Jeremy Lin and the NBA’s Race Problem – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

Jeremy Lin and the NBA’s Race Problem

David Leonard

We interrupt this regularly scheduled Jeremy Lin update to bring your breaking news about Jeremy Lin: he is taking his talents to South Texas. The unfolding drama that amazingly pushed Dwight Howard’s fate to out of the limelight has finally come to end, although without fireworks.

Some have taken the opportunity to blame Carmelo Anthony or JR Smith for Lin’s departure. Carmelo Anthony, when asked about The Lin Situation over the weekend, offered the following: “At this point there’s a lot going on. I stay away from that part right now. I would love to see him back, but I think he has to do what’s best for him right now…It’s not up to me. It’s up to the [Knicks] organization to say they want to match that ridiculous contract that’s out there.”

And then the media spun “ridiculous” as if Carmelo was arguing that Lin’s offer was undeserved. When I read these comments, it didn’t feel like a sign of disrespect, or one where Anthony was saying that Lin didn’t warranted the contract, but rather that it was (L)insane, amazing, and out-of-the ordinary. Like saying “that dunk was ridiculous” or “that performance was sick.” Six months ago, did you think Lin would command 25 million dollars? Did you foresee earning as much as Russell Westbrook or millions more than Steve Nash.


When not blaming Melo and Smith, fans and commentators have directed their attention at the Knicks and owner James Dolan. To place all the focus on the Knicks decision is to deny Lin his choice and his agency. According to Frank Isola, “Dolan felt betrayed by Lin for going back to Houston to rework the contract. After all, the Knicks acquired Lin in December after he was released by both Golden State and Houston.” Some have linked this sense of betrayal to Lin’s Asianness, as if Dolan only felt “betrayed” because HE gave Lin – the “overlooked Asian American baller” a chance otherwise unavailable to him.

From start until now, Linsanity has been wrapped in racial narratives that pitted him against Black players. Is it a surprise that as some within the organization reportedly felt he was getting a big head or being ungrateful? Linansity emerged because he could be imagined as the anti-Black NBA star. Yet with reports of him not wanting to play at 85%, his flashy clothing at the ESPYS, and his demands to get paid more, he no longer fits this bill.

And compared to LeBron James, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, and Ray Allen, Lin has gotten a pass. Yes, some have criticized him, questioning his worth and his value, questioning his loyalty. But this doesn’t stack up with the derision and contempt directed at Black NBA players. Many in the media have come to Lin’s defense. Dan Devine made a point to explain that “This wasn’t an act of treason,” but rather this is ” how free agency works.”

Yet the loudest media voices weren’t speaking up for Howard or Williams when they expressed their desire to head to NY, or when fans took to Twitter and into the streets to metaphorically and literally burn Ray Allen’s Celtics jersey. Nor did they come to the defense of James when Dan Gilbert described James’ decision as a “shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown ‘chosen one’ sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn.”

If we believe reports that the Knicks decision wasn’t driven by money or even for basketball reasons, but instead Dolan’s ego or his feeling that Lin should have been more grateful since “how often does an Asian American kid go from Harvard to MSG,” it is fair to say race matters. But this is the NBA, where race matters, and where Black players face the daggers of American media racism daily. The constant backlash against these stars, particularly Black ones, who determine their own fate is clear: professional basketball players are lucky enough to earn millions of dollars for playing a game, and the least they can be is grateful, appreciative and loyal.

As Charles Moriano brilliantly stated, the media constantly tells NBA players “get-back-in-your-place-you-spoiled-ungrateful-fill-in-the-racial-code-word-blank.” For Jeremy Lin, the “code words” may be different, but the foundation of race is unquestionable.

via Jeremy Lin and the NBA’s Race Problem – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

The Layup Line » NBA All-Star Inury Team

NBA All-Star Injury Team

David Leonard

With NBA All-Star balloting in full swing and given that the NBA is slowly but surely turning into a league where “injuries happen,” I thought I should come up with an injured/questionable/doubtful/probable (hurt but will likely play) All-Star Team. Since fans are unlikely to see these players, even as the league justifies its quick return through appealing to fan desires to see the game back on the court, I thought we could celebrate the greatness of the league by reflecting on their absence:

Click through the slide show below to see the starters on this NBA All-Star Injury Team. However, a quick glance at this team’s bench gives you some insight into how potent an injury lineup has emerged a quarter of the way into this season. Bench players: Forwards: Charlie Villanueva; Michael Beasley; Andrea Bargnani. Centers: Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett. Guards: Jason Kidd; Jose Juan Barea, Baron Davis; Eric Maynor. While being flippant here, it is imperative to think about how the 2011-2012 season is one where injuries happen.

Curry is starting to look like his generation’s Steve Nash, another guard whose early career was plagued by nagging injuries. Nash eventually righted himself when he began playing with big men like Dirk Nowitzki and Amar’e Stoudemire who excelled in the pick and roll game. Time will tell if Curry finds his big man counterpart.

