Last week, Myles Brown made his column debut with State of the NBA: Reasonable Doubt. This is the B-side.
By Myles Brown
D’Evils–They said the sound of Jigga was sh*tty, so the lig acted quickly. As far their contribution, the brass was convinced. Fans kept spending their money, so the sh*t only made sense…Regardless of the source of its image, the NBA’s overt ‘blackness’ has influenced the leagues front offices to engage in what has been seen as duplicitous marketing techniques and a reactionary discipline of its players. No sport is as closely associated with hip hop as basketball, and the NBA has used and ignored this fact at their own convenience. Whoever performs whatever has no direct effect on the actual game, just its perception, which is why the league keeps it at arms length. While instrumentals are piped through arena sound systems and scantily clad cheerleaders are clearly influenced by the genre, on a national stage it disappears faster than Allen Iverson’s tattoos. Although the music and its culture have contributed heavily over the years to the promotion of the NBA and its products, jersey and sneaker sales pale in comparison to actual ticket sales and much of the ticket buying public is either unfamiliar with or unappreciative of the hip hop generation. So the NBA’s advertisments of recent years have featured Elvis and Sinatra, and the All-Star Games have been headlined by the likes of Big & Rich and Wayne Newton.
This can be seen as the necessary appeasement of a crucial demographic, but it’s also clearly ignoring a significant portion of the league’s fan base, not to mention its players. When part of that unsilent minority showed up for the leagues Vegas vacation to reports of lawlessness, it only exacerbated the situation. Safety concerns were raised about next years stop in New Orleans and a certain disingenuous opportunist who purported the weekends events to be a representation of the lig’s current state, suggested that “the game needs to be moved overseas, someplace where the Bloods and Crips and hookers and hoes can’t get to it”. Several other nitwits followed his lead. Unfortunately, hip hop carries a stigma of violence and the last thing the NBA needs is for its players to look and act like rappers, not to mention its fans. Which is one reason why basketball fights are treated differently than violence in any other sport.
Baseball doesn’t fret over the occasional bench clearing brawl. And don’t dare try and run through the wrong NFL sideline. Hockey? Sheeeeeeeet. NBAers are treated like convicts by comparison. It’s true that basketball players are the least armored in professional sports and that their benches are also the closest to each other and the fans. But this isn’t about fan or player safety as much as it is about the infamy of Kermit Washington and Ron Artest. Stern didn’t preside over the Washington incident, but his answer to The Malice at The Palace was clear. Sportcoats and ties. It was an adjustment to give the lig a more professional aesthetic that was accompanied by harsher fines and suspensions. Stern’s tyrannical edicts culminated with last seasons short lived “Stop Bitchin” campaign where games were altered with the flip of a headband. These were all transparent moves to reassure ticket buyers that the NBA is well regulated and its players are well behaved. But who’s reassuring the players about the ticket buyers?
Many have voiced their opinions about consistent verbal abuse by fans over the past few years, including an incident where Dikembe Mutumbo was heckled as a “monkey“. (Surely Billy Packer would have considered that a compliment, but I digress…) Fans overblown sense of entitlement has become an issue throughout sports, but again, due to the proximity and racial contrasts it is a concern of those with an ever increasing sense of isolation. Empathy is hard to come by at $6 million a season, but some players still feel as though they’re being dressed up and tied down to appeal to a crowd that would want very little to do with them if it weren’t for basketball. This only contributes to the disconnect between players and fans and the idea that they’re not as endearing as the previous generations stars.
Two 23’s–Too much LeBron d*ck lickin’, and too many clones on a mission, doin’ they best MJ rendition…We’re still waiting for another Michael Jordan. The most isolated, apolitical, narcissistic, two-faced player the NBA has ever seen. Go figure. Since his departure, the league has looked to too many stars to carry not only the torch but the bottom line for too long. Not necessarily the games’ best players, but those who embody the characteristics requisite of the leagues ambassador. Style, grace, and morality. No one had to force Jordan into a suit because he was just as eager to recruit Madison Avenue as David Stern. He too recognized that the game was twofold. That he was not only an athlete but a product and with that he redefined the way the game was played and sold. After him, marketing and persona became as fundamental to a player’s overall success as proper footwork and mechanics. But to think that he did it on his own is naive. Too many reporters gave that guy too many chances. Too many ladies kept the lid on too many romances. Too many killings, too many sweatshops and then with all the gambling? Lots of questions. MJ ain’t have too many answers. Look, we’ve been around this block too many times, Michael Jordan is still the greatest player in NBA history. However the sanctity of his legacy remains because he is also the only player in NBA history who reaped the benefits of a bourgeoning global sports culture without any of the accountability. Those days are gone. Just as there’s a duality to this game, there’s also a duality to the fame that comes with it. These days it’s a dangerous thing to be like Mike. (That’s 23 twos for y’all muthaf*ckas out there…Can I kick it?……)
Can I Live?–“You see me stressed right?”…LeBron James path to greatness has been televised since he was in high school. His skill set is unrivaled and his potential boundless. We can only hope that he keeps his head-both of them-where they’re supposed to be. Fresh off of a dominating Confernce Finals performance and his first NBA Finals appearance,the kid has shown us he can do it all. But soon people are going to demand that he win something. Like a title, or three. However brief, we know this game has valleys and peaks, expectations for dips. But patience from fans as he coasts through 82? Hardly.
