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?
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)
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)
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)
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.