He’s Still Metta World Peace – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

He’s Still Metta World Peace

[OPINION] David Leonard says one mistake on the court doesn’t mean we should ignore the former-Ron Artest’s bold transformation

David Leonard

Metta World Peace is once again America’s most hated athlete. After elbowing James Harden in the head, an indefensible foul netting him a 7 game suspension, he has faced endless criticism on not just the cheap shot but him as a person. In article after article, within television commentaries, media pundits have made their anger clear, often refusing to call him by his name since his actions mirrored those when he was Ron Artest. Announcing that he doesn’t deserve to be called Peace, that he clearly has not changed from his Ron Artest ways, and that his new name was a lie in that he was “still a thug,” the efforts to deny MWP his name is telling. It is both a power play (“we will call you what we want to call you”) and part of argument that MWP is a bad guy who is incapable of changing irrespective of his name.

Part of the refusal to call by MWP seems to come from anger if Metta elbowed the media in the face. This wasn’t simply a foul or even a cheap shot, but a betrayal to all those who believed in Metta’s transformation, who rooted for him, and who gave him a 2nd chance. It was an affront to his new name, a name he didn’t deserve.

Drew Magary, in “Why Did We Ever Think Ron Artest Was Interesting?”, reflects the level of hostility directed at MWP, anger that comes from a feeling of being bamboozled and taken for a fool in believing in this changed man: “I was one of those Internet people who participated in the rebranding of Ron Artest when he arrived in L.A. a couple years ago. Yet “Artest isn’t really a colorful character. He’s not an interesting person. And he’s not sympathetic. There’s nothing to learn from the life of Ron Artest. Like Arenas, he’s just a flaky shithead.”

Capturing the tone of a parent whose child missed curfew again, after having promise to always be on time, the post-elbow tone has been one of disappointment and feelings of betrayal. “I had come to know him and even like him…. I have visited with him countless times after games and eventually understood him as a guy who seemed to be constantly choking down his violent tendencies in an attempt to change,” writes The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke. “He would say something mean, then turn it into something funny. … I was really starting to believe he was Metta World Peace. I was wrong, and James Harden has the headaches to prove it. He is still Ron Artest.“ As with many others Plaschke refuses to call him by name because in his eyes he is the same old bad person.

Following in the tradition of Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, World B. Free, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and even Chad Ochocinco, Ron Artest’ changed his name to Metta World Peace (MWP) in Summer of 2011. While facing similar scorn and criticism (albeit each in distinct ways), his decision to be come MWP highlights the power of black self-naming in a society that often doesn’t understand the black community. The capacity to name one’s self is in power, a power routinely co-opted and denied by white America. As we are reminded in Coming to America: “A man has the right to change his name to vatever he vants to change it to. And if a man vants to be called” Metta World Peace, “godammit this is a free country, you should respect his vishes, and call the man” Metta World Peace!

Having believed that MWP was a changed man, the elbow betrayed their desire to redeem him because it showed how compassionate, forgiving, and exceptional American could be. As with the anger directed at Tiger Woods, “America’s multicultural son” after news broke of his martial infidelity, and the disappointment directed at Kobe Bryant, who was “different” from his baller brethren, following Colorado, the elbow denies the media THEIR story. And so denying the “we forgive you Metta; isn’t America exceptional story,” these angry commentators have returned the favor in denying him his name. It goes back to that same old (White supremacist) saying: you can take the player out of the ghetto, but you cant take the ghetto out of the player. Or better said, you can take on this flower child name, but you can’t change who you are if who you are is an inherently violent thug. Yet, the man has changed and despite an indefensible foul, he still has the right to be called Metta World Peace.

