in order to increase appeal and produce a certain discourse. To be a labelled a “shot caller” within hip hop culture marks a certain position and characteristic. To label Doc Rivers as a “shot caller” identifies him within black and hip hop culture. Had a white coach been presented in this position in the commercial, we are left to wonder if he would have been labelled similarly.

The use of Doc Rivers as a “shot caller” should also be considered in relation to this observation made Shohat and Stam, “The film or TV commercial in which every eighth face is Black, for example, has more to do with the demographics of market research and the bad conscience of liberalism than with substantive polyphony, since the Black voice, in such instances, is usually shorn of its soul, deprived of its color and intonation” (Shohat and Stam, p. 215). For our purposes, we see the representation of a black coach in Doc Rivers but not the myriad of stories connected to his arrival at such a position and the racist structure of the LA Clippers organization which he is now involved in. Similar to the rest of the images of black bodies in the commercial, their representation comes at the expense of their exploitation through being relegated to symbols for the promotion of the NBA.


It’s important to notice the absence of any representation of transgender people or the intentional marking of any transgender people. The NBA may have been motivated by profit to be more inclusive than its counterparts, but they show their lack of genuine concern by this glaring omission. A brief scan of several other NBA campaigns and commercials confirms this decision. Obviously, this omission does not mean that transgender people are not deeply involved in competitive sports. Kye Allums, the first openly transgender NCAA athlete to play Division I sports demonstrates the problem with hyper masculinity within our culture. Allums notes that, “People talk about [unfair advantage] as if men are super-human, as if just because you were born with a penis, that means that you can defeat every single female. And that’s not true. This world values men. We value men. We value male bodies. We don’t value women … People need to stop placing limits on how strong people can or should be, and what their bodies should look like” (Steinmetz, 2014). With this in mind, I will consider the role of gender within the commercial.

In general, representations of traditional forms of gender performance play a significant role in NBA commercials. In particular, this is highlighted in the This is Why We Play advert. In context of their larger presentation over the years, the NBA may be regarded as ahead of its NFL, MLB counterparts as far as addressing social inequalities. The development of the WNBA and campaigns such as Think B4 You Speak present an image of an institution that has genuine interest in supporting an environment of inclusivity. However, a few key sections of the This Is Why We Play commercial are critical sites through which to examine the cultural influence of the NBA, especially in regards to sex, gender and sexuality.

The This Is Why We Play spot is 1:01, five seconds of that commercial serve as critical sites of representation for groups of people particularly marginalized within the sports industry, the LGBTQ community and women. These five seconds include the narratives of three important figures in the history of the NBA and in sports history in general. This importance is underscored by the synchronization of the music being played to emphasis the impact and by the words being narrated. Regardless of capitalism, marginalized people continue to push the boundaries imposed on them by conventional norms and regulations. Vice versa, the market continues to find ways of incorporating those people and exploiting them.

During the clip of Jason Collins, the narrator tells us another reason for why we play is “for breaking through.” Jason Collins played 13 seasons in the NBA and became the second publicly gay athlete to play in any of the four major U.S. professional sports leagues during his last season. This image shows Jason Collins walking in a crowd of people.  We are led to believe this is some kind of gay pride parade because in the background are several blurred out rainbow signs. Additionally, a generic chyron is shown on the screen which reads: JASON COLLINS: NBA player marches in Boston. The context of this march are left to be analyzed through our own skills of inference.

An image of Becky Hammon follows the Jason Collins image. Becky Hammon was a professional basketball player who played in the WNBA and on international teams. On August 5, 2014, she was hired by the Spurs as an assistant coach, becoming the second female assistant coach in NBA history but the first full-time assistant coach. Two images of Becky are displayed in two seconds. One is a medium close up shot of her from a high angle. Her face is centered and on the edges are pieces of players bodies, leading us to believe she is in a time out huddle. The words “breaking barriers” are split between this shot and the second shot, which is a long shot showing her  on the court pointing directions, presumably coaching.

