NBA: National Bum Association?

The NBA’s disproportionate treatment of OKC Thunder Point Guard Josh Giddey’s alleged crimes versus past treatment of other players’ similar behavior hints at great bias and power imbalance behind the scenes of America’s favorite on-court pastime.
Josh Giddey competed in the Skills Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend 2022. He is currently under investigation from both the League and law enforcement for misconduct. Josh Giddey (2022 All-Star Weekend) (cropped) / Erik Drost / CC BY 2.0.
Josh Giddey competed in the Skills Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend 2022. He is currently under investigation from both the League and law enforcement for misconduct. “Josh Giddey (2022 All-Star Weekend) (cropped)” / Erik Drost / CC BY 2.0.

The following story contains references to assault and inappropriate relationships. Anyone affected by assault can find resources and support at online.rainn.org. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with someone over the phone who can help.

On Nov. 22, now-deleted social media posts implied that 21-year-old Australian NBA Player Josh Giddey had an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old female.

The NBA began their official investigation on Nov. 24 of 2023. As of Jan. 2024, law enforcement’s investigation has been stalled due to the girl’s family’s “unwillingness” to cooperate with police. 

According to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, without further input from law enforcement, the NBA investigation can’t move forward.

Giddey has yet to face any punishment from the league, and the media chatter surrounding his potential crimes has mostly died down. Conversely, many longtime fans of the NBA recall how other players in the League, such as Josh Primo and Ja Morant, have received far greater media and League attention for similar forms of misconduct. 

The different punishments and reactions to these similar cases indicate there may be deeper injustice in the League regarding how it handles its players’ off-court behavior. 

Take it Off-Court

According to the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, the League Commissioner has the power to fine or suspend players based on actions that are deemed detrimental “to the best interests of the Team or the League.”

While the NBA conducts independent investigations into every incident regarding players’ questionable behavior, the Commissioner having almost completely autonomous influence over each investigation raises questions regarding the ethics and fairness of the League’s suspension policy. 

For example, in 2005, former NBA Commissioner David Stern implemented a dress code requiring players to dress in “business casual” attire. Players who dressed differently received fines and suspensions. Many critics of the policy claimed the dress code attacked black athletes and culture, as some of the prohibited clothing reflected Black cultural norms. 

Internal biases and prejudices have and will continue to influence the League’s policies so long as a single League Commissioner has free reign to decide.

Fouling Out

The League tries its best to distribute penalties uniformly. But in many instances, it seems the League picks and chooses which players to discipline and which players to ignore. 

A situation very similar to Giddey’s behavior happened with former Antonio Spurs player Josh Primo. When Primo was on the Spurs, the former team psychologist claimed he behaved inappropriately around her several times. 

The Spurs waived Primo on Oct. 28, 2022, and he didn’t play professional basketball again until Sept. 2023, when he was signed to the Clippers. On Dec. 8, 2023, the Texas district attorney’s office announced they will not charge Primo due to lack of evidence. 

In both Giddey and Primo’s situations, charges were never filed by a law enforcement agency, but the League took it upon itself to suspend Primo and not Giddey. While one might argue that the depth of evidence in both cases could be different, Giddey is still playing and has yet to receive any backlash from the Thunder or the League.

Some attribute the disparity between the League’s handling of both situations to racial inequality, but the reasons for the timeliness of the players’ punishments may not be as black and white as they seem. 

The Untouchables

Many former NBA legends have been given a pass for appalling and confessed misconduct. 

After his MVP season, The Globe revealed that Karl Malone assaulted a 13-year-old girl when he was 20 years-old. Malone has publicly stated that he was the father of the victim’s children, admitting that he had inappropriate relationships with minors.

Despite this shocking confession, the NBA still honors Malone. The League selected him to be on the NBA 75th Anniversary Team, as well as judge the 2023 NBA Dunk Contest in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Another horrible example is five-time NBA Champion Kobe Bryant. In 2003, a 19-year-old hotel employee accused Bryant of assault. Both parties agreed to a settlement out of court, and Bryant eventually apologized to his accuser, admitting to the nature of the encounter.

After these allegations, Bryant went on to sign a $136 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers and regained most of his major sponsorships from companies like Nike and Coca-Cola. Bryant also represented the U.S. at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

The NBA also welcomed him into the NBA 75th Anniversary Team and inducted him into its Hall of Fame posthumously.

Time and time again, the League has demonstrated an inconsistent approach to discipline. This leads one to believe justice is not their motive when it comes to decision-making, but to ensure their most popular players are on the court regardless of their behavior off of it. 

The Bottom Line

It is clear that the League has favorites. On and off the court, they choose which players will receive a fair punishment and to which they turn a blind eye. 

Ultimately, this is because the NBA is a business. And like all businesses, their goal is to generate revenue. Their largest source of income comes from the stars themselves, regardless of how they behave off the court. 

Marketing is also one of the most important factors for the NBA’s $10 billion yearly revenue. The League, through all their social media platforms, posts highlights, interviews, celebrations, fights and other events, drawing media and consumer attention to their brand. 

Media-driven narratives center attention on certain players regardless of their objective skill. More popular players will have more posts about them, bring in more jersey sales, and sell more arena tickets. 

The bottom line of the League is they prioritize players and teams who bring in more revenue.

Despite their problematic pasts, the League will continue to promote NBA greats like Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant.

Officials will continue to overlook blatant flopping from current NBA favorites like Chris Paul and Joel Embiid.

Popular NBA franchises like the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics will continue to get the most nationally televised games.

Conversely, the League will continue to punish those who stop their cash flow. 

In 2019, former Houston Rockets coach Daryl Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong protestors. In response, China removed games from airing and ended sponsorships with the NBA. Because China is one of the NBA’s largest markets, the League forced Morey to delete the tweet, but the damage had been done. Ultimately, the tweet cost the League hundreds of millions of dollars

Despite the League’s positive stance on social justice, they almost always choose to ignore certain issues when there is money on the line. 

The NBA isn’t the only sports league with bad actors, and they aren’t the only ones who struggle to dole out punishments. Giddey’s allegations aren’t the first instance where people will question the Commissioner’s authority. 

The League must start to choose morals over money, especially considering their players are role models for young people all around the world.

Otherwise, more embarrassing controversies will only tear the credibility of the League apart. 

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About the Contributor
Matt Craig, Opinions Editor
Matt Craig is currently a senior at South Forsyth High School and is very excited to begin his first year writing for The Bird Feed. He looks forward to honing his writing and photography skills as well as making many lifelong memories on this staff. He spends a lot of time playing his guitar and studies fretboard theory in his free time. As a member of the Cross Country team, he enjoys going on long nature runs while tuning into a podcast. Matt loves listening to several diverse genres of music from artists like Laufey, NewJeans, Frank Ocean, and Bad Bunny. He enjoys watching all kinds of sports, and he loves cheering for Atlanta’s teams. You will most likely find him watching Netflix, scrolling through Twitter, or taking long naps. Matt dreams of becoming a Congressman in Washington D.C. He loves meeting new people, so don’t hesitate to say hello!