Posted by hiphopmama on April 22, 2009
Please pardon the quasi-political posturing, but it’s time for an All Balls Don’t Bounce editorial here. Let’s just say this one’s been coming for a while now.
I am beyond tired of hearing avowed basketball fans declare that they are “finished” with the NBA because of how much it has “changed.” It’s always shrouded in philosophical musings about the direction the game has taken the last few decades and their discontentment with the new image of the league when it’s really about the stylistic choices and cultural allegiances of the current crop of elite players.
Let me be clear. I do think the game has changed since the 1970s and ’80s – what cultural phenomenon doesn’t? – but not nearly as much as today’s bellyachers would have you believe. Contrary to their common mantra, individual play has not taken over the game like the Blob oozing its way across a pristine city. The seemingly limitless heights of athleticism today’s players achieve has made play more spectacular, and the street ball craze has resulted in some new tendencies taking hold, but the fundamental way teams – note that word, TEAMS – play the game is essentially unchanged. Coaches still instill team identities, run team plays, shuffle their line-ups in a chess match with the opposition, and do their best to maximize the potential of a given group of players. The game has certainly gotten less dirty, as changes in the rules have given the referees license to protect the offensive player much more than in years past, but the team concept has not disappeared as a result of these minor adaptations. The most important player on the team today, far and away, is the point guard, and teams’ futures often rely solely on having a stellar playmaker who averages double-digit assists. Chicago, New Orleans, and Utah are just a few whose current and future successes derive from a player who epitomizes unselfish play.
What then are these supposed fans complaining about? It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out with the changing face of today’s game. It’s the attitude that comes along with the incredible ability that old guard fans can’t stand. I’ll be honest – I don’t particularly care for Rasheed Wallace either. He has never committed a foul in his life and apparently never heard the story about the boy who cried wolf. But I don’t have anything negative to say about Allen Iverson, who has been vilified as everything that is wrong with the NBA today. He has gotten into his squabbles with the law – as have plenty of other players both past and present – but it is not his legal troubles per se that have enraged the viewing public. It is the nonchalance with which he blows off the wider society’s standards for judging him by, say, hosting a big party while under house arrest. It is his undeniable cachet with young fans who admire his swaggering, posturing, tattooed frame flying down the lane, as undeterred by seven-footers as by the conventional wisdom that contrition is in order when being hounded by the media, or that you must shrug off any achievement on the court, no matter how spectacular. Yes, players like ‘Sheed go overboard with the whining, but that doesn’t mean others like Iverson don’t have the right to celebrate or draw attention to the fruits of their labors. It’s the product of a culture that values artful talk and doesn’t view it as bragging if it’s true, and it does nothing to detract from the quality of the game itself. You might not like it, but it’s peripheral at most, and if it turns you off from watching at all then you need to face the bitter truth: you’re an old fart, either in reality or at heart.
The hip hop attitude that pervades so much of the NBA – and I’ll be the first to admit its prominence – is what alienates the old guard of basketball fans, and it is this demographic that David Stern has tried valiantly to maintain. With the institution of a questionable age limit and silly dress code regulations, the NBA as an organization has done its level best to rein in the flashier tendencies of its young professionals. The league still wants to profit from the hip hop image and lifestyle, using it to market itself to young viewers, but when it comes to what players wear on that long walk from the team bus to the locker room, then dammit, I better not see any FUBU or Phat Farm. They’re more than willing to draw revenue from that elusive quality of “street cred” that makes certain players insanely marketable, but Dwyane Wade, take off that silly band-aid and smile for the cameras. True enough, the NBA is a business with an image to uphold, but it’s talking out of both sides of its mouth, both relishing and condemning a cultural movement that it can’t fully control anyway.
I can’t claim to love every addition to the NBA that hip hop culture has made – wtf were players thinking with those damn tights anyway? – but the spirit with which those changes are offered up will always have a special place in my heart. Because what hip hop is all about is the ability of a dispossessed minority to blow off the meaningless impositions forced on them by a dismissive society that has consistently denied them the right to true self-expression. Hip hop says, “Oh you’re going to cut music programs? I’ll invent my own form of music using items I have around my house.” It boasts, “You want to redline my district and build a freeway through my apartment complex? I have the perfect venue in which to make known your treachery.” It reminds, “Your linguistic values are not universal and I am not required to abide by them. What you call taunting I will gladly reclaim as signifying and make it a recognized form of discourse. And I will do it in some of the biggest forums you have created, and you will not be able to silence me because your children will have recognized the power of my voice and begun to see past your ignorance.” Thank you, NBA, for providing that forum, and c’est la vie to the fans who can’t get past their own misconceived notions of cultural superiority. In the words of one Tupac Shakur, “Only God can judge me,” and you ain’t there just yet.