Ball-a-Holics

I never bought the critique levied on Jordan Era black basketball players for too much blind indivualism before. Ballhogging is the inalienable right of anyone looking to make that career-ending, championship-winning shot eleven years after he first strapped up the laces. Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant exemplify Fab Five Shortsthis megalomania with their selfish, 25-shots-a-night entitlements. Lebron James, in his own way, also extends from this guard-centric tradition. James flows more smoothly in an offense but one that is still predicated upon him having the rock by any means. I didn’t buy the naysaying before because in lieu of “playing the right way” we had a storm of hip-hop influenced power players who held the nineties down with baggy shorts and truculent attitudes. At best, they railed against certain hallowed institutions of accepted playing style. The Jordan Clones did not win as often as he did, or even live up to their heir/Air hype machines but they played defense, hustled, passed out of double teams and generally showed a willingness to take the final shot and the blame if they missed.

But with the baggy shorts came some irascible attitudes, piss-poor rap albums and excessive behaviors. Much more fodder for already rabidly racist sportswriters who looked to lampoon these new styles and new jack players.

At one end there was Chris Webber, AI and other Hall-of-Fame caliber players in the hip-hop spirit, but at another pole were fool’s gold follies like Stephon Marbury, Jalen Rose and Zach Randolph. All of these players share two traits: selfish play (disregard their assists which stem from impetuous, unfeeling forays into the lane); and their doomed stints with the New York Knicks. Since their last championship run in 1998, the Knicks have shifted from being a “character team” with a prayer circle convening after wins to the epitome of hip-hop selfishness. Of course this comes as a shock to a die-hard like me who kind of expects toughness and hard work from an organization paying its roster nearly two times that of smaller teams. It’s even more shocking in the wake of my subjective allegiance to all things hip-hop. To be fair, hip-hop ballers like Kobe Bryant still drop 81 points in games and regularly win games due to their individualism. Carmelo Anthony (certainly a hip-hop baller) has the most lethal jab step in the league and a paltry assist average to prove his cred. Even so, they make the NBA game exciting because they turn fourth quarters into unpredictable swirls of star power. In spite of it seeming scripted that Kobe Bryant always takes the stare-down, triple-fake three with his team down eight, it is no premeditated act. It’s a function of his presumed superiority.

“Why not take it if I’m this good?”

But for the non-Kobes of the world like Stephon Marbury, those same rights to ridiculous shots have been ordained by mythical hip-hop basketball gods. And yet a notch lower, Jamal Crawford, who for all his talents will never be an All-Star, has adopted this mentality. I’m elated when he scores 52 on Detroit while hitting umpteen straight shots but less so when he jacks three straight ill-advised shots during a relatively close game. I’m stunned/amazed when he abuses Denver at their home stadium after being down 15, grabs the game-winning steal and sinks the winning three. Not so much impressed when he throws full-court lob passes to the docile Eddy Curry.

Must we take the good with the bad? Just as a caricatured gangster act has dominated hip-hop for the past 8 years, the same strange, monolithic act has descended on NBA players who might otherwise be good. It’s not because the gamers have gotten younger either. Kevin Garnett and Amare Stoudemire are wholly different beings on the basketball court, the former possessing an altruism that causes us to question his heart, the latter moving by sheer force and insular will. Imagine a league wherein a talent like Garnett gets berated for his team skills. Sounds strange doesn’t it? But here we are, not because of young players but because of premature, precocious players.

Aaron McGruder is never afraid to turn the mirror on black culture for his scathing satire on “The Boondocks.” This episode calls into question the erosion of skill and the rise of materialism without resorting to the smug analysis of TV sports shows. Charles Barkley will forever believe that a better brand of basketball player existed when he played, which to an extent is true, but he’ll never question the transition (much less implicate his legacy as a cause). McGruder, by contrast, has used Riley Freeman to typify the grandiose buffoonery that exists in Madison Square Garden.

The BoonDocks Episode – Ball-a-Holics

The team helmed by a selfish, single-minded point guard from Chicago’s mean streets will now live to doom itself. I can’t believe I’m admitting this even as I write it. Good character — no, winning character — is better for a basketball team than a collection of stars. I thought I would never come out of my affixed belief system; it’s the one the exalts the effects of hip-hop on larger culture for better or worse. Unfortunately, one element in hip-hop has ruined basketball.

My last visit to the Garden infuriated me on this note. Every single time Zach Randolph caught the ball, with double- and triple-teams swarming, he shot it or threw it away. He didn’t even think to pass. Now, Eddy Curry was once prone to succumb to good double-teams…hell, so was Tim Duncan. But those players suffered more from passing deficiencies than their own selfishness. Randolph allows himself to be the Black Hole on a squad already loaded with Black Holes: the rock goes in but it sure don’t come out.

Then it occurred to me that these same young men probably sit isolated on the team plane, enveloped by headphones, listening to gangster music. Rolling solo is (supposedly) the mark of a man in headphone world. A few years ago, when Phil Jackson railed against hip-hop style overtaking his Laker team, I shuddered. The counterculture hippie Buddhist pothead was crying foul over my culture. How dare he!

After some analysis, Phil was not all right but he got pretty damn close with his assessment. Now, that’s not to say Tim Duncan, consummate team player, is not hip-hop. We all know he bumps that in the speakers. Chris Paul, J-Kidd, Deron Williams, Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Kenny Smith and a slew of other capable, unselfish players also come in the hip-hop tradition of play. But the worst sores on the league are no doubt influenced by the individuality plague. Perhaps now that 50 Cent has been conquered, the intractable egomania palling black athletes will give way to some less rigid, more holistic ideas of sport. Until then, I’m hoping Ricky Davis scores 65 in a game that I watch on league pass as a tribute to all the selfish homeys out there.

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1 Response to “Ball-a-Holics”


  1. 1 Patrick M. December 7, 2007 at 4:01 am

    Dont make me go off on you on AI. He’s my favorite player of all time and I’ll defend him to death. He remade his game as a PG the last few years in Philly and now in Denver. He aint Steve Nash, but who is?

    I wonder if Steve Nash listens to hip-hop. Maybe some Kardinal Official? Mood Ruff? Anyone?

    Damn you write alot…makes me need to get back the keyboard to keep up.


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