Sunday, June 10, 2012
Covering the #Fail: The NBA, Sports Reporting & the United Hater Nation
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
I have lost that lovin’ feeling. Already a recovering baseball, football, and college sports fan, I am slowly starting to hate the NBA. Don’t get me wrong – I love the game; there is nothing like a crisp bounce pass, a thunderous dunk, an ankle-breaking crossover, a fadeaway jumper, and a last second shot. Nothing compares to the beauty of the NBA game, or its excitement, competitiveness, and unpredictability. No other sport can compare when it comes to artistry and memorable moments: MJ’s jumper over Bryon Russell, Magic’s baby hook, Reggie’s 8 points in 9 seconds, Kobe’s alley-oop to Shaq, Robert Horry/Derek Fisher, and that is just a few playoff moments. Just think: Iverson’s crossover, Duncan’s bank shot, the Dream shake. Shaq’s rim tattlers, Ray Allen’s jumper, Gervin’s finger roll, and MJ/Kobe’s baseline jumper. The sight of LeBron James or Kevin Durant getting in the zone is not simply greatness personified but pure beauty. Perfection, beauty, and timeless are the words I would use to describe the NBA yet I have lost that lovin’ feeling.
My waning love isn’t about the hypocrisy of a league that sells its products through hip-hop at the same time it disparages and regulates its presence. It isn’t about an overzealous commissioner who vetoes trades for basketball reasons or even the league’s racial and class politics. It isn’t about greedy owners and the treatment of players. I have long come to grips with my discomfort, remaining a fan in spite of these troubling realities for the love of the game. Yet, that love doesn’t feel eternal.
The last week of the playoffs has highlighted my growing unease with basketball, which has nothing to do with the players, the league, or even basketball. I am starting to hate watching the NBA (and sports in general) because of the media, fans, and the cultural politics of blame. Upon the conclusion of several playoff games, commentators and fans alike immediately took to their respective platforms to blame players for a loss, to disparage, mock, and otherwise ridicule these great athletes. It is not just the glee the results from THEIR loss, but the pleasure in denigrating and disrespecting another person’s hard work and artistry that is killing my love softly and slowly, especially during the playoffs.
The Pacers’ victory over the Heat didn’t produce praise for Indiana’s squad or celebration of a clutch performance from David West or Roy Hibbert but endless statements from the UHN – United Hater Nation. Blaming LeBron, D-Wade, Spoelstra, Riley, and the role players, the post-game banter focused on player failures, player shortcomings, and worse yet the inadequacies of the players – “he isn’t clutch; he is mentally weak; he is selfish; he is to blame for the loss.” What happened to who is responsible for the win? What happened to celebration and acknowledgment of the greatness of players evident in the victory? In victory and loss, the politics of blame imagines players as robots deserving condemnation when they don’t perform as expected.
Even James’ historic performance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals did not silence every critic with questions raised as to whether he could play at the level in a 4th quarter with the score tied, or whether or not he had the mental toughness to make that last 2nd shot. I am surprise he wasn’t criticized for not having 25 assists along with his 45 points. Where is the love?
The postgame commentary following game 2 (and likely game 4) between the Lakers and Thunder was no different in terms of the blame game, although it included death threats directed at Steve Blake. With debates about who was responsible for the Lakers inability to close and secure in those games (Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Coach Brown, role players; Jim Buss??) few even acknowledged the execution from the Thunder. The Thunder won that game and would ultimately win 4 games. The Thunder execution when it counted was amazing, especially for the young and untested team from OKC. That continued into the Spurs series. Yet, in many instances, the exceptional play of the Thunder and all its players hasn’t been the focus from the media and fans on social media given the dominance of the culture of blame, uber criticism, and the haters that dominate the NBA landscape.