Archive for the 'Lovin’ Basketball' Category

Defending Love Lockdown, Gilbert Arenas

 

Kanye West is the most relevant musician on the current music scene, because he operates in a dying genre that he’s somehow resuscitating by reminding everyone what it’s like to take a gumbo of music forms and make it into one thing. He has this bold vision that he may never specifically articulate, except to say that it deals with greatness and dimensionality. Some of his best work is a berth of pride and spiritual boldness. “Love Lockdown” is part exceptionalism, not one rapped lyric finds its way in; and part leapfrog into a world of little accountability. If artistic liberation metes itself out in the quixotic “experimental” album moment for every musician, this is Kanye’s Electric Circus/Perfect Imperfections/Sgt. Pepper, if you will.

Continue reading ‘Defending Love Lockdown, Gilbert Arenas’

Josh Howard In “Fear of A Black Athlete”

One of my favorite NBAers, Josh Howard, got into another scrape with the media in a summer of disfavor for him. In a moment of YouTube candor, one that he will not soon forget, Howard jokes about the National Anthem saying “I don’t even celebrate this sh*t. I’m black.” Just as many Blacks understood, and even sympathized with Reverend Jeremiah Wrights curdling invective against American misdeeds, Howard expressed a sentiment perhaps only known as a private complaint among us. Obviously, Howard should be much more aware of how young fans (of all races) perceive his words, avoiding expletives when he can. The real story, however, is the reactionary media’s want to throttle Josh Howard for being himself.

Josh Howard needs some mic control advice

Josh Howard needs some mic control advice

The public neglects athlete opinion because the players have only sport to be concerned with for 98% of their year. But, in doing so, so many sports columnists want to muzzle their sports heroes for fear that they will say or do the same shocking, and frightening things associated with Black manhood. In that sense, Howard has aroused a backlash typical of sporting press: he is too rich to talk about the Black condition. Or, even better, he has no right to speak from his envious position. The presumption here is that wealth somehow eradicates racism, which shows just how little some journalists know about walking a mile in the next man’s high tops. Black athletes are in the fishbowl of criticism, waiting anxiously until their moment of judgment comes. Some handle it well. LeBron James has carefully deflected questions that would lead anyone down the road of personal beliefs. Ray Allen has also been the media’s beloved for his willingness to give the thoughtfully safe answer. Josh Howard, Baron Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Charles Oakley, Larry Johnson and others have taken the opposite tack. They know how much their privilege puts them in league with the most staunch Republican’s income brackets, but they choose express dissent from the American values that thrash the people who look like they do. The Josh Howard controversy will soon pass but some other Black athlete will have to negotiate the hazard of speaking his mind, and refuting the accusations of being ungrateful and unappreciative. Since those arguments only rehash trite notions of “knowing your place” I have devised a response mechanism for the Josh Howards of the world:

The Black Athlete Response Plan In Free Speech Terms

  • You’re Too Rich to Complain a.k.a. Wealthy Blacks Have It Easy Mike Fisher of the Dallas Morning News writes:

    Josh Howard was blessed by being surrounded by people who loved him. He was blessed with basketball skills that allowed him a four-year education at Wake Forest. He turned that into a professional career that over the course of a decade or so will pay him $10 million a year.
    He has loved ones and he owns fine homes and he owns all the automobiles he could ever dream of buying and he’s been given/earned financial security for his children and their grandchildren and their grandchildren and their grandchildren. And their grandchildren.

    Mike Fisher should have a conversation with Danny Glover, a wealthy renowned black actor who can neither catch a cab, nor find an American studio to produce his Toussaint L’Ouverture biopic. Mike Fisher should talk to the Black men of Sacramento, who are stopped by highway patrols at a much higher rate, despite living in one of the most affluent sections of the Sunshine State. Wealth and opportunity do not change the ugly biases people demonstrate based on skin color. To many a Texan racist, Howard is nothing but a 6-foot-7 black man, who affirms some of their most deep-seated fears with just his physical stature. Fisher means to say that Josh Howard does not count his blessings because he’s willing to question his country’s racial issues, as if the two could not be mutually exclusive. It’s that kind of circular logic that disables dialogue between groups of people. If racism could be bought off, Oprah, Jay-Z, Tiger Woods, Bob Johnson and Michael Jordan would have stakes in its elimination, or at least have looked into it.

    "Dyou look into that yet?"

