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Commissioner Adam Silver earns praise for pulling off a successful reboot after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown and for keeping the NBA moving during nearly unprecedented racial tensions in the country. At the moment, however, he should be charged with dereliction of duty for ignoring the antics of Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell.

Harrell apparently is getting a free pass despite injecting race into verbal jousting with Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic. And it may be happening for the lamest of reasons: Such stuff goes on all the time.

Montrezl Harrell crossed a line in his beef with Luka Doncic

The Los Angeles Clippers went up 2-1 in their NBA playoffs first-round series with the Dallas Mavericks on Aug. 21 by earning a 130-122 victory. During that game, the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic and the Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell exchanged words, with one comment by Harrell crossing a seemingly obvious line.

The two got into it early in the contest as Doncic accused Harrell of flopping as part of an exchange resulting in a double technical foul. Later, the Clippers forward scored over Doncic and appeared to call him “white boy,” preceded by a couple of impolite modifiers.

The adjectives may have been rude, but players drop those or comparable words into their sparring with opponents on a regular basis. Rather, the troubling aspect was Harrell’s need to raise the stakes by dropping skin color into his comment.

At the very least, the “white boy” remark establishes that Harrell is a hypocrite when he takes a knee during the national anthem, a gesture that is supposed to call attention to social justice and inequities in the country. Short of violence or overt acts of discrimination, is there anything more unjust than judging a man by the color of his skin, which Harrell did?

Retired NBA journeyman forward Matt Barnes, who appears on the All The Smoke podcast, gives Montrezl Harrell a pass on the comments made to Luka Doncic on the basis of competitive juices that flow during a game with a lot on the line.

“There is nothing off-limits on that court. People’s moms, sisters, wives, brothers, kids, colors, it’s all talked about. Does it come from a place of hate? No. It comes from a place of competitiveness.”

Matt Barnes

Jay Williams calls out Montrezl Harrell for his words

In discussing Montrezl Harrell, Matt Barnes went on to say he does not disagree that the verbal expressions of hate don’t belong in every-day society.

But, in drawing a distinction between sports and real life, Barnes ignores that the NBA injected every-day society into sport by the way it reacted in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The NBA plays on courts prominently featuring the words “Black Lives Matter.” Most players have replaced their names across the top of jerseys with league-approved social justice messages.

The seriousness of the race issue in America does not go down once the first shot goes up in a game. That’s why turning a blind ear to Harrell’s use of race to define and denigrate an opponent cannot be casually brushed aside.

ESPN analyst Jay Williams, also a former NBA player, went 180 degrees in the opposite direction from Barnes.

“I can only imagine if Luka Doncic had said something like that to you and it got caught on tape,” Williams said on Instagram, addressing his comments toward Harrell. “I can only imagine during Black Lives Matter how much of a big deal that would have been considering today’s climate.”

Williams speculated that a reversal of roles would have immediately made Doncic a pariah and placed him under scrutiny off the court.

“Everybody would have been commenting on it. We would have asked LeBron about it, we would have asked Kawhi about it. Everybody would have had some kind of statement about it. But it’s not that big of a story because ‘Trez said it to a caucasian person.”

Jay Williams

Adam Silver should have addressed the issue quickly

Adam Silver has had plenty to juggle this summer. But the NBA commissioner had all day Saturday to react and respond to Montrezl Harrell’s race-based insult.

The soft approach would have been to issue a statement saying that Harrell’s words were distasteful, had no place in the NBA, and would not be tolerated going forward. The hardline approach would have been a suspension for Game 4 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ playoff series vs. the Dallas Mavericks.

Somewhere in between, Silver could have fined Harrell a quarter of a game check. The $20,000 or so wouldn’t have hit Harrell hard, but it would have delivered a message to the league – and its fans – that Silver recognized a line had been crossed.

Silver chose to do nothing. And that appears to be a message in and of itself.