It’s Bigger Than Jason Collins –

It's Bigger Than Jason Collins - POPSspot | POPSspot

It’s Bigger Than Jason Collins

By David J. Leonard On May 5, 2013

Special to  POPSspot | POPSspot

One of the time honored recent traditions within NBA media culture is the television shot of a players’ partner nervously watching “her man” on the court. Often deployed during the playoffs, this gaze adds to both the humanity and importance of the game. With Kobe Bryant, especially in the aftermath of Colorado, his kissing of his partner and his kids as he walked to the locker room served as an important moment to humanize him within the heteronormative (and marriage obsessed) imagination.

Jason Collins’ announcement hopefully paves a pathway where he or others can kiss their partner during halftime; his announcement hopefully marks a moment where a national television audience can bare witness to a nervous, anxious, and adoring male partner supporting his man. The reserved privilege for heterosexuals within the NBA has been challenged with the announcement. As was the denied ability for these players/men/ national role models to be themselves, to be visible amid the uber visible world of American sports. Saeed Jones made this clear:

Add to this that in a world where a narrow construction of masculinity, defined by physicality, (hetero)sexuality, and brutality is both celebrated and required, one hopes that Collins’ announcement opens up this space where simultaneously deconstructing the vary assumptions that have resulted in the “masculinity box.”

Yet, its bigger than Jason Collins.

While America loves symbolic change, has used Collins to celebrate itself as “evolving” and “progressing” toward a “more perfect union,” this Sports Illustrated article doesn’t mark the end to homophobia. Just as the election of Barack Obama didn’t mark the end of racial profiling, housing discrimination, racism within the criminal justice system and a system based in/on white supremacy, Jason Collins doesn’t mark the end of homophobia.

One has to wonder how many homophobic and racist jokes were cracked in America’s dorms and boardrooms while we celebrating “progress.” Clearly Jason Collins’ announcement did not mark the end of homophobia or usher in a new era on twitter. In the end, Jason Collins’ announcement highlights the importance TO CONTINUE to combat bigotry, institutional discrimination, and systemic generated privilege. It doesn’t mark the end of struggle.

From It’s Bigger Than Jason Collins – POPSspot | POPSspot.

NewBlackMan (in Exile): Covering the #Fail: The NBA, Sports Reporting & the United Hater Nation

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.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan (in Exile): Covering the #Fail: The NBA, Sports Reporting & the United Hater Nation.

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?.

SLAM ONLINE | » Going Global: Jeremy Lin and the NBA

Going Global: Jeremy Lin and the NBA

Linsanity has become a global phenomena, but the NBA’s popularity throughout Asia is nothing new.

by David J. Leonard / @DR_DJL

In 2010, I visited Taiwan, speaking to university students about Yao Ming and then-college player Jeremy Lin. Even though Lin is Taiwanese American, few students knew who he was—most knew about Yao, some just wanted to talk about Beyoncé and Jay-Z. In Taiwan today, it’s safe to think that—like Kobe Bryant—most know who Jeremy Lin is now.

Unsurprisingly, one of the emergent Linsanity narratives has been that he is providing a bridge to untapped markets, whether Asian-American communities or those throughout Asia. Constructing Asian-American fans and those from throughout Asia (with little differentiation across various countries) as otherwise disinterested in basketball, the narrative replicates stereotypes while simultaneously erasing the immense popularity of basketball within the Asian Diaspora.

Jeremy Lin has been credited with either cultivating or revitalizing interest in basketball throughout Asia. According to Matt Brooks, “But in the post-Yao Ming NBA, Lin just might be the player to further the League’s growth in Asia, while continuing to inspire athletes to break the mold.”

Similarly, an Associated Press story credits Lin with filling the void left by Yao Ming: “Jeremy Lin and Ricky Rubio aren’t just responsible for reviving their dormant franchises. They also are giving the NBA two fresh young faces to market internationally. As the first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, Lin is re-opening doors in Asia that were feared to be closing in the wake of Yao Ming’s retirement. He’s led the New York Knicks to five straight victories and has become an instant fan favorite at Madison Square Garden.”

While clearly Lin has captured the national and international imagination, the narrative that there weren’t NBA fans throughout the Diaspora lacks any factual basis. And the argument that the NBA did not exist in Asia prior to Yao Ming or that fans in China or Japan, Thailand or the Philippines or Taiwan were fans of Yao and not the NBA reinforces stereotypes while erasing the history of the NBA globally. Lin’s own story, whose father became immensely passionate about the NBA after watching games while still living in Taiwan, is a testament to the globalization of basketball.

NBA Commissioner David Stern once described “the opportunity for basketball and the NBA in China” as “simply extraordinary.” The media narrative around Jeremy Lin has advanced this argument, yet reducing the NBA’s popularity in Taiwan, China, and throughout Asia to ethnic or national solidarity is simplistic. Basketball has been immensely popular throughout Asia for many years.

According to a 2007 study, 89 percent of Chinese between the ages of 15 and 54 were “aware of the NBA,” with 70 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 describing themselves as fans. With 1.4 billion viewers watching NBA games during the 2008 season (up through April 30) on one of the 51 broadcast outlets in China, and 25 million Chinese visiting each month, basketball and the NBA are cultural phenomena within China.

