SLAM ONLINE | » The Enigma

The Enigma

The basketball media is struggling to figure out Andrew Bynum.

by David J. Leonard

What feels as commonplace as a Derrick Rose injury this season and New York Knicks streaks (winning and losing), media and fans joined hands this week to criticize Andrew Bynum. Mirroring the entire season, this week’s criticism has been a recipe of 1-part “your game ain’t right” and 9-parts “your attitude, effort, and demeanor ain’t right.” In fact, his critics have little to say about his game since numbers don’t like. During the Lakers’ seven-game series versus the Nuggets he averaged 16.7 pts/game on 51.2 percent shooting, 12.3 rebounds, and 4.0 blocks. Compared to his 18.7 points/game on 55.7 percent shooting, 11.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks during the regular season, it is hard to see how pundits are bemoaning his performance. Sure, his FG percentage is down, but facing double teams and a defensive intensity unseen during the regular season, his numbers are quite impressive. His stretch vs. the Nuggets wasn’t an exceptional performance ever given his inconsistency, but I cannot imagine any team scoffing at this kind of production.

Not surprisingly, his critics have focused elsewhere, lamenting his attitude his suspect work ethic. For example, with the Lakers up 3-1, Bynum stated, “Closeout games are actually kind of easy. Teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning.” Rather than potentially reading his statement as an effort to motivate himself or the Lakers’ to come out strong, pundits turned into yet another piece of evidence of his arrogance, sense of entitlement, and disrespect for his opponents. In article and after article, his statement was presented as if he said that, “close games were easy” or that the Nuggets were weak and soft. To me, he was simply noting that when teams seize upon the opportunity to finish a series, opponents often whither under the pressure and the prospect of goin’ fishin’. History has actually shown this to be the case, most recently with the Lakers’ Game 4 loss to the Mavericks and the Knicks loss to the Heat. His comments were not evidence of arrogance or entitlement yet it was used to authenticate a narrative that follows his every move.

Andrew Rafner goes all in with his denunciation of Bynum focusing not so much on his game, but his attitude and character:

Andrew Bynum is the worst. And not in a “You’re the worst, but we still love you because you’re so awful at everything you do” kind of way, like Britta from “Community.” He’s just actually the worst.

And why, you may ask is arguably the most talented true center in the league the worst? Well, to put it simply, Andrew Bynum is the worst because of his totally shitty attitude and penchant for making the worst possible decision at all times. … He openly criticized Mike Brown at nearly every opportunity. He took inappropriate 3-pointers during meaningful possessions (not to say that it was any worse than the inappropriate 15-footers he’d been taking for years, but this just LOOKED worse), leading Brown to bench Bynum during the fourth quarter in a March game against Golden State. After being questioned about the incident, Bynum responded by saying “I don’t know what was bench-worthy about the shot, to be honest with you. I made one last [game] and wanted to make another one.” This guy….With Andrew Bynum, it will only get worse for the Lakers. This is only the start. The shitty attitude, the lack of hustle on defense, the stray grey hairs, the insulting quotes before playoff games (see: prior to Game 5, when he said “close-out games are actually kind of easy.” And that “teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning”…. As far as Andrew Bynum is concerned, his attitude seems to be “Deal with it.” But as fans of a league filled with the most likable talent it’s ever had, should we have to deal with it? No. That’s why Andrew Bynum is the worst.

The criticism directed at Bynum seems to be more about his personality than anything. He doesn’t look like he is having fun; he doesn’t seem to possess the ferocity of Dwight Howard or the motor of Shaquille O’Neal, who would often sprint from “box to box” only to get a dunk.

I get it, but my questions: (1) Why does the fan and media care if he is enjoying himself out there; Why do people care if he is smiling, laughing, and looking like the basketball court is the beginning, middle, and end of his life? It is his job, and the demand that he enjoy his job for the sake of fan and media enjoyment is neither fair nor realistic. The criticisms that he shot a 3-pointer as if he is the only player in the NBA ever to take a bad shot, that he isn’t engaged in huddles as he is alone in tuning out instruction from one’s bosses (check yourself at your next staff meeting) are telling.

Any and every moment where Bynum doesn’t embody the expectations of him on-the-court, he seems subjected to wrath and unmerciful criticisms about his game and demeanor. More than his game itself, the contempt for Bynum emanates for his inability to meet the desires for larger-than-life NBA big men whose on-the-court strength and ferocity is balanced out with a teddy-bear type sweetness. He isn’t Shaq or Dwight Howard and the bigger question is, Why do we want him to be?