Following Hammon is a clip of Violet Palmer, who is a African American referee in the NBA and WNBA and the first female official to reach the highest competitive tier in a major U.S. professional sport. She is shown from a long camera shot and in motion making a referee gesture signifying possession of the ball. During the shot of Palmer the words “and paradigms” are combined with her action and a bang in the music, creating a powerful effect.

To fully understand the placement and inclusion of these specific stories, Rakow and Wackwitz’s work in Representation in Feminist Communication Theory provides a helpful theoretical framework. They remind us that there are distinctive types of representation. In relation to my purpose here, these explanations are helpful- “representations stand not for the original subject but for its meaning” and “representation…[as] a part that stands for the whole.” When thinking of the images of any person represented in this commercial, and the “special interests” section in particular, their meaning/significance is best understood as separate from their actual lives and impact.

Adding to this analysis we can imagine the comparison of “voice” and “representation” put forth by Shohat and Stam in Stereotype, Realism and the Struggle over Representation. While the representations may or may not be helpful, they do little to create a “polyphony of voices” that is less commodifiable than images. Without access to the creation and production of the story, marginalized groups will continue to be used merely as images and symbols of diversity for capitalist interests.

The use of these particular people and the values they represent are used to further solidify the NBA as a leader of progressive causes. The inscription of race, gender and sexuality on their bodies informs a national audience about current conversations about those identities. Separately, the images convey their own significance and grouped together their placement represents a “special interests” section of the commercial. On the surface the words, “breaking through, breaking boundaries and paradigms,” exploits the very real struggle and history behind the inclusion of people who aren’t white hetero men in the NBA. The color of their skin, the gender presentation and their sexuality become detached from their personal histories and are used as symbols to create the image of inclusivity for the NBA. This process commodifies their identities in order to promote a product. As workers in the NBA, the use of their image for commercial purposes alienates them from their labor. They receive a salary and moments of fame in our culture, but the overwhelming benefactor of their work remains the owners and leadership of the NBA.

The interesting questions viewers may be left with after this section are: breaking through what? boundaries constructed by who? breaking paradigms that benefit the audience? The system of exploitation fueled by racism, classism, homophobia and sexism remains unmarked and free to continue its expansion.


As the NBA continues its expansion on a global scale, these conceptions of identity and privilege inform narratives nationally and internationally. From the NBA Taiwan to the NBA Africa, the league reaches millions of audiences around the world. As a function of global capitalism, the symbols and meanings attached to the NBA act as form of Eurocentrism. By positioning itself as virtual monopoly on the game of basketball, the NBA adds to the conception that ‘The West’ is desirable, civilized and supreme while ‘The Rest’ of the world exist in contrast to that image. As Hall et. al. describe another function of Eurocentrism is to create a false history that the achievement of European excellence was largely an internal affair. The NBA presents itself in a slightly more nuanced manner by situating itself as part of a global community but also placing itself firmly in the center of any discussion about the legacy of basketball (Hall, et. al., 1996). While, basketball may have originated in the United States, we can now see that, in fact, it is part of a global story. The effect this produces is a representation of “The West” as unique and “The Rest” as conglomerated whole.

Through the use of the referential code, we can see how the commercial sets the story around the globe while centering on the NBA basketball court. Following the narratives mentioned above, depictions of basketball being played around the world are shown. For example, residential driveways, city playgrounds, community gyms and professional arenas. Although not directly stated, the settings also take place internationally. African countries, India, China and perhaps Mexico are depicted as places that also enjoy NBA basketball. Yao Ming and Satnam Singh Bhamara receive significant amounts of airtime (2 seconds each). They each get 2 separate consecutive shots. Yao Ming is 7’6’’ man from China. He retired in 2011 after eight successful NBA seasons. Satnam Singh Bhamara is from India. In 2015, he became the first Indian born player to be drafted into the NBA.

The exposure of these two people in particular should be seen in context of the NBA as a global enterprise. Efforts to highlight certain players from certain countries showcase a diversity of talent and also act as a form of Western expansion of economy and culture. The strides made by these two men are not insignificant but their stories are detached from their experience when they are used by capitalists to sell as a commodity. China and India are two of the largest countries in the world and have growing economies. While this continues to be true we can assume the presence of the NBA and the Eurocentric values attached to it will continue to impact the world in a uniquely racist, sexist and classist way.