And while the immense fanfare directed at NBA stars is partially a result of the emergence of Yao Ming within the NBA, American NBA players have in recent years generated equal, if not more, popularity. For example, Yao Ming, whose jersey ranked as the sixth most popular in 2007, had dropped into 10th by 2008 even behind the likes of Gilbert Arenas. As of 2010, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James had the two most popular jerseys in China, with Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant also feeling the love. The allure of the NBA, and the immense excitement that the League generates did not begin and end with Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin.

The popularity of the NBA and its players was clearly on full display during the 2008 Summer Olympics. While attending a US Women’s basketball game, Bryant attempted to move through the crowd to his seat, only to find himself amid a sea of cheering fans. The presence of Bryant, who has experienced ample criticism and media derision during the course of his career within the United States, receiving star-studded adoration assumed to be reserved for Chinese athletes, was a testament to the popularity of the NBA and its (African) American basketball stars in China.

Continue reading @ SLAM ONLINE | » Going Global: Jeremy Lin and the NBA.

Kobe Bryant: Where Amazing Happens – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

Amazing Happens

Doubters Beware- Bryant Isn’t Going Anywhere

By David Leonard Writer

The Kobe haters have been out with full vengeance as of recent. Hyperventilating about the number of shots he is taking, his unwillingness to defer to Andrew Bynum, his debilitating body, and his off-the-court problems, critics have spent early parts of the season predicting Bryant’s forthcoming demise. Following an opening day loss to the Chicago Bulls, Alex Kay, in “Kobe Bryant: Failure to Close vs. Bulls Proves Black Mamba Has Lost a Step” describes KB24 as “a superstar at the end of his prime ready to fade into the twilight.” Dave Zirin has similarly wrote his basketball obituary, noting how “old and exposed he looked during the 2011 playoffs”. Dave McMenamin voiced similar skepticism about his status as an elite player, reiterating Charles Barkley proclamation that “Father Time is undefeated.”

The criticism of Kobe hasn’t focused simply on his being “over-the-hill;” instead his critics of recycled longstanding narratives about his arrogance and ego combined with his age to doubt Kobe’s future success. In “Shoot first, Ask Kobe,” Rick Reilly offers this argument, highlighting the danger of Kobe’s “me/shoot-first attitude” and a declining skill set: “Bryant believes in shot selection. He selects them all. Unfortunately, he’s making fewer of them.”

In “Person of Interest: Kobe Bryant,” Jay Caspian Kang furthers the assault on Kobe, recycling tired arguments of years past. Like so many, Kang fixates on the number of shots and “bad shots,” calling him a “one man side show.” Worse yet, he seems to link Bryant’s selfishness to the absence of his benevolent white father: Phil Jackson. Yet again, Kobe’s greatness and the beauty of his game are called into question.

Through 15 games of the season, Kobe (and the Lakers) has answered these critics. With a record of 10-5 (exceeding expectations of most of the prognosticators), Kobe’s start has been spectacular. Playing with a wrist injury, in a new system and with several new teammates, all without adequate time for training camp, practice, and treatment, Kobe Bean Bryant has responded to his critics with greatness. Following a 48-point output against the Suns, Bryant told reporters: “Not bad for the seventh best player in the league.”

His 48-point game, while his best during the early campaign, has been the norm thus far: he has surpassed the 30 point plateau three times and the 40 point plateau an astonishing four times. Add to this, he is averaging almost 6 assists and rebounds per game. Leading the league in scoring at 30.8 points per game (shooting 46%), fans have seen his greatness in the box score. But unless you watch Kobe each and every night, it is hard to appreciate the beauty of his game.

Yet, his success, the beauty of game, isn’t central to the narrative we are getting now nor has that been the predominant narrative throughout his illustrious career.

Continue reading @ Kobe Bryant: Where Amazing Happens – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

The Layup Line » Will Injuries Derail 2011 NBA Season?

Will Injuries Derail 2011 NBA Season?

by David Leonard

In a much-hyped preseason game between the Los Angeles Lakers and their cross-the-hall “rivals,” the worst possible scenario confronted the 16-time NBA champion: Kobe Bryant was hurt. Falling awkwardly, Bryant tore the lunotriquetral ligament in his right wrist. Less than a week later, the New Jersey Nets announced that Brook Lopez broke his foot during the first half of their game with the New York Knicks. With the Lakers potentially losing a Bryant at full-strength, and the Nets likely without the services of Lopez for 4-6 weeks, the injuries are potentially devastating to both teams, particularly the Nets whose ability to trade for Dwight Howard will be severely limited with the loss of this cornerstone trade asset.

