The Ja Morant matter has raised some interesting discussions among NBA people, with the universal conclusion seemingly the hope that the Grizzlies star gets his priorities straight. And that basketball is high on that list.
Morant was suspended for eight games without pay after a league investigation surrounding his appearance in a livestream from a Denver area nightspot in which he is holding a gun and appears intoxicated. According to a release, the NBA “did not conclude that the gun at issue belonged to Morant, was brought by him into the nightclub or was displayed by him beyond a brief period. The investigation also did not find that Morant possessed the gun while traveling with the team or in any NBA facility, and the Colorado authorities did not find sufficient cause to charge Morant with a crime.”
While the league doesn’t specifically state the gun wasn’t Morant’s, he denied ownership to the NBA officials with whom he met in New York and said the same in a subsequent television interview.
‘Suspended for Being Bad for Business’
With the specific legal issues out of the way, the league was left to penalize Morant for the optics.
“They suspended him for being bad for business,” one prominent player agent told Heavy Sports. “I’m sure the people in the league office are concerned for Ja as a person, too, but they have to prioritize the business. His family, the team and the other people around him have to be there to support the guy, but everybody has to know where the league is on this.
“I tell all my players: this is all a giant machine. Yeah, it runs on your talent, but it’s the business the league has grown that draws in the money. The popularity of the league gives you the platform not only for your salary but for the endorsements and all the other revenue that’s out there for you. Companies want to be associated with the NBA, and you can see that in how much the value of these franchises has gone up. The guys who really make bank are the ones who understand how everything’s tied together.
“You’re definitely still your own man, but you represent your family, your team and the league, too. And you have to be careful out there.”
There are always concerns when famous people are in public, but the pitfalls are more clear, present and immediate because of technology.
Said one former player to Heavy, “It’s a different world now. Everybody has a camera in their phone. Everybody is the national news — the international news. It was different when I came in, but now there’s no real privacy. Ja choosing to do this to himself with that video is crazy, but you have to understand that you’re always in the spotlight.
“I think back to some of the situations we were in years ago and I cringe. We’re not talking about anything major, but there were times when some drunk guy would say something in a bar. Maybe you said something back. Now, what if all that was on video and being shown around the world an hour later?
“Just thinking about that makes me happy I’m old.”
The NBA Needs Ja
In the wake of Morant’s video, the player’s business relationship with Powerade has hit a snag, with the company pulling ads featuring him from NCAA tournament broadcasts.
On the playing side, Morant will miss two more games because of the suspension and will likely be out a bit longer as he gets up to speed for the Grizzlies’ stretch run to the playoffs.
“I really hope he gets his s*** together,” a rival coach told Heavy Sports after the suspension was announced. “Dynamic players like him don’t come around every day. I have to watch so much video to prepare for our games that sometimes you just want to get a break from it after you’ve finished your work. But if Ja’s on, I’m watching.
“A guy like that who’s not only physically gifted, but, more than that, he plays with such intensity… guys like that drive the sport. Basketball’s a whole lot better with him in it.”
No doubt the league is hoping to move on from the matter as quickly and cleanly as possible. Commissioner Adam Silver was speaking to multiple entities in his statement that accompanied the suspension announcement: “Ja’s conduct was irresponsible, reckless and potentially very dangerous. It also has serious consequences given his enormous following and influence, particularly among young fans who look up to him. He has expressed sincere contrition and remorse for his behavior. Ja has also made it clear to me that he has learned from this incident and that he understands his obligations and responsibility to the Memphis Grizzlies and the broader NBA community extend well beyond his play on the court.”
Said the aforementioned agent, “Adam is a players’ commissioner, sure, but what he’s doing here is telling everyone who does business with the league — from the fans to the corporations — that, don’t worry, everything is all right. He’s talking to the players, too.”