For the past two years an interesting idea has been picking up steam, among the top golfers in the world. Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and others have been approached by the Premier Golf League about forming a new tour, one stacked with only the biggest names in the sport. It would promise huge earnings and of course, the big names would draw large audiences on television. The new leagues hopes to launch in 2022 or ’23 and that would severely impact the PGA and European Tours, the two most established tours in the world: players would have to jump ship. This conversation, naturally, makes one wonder why Black stars in the NBA can’t follow the same blueprint.
The PGA would still exist without Tiger Woods but it wouldn’t be nearly what it became, due to his celebrity. The PGA, like any other sport, is driven by stars. Television brings the big dollars to sports and television revenues are strictly tied to eyeballs. Eyeballs, of course, are a function of star power. If the stars of golf sought out a television deal to air matches, people would watch, the players would get paid and they would be their own bosses. The same could be said of LeBron James, Steph Curry and a host of other NBA stars: fans tune in to see them, not the league. If those stars decided to leverage their celebrity to land their own television contracts, they’re instantly paid. Why not?
NBA players make more than ever before but ultimately, they still have “owners” and those owners are the real power. Like anyone else, players would have far more freedom and agency, if they worked for themselves. The question for Black athletes today is whether they want to exercise power and take a risk in order to have true freedom. The evidence is overwhelming that stars command audiences, not leagues. It is clear that the leagues need the stars and not the other way around. Television networks would gladly throw money at stars, wherever they decided to lace up. It comes down to the revolutionary choice to exercise power and whether Black people will support those who do so. In other words, Black people have to go out of their way to support Black people when they do Black things, or it won’t matter.
Black people aren’t new to forming their own leagues. Rube Foster formed the Negro Leagues and had tremendous success. Ice Cube launched the Big 3 and even in a down year, has been able to draw 10,000 fans each game. In the face of all this history, why couldn’t NBA stars simply decide to refuse the scraps and own the entire kitchen? If Tiger and other PGA stars push away the PGA for another, star-driven league, they won’t get the opportunity to break PGA records but they would be legends, at the bank. The same is true for NBA players and it simply comes down to choices.