Yet, more than the impact on the respective teams, these injuries highlight both the potential consequences of the NBA’s lockout. While injuries are commonplace, a rushed preseason and a compressed training camp represent a threat to the physical wellbeing of the players themselves. Stephen Smith, in “Expert warns of NBA lockout-related injuries,” compares the injuries that came about as a result of the NFL with the potential with the 2011-2012 season. There, he quotes Timothy Hewett, who is Director of Research at The Ohio State University Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Department: “Extrapolate what we’ve seen in the NFL, and I could see in the NBA in the range of 2, 3, 4 times higher rates of injury. This could be a historic event, where we start to think, ‘Is there a potential for really putting players at risk by these legal wranglings?’”

As evident, the injury bug has not been limited to the league’s stars, with Darrell Author (out for the year), Stephen Curry, and Marcus Camby all facing significant injuries. Celtics forward Jeff Green will also have to sit out this season because of a heart ailment discovered during his preseason physical. There’s also the improbable case of Sacramento Kings forward Chuck Hayes who in the span of two weeks went from the brink of having to end his NBA career after he was released by the Kings because of a heart condition diagnosed during his initial physical, only to be resigned by the Kings when Hayes’ doctors concluded that his diagnosis was not as severe as earlier believed.

While unable to blame these injuries on the lockout, it is hard not to think about the connection. And as the Hayes situation reveals, an incident in years past that might have taken a month or so to resolve, appeared to have been hastily resolved in two weeks all in an effort to get the show on the road. Contrary to all the speculation about “Will Kobe Play on Sunday,” these injuries, the rush to push the lockout behind, and the determination to start the season on Christmas/NBC/National TV days all point to the central focus anywhere and everywhere except on the physical health of the NBA’s players.

These injuries also point to the absurdity of the league’s best effort to cultivate rivalries and to manipulate and change the rules to guarantee parity. David Stern is unable to veto the injuries of Bryant, Lopez, or Curry for basketball reasons; just as he wasn’t able to veto the injury of David Robinson in 1997, which ultimately led the Spurs to draft Tim Duncan. Success, rivalries, and dynasties all organically happen; they won’t be the result of the manipulation and rule shifting policies of the league.

No matter how the rules are changed to “spread the stars” around the league, no matter how restrictive the system is on player movement, and no matter how much the NBA and ESPN tries to sell the game as one of rivalries rather than superstars, the league cannot control everything. They cannot control injuries, they cannot control players’ willingness to take less money, they cannot control for up-and-coming players (Marc Gasol; Kevin Love; Danny Granger) nor can the league guarantee that the next superstar will indeed deliver. The league cannot prevent injuries for its stars, but if they could they would certainly do it to protect its financial interests.

via The Layup Line » Will Injuries Derail 2011 NBA Season?.

NewBlackMan: No Heir Jordan: The NBA Lockout and the End of an Era

NewBlackMan: No Heir Jordan: The NBA Lockout and the End of an Era

No Heir Jordan: The NBA Lockout and the End of an Era

by David Leonard | NewBlackMan

The NBA lockout is over. With the players and the owners having reached an agreement, basketball will return beginning Christmas Day. Ushering in substantial structural changes to the league, which will likely restrict player movement and constrain middle-class player salaries, the NBA lockout will also go down in history as an end to the search for the next Michael Jordan. Since MJ’s retirement, the league, its marketing partners, and fans alike have pinned for someone to fill his AIR Jordans. Each anointed as the next Michael Jordan, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Vince Carter and Harold Miner (“Baby Jordan”) all failed to deliver because of injuries, limited production, or a combination of both. Each in their own right was imagined as a player who could fill the shoes, whose talents, charisma, and athleticism would propel the NBA during its post-Jordan era. None of them met these expectations resulting in an NBA in continued search for a twenty-first century basketball God.

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James each took the mantle of the next Jordan to places none of the other NMJ (next Michael Jordan) had reached. Kobe, because of his talents, the ways in which he patterned his game and demeanor after Jordan, his quest for rings, and most importantly his competitiveness, all elevated the comparisons, leading many to argue that he was the NMJ. Yet because of Eagle County, Colorado, because of his conflicts with Shaquille O’Neal and the ultimate demise of the Lakers Dynasty, and because he is said to have demanded to get out of Los Angeles, Kobe has fallen short in other’s quest to find the next Michael Jordan. Like Kobe, LeBron James has delivered on the court, dazzling fans with his passing skills, his athleticism, and his ability to make his teammates better. Worse than struggling to secure a title, LeBron James fall short in the MJ sweepstakes when he decided to take his talents to South Beach.

While possessing the skills, charisma, and baller potential, the two most promising players to lead the NBA, to build upon the global popularity established by Jordan, have fallen short not because of their basketball talents but their inability (or our inability) to fill mythical shoes. The quest to find the Next Michael Jordan, thus, has nothing to do with basketball but rather is part of an effort to find a player who reinforces popular narratives about the American Dream, the protestant work ethnic, and post-racialness.

Jordan, only seen in public in his basketball uniform or a $3,000-dollar suit, Jordan embodied the politics of racial respectability on and off the court. He “allow[ed] us to believe what we wish to believe: that in this country, have-nots can still become haves; that the American dream is still working” (Ken Naughton quoted in Andrews 2000, p. 175).

continue reading @ NewBlackMan: No Heir Jordan: The NBA Lockout and the End of an Era.