For the most-part the media has failed to reflect on the injuries, on how these injuries are the result of the money grab. Yet, it is crucial to not only highlight the cluster of injuries, and the types of injuries that seem to point to the impact of a non-existent training camp and the wear and tear of a compressed season, but what this reveals about the NBA and the sports-industrial complex (not to mention global capitalism). It is emblematic of the ways in which profits are put in front of people. It is emblematic of the logic of Neoliberalism capitalism, which identifies markets, consumer needs, and profit margins as the primary compass for economic relations. The fact that players are suffering injuries in alarming rates is a testament to the ways in which bodies, particularly bodies of color and women, are exploited and abused for sake of money within the sports industry and beyond. As a tenet of capitalism, and reflective of cultural obsession with wealth, it is no wonder that the ideology of profits ahead of people is so visible on NBA benches. So, if you get tired of the NBA’s new motto, “where injuries happen,” maybe we should start calling it “The NBA: profits before people”

via The Layup Line » NBA All-Star Inury Team.

NewBlackMan: Not a Question of Courage: Anti-Black Racism and the Politics of the NBA Lockout



Not a Question of Courage:

Anti-Black Racism and the Politics of the NBA Lockout

by David J. Leonard

Following an exhibition game in Philadelphia, Michael Tillery asked the following of Carmelo Anthony:

Michael Tillery: Carmelo I don’t know if anyone asked you this but the fans are wondering why there isn’t such of a…NBA presence…NBA players coming out and speaking on this issue (NBA lockout) publicly like in the NFL…like in other situations.

Carmelo Anthony: “We’re not allowed. We’re not allowed. I mean everybody has their own opinion…you hear people talk here and there…but nobody don’t really come out and say what they really want to say. That’s just the society we live in. Athletes today are scared to make Muhammad Ali type statements.”

Not surprisingly, his comments have led to questions about today’s NBA players, their resolve, their commitment, heart, and courage. For example, one blogger offered the following: “What does Carmelo mean by “we’re not allowed”? Who’s stopping them? Is Carmelo right? Do you think athletes are punks in the modern era as opposed to the way Muhammad Ali stuck his neck out for Vietnam? Maybe these guys should just man up and make changes!” Kelly Dwyer was similarly dismissive, questioning Anthony’s reference to Ali:

Oh, Carmelo. He’s not lying. He’s not wrong. But comparing Ali’s stand against a conflict in Southeastern Asia that had gone terribly wrong to a discussion over the sharing of actual billions of dollars in Basketball Related Income is the absolute height of absurdity. Yes, athletes today are scared to make Muhammad Ali-type statements (as is the case with most people that want to keep their jobs), but the application of an anecdote like that to a situation like the NBA lockout is completely and utterly wrong.

While folks in the blogosphere used Melo’s comments to incite division and to chastise the union for silencing its members, it would seem that his comments demonstrate the ways that race impacts the lockout while illustrating the potential efforts from the union to manage and mediate the racially based contempt faced by NBA players. As Michael Tillery told me, “The NBA more than any other pro league seems to have an image problem based more on race than anything. You could say the league is more popular when a white player is doing superstar things.” As such, you cannot understand these comments outside a larger of this large racial landscape.

To understand Carmelo Anthony’s comments require a larger context. His comments (and the lockout itself) are very much tied to the larger history of the NBA and race. For example, in wake of the Palace Brawl, the NBA implemented a series of draconian policies that sought to both appease white fans and corporate sponsors who were increasingly uncomfortable with its racial optics, all while disciplining the players to comply and embody a different sort of blackness. According to Michael Tillery, the brilliant commentator, “Since the Brawl and even going back to Kermit Washington’s punch of Rudy Tomjonovich, a case could be made that any outspoken player in any regard is influenced to be silenced simply to protect the NBA brand because of an apparent race disconnect.”

The owner’s intransigent position and demands for a hard cap (although at the time of writing the owners appear to have softened on this position, at least at a surface level), major reduction in player access to league revenues, and a myriad of others positions all seem to reflect a sense of leverage. In other words, the owners seem to be trying to capitalize on the contempt and animosity that has long plagued NBA players, a fact worsened by the assault on blackness that followed the Palace Brawl. In a brilliant interview with Michael Tillery, Ron Artest reflects on the public perception and demonization of NBA players that reflects larger racial animus and ideology: “The NBA is not a thug league. There’s a couple of players that grew up similar to rappers who have grown up. What are they going to lynch us for that too? It’s not our fault that we grew up that way. We are talented and smart.”

The lockout represents an attempt to capitalize on the perception of NBA players as thugs, as criminals, as greedy, and undeserving anti-role models. It appears to be an effort to convert the leverage and power that comes from the narrative and ideological assumptions so often linked to black players into greater financial power for the league’s owners.

In thinking about Melo’s comments and the overall reticence of players to speak about the current labor situation leaves me thinking that this is a concerted strategy to combat the advantages that the owners possess (the NBA version of a southern strategy). The union is most certainly trying to correct the public relations difficulties that faced in 1998 (and throughout its history), obstacles that emanate from America’s racial landscape.

Continue reading NewBlackMan: Not a Question of Courage: Anti-Black Racism and the Politics of the NBA Lockout.