When Black Players Were Basketball Slaves: Has the NBA Really Changed?

Andy Johnson at the Philadelphia Warriors/An int’l ad for the Harlem GlobeTrotters

The NBA Finals are in full swing, and after the Golden State Warriors dominated the first two games of the series, many are wondering if the Cleveland Cavaliers can mount a comeback. Fans on both sides are taking shots at the other. Cavs diehards bemoan Steph Curry’s reliance on the three-point shot, while Warriors fanatics question LeBron James’ ability to rally his squad. As the trash talk, comical memes, and debate rages on, echoing in the annals of history are other more startling words:

“My high school and college used me. The pros sold me. I was a basketball slave.” – Andy Johnson

In a time when basketball players like James and Curry garner million-dollar endorsement deals, magazine covers, and primetime coverage of their every move, the words of Andy Johnson, a former forward for the Philadelphia Warriors (now Golden State) and star of the Original Harlem Globetrotters, may seem shocking for those who do not know the history of professional basketball. But Johnson’s words and experiences are more than ancient history; they are a deeply resonating whisper in the noise created by lucrative contracts, advertising deals, and reality television shows.

Without a doubt, the treatment and perception of professional Black ballplayers has certainly come a long way. But the residue of racism has not been totally washed away from the game.


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