Continue reading @ He’s Still Metta World Peace – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

[OPINION] Give Arenas Another Shot – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

Give Arenas Another Shot

By David Leonard Writer

It is February and Gilbert Arenas is still looking for a job in the NBA. While rumors swirl about his potentially joining the Los Angeles Lakers, “Agent Zero” remains a free agent. The lack of interest, whether it be from the many teams requiring greater depth in this injury plagued, compressed season, or those bottom dwelling franchises whose seasons’ are on life support (see: Michael Jordan’s Bobcats), makes one wonder if Arenas has been declared unemployable by both the media and the teams throughout the league.

The one-time NBA All-Star has had a few rocky years. Between 2007-2010, Arenas played only 47 games because of injuries and a suspension for bringing a gun into the Washington Wizards’ locker room. The 2010-2011 season was his first close-to-full season (with two teams), but his career low averages in points and shooting percentage while playing with the Orlando Magic has led commentators to question his ability. Ignoring the impact of injuries and suspensions and the fact that his numbers were fine while he was playing substantial minutes with the Wizards in 2010 (17.3 on almost 40% and close to 6 assists per game), the media and teams themselves appear to be written Arenas off.

Even Stan Van Gundy, the Magic’s coach, cautioned against selling Arenas short because of his performance with the Magic, prior to their releasing him by using their amnesty provision: “I don’t think it’s fair to judge Gilbert’s time here. If anything, if people are unhappy with the way Gilbert performed here, you got to lay that on me and the role I gave him. I don’t think you can lay that on Gilbert. I don’t think Gilbert really had much of a chance to play well consistently, with what happened.”

Fair or not, the lack of opportunities afforded to Arenas illustrate how he continues to be judged, although maybe not for on-court reasons alone.

It is hard not to think that Arenas has been unable to change his reputation and the widespread demonization he has experienced over his career. No amount of apologies, efforts to redeem himself, or even time has allowed Arenas to shake the “bad boy” label like he use to shake defenders.

In the aftermath of Arenas and then-teammate Javaris Crittendon bringing guns into the Wizards locker room and pulling them on one another, and Arenas later making light of the issue with a myriad of tweets and his decision to simulate holding a gun during pregame warm-ups, the media denounced him not only as someone who made a bad decision, but as a bad person that deserves to be in prison for a significant amount of time. He was part of a generation of arrogant, entitled, uneducated, and otherwise despicable hip-hop ballers who lacked respect for the game, the fans, and basic civility. For example, Ed Berlinger, in “Next Stop for Gilbert Arenas? Prison Basketball team,” defined Arenas in relationship to a criminal (Black) underclass, all while depicting Arenas as representative of the pathological and destructive culture of today’s (black) athletes.

Praising David Stern for his giving these players 1-year suspensions, Berlinger offered the following: “Nothing could be more necessary in teaching our generation of spoiled, morally inept, law breaking athletic sycophants that they can no longer fall back on the “my dog ate my homework” excuse…He’s a common, street level criminal. One who just happens to wear tailored suits. A convict in the making who may luckily have been revealed before he truly decided to take a life with what would have been spun as an “accident”…His complete disregard for human life and a simple level of societal behavior puts him just above the gang-bangers who revel in their ability to shovel guns in the face of anyone who dare to question their superiority.”

Evident here, much of the media saw Arenas a symptom of a larger problem within the NBA, one that needed correction if the league had any chance of prospering into the future. Not surprisingly, Jason Whitlock seized upon the opportunity to denounce Arenas as an example of what happens when professional athletes do not go to college: “Singling out Arenas as the NBA’s lone idiot gunman is as naive as believing Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone…Harsh sanction is not the cure for ignorance. Education is…Gilbert Arenas can’t think critically. Like most elite athletes, no one has ever tried to teach him to think in a language and field he enjoys.”

The continued penalization (or ostracizing) of Arenas, who like so many others confined to the criminalized class has not been given a second chance, illustrates the ways that his mere presence in the league was seen as a threat. The efforts to imagine Arenas as pathological, uneducated, and unredeemable highlight the context of his difficult employment prospects within the NBA.