  • Athletes aren’t prepared to speak on free speech or other important issues
  • Charley Rosen of Fox Sports writes:

    However, racism in America remains a serious and sensitive subject — one that has to be dealt with in a serious and sensitive fashion. It says here that Howard easily could have found a better, more fruitful way to voice his feeling about this.
    As it is, his foul-mouthed rant contributes nothing positive, creates unnecessary antagonisms, obscures the basic issue and demonstrates that he’s sorely in need of a crash course in anger management.

    Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell formed one of the strongest social coalitions imaginable in their quest to balance their privilege with the incredible disparities in human rights they had witnessed. Kareem-Abdul Jabbar was an outspoken athlete, rife with contradictions, poised to articulate his views no matter the cost to his athletic career. Josh Howard and Ron Artest are not as versed in sociopolitical discourse as the aforementioned greats, but you can bet they have been influenced by those conversations that came before them. Charley Rosen is an elder statesman of sporting history himself so he should know that no voice can be shut out of the conversation. For him to define what is “unnecessary antagonism” or supposedly angry is using stubbornness and rigidity to indicate what goes in a conversation about race. The above clip shows that Howard is joking but there is a double meaning. He knows intuitively that the freedom of this country allows him to criticize its still wayward tendencies. He also knows that humor can hide the eminent pain of knowing this paradox. Rosen would do better checking his censorious comments at the door.

  • If you don’t like it, why don’t you just go to another country? This is the most rich argument of all. Rhetorical questions like these needs to be followed with similar rhetorical questions. Here are a few off the top: Is this the same country that jails Michael Vick for his torture and murder of dogs even while defending a slippery definition of torture? Is this the same country that reinforces the concept of liberty while boasting one of the globe’s largest prison systems? Is this the same country that rewards sexual predators with celebrity while publishing sexual offender lists for anyone looking for that information online? Is this the same country where everyone wants to turn a buck with entrepreneurial freedom but no one volunteers to be taxed? Oh yea, it’s that country. Far be it from me to emphasize these contradictions as negative. On the contrary, addressing these contradictions helps to make us better as individuals. Josh Howard is exercising his right to free speech like any man should be able to. In our era, YouTube has made free speech an even more potent (and inadvertent) utility in expanding the conversation about what constitutes a personal belief, and which comments test the boundaries of tolerance. So be it.The media cycle moves too quickly for our senses to grind down what anything means. The circus of responses has “obscured the basic issue,” to use Rosen’s language, nudging us to find an hasty opinion before importing our fellow man’s rationale for examination. Mark Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and a maverick in his own right. He had to answer to his irate ticket-holders and fans when Howard let his words slip out. But instead of fining Howard, or reprimanding him based on his rash behavior, he posted the racist e-mails and angry tirades on his blog to put the mirror back on the same fans who found Howard so irascible in his light-hearted assessment of patriotism. Cuban has since removed the e-mails, but had this to say about making their addresses temporarily public: Cuban said he knew those e-mailers would be receiving “the same level of hate, ignorance and judgment as Josh had and that’s what bothered me all day.”Josh Howard took the stage that so few Black athletes will, and faced the music. Fortunately, his remarks allow the rest of us to question why he would say it, rather than dismissing his mode of expression.
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    Basketball As Life

    Lately, I have been assessing the meaning of life as it relates to writing a meaningful journal about music, sports and culture. Basketball has been my simple cleansing experience since I was a child so, unlike some sportswriters who scarcely play, the physical part of it has etched itself into the creases of my brain. I start with jumpshots and dribbling as soon as I get to the court. My blood flows warm in my muscles; my heart rate skips; sweat starts to pour. Then, after that random session of shots from every angle, put-backs, hooks and hard drives, I settle into a more practiced routine of free throws. After every series of five made free throws, I might take a longer shot or a driving layup again. Point being, I need a mix of improvisation and fixed motions to feel at full sportive ability.

    But what is the balance we seek between youthful improvisation and old-man sageness? At the courts, the gaming 30-somethings always chide the youths for “doing all that and going nowhere,” not taking advantage of single motion, favoring jerks and shimmies to aggressive simplicity. Basketball is a style choice both for the viewer and the participant. My style? I like to minimize dribble, take bold steps into the lane and create space at any cost. If I get hot though from the perimeter, throw away all notions of efficiency. I’m tossing up shots from either side of the court, and driving for shots that I wouldn’t normally ponder. The same rings true for my tastes of late which becomes downright confusing.

