First appeared in BOXSCORE
By Aron Solomon
Any professional league has its carrots and sticks to deal with athlete behavior.
The NBA has already tried to use their carrots with Ja Morant and these carrots have obviously not worked. Not once. Not ever.
For those who haven’t been closely following the ongoing telenovela out of Memphis, Ja Morant, a remarkably talented guard for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, has found himself embroiled in a series of troubling incidents that have resulted in his suspension from team activities. These controversies have sparked widespread debate and concern within the basketball community and basically, anyone who even turns on the news.
Back in March, the NBA suspended Morant for eight games without pay after an Instagram Live video emerged, revealing him holding a gun in a strip club. This absurdly irresponsible act warranted serious consequences, as it displayed a flagrant disregard for safety and set a poor example for his fans.
Yet Morant’s troubles clearly did not end there. In May, another video circulated on social media, capturing him brandishing a firearm (note: for the record, some are absurdly excusing this second incident arguing that it was a “toy gun”) while riding in a car. This alarming display prompted the league to suspend him from all team activities pending a thorough review of the video. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver condemned Morant’s behavior, labeling it as “irresponsible, reckless, and potentially very dangerous.”
So, this morning, in the NBA’s version of a big stick (which is actually a very tiny stick), they handed down a 25-game suspension to Ja Morant.
For the record, a 25 game suspension for Ja Morant is a joke.
The economic reality of this suspension is only a part of a much greater whole. This part is admittedly not a joke. Morant will lose approximately $10 million in salary for missing what is essentially 1/3 of next season. Then, when we factor in endorsement deals and the fact that he is not hitting the highest level of engagement and performance, which would allow him to track toward maximum contract opportunities and incentives (this is obviously a much longer and more complicated tale) the total amount that he is probably out of pocket between his antics this season and next season’s suspension is $45 million
But that’s the only part of the suspension that makes any sense at all. I have a revelation to share with everyone and it is finally time that you all listen:
The culture in and around the National Basketball Association is of its own creation. The league only created this culture of violence and irresponsibility, it continues to nurture it every single day.
The Morant suspension is a case in point. Ja Morant is lucky that neither he nor anyone in his “camp” (more on this in a minute) was killed. He has multiple instances from the past season of putting himself into situations where he is trying to look like someone experienced in and around guns. Maybe he is and maybe he isn’t. The lesson here should be for him and any young NBA sad that this is a fantastic way to ultimately get yourself killed.
Back to the idea of his camp, it’s obvious to everybody but him that he needs to permanently get rid of everyone in his entourage. A 25-game suspension is absolutely no motivation to do that.
So the punchline here that I haven’t delivered yet is what would have been an accurate and adequate suspension. There actually such an easy answer to this, which makes it more remarkable that the NBA didn’t get it. We would be looking at and should be looking at a one-year suspension which would cost Ja Morant close to $150 million in salary and lost opportunities. This would send a message, not only to him, but everybody else in the league who is thinking of blowing their lifetime chance to be a superstar and to create generational wealth.
As New York lawyer, Billy Cooper, points out, the public will never know every detail behind the Morant or other suspensions:
“Any significant suspension in a professional sports league is a contractual issue. It is not generally something that comes down from on high but is rather part of a negotiation with the players union and lawyers on all sides. No professional league wants to announce a suspension and then immediately have it go through a long challenge process. Anything that these leagues can do to prevent that before the suspension comes down is beneficial for the league and the player”
But here we are, with an NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, who sees himself as a friend and ally of the players and is doing them, collectively and individually, irreparable harm.
Those who follow this stuff extremely closely can’t help but ask themselves what comes next. My first reaction this morning was that if Ja Morant’s collective actions are worth a 25-game suspension, what, exactly, with somebody need to do to be suspended for an entire NBA season?
With how the NBA has been going for the past few years, this question may not be rhetorical for long.
Postscript: As often happens when writing about breaking news, just as I was about to send this piece to my editor, more news broke on this when the NBA player’s association (NBPA) called the suspension “excessive and inappropriate.” In helping to take this situation from really bad to much worse, the NBPA now has to wear some of the collective responsibility for this mess. Nike piled on, minutes later, saying that they were so pleased that Morant was talking responsibility (Nike clearly sets the bar very, very low) and would stick by him.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.