Continue reading @ [OPINION] Give Arenas Another Shot – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

NewBlackMan: “#theLakersAreSoWhite:” Celebrations of the White Baller

“#theLakersAreSoWhite:” Celebrations of the White Baller

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

One of the more popular twitter trends of late has been the #theLakersAreSoWhite meme, a response to a Lakers’ roster that has five white American players: Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, Josh McRoberts, Steve Blake, and Troy Murphy. The meme includes a range of posts from the silly – #thelakersaresowhite half the team is skipping the plane back tonight to open a gluten-free bakery in #ripcity – to those based solely around recycling stereotypes of blackness and whiteness:

#thelakersaresowhite Kobe bought them all do rags for Christmas and they all thanked him for the new “handkerchief”.

#TheLakersAreSoWhite the Kardashians won’t attend Lakers games anymore

#thelakersaresowhite they can’t dance

The meme elicited a column from JA Adande on the changing “color” of the Lakers. The 2011-2012 Lakers have the most number of white American players since the 1977-1978 team. In “Purple and gold take on a new color,” Adande reflects on the Lakers’ recent demographic shift, situating the increased number of white American players on the Lakers within a downward trend throughout the league. Adande wonders if the Lakers, as one of the NBA marquee franchises, have the potential to increase the number of white kids seeking entry into the NBA. “It also would be interesting to see if having so many white players on a high-profile team could have any long-term effects on the dwindling number of white American players in the NBA.” At this level, the piece is quite instructive because it offers a challenge to the biological determinism that both explicitly and implicitly governs much of sports discussions.

In speculating as to how the visibility of a cluster of white American players on the NBA’s principle franchise, Adande makes clear that the racial demographics of the NBA is the result of a myriad of factors from culture (self-fulfilling prophecies) and role models, to resource allocation and inequality in the availability of sports. “The acceptance of this ‘natural athlete thesis’ … is instead an insult when you really break down all the implications,” writes Todd Boyd in Young Black, Rich and Famous. “If this was true, how do we account for the millions of black people, who have never played a sport? Why then are not all black people who pursue sport successful? The biological argument is without any merit, though it is argument that keeps getting recycled. Culture is key to understanding this phenomenon, but few are ready to accept it as such” (Boyd 64-64). I n this regard, Adande’s explanation of the Lakers changing color is a challenge to “the natural athlete thesis” and the memes that have been generated in response to the supposedly new found diversity of the team.

Yet, Adande’s shock and awe reinforces the very spectacle that so often surrounds the entry of whiteness on the basketball court. The mere fact that he writes an article, and that countless others chimed in with twitter comments (the meme) is a testament to the ways in which dominant discourse normalize blackness within the context of the NBA. The spectacle and discourse of the white baller anomaly pivots on the assumed natural connection between blackness and basketball. “Basketball’s prevailing ghettocentric logic keys on essentializing the embodied practices and experiences of Black urban male youth as a means of denoting an ‘authentic Blackness’ designed to appeal primarily to White, middle-class consumers,” writes David Andrews and Michael Silk.

continue reading @ NewBlackMan: “#theLakersAreSoWhite:” Celebrations of the White Baller.

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.

SLAM ONLINE | » The Dribble Drive-By in the New NBA

The Dribble Drive-By in the New NBA

The misguided obsession with rivalries.

by James B. Peterson and David J. Leonard

Since the announced trade of Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers (yes, L.A. has two basketball teams), the NBA punditry has been abuzz, focusing almost exclusively on the trade as it relates to the future of the Lakers. Asking if the Clippers are now better than the Lakers, if Los Angeles is a Clippers city, and otherwise playing up the rivalry, media outlets have turned the Chris Paul trade into a source of conflict between the Clippers and the Lakers. SLAM’s Dave Zirin captured the essence of a media narrative that portrayed the trade as a Clipper victory over the Lakers:

The morning buzz in sports is about the greatest point guard of our generation, Chris Paul, joining the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s a dizzying thought, but the Clippers, the much-mocked baby brother to the mighty Lakers in L.A., now have the city’s better basketball team. This is a day for Frank Stallone, for Billy Carter, for Roger Clinton…. the day that your little bro with the runny nose and the toilet paper stuck to his shoe inherited the earth.