    In terms of art, I value the improvisational aspect as genius just as much as I value the perfection of form. I’ve witnessed this opinion warfare raging with some fellow writers and critics about the value of Lil Wayne in this regard. Everyone agrees that his flow is unique, unmatched, unorthodox. The form-junkies, however, think he’s a failure at everything sacred in rap music. To them he’s like the talented athletic forward in the NBA draft with few discernible perfections and many dreamt-up advantages. To me, he’s like the amalgam of Biggie’s flow and Eminem’s wild drug abuse and inconsistency. “A Milli,” with its furious routing and re-routing ideas could be likened to a young player’s wild shots hoisted with abandon, but invariably falling through the net. Nas is on the opposite end of the spectrum, not as far as his flow is concerned, but he remains glued to form and concept. His entire opus is devoted to moods and themes. Illmatic is the perceived pinnacle of form but “Nigger”/Untitled has its own set premise. Strangely, his commitment to concepts leads him as far from his intention at times as Wayne’s inability to remain coherent does. Although child-like limberness of mind inspires artistic beauty, it will not sustain it. Efficiency and proliferation may go hand in hand, but are a reluctant pair in the mind of an artist.

    This year’s NBA Finals showed Kobe Bryant attempting that difficult balance. His creative plan was thwarted by resolute defense, and no style defined by restraint could get him past a collective will. Lil Wayne also struggled to confine his album to the usual standards, however seasoned with brilliance it was. The mixtape had been his vehicle of choice because it shunned the normal, allowing his “freestyles” to seem more like labyrinthine journeys into his agile thought process. The Carter III emulates the spirit of Wayne’s World but will not defer to its adolescent insularity. Perhaps, he estimated incorrectly about his strengths in that respect. Lil Wayne’s permanent concern should be how to remain fresh as he tames his wild side or he will fall prey to its sad consequences.

    Nas’s “Hero” suffers from the inverse problem. Polow Da Don stretches the gargantuan quality of his sound with climbing beeps and church organs, and Nas’s lyrical grandeur is in full effect. Just as Wayne stridently believes in his ability to grab words from the sky for his purpose, Nas pins them down in his tightly stitched patterns, never dropping one syllable. Unfortunately, “Hero” borders on the cliche that has haunted him as the self-proclaimed martyr of his genre. Keri Hilson belts out “Heeee-RO! Heee-RO!” for emphasis but Nas only barely accepts the title in his screaming verses. For instance, the second verse tamps down any righteous boon with lines like “That’s what I call a pimp!/That’s what I call a G!” Of course, the third verse backs far away from that posture with “if you don’t like it, you ain’t gotta cop it,” and “no matter what the CD called/I’m unbeatable y’all.” Like the oracle’s messages, his lyrics read like decoded flummery when put under the magnifying glass. Nas is like Kevin Garnett in that, withstanding constant criticism over time coupled with embracing a complete understanding of the game, he has become a paragon of form…with some truly schizophrenic moments of resignation. Continue reading ‘Basketball As Life’

    When I’m Right, I’m Right

    Last year around this time, I got involved in an prolonged e-mail debate with two great friends of mine (Kristan Sprague and Shaka King) about LeBron James’s 48-point outburst against the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA playoffs. I didn’t personally witness the Fourth Quarter, but saw the Sportscenter highlights the next morning around 8 a.m. He had his team’s last 25 points, including 29 of their last 30 in the fourth quarter and overtime, when Greatness is conferred on the knaves and neophytes.

    Part 1

    Anyone who understands me as a person and a fan knows that I am devoted to seeing LeBron James succeed. I feared the hype machine might topple the Man-Monster he is well before he achieved his “Youngest Player To” Awards. I wanted for Jordan karma to cleanse the Cleveland Cavalier franchise in the form of a savior. Continue reading ‘When I’m Right, I’m Right’