Continue reading @ SLAM ONLINE | » The Enigma.

SLAM ONLINE | » The NBA’s Franchise Player?

The NBA’s Franchise Player?

The untouchable Blake Griffin or the can’t-do-right Andrew Bynum?

by David J. Leonard / @DR_DJL

After watching yet another commercial, seeing yet another magazine advertisement, and trip to Subway, both my 4-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter noted that Blake Griffin seemed to be everywhere.

No matter where they turned, no matter what was on the television, it is almost impossible not to see Griffin, all of which is emblematic of the power of the NBA’s marketing machine. Despite winning nothing of substance to-date and only putting up very good numbers over his short career (20 and 10), Blake has ascended as the face of the League.

Celebrating for his ferocity, his spectacular dunks, and his purported right attitude, Griffin has filled the hero gap left by LeBron’s “Decision,” Dwight Howard’s “Indecision,” Melo’s “New York State of Mind,” and Kobe’s “Baggage.” Griffin, on the other hand, has consistently been represented as a “breath of fresh air,” a throw back player, and someone who fans can cheer for.

Celebrating his balance, the media narrative consistently depicts Blake as a competitor on the floor and a good guy off the floor. For example, TJ Simers highlights the difficulties Blake must endure and the grace that he has shown under this pressure:

That almost speaks to a sensitivity one would never consider Griffin possessing, given the way he imposes his physical will on opponents. But he is still young, and when asked about the highlight of his summer, surprisingly it was his brother’s wedding rather than the Hollywood treatment he received.

Similarly, Justin Verrier offered explanation and, in some regards, an excuse for Blake’s “antics” as a means to celebrate him:

But Cousins and Gasol aren’t entirely wrong, either: While it’s hard to argue that Griffin is “babied” by refs, given the game-by-game punishment he takes in the post, he certainly benefits from his share of favorable calls (in particular, the one that sent Cousins off the deep end to begin with). And Griffin has made a habit of forcefully dropping his off-hand on some of his more memorable dunks, creating both a way to propel himself higher and return some of the force applied to him on his way up (a natural reaction with unintentional consequences, he’s said in the past).

But these are only minor squabbles in a season full of them, throughout the League. Their comments certainly put a national spotlight on Griffin’s on-court demeanor—Cousins’ comments alone overshadowing recent ugly performances by the Heat and Thunder—but they may end up saying more about how players around the League perceive the rise of young stars like Griffin.

You have to crawl before you walk. You’re supposed to intern before you get that big job. And in basketball, like all other professional sports, you’re supposed to pay your dues.

This represents the crux of the Blake the narrative: great kid, whose passion, competitiveness and work ethic at times get the best of him. What could have been a criticism thus becomes a way of celebrating Blake Griffin as unique and special.

“He’s a highlight at any second of the game, but he’s also smart enough to know that the fundamentals are the part that will make him better and help this team,” noted his coach Vinny del Negro. “He handles it very well. He has great humility and great character.”

Evident here is how the Blake Griffin story is very much a figment of the media/NBA imagination. Shooting free throws with the precision of Shaq and Chris Dudley, possessing only two moves—the dunk and a 20-foot, pick-and-pop shot—and of course playing no defense are not the markers of a fundamentally-sound player. The description of Blake as humble doesn’t match his on-court persona of talk trashing in the tradition of Bird and Payton, and relishing the opportunity to embarrass an opponent with a poster shot.

Continue reading at SLAM ONLINE | » The NBA’s Franchise Player?.

NewBlackMan: Silence, Innocence, and Whiteness: The Undemonization of Kevin Love

Silence, Innocence, and Whiteness:

The Undemonization of Kevin Love

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

The Minnesota Timberwolves battled the Houston Rockets this past Saturday. Normally not on my radar, an incident involving Kevin Love and Luis Scola compelled inquiry even as the media remained silent. Purportedly frustrated over a non-call, Love not only fouled Scola, but as the Houston power forward lied on the ground Love proceeded to step on his face as he ran back to the offensive end of the court. “I fell down. He was kind of right there,” Love explained. “I got Size-19 feet. He just happened to be there. I had nowhere to go. I got tripped up. I had nowhere to step. It is just heat of the moment-type play.” The non-explanation aside, Love simultaneously identifies the incident as an accident and justifiable.