The near obsession of manufacturing a rivalry between these two teams is emblematic of the League’s direction. Concerned about a future where superstars join forces in a few select locations, owners sought to reconfigure the League so that rivalries and teams sell the game to the future fans. A league whose motto was once “Where Amazing Happens” is being transformed to one where the motto might as well be “Where Rivalries Happen.”

The efforts to build-up other franchises—and now play-up the Lakers-Clippers feud—reflect this trend, despite their absurdity. The Clippers didn’t trade for Chris Paul to “punk” the Lakers; they didn’t do it to beat L.A. or become the best team in Los Angeles. They did it to make money and win games (which will lead them to make more money). If anything, it elevates the Clippers into contention for the Western Conference title.

At the core of the media coverage has been the idea that the Clippers will dominate the Lakers because, in the battle for Chris Paul, they won. Imagined as David defeating Goliath, the sports punditry is celebrating the trade as a victory for the “little guy.” Yet, the Chris Paul trade has everything and nothing to do with the Lakers. The Clippers didn’t defeat the Lakers. David Stern and the League’s owners defeated the Lakers, with the Clippers ultimately benefiting. The celebration of the Clippers as victors embodies a fallacious belief in free markets and neoliberal capitalism.

The celebration of the trade, establishment of a binary between the Lakers and Clippers, erasure of David Stern and the League itself, and the overemphasis placed on one team is on full display in Bill Simmons’ post-trade column. Despite previously lamenting David Stern’s decision, Simmons used this column to play up the rivalry. In an article about the Lakers and Clippers, Chris Paul and the future of both franchises, Bill Simmons invoked the following analogy:

Yesterday, the Lakers were hanging out in front of the Staples Center, twiddling their thumbs and coming to the depressing realization that Josh McRoberts was their fourth-best player, when suddenly the Clippers did a drive-by shooting, popped them in the leg and sent them limping away. It wasn’t a fatal blow, but the Lakers definitely lost a ton of blood. And they might spend the next few years walking with a lif

Simmons’ comparison is off by more than a few coordinates. First, if one insists on this analogy, it’s the NBA doing the drive-by and Stern is the trigger man. This simply would not have taken place if the NBA/New Orleans Hornets had not flexed their hegemonic muscle to derail L.A.’s bid to bring Chris Paul into the purple and gold fold. The Lakers’ “limp” was initiated by the move to send Lamar Odom to Dallas for future picks—a move made in anticipation of acquiring Superman, which is now about as likely as the owners exposing their earnings/holdings. Funny how the super-rich understand resource equality when it’s about divvying up resources among the 1 percent.

But the Simmons analogy is off in other ways as well. It reflects an abiding disregard for professional athletes and a pervasive misunderstanding of their success and status in (and out) of black/brown/urban communities. Most sports commentators believe(d) that Plaxico Burress was a fool for carrying a loaded gun with him on a night out in New York City.

Continue reading @ SLAM ONLINE | » The Dribble Drive-By in the New NBA.

The Layup Line » Nothing to Celebrate: Chris Paul and the NBA Imagination

Nothing to Celebrate: Chris Paul and the NBA Imagination

David J. Leonard

December 16, 2011

I am a Lakers fan so any and all of my criticism should be seen through that window. While Lakers’ haters have rejoiced over the draconian decisions from the league, it’s worth taking a moment to contemplate what exactly they’re celebrating.

For example, Dave Zirin is a brilliant commentator, with an amazing ability to both highlight the political dimensions of sport and use it as a way to elucidate the larger social issues of the day. In his essay, “Sorry, Lakers: Chris Paul and the Clippers Now OCCUPY Los Angeles,” Zirin doesn’t just argue that a sea change is underway in Los Angeles. He also connects the trade to a larger social upheaval inside and outside of the sports world. “These aren’t two NBA teams. They are the two Americas. But in a 2011 where we’ve seen global revolutions from the Middle East to the Mid-West overturn accepted truths in thought and deed, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate way for the SportsWorld to end its year,” writes Zirin.

