Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell touched off a debate over a double standard in the NBA on Friday when he insulted an opponent using race-based language.
Harrell, who is black, faced no punishment from the league for calling Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic a “b— a– white boy.”
The incident followed a collision and some heated conversation between the players.
“B!tch a$$ white boy”
– Montrezl Harrell to Luka Doncic pic.twitter.com/tlzxIFOerz
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) August 22, 2020
On ABC broadcast, Mike Breen says Montrezl Harrell apologized to Luka Doncic for calling him a “b*tch a** white boy.” Jeff Van Gundy says he was surprised the league took no action. Mark Jackson acknowledged there’s a double standard and it’d be a bigger deal if reversed.
— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) August 23, 2020
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Harrell heard from him about the incident, according to Sports Illustrated.
“You just have to be careful,” Rivers said. “They both were talking. I don’t think Luka was saying anything racial, but he was swearing. So they both were doing it. It’s an emotional game. It’s a playground game out there in the playoffs. I said to him, ‘Hey, I don’t think you meant anything racially by it.’ He said ‘white boy,’ but I don’t think there was anything racial intended.”
“But we are in a very heightened climate, and you have to be careful. Trez was the first one to say that. He said, ‘I didn’t mean that racially.’ And I said it doesn’t matter. It’s what’s perceived … make sure you do the right thing.”
A league spokesman said the NBA “addressed the incident with Harrell,” according to Sports Illustrated.
Harrell later posted a comment on Twitter saying he “cleared the air” with Doncic.
If gone get the story get it right all I ask, no one spoke wit me to do anything I approach him and cleared the air from all the outside nonsense that was being said. Nothing but respect for Luka he understood the heat of the battle and he said it didn’t bother him only RESPECT https://t.co/MOKlkT3CAH
— Montrezl Harrell (@MONSTATREZZ) August 23, 2020
“It was OK. No worries,” Doncic said Sunday, according to USA Today. “A lot of emotions on the court, especially with the playoffs. Sometimes you say things you don’t want to say. He apologized. I respect that. So no problems.”
In writing about the incident, Dan Feldman of NBC Sports said, “Let’s just jump straight to the question that always comes up: What if Doncic called Harrell a “b****-a** black boy? It’d be different.”
Feldman said there is a reason invective can only flow one way between races.
“There is a long and deep history of white people using racism — perpetuated, among other ways, by language — to repress Black people. The same isn’t true the other way. Anti-Black words have more power. Disparaging words about white people have been far more harmless,” he wrote.
ESPN’s Jay Williams, however, condemned Harrell’s actions in a video posted to Twitter on Sunday.
“I am no lip-reader, but damn, Trez. Damn Montrezl,” Williams said. “I can only imagine if Luka Doncic had said something like that to you and it got caught on tape. I can only imagine during Black Lives Matter how much of a big deal that would have been, considering today’s climate and state. It would have been a massive story. Luka would’ve lost all credibility in this space.
“Everybody would’ve been commenting on it. People would’ve asked LeBron [James] about it. People would’ve asked Kawhi [Leonard] about it. Everyone would’ve had some kind of statement about it.
“But it’s not that big of a story, because Trez said it to a caucasian person. It should be a big story, because it’s not acceptable, man.”
— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) August 22, 2020
“The solution here is simple, even if many won’t like it: the NBA has to suspend Montrezl Harrell and send a message that race-based derogatory comments like his on the basketball court won’t be tolerated. The NBA has already set this precedent with gay slurs on the court, why not with racial-based insults as well?” he wrote.
Noting that a race-based insult from Doncic would have drawn vast condemnation, Sheffield wrote, “That discrepancy isn’t healthy for our country or the NBA. We need to work towards common standards for all, regardless of race. If Luka’s comments would be unacceptable and greeted with a suspension then so should Harrell’s.”
“If Luka screamed a hateful message rooted in race to Harrell would the black community lend an ounce of defense for him?” he added. “Not a chance. So we shouldn’t do it for Harrell either. We all need to try and treat everyone equally, not setting up a scoreboard of acceptable sports behavior based on the race of the speaker.”
“Equality can’t just be a slogan in the NBA, it has to be a promise too,” Sheffield said.
Doncic sent a message of his own Sunday, nailing a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to seal the Mavs’ 135-133 overtime win and even the series at 2-2.
The 21-year-old Slovenian finished with 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists.
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