If an accident, why does he feel necessary to describe it as an unfortunate situation or to reference what happen between the two of them in game on Monday? “Love also referenced an unfortunate incident in Houston on Monday, when Scola attempted to throw a ball to deflect it off of Love out of bounds but the ball hit Love square in the groin.” Offering an explanation that seemingly justified his accidental behavior, Love was not alone in the exoneration process.

What followed the game, and the several days since there, has been silence – crickets in fact. Despite the fact that one of the league’s emerging stars stepped on an opponent’s face, the media has found little reason to write about the event. References to the event notwithstanding and a series of articles that have asked viewers to weigh in whether it was intentional or not, the overall media discourse has rendered Love’s stomping on an opponent’s face insignificant by its relative silence.

Even after the NBA announced a 2-game suspension for Love, the sports punditocracy has been muted in its criticism of Love, choosing rather to focus on his apology. Several headlines noted that in wake of the suspension, he has apologized yet again, having already apologized to Luis Scola following the game. In headline after headline, Love is constructed as apologetic, even though there is no specific apology provided by any of the news outlets (example #1, example #2). Instead they reference his statement issued on the team’s website:

“We got to talking about it, and as long as Luis and the Rockets are OK, then I’m OK with it,” Love said. “I feel like it was a learning experience, and it won’t happen again. There were no ill-intentions. I was trying to get him on a foul on the way up. I wasn’t trying to stomp him or anything like that. Just moving forward, and hopefully we win these next few games.

His post practice comments are further illustrative of a lack of contrition and a desire to give explanation rather than apology:

I don’t want to be known for that. I want to be known as a stand-up guy who happened to make a mistake with a size 19 shoe and just move on. So everybody knows there were no ill intentions there. It’s been a chippy year. It’s not only us. It’s not only the Pacers, the Rockets or anything like that. It’s a lot of games. The guys are tired. Games are being drawn out and guys are worn down.

Denying any “ill-intentions,” while describing it as a learning experience, doesn’t constitute an apology. The lack of criticism, the efforts to explain Love’s actions as resulting from his emotions, out-of-the-ordinary behavior, and otherwise not indicative of Love’s character reflect an overall effort to downplay the importance of his stomping on an opponent’s face.

Compare this response to the recent media criticism directed at Andrew Bynum. Following Game 4 of the 2011 NBA playoffs, which saw Bynum knock JJ Berea to the floor with a very hard foul, he was lambasted in the media. Called a thug, as player who was ejected for “dirty hits,” and as a player who exhibited, “stupidity, cowardice and unprofessionalism”;

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Silence, Innocence, and Whiteness: The Undemonization of Kevin Love.

The Layup Line » Is Andrew Bynum Really The NBA’s New Bad Boy?

Is Andrew Bynum Really The NBA’s New Bad Boy?

by David J. Leonard on January 3, 2012

Lakers center Andrew Bynum has become persona non grata within the Los Angeles media. Bynum has become the source of media condemn and criticism, most of which has nothing to do with basketball, minus the manufactured panic over the Lakers’ non-struggles, and hand-wringing over whether Bynum is a viable trade asset in a deal for Dwight Howard.

T.J. Simers, in “Lakers need one more big man, fewer Chicken Littles,” feeds this panic over the Lakers in typical and clichéd demonization of Andrew Bynum. Depicting him as a “big baby,” unreliable and injury-prone, Simers is skeptical about Bynum’s worth to the Lakers:

“If the Lakers are going to be successful, they need Bynum playing shoulder-to-shoulder with Gasol and Kobe, making it the Big Three. That would mean Bynum stepping forward as a professional,”

Simers piles it on further

“I have my doubts. I was in his corner before he went punk in the playoffs, the big baby walking off the court while removing his jersey.”

The infantilization of Bynum while seemingly without much basis is especially troubling given the history of representing black men as immature boys. This column, however, doesn’t limit itself to the basketball arena offering cheap shots that would make any number of NBA “enforcers” proud. He follows-up his discussion of the basketball issues with the following:

Then he became the walking embodiment of the entitled athlete, twice in a span of two months having his car photographed parked in a handicap spot. Obviously he doesn’t care about the rules, civility or what others think. How many times did he park wherever he wanted without being caught?

The criminalization of black athletes is nothing new and Simers deploys this common deployed narrative with ease. According to sociologist Jonathan Markovitz, “The bodies of African American athletes from a variety of sports have been at the center of a number of mass media spectacles in recent years, most notably involving Mike Tyson and O.J. Simpson, but NBA players have been particularly likely to occupy center stage in American racial discourse.”

Continue reading @ The Layup Line » Is Andrew Bynum Really The NBA’s New Bad Boy?.