Aug. 6th, 2010

theatokos: (Default)
Let's start our morning off a hot steaming cup of -ism.

I don't follow sports super closely, I don't regularly read sports publications, though I do enjoy some sports and follow loosely. Adam follows the NBA very closely and therefore I'm somewhat up on the whole NBA and LeBron thing. I have enjoyed watching LeBron play, though I've not been a huge Cavs fan. I respect LeBron: he gives a metric fuckton of money to charities, he's never whined about his team, and seems like a nice guy. For those of you not in the NBA loop, but wanting to follow my argument: LeBron is a young man, he's played for the Cleveland Caveliers for his entire professional career, in Ohio near his hometown, and he's been talked about as if he's God's gift to basketball. Recently his contract came up as free-agent (and this I don't fully understand and probably didn't phrase that correctly, basically he can trade himself) but LeBron (LBJ, from here on out) chose not to re-sign with the Cavs but instead moved to Miami. He announced his decision on a hugely hyped tv special, in which all the proceeds (somewhere around 2.5 million dollars) went to the Boys and Girls Club of America, a charity which serves mainly poor and urban youth. LBJ's one, very tacky mistake? He hadn't told his own team about his decision before announcing it on national television.

Ok. Who cares, you're probably asking. Some jack-ass NBA player is being all arrogant about moving teams. Whoopdeedo. Well, I'd like to be a dissenting voice and break down for you why this is entirely unjustified and inaccurate. Sadly, I don't have loads of facts or links. I wanted to link to the Sports Illustrated article I read yesterday, but can't and so you'll have to trust me that I'm not making this shit up.

There are several things happening here. First, there is a confusion with pride and arrogance. Secondly, there is a lack of consistency when discussing the NBA and the claims about players. Thirdly, there is some bald-ass racism going on. People have been crying foul - oh that selfish bastard LBJ! This is an emotional claim and while I think its misdirected at LBJ the only people who are justified in getting worked up like this are the Cavs fans in Cleveland. Again, they are misdirecting their anger, but they're the only ones with the emotional investment to warrant such wailing. It's especially disgusting when I read legitimate sports journalism perpetuating this nonsense.

Pride and arrogance are not the same thing. Pride is a good thing. We need pride in our work, efforts and selves to feel confident, to pursue our work when the going gets tough, to stand up for ourselves and our beliefs. Arrogance is rubbing it in people's faces, claiming to be better than everyone else, and making people feel smaller. When we all have pride in our work/efforts/selves, we all win, because there's enough pride to go around; we value everyone's efforts where they're at. When we're arrogant, it's a zero sum game with only one king of the hill winner. These are very different concepts but Americans (and maybe the British too, I think) don't have a grasp of the difference. LBJ is being told off for being arrogant, when really he's just taking pride in his work, skills, and using his fame to help others.

But let's break this down even further. In a sport composed of mainly young black men there is a generation of players who seem to be giving the stereotype of young black men as violent, ignorant, and playas the heave-ho. I have long been impressed with Dwayne Wade (Miami Heat player) and LBJ for always being gracious and articulate in their press conferences, for striving to be team players, for basically not being involved in any scandals (I'm sure they're not perfect). Sure, this is like congratulating someone for not being an asshole. Personally, I'm just always thrilled to hear gracious, articulate speakers - it seems rare in any profession, and dreadfully so in sports. Claims that LBJ is being selfish by leaving the Cavs - if he was really loyal and a team player he'd stick with his team through thick and thin - and that he's a failure as a basketball star because he's not winning championships on his own, like Larry Bird and Michael Jordan did are complete nonsense. and yet are the two most prevalent in the media that I've read. These criticisms are full of shit.

If the Cavs had been serious about winning championships the team owner would have built a team that could help LBJ win. Basketball is a team sport and no one wins 'all by themselves.' As Adam has pointed out to me, all the greats had other really good teammates to help them win. Larry Bird and Michael Jordan had other all-star players to support their awesomeness. LBJ had none. The fact that he stuck out his contract - he didn't demand a trade, he never publicly bad mouthed his team or owners, or laid blame on anyone - speaks volumes about exactly the what kind of team player LBJ is. LBJ, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade are all taking paycuts to play on a team where they can have fun, win championships as a team, and are wanted by the coaching and ownership teams. Isn't this what we all want professionally? To be wanted, have fun doing our jobs, have great colleagues, and have the support to do our best work? Why is this demonized in basketball players when millions of Americans make employment decisions based on these same criteria?

What this whole hullabaloo boils down to is straight up racism. LBJ is a young, black man who is taking initiative. Lil' black boy is stepping out of line. A team player is one who does the team owner's bidding. I will try to stay away from hyperbolic slavery metaphors, but perhaps you'll see it for yourself. Team owners own their players, buy them, trade them at will, etc. Once again, the majority of NBA players are young black men and the majority of team owners are white (in fact, Michael Jordan is the only black majority-owner of an NBA team, and according to Adam this happened only last year). So why are people so up in arms that LBJ, a scandal-free and indisputably gifted player, has moved teams? He sold himself. He has up-ended the 'way it is.' He defies the stereotypes of black men: he's not selling or being caught with drugs, he's not taking up with prostitutes, he's not beating people up, he's not inarticulately spewing nonsense in press conferences. He's articulately leaving one team for another of his choice and own volition. It's not about the money. It's about personal integrity.

LBJ -and all the black NBA players- are damned if they do, damned if they don't. If they live out the stereotypes of young black men, sports writers and watchers can shake their finger, but will gladly let them go on. But for a player to take the power and privilege that is given him and to further his own goals of being a team player and winning (the two things that basketball is all about), well, what a selfish fucking bastard.

Black boy better get back in line and do as he's told.

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October 2010

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