Through analyzing the capitalist framework of the NBA and its presentations of diversity through its marketing campaigns, I hope to have highlighted some ways that the NBA inherently is involved in Eurocentrism. The mechanisms through which the NBA promotes this agenda can be seen through its charity efforts and its commercial campaigns. Both of these branches of the NBA use images and representation of the diverse populations of people who engage with basketball. However progressive these images may seem, they do not give effective “voice” to the people involved in the storytelling. In order to move from exploited representation to a greater diversity of “voices” we must first come to terms with the nature and complexity inherent in a capitalist vessel employing distorted means.

The commercial places itself firmly within the context of “We.” The images of “We” that are displayed range from contemporary professional athletes to less identifiable disabled athletes. The face of the NBA in this context include fans and athletes from a diverse selection of demographics. Almost anyone, it seems, is welcome to be part of the “We”. Despite these efforts of inclusivity, the faces that do not grace the screen are those of the capitalists owners who reap the benefits of the labor because they own the means of production- franchises, arenas. By successfully detaching themselves from acknowledgement they both remain unscathed of responsibility as well as accumulate disproportional amounts of capital. The symbol of the NBA then serves a Eurocentric purpose to expand the league’s reach as far and wide as possible.

This version of internationalism promotes is synonymous with neoliberal agendas while exploiting the bodies and character of its workers and the recipients of their goodwill. The extreme disparity in earnings between owners and workers further solidifies the consolidation of wealth. On a global scale, the NBA participates in the free market, unregulated and free to move capital, goods and services. The NBA also perpetuate neoliberal characteristics of by remaining free of government regulation while also benefitting from subsidies and tax benefits (re: publicly funded arenas). This is not the internationalism that will effectively confront the severe inequalities that exist in the world that require the necessity for charity, nor is the NBA the vehicle through which we should expect such struggle to take place.

Fortunately, sports are increasingly becoming accepted sites of social justice advocacy. The workers/athletes of the NBA have increasingly taken steps to use their position of notoriety as a way to promote or align themselves with contemporary human rights issues. Recently for example, Dwayne Wade wrote #LaquanMcDonald, #Justice on his game sneakers, showing he was in solidarity with protestors in Chicago who have been demanding justice in the face of ongoing police brutality and killing of the black lives. These stories within the NBA demonstrate the need to look critically at the intersection of sports and politics and seek sites of intervention within an industry that exploits our diversity for their profit. Given the global scale of the NBA’s audience, opportunities to highlight the exploitation inherent in capitalism and to create dialogue about the intersectional nature of oppression should not be diminished.


Benigno, K. (2015, October 30). Wow!: 100 International Players Part of NBA’s Opening Roster. Retrieved from

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Jessop, A. (2013, February 20). The NBA’s Adoption of Charity as a Central Business Model is Apparent During All-Star Week. Retrieved from

McMurria, J. (2008, February 22). Desperate Citizens and Good Samaritans: Neoliberalism and Makeover Reality TV. Television & New Media, 1-27.

NBA. (2015, October 12). This Is Why We Play: Anthem (Long). Retrieved from

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Rehling, N. (2009). Introduction. In N. Rehling, Extra-Ordinary Men: White Heterosexual Masculinity in Contemporary Popular Cinema (1-20). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Shohat, E., Stam, R., (1994). Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the media. London: Routledge.

Skeggs, B. (2004). Making class: Inscription, Exchange, Value and Perspective. In B. Skeggs, Class, Self, Culture. NY: Routledge.

Steinmetz, K. (2014, October 28). Meet The First Openly Transgender NCAA Division I Athlete. Retrieved from

Watson, J. (2008). Media Communication: An Introduction to Theory and Process. New York: Palgrave Mcmillan.

White, O. (2015, October 14). The NBA Will Unveil Their “This Is Why We Play” Campaign. Retrieved from

Zia, L. (2015, March 10). Diversity is a Slam Dunk for the NBA. Retrieved from


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