Zirin then makes his zeitgeist-tapping analogy more plain:

The Lakers have always been the ultimate team of the 1 percent. The Clippers are the also-rans, the afterthoughts, bottom-dwelling 99 percenters of the first order. One trade, and this sacrosanct truth has been turned on its head. To see an exhilarating symbol of the change 2011 has brought and 2012 will bring, you can do worse than remembering the names Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the soon-to-be almighty Clippers.”

David Stern’s decision to reward David Stern with a transcendent player such as Paul given his given his history of racial discrimination is jarring enough. After all we can not forget that journalist Bomani Jones once described Sterling in the following way: “That same man, who gives black men tens of millions of dollars every year, refuses to take a few thousand a month from folks who would like to crash in one of his buildings for a while? … . Sterling may have been a joke, but nothing about this is funny. In fact, it’s frightening and disturbing that classic racism like this might still be in play.” Read in this context, Zirin’s position the Clippers as the 99% represents a troubling reimagination of the 99%. Can this really be the face, symbolic or real, of the 99%?

Yet, beyond defining the 99% as those who are not winning, what concerns me here is the failure to see how the Clippers won (and David Stern, Dan Gilbert, Michael Jordan, Nike and a host of other global corporations won) through the exertion of power and the adjustment of rules to fit the agendas, needs, and financial goals of these ultimate winners. In fact, this entire Paul imbroglio is indicative of current economic policy, where rule -makers adjust games for their own benefit. Zirin’s assessment would have one believe that the Lakers were Lehman, and the Clippers Goldman Sachs, one got bailed out, the other didn’t. But does anyone really believe in the possibility of an NBA landscape in which the Lakers’ aren’t somehow rendered as Goldman Sachs?

This Chris Paul debacle was the first clear sign that, post-lockout, the league’s agenda is to restrict player movement and contain player salaries while maximizing profits. This has been done under the guise of “achieving parity” but just like the “free market” the NBA is supposed to operate in, these are all illusions. The needs of public consumers – in this case, sports fans – clearly are not determining the marketplace. The oligarchs do. Just as Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail while other banks were bailed out, the NBA made a decision to empower the Clippers at the expense of the Lakers, Rockets and others because of the larger effort to make the league more about teams and rivalries rather than stars. In reimagining the NBA apart from stars, the NBA is attempting to rebrand itself thereby limiting the power and financial demands of the players themselves. Josh Martin describes the situation as nothing to celebrate, especially since it’s illustrative of the unjust consequences of power:

Hate David Stern for going Hank Paulson on his league’s marquee franchise, thereby setting a horrendous precedent that he might just do it again and bringing the business of player movement to a screeching halt as a result. . . .

Hate the owners who wanted (and still want) a hard cap AND salary rollbacks AND to prevent superstars from working where they want to, even after putting in years of service in smaller markets.

Hate Gilbert and Sarver and the Maloofs and all those other egomaniacs for screwing up YOUR favorite teams and then blaming their own missteps and bad contracts on their well-payed [sic] employees.

In other words, don’t hate The Player; hate The Game, the very same game that YOUR owners pushed for and that will ultimately cost YOUR teams in their pursuit of big-name free agents and NBA championships.

Clippers fans are right to celebrate CP3’s arrival in Los Angeles, but I’m not sure anyone else has cause for joy. Trading Chris Paul is a testament to the continued oligarchy of the NBA; it is not a triumph of the 99%. Efforts to push Chris Paul to one team over another, the meddling and public statements of owners, are just the beginning of a systemic reconfiguring of the NBA. Is that really worth celebrating?

via The Layup Line » Nothing to Celebrate: Chris Paul and the NBA Imagination.