Political Philosophies of the NBA

Written by A.M.

Basketball is one of the few team sports where one individual effort can trump that of the entire opposing team’s efforts.  Unlike football where the team or the coach might represent the franchise, basketball is different. The NBA would fail if its top performers and stars (below) quit. But still, it’s a team sport.  So the question begs, which political philosophy is most prevalent in the league?  How could civic republicanism and/or classic liberalism help teams and players find success?

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The front office:

NBA owners, GMs and other executives understand that they need everyone working together to make things happen.  They need this cohesiveness and optimization to gain a competitive advantage over other franchises.  If executives worked from a philosophy of individualism the product they put together just wouldn’t make sense.  If every decision maker from the top was only worried about bolstering his/her resume by making deals, then the franchise would suffer from those selfish moves. Everyone must work for each other towards a common goal of building the team that is envisioned.  For these reasons I see NBA front offices with a mindset of civic republicanism.  (Below is Laker’s President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka)

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Coaching:

Most NBA coaches have to deal with the cards (players) they are dealt with.  They also have to work towards goals set by the front office they work for.  Surprisingly these goals don’t always have winning as a top priority.  A coach with a philosophy of classical liberalism would want to individually perform their best. Working hard at what they do to produce wins, mastering their craft as an individual. But this job requires a philosophy of civic republicanism.  Instead of worrying about themselves as individuals, they need to sacrifice that mindset and worry about the greater good of the franchise.  Sometimes this sacrifice can even stain their reputation as an individual.  These coaches need to share the collective goal of the franchise as a whole.  While losing games might ruin public perception of a coach, those losses can grant a team with a high draft pick who alters the franchises path for decades into the future.  It is so important that coaches see the collective goal and work towards that instead of their own personal goals.  (Below is Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich)

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Players:

When considering there are less than 500 jobs to play professional basketball in the NBA, one could infer that these individuals were able to maximize the performance of themselves.  These jobs are highly coveted and most players have a chip on their shoulder from all of the doubters they proved wrong to get to this point.  If a player were to worry or sacrifice too much for a teams good they would likely not have ever been recognized to get to this point.  Executives don’t look at a college team and say “That is the team that I want”, they look at a single player and know that they want that single player.  This is why I think that NBA players have to have a philosophy of classical liberalism. Every player as an individual needs to maximize their performance, their craft, their contribution in order to have any success at all.  Obviously there is a big team dynamic.  But everyone on the team knows that they as an individual need to work extremely hard to accomplish anything. (Below are former teammates Lebron James and Kyrie Irving)

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The answer isn’t just “civic republicanism” or “classic liberalism”.  The answer is a calculated mix of both throughout all levels of the process.  Some jobs in the professional sports industry need that shared goal where everyone chips in to achieve success.  Other jobs call for individuals worried about themselves doing their thing.  A healthy mix of both philosophies together can be used to achieve greatness.

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6 Responses to Political Philosophies of the NBA

  1. Anonymous Student says:

    I really enjoyed your take on connecting the NBA to what we have been studying. The basic idea of any team sport or activity relies on a fine balance between individualism and communalism. The NBA is a perfect example for this balance. Stars like Lebron and Russell Westbrook have pretty massive individual egos, but they wouldn’t succeed without the greater participation of the team. The best formula for success in the NBA in the past decade has been San Antonio, and they balance the ideas of individualism and communalism the best.

  2. Anonymous Student says:

    Good point! Having a mixture of both civic republicanism and classic liberalism analyzed through the medium of sports can show how there needs to be a balance in order for not just the team and franchise to succeed, but also making sure those in the system (players, coaches, GM’s,etc) are able to succeed and promote the NBA as they understand each other needs and calculate their actions and practices to get the most out of their time in the NBA(money, endorsements, celebrity status, etc). For example if a megastar is unable to accept the responsibility and understand their egos, such as many argue with Russell Westbrook, they are unable to succeed as they can’t get players of superstar caliber to stay with them (Kevin Durant leaving) so there is a mixture of both ideas in order to have success in their craft.

  3. Anonymous Student says:

    Hi AM, great way of approaching this topic. I am not a basketball fan or know much about this sport. With your post, you easily illustrated your knowledge on both topics of the sport and our discussions in class. I loved the pictures and the structure of your post. I have never heard of the front office but based on your explanation I totally get why you assessed them as civic republicans and I agree. I personally think coaches need to be civic republicans, but I understand why you argue for a mix of the two. I think most of the areas need a mix (surprise most things are a mix as usual). As for the players, I can’t stop thinking about the cliché of “a team is only as strong as its weakest player” reflecting, as you say, the individual’s “need to work hard to accomplish anything.” I love the conclusion about it being a mixed sport, which I think is accurate, great job.

  4. Anonymous Student says:

    I think this connection between Civic Republicanism/Classical Liberalism and the NBA is a great analogy. In any major corporation or franchise, success absolutely depends on both short term and long term strategies. Coaches of less than great teams might take a few losses to at the end of the season to get that high draft pick. (Lebron is an example of a player who completely reshaped an organization.)

    Looking at recent NBA team deals and acquisitions this past year I think we’re also starting to see a lot of players mix classic liberal ideology with civic republicanism off the court/business wise. ( Kevin Durant taking $1.5 Million less than he was contracted last year and $9.5 M less than he was eligible to receive to keep the all star Warriors team together.) I think it’ll be interesting to see the way the league goes as more high profile players (like Lebron, KD, Curry, Westbrook, etc.) have more impact on the franchises business decisions and effect those ideologies. Great post.

  5. krschaue says:

    Great job writing this post as I feel like it is very thought out and really shows the mixture of both civic republicanism and classic liberalism. This mixture is essential to make sure the team, players, coaches, and all of the NBA can benefit from these certain ideas and ideology’s. It is very true and accurate when you said that a healthy mix of both philosophies can be used to achieve greatness and I do see that in certain NBA teams. Overall, a well written piece and very interested to read!

  6. Anonymous Student says:

    This was by far my favorite post on this assignment. I love watching professional sports, and the NBA is especially fun to watch. In the last few years, the NBA has become massively entertaining, and I think the reason for that lies within your post. NBA organizations are complex and full of different types of people performing different roles. You did a great job of breaking down the three main components: Coaches, Players, and the Front Office. I really liked your assessment of players’ motivation: finding a balance between happiness on a team as well as understanding there are very few jobs for a basketball player.

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