Managing Fear and Fantasy: Cultural Politics and Gameplay Governance in the National Basketball Association, 1990–2006

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In the 1990s and 2000s, National Basketball Association (NBA) officials instituted a series of new penalties for players initiating bodily contact on the court. This article demonstrates, through a focus on the rhetoric by which the new rules were written and supported, that gameplay governance reflected cultural-political context. Officials navigated Blackophobia and Blackophilia, as theorized by Yousman, by promising to both contain the threat and unleash the exciting athleticism of the Black athlete/body. Amid turn-of-the-century “crime” discourse, this rhetoric reiterated, and continues to reiterate, the apparent necessity of White neoliberal paternalism in relation to Black subjects. Such reiteration of dominant ideology has been central to officials’ efforts to integrate the NBA spectacle into the global-capitalist system.

Marston (sbmarston@gmail.com) is with the Department of History, Trinity College, Hartford, CT.

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