When LeBron James described NFL team owners as having a “slave mentality” on Friday, it was his bluntest public swipe to date. Sure, James called President Donald Trump a “bum” last year, but that was just a tweet. Last week’s comments, aired on James’ HBO show The Shop, were sharp and unambiguous.
James was referring to the NFL’s new anthem policy, which required players to stand for the national anthem or earn their teams a fine. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the new protocol without consulting the NFL Player’s Association, which sparked furore among players, and thus the policy lasted just two months before being canned. The NBA, meanwhile, insisted its players follow a similar policy, yet it didn’t receive close to the same criticism.
James’ comments highlighted the division of the NFL and the unity of the NBA and, underneath, the data shows the two leagues going in opposite directions.
The NBA’s stock rose further on Tuesday when it showcased its top players across 12 hours of programming, and marked 10 years since the league increased its Christmas Day schedule to five games. In that time, basketball has become synonymous with 25 December, similar to the way Thanksgiving would feel empty without NFL football.
Still, the NFL’s own domestic fanbase is undeniable. Few other sports can lure in the realm of 100 million Americans to watch its crown jewel event, the Super Bowl, even if it is just for the highly anticipated half-time music performance and advertisements.