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A Hoop Dream?
Published on Saturday, June 8, 2002 by
A Hoop Dream?
by Seth Sandronsky

So it has come to this for a leading figure in U.S. progressive politics. Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and Green Party presidential candidate, wants an inquiry into the officiating during the recent Kings-Lakers playoff series. NBA Commissioner David Stern disagrees.

I take issue with both of their positions. Why? They are misdirecting the public’s attention away from the economics of pro basketball.

Well, in my view, the NBA is a publicly-subsidized playground for the rich and super rich. For example, this year’s playoff games have been televised on NBC, a Pentagon corporation. It wouldn’t exist without regular taxpayer dollars from the U.S. population’s pockets to weapons contractors.

The U.S. public pays for the “privilege” of pro sports in other ways. Here’s an example from my hometown of Sacramento. It is not an exception to the rule nationwide.

“The city of Sacramento finally has the cash it needs to keep the Kings in town,” reported The Sacramento Bee of July 19, 1997. How much? Well, the city (the taxpayers) sold about $73 million in bonds to help keep Sacramento’s basketball team financially solvent.

Kings officials at the time had informed the city that the team might leave for financially greener pastures without the public subsidy. Let them go, I said at the time. Others agreed, but their voices were hard for the public to hear.

Imagine the response a boss would give a worker if s/he voiced a similar demand to that of Kings officials. Would a boss wait a minute of less before showing the worker to the door? I doubt it.

On a related note, the presence of a pro sports franchise in Sacramento hasn’t reduced the number of poor and “working poor.” In 1998, my eyes watered at the number of these people being served at a local meals program for which I volunteered. But then, great wealth generates widespread poverty, as the economic boom of the 1990s that increased the U.S. wealth gap to record levels has shown.

Nader, arguably the nation’s best-know progressive, is off the mark demanding an inquiry into the calls of basketball officials during a playoff series. His stance sidesteps who benefits from pro sports by accepting a false community of interests between those who control pro basketball and the public. This is a hoop dream, a sad sight to see.

Government is the lifeline for the rich, according to author Ellen Meiksins Wood. In pro basketball and big business generally, the public supports a wealthy minority. Progressive politics should be partly about focusing on who lives large and who squeaks by, and why.

Seth Sandronsky is an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive newspaper. Email:


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