    The NBA Playoffs As Character Study

    March Madness is a bloviated process in a changing sports world. ESPN and the NCAA must be reeling from this lack of attention to the amateur basketball front. The University of North Carolina produces an NBA pedigree unlike its main rival from Durham, North Carolina. This we know. A starting five of Kenny Smith, Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Rasheed Wallace and Antawn Jamison easily defeats Jay Williams, J.J. Redick, Grant Hill, Elton Brand and Christian Laettner. When the presumptive Number One Tarheels came in to Cameron Indoor Stadium to trounce the Blue Devils on March 5th, there was an air of anti-climax given how inferior a team of automated three-point shooting high school stars ranks against quick, semi-professional, game-tested titans from all over. But the diminution of college basketball is only one part of a significant trend. Athletics are skewing toward the young like never before. By extension, the mentality of athletics is more youthful — possibly even more rash — than in previous eras. It is a risky proposition to quantitatively compare one time to another without getting entangled in nostalgic, prohibitive thinking. Rather than travel that road, we should offer theories of pertinence and relevance of one quality during one time. Youth is an absolute advantage in sports, no doubt. Basketball players benefit from this advantage more than baseball players, and less than football players because of the nature of The Game. He who can leap can dunk. He who can run can score. Baseball players, by and large, can score without being the fastest participant on the field. David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox for instance might not flourish if the rules involved running the bases repeatedly over the course of four hours. Even the most athletically gifted players who are prone to speedy outbursts (i.e. Jose Reyes) can only become absolute stars with complementary skills like catching to back it. Otherwise, they are specialty players like pinch runners or relief pitchers. This variation also has to do with the diversity of positions in baseball and football. More players on their fields make it easier for the organism to function in pieces. Thus, a basketball team (only the sum of five parts) can be greatly affected by one part. When LeBron James or Kobe Bryant add their talents to any group of four, the outcomes shift dramatically. Continue reading ‘The NBA Playoffs As Character Study’

    Punk’d

    Dirk Nowitzki is feeling left out. The Dallas Mavericks debuted Jason Kidd in a return to his original team, albeit in a different shape than it once was. Dirk has been known in different forms throughout his career. Jason Kidd has (mostly) been known in one form: the staid, dishing, defensive guard from California who could find a way to win everywhere he went. Despite public dust-ups with both teammates and wife, Kidd could produce a triple double on a slow night, even while laboring in the swamps of the Garden State. Vince Carter’s star had long its iridescence when he arrived to the New Jersey Nets. Richard Jefferson’s bright promise never matched Jason’s expectations. Sadly, the Tall German won’t match them either. Dirk Nowitzki, since Steve Nash’s link with the Phoenix Suns, has been a player lost. When he ran with Nash and Finley, before they had been scooped up by other Western Conference giants, he remained idyllic and carefree. Don Nelson made sure that his only obligation was to his shot and the purity of the game. Nellie asked for him to be a guard in Frankenstein’s body, to remain svelte enough to beat forwards off the dribble, to rebound and defend at his leisure. In other words, keep the game simple and within your personal boundaries. Of course, billionaire Mark Cuban grew impatient with his green squad, and decidedly dispatched free-wheeling in favor of methodical.

    Dirk wilted even as Most Valuable Player of the Association. Although long-time critics professed that his game had improved, (read: he traded some offense for occasional defense and intimidating grand-stands) his latest version was unable to produce the coveted chip. No ring for the Euro player quite yet. He was still “soft” supposedly. Adding Kidd as a companion is meant to instill some tenacity, but Dirk Nowitzki is not lacking for it. Any 25-point scorer with a rebounding appendage is tough. He inspires empathy, however, in the failure on the mountaintop. Pairing him with a lone gunmen doesn’t speak to the function of his game one bit. Kobe Bryant’s self-containment will absolutely suit Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, whose skills favor missed shots and inside presence. His egomaniac sprints and zigzags mold their straight-on bounds neatly. Although Jason Kidd and Steve Nash do similar things on the court, their attitudinal differences are too many for Dirk to ignore. Nash seems as if he could make a joke of The Game. It doesn’t wear capital letters when he plays. Continue reading ‘Punk’d’

    French Rap’s Cred Takes Hit

    Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s newly elected conservative, has some dark secrets…darker than anyone on the political stage would ever embrace. His son Mosey is a hip-hop producer. France has a storied filial relationship with hip hop music. Like American teenagers, French kids were always apt to admire the style of hip hop artists and the verbal wizardry within the music. Moreover, the tension between North African emigres living in the depressed urban centers of France and the government’s xenophobic, anti-immigrant sentiments. Sarkozy represents the latter. He has been famously racist, conservative, chauvinist about defending his perceived ideas of French nationalism. And even though hip-hop is part of the national fabric, Sarkozy would prefer to ignore it. Too late for that, it seems.

    Poison is a group from France’s banlieues (ghetto) whose anti-Sarko raps blare loudly across those locales. Mosey penned a song for Poison during Sarkozy’s election run which decries his bias, and extols youth to reject him at all costs. Talk about close to home.

    And in case you weren’t sure about the power of hip-hop’s influence on French 20-somethings, peep Tony Parker’s YouTube rap video. TP is a recognized rap star near the level of his basketball fame. Not to get all profound about it, but there’s some meaty cultural implications there.