The youth he used to be is in the rearview mirror. No more projections, as time passes we’ll see his potential clearer. The Cavaliers were dismissed as one of the worst teams in NBA Finals history before the series even began. As the Eastern Conference solidifies itself while Cleveland’s roster remains stagnant, LeBron will be the only one to feel the pressure. Drew Gooden has no legacy to consider, except his neck ‘stache. And what will happen if Bron fails to fulfill our lofty expectations? Will we toss him aside like so many others whose careers are remembered not for their talent and production, but for how far they fell short of the impossible? “He’s no Jordan.” No sh*t. Maybe a once in a lifetime talent is just that. It’s natural to mark the advancement of the game by its top players, but sending them chasing after a ghost is futile. We’re not respecting the lineage of the game by comparing everyone to Michael Jordan. Dr.J wasn’t exactly better than Jerry West or Elgin Baylor, but his flight added a new dimension to the game. Why can’t we just enjoy the exploits of this generation without the begrudging acknowledgments of their progression?
Yes, players are more athletic now and no, the game isn’t as fundamentally sound as it once was. But what is today’s game? Lots of isos, driving into crowds of defenders and haphazard attempts at crowd pleasing dunks. Who’s responsible for that? Hmmm… Jordan laid a blueprint that players have been able to modify and some have duplicated. As big men continue to develop their skill sets, we can expect the evolution of the post to rival Jordan’s changing of the guard. How many more centers can we expect like STAT in the future? Will they able to handle the ball better and have more range? Will we ever see a Dirk with Dwight Howard’s body? We’ve come a long way from the set shot. NBA players stretch the boundaries of the game and our imaginations with their creativity. Today’s players are continuing that practice and ultimately the game will benefit from it.
‘Aint No Lig–You gotta know you’re verily respected by me… NBA greats are a unique breed in the sporting pantheon. No athlete can impose pure will on his respective sport like a basketball player. There’s no disconnect between offense and defense, which gives a player more influence over his teammates on both sides of the ball. They’re the only athletes who can make a crucial score and inasplitsecond make a stop that seals the win. In fact, most times they are expected to. Basketball players carry a heavier burden than their contemporaries. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will never stare each other down across the line of scrimmage. ARod will never pitch to Barry Bonds. Every sport has its team rivalries, but only basketball pits its stars against each other in direct competition. Those battles for supremacy are a time-honored tradition and the foundation of the league. Wilt and Russell. Bird and Magic. Jordan and everyone. Kobe and himself. With as much star power as ever, the NBA is still home to sports most versatile athletes and it’s still the most exciting game on the planet. “It’s where amazing happens.” God, that’s f*cking corny. Can someone do something about this? It’s only August, there’s still time….
Friend Or Foe–Believe you me son, I hate to do it just as bad as you hate to see it done…No game has changed as much aesthetically as the NBA. MLB and the NFL’s rules are essentially set in stone. Calls are missed and bad calls are made, but there’s also not much room for interpretation. A strike zone is a strike zone and pass interference is pass interference. However NBA officials are asked to make a 48 minute judgment call, a difficult task compounded by overbearing micromanagement and the constant rule changes of the past decade.
Years ago, the league began to manipulate the game in order to increase scoring and rescue dwindling ratings from brutish play. Teams that couldn’t compete athletically would compensate with their physicality, slowing the game to an unacceptable pace and inviting confrontation from opponents. This style of ball was most notably practiced by Detroit’s Bad Boys of the late 80’s, but it reared its ugly head again in the mid 90’s with Knicks and Heat teams both coached by Pat Riley. It was tolerated because they served as foils for Jordan to vanquish, but once he retired and those teams became the lig’s powerhouses, their style became absolutely unbearable. Rule changes were implemented that limited defensive contact and opened the game up for what many consider a softer style of play. The airtight masterpieces against Magic Johnson and Mark Jackson that established Scottie Pippen as one of history’s greatest defenders would now foul him out of a game in the first quarter. Vlade Divac is the shining example for todays defender in a league of lightning quick players barred from contact. When in doubt, just fall over. Hell, it works for certain folks on offense too.
The modern players phenomenal athleticism warrants a return to hands-on defense that would stop the flopping and level the playing field. (This isn’t a plea for barbarism, but honestly are Robert Horry and I the only ones who wonder why no one knocks Steve Nash on his ass as he waltzes in and out of the paint with impunity? Could he have done that in the 80’s or 90’s?) Aside from the actual rule changes are the unspoken rules and fans bewilderment as officials have failed to consistently enforce either to anyone’s satisfaction. At this point it seems we need to resort to drastic measures. Like calling games evenly. No more superstar, veteran, rookie, home or road calls. Call traveling. Call a carry. It happens in every other level of basketball. Establish a consistency that can be respected by and beneficial to all players. The league needs to give referees an opportunity to make the correct call for the sake of the game, not calls for the sake of entertainment or calls that will fill a quota for their supervisors. It would go towards reinforcing missing fundamentals in today’s and tomorrow’s athletes, and reassuring fans that the game is indeed safe. Adhering to the letter of the law will be difficult to stomach at first as whistles may blow every time upcourt, but it’s necessary to return the game to its natural state. As much as I’d like to leave it in the refs hands, Donaghy-amongst others-f*cked that up. If only for one year, let’s just call the game straight and see what happens. Fans will be more likely to trust referees and the league as a whole to exercise their discretion once a solid history of even handed and correct calls has been estbalished. I just hope it happens in my lifetime.
P.S. I promise to never, no matter the weather, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever write this much no more…