NewBlackMan: More than a Ball Player: The David West Interview

More than a Ball Player: The David West Interview

by David Leonard | NewBlackMan

One of the more thoughtful and socially active professional athletes, David West, a forward for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers talked with NewBlackMan regular contributor David Leonard, about the current NBA season, the residue of the NBA lockout, the stereotypes of NBA players and what he’s reading these days.

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DJL – How has the compressed season been physically and mentally?

DW: The games are just coming. It becomes a grind. 4 games in 5 nights. 12 games in 15 nights. This is physically taxing. There have been injuries around the NBA. You do what you can to get your body prepared but sometimes the body won’t respond. It is not going to get better.

DJL: How does the compressed season impact family

DW: Families are rarely taken into account in a regular season and that is even more of an issue this season. There is really no time. Guys make sacrifices in a normal season and that is even greater right now. There is less time to do anything outside of practice and games.

DJL: Describe your assessment of lockout looking back in terms of relationship between players and owners, how race played out

DW: I went to a few meetings and there was some cryptic language that was used. I was offended by the idea we may not understand certain things. Beyond that, when you are dealing with a certain amount of money in business, there has to be a middle and level ground. In the media, we were portrayed as not knowing anything, as greedy and selfish – to just shut up and play basketball. We expected that.

I always tell people that we very fortunate to be in the NBA but there are a lot of personal sacrifices. So during the lockout guys were able to invest time in themselves, something that often went under the radar. This generation of athletes is a bit more conscious than they get credit for, how they spend and invest their money. I have been in the league for 9 years and when I started out there were high-end cars every where in the player parking lots and now you see less of that. That goes unnoticed. The lockout was a personification of that because guys were prepared to miss paychecks, to miss games. This is a change in the mindset of players.

DJL: It seems that one of the struggles was battling the caricature of today’s NBA player

DW: Every guy doesn’t have the machine behind them. As an individual, it is hard to fight the assumptions made about us. When I first entered the league, people were like “David, what are you talking about” because I wasn’t talking about basketball and I wasn’t talking about mundane things that people expected from me. That puts into perspective what people expect of you; people don’t expect athletes to have anything to offer other than being a source for entertainment. The mind is seen as 2nd or 3rd rate. So often the conversation starts and ends with sports. You find yourself boxed in. I have been labeled as stand-offish because when people engage me they often just want to talk about basketball, and that is not what I always want to talk about. Most guys deal with it and just walk around in a bubble because there is no space for original thoughts from athletes within sports.

DJL: What are your passions, what drives you?

DW: I am passionate about knowing more. Every day I wake up, I want to learn something new. I read a lot on African American history, African history, and history in general. I love to read; I want to be engaged with what is going on socially. I love music, the language that is inside the music, what guys are trying to say, especially with hip-hop. It doesn’t have to be the “conscious rap.” All rappers are conscious because they have the wherewithal and freedom to say something. Regardless of what you hear, even the most childlike rapper or those who rap at the highest level, there is a message there. I like to speak to young people; I don’t like to box myself in just because I have been successful as an athlete.

Continue reading @NewBlackMan: More than a Ball Player: The David West Interview.

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.

The Layup Line » Is The 2011 NBA Season A Money Grab?

Is The 2011 NBA Season A Money Grab?

by David J. Leonardon January 6, 2012

The NBA is where injuries happen. While still early to measure the playoff implications, or more importantly any long-term impacts on a particular player’s health, the NBA lockout, the shortened preseason, and the tight packed schedule are having an immediate impact on the health of the league’s players and the quality of its games.

Players like Eddy Curry or Jerome James are easy fodder for fans and NBA analysts, but as the recent retirement of Brandon Roy reminds us, many NBA players risk their careers in attempting to get back on the court as soon as possible so their team can make a playoff run. Speaking on the long-term impact that Roy’s ill-fated return from during the 2010 playoffs had on his career, New York Times’ Rob Mahoney makes this salient point:

Few figures in the basketball narrative are treasured as highly as the Willis Reed archetype, and Roy has taken to the role of hobbling star time and time again.

The image of Reed hobbling onto the court during the 1970 playoffs is stuff of legend. As is the sight of a flu-ridden Michael Jordan willing his team to victory during the 1997 NBA finals. Both of these moments made Sports Illustrated’s top-10 Playing With Pain Moments, and Reed’s valiant return was chosen as the greatest all-time.

Until the 2011-12 season finds its heroic or Reed or Jordan moment, this money grab masking as an NBA season is only spurring higher health care costs and declining fan interest.

Take TNT’s Thursday night game that pit the Heat against the Hawks. The game ultimately ended after 3 OT periods, although the game was anything but thrilling. With LeBron James and Dwayne Wade sitting out, the most compelling match-up was Chris Bosh v. Ivan Johnson. The NBA isn’t where amazing happens, since much of amazing is sitting on the bench wearing street clothes.

The impact of injuries is evident as one scans ESPN’s rumor tab, which is a long list of injuries. No more reports on potential trades or trends in the league – just a medical report. Of course, you don’t have to bother with “rumor tab” when you can just go to CBS Sports Basketball injuries. I did just that, looking at the page on the evening of January 5, 2012. The number of players out for a single game, doubtful, questionable and probable is pretty astounding. Each of the following players are out for their team’s next game:

Ray Allen,

LeBron James,

Dwayne Wade,

Tyrus Thomas,

Correy Maggette,

Jason Kidd,

Nene,

Continue reading (to read about many more injuries) at  The Layup Line » Is The 2011 NBA Season A Money Grab?.

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.

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.

Emancipate the NBA: Struggling for Justice in the NBA (New piece from @NewBlackMan)

Emancipate the NBA: Struggling for Justice in the NBA
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

 

I have been trying to write this column for several days.  I have thought and thought, and spent several hours writing, resulting in nothing.  I am just too angry.  My anger about the NBA LOCKOUT has nothing to do with the players.  I am actually proud of their courage and their refusal to kowtow in the face of pressure to accept an unfair proposal.  I am happy they told David Stern to file his ultimatum under “U” for unacceptable.  In fact, when I heard the news on Monday that the players indeed rejected the proposal, I found myself giving a little fist pump.  The prospect of a lost NBA season is disheartening at one level, yet I am encouraged by their refusal to accept an unjust economic arrangement.

Despite a public narrative that continually focuses on money as the only issue of contention, the LOCKOUT isn’t simply about how to split NBA pie.  It isn’t about greedy, out-of-touch players that already make millions for playing a game (this idea is so disrespectful to not only their talents but their hard work and dedication).

Players have already given up billions of dollars when they apparently agreed to a 50/50 split (or thereabouts).   Yet that wasn’t enough for the owners.  Their proposal would dramatically restrict player movement, ostensibly ending much of free agency.  The LOCKOUT in many ways is an effort to roll back free agency, to overturn the legacies of Curt Flood and to create a system where owners don’t have to compete for the services of all players (Ric Bucher made this point eloquently).

The proposed structural changes would dramatically alter the landscape of the NBA, severely limiting the options and free agency potential of NBA players.  In 2010-2011, where the players received 57% of basketball related income, the salary cap was $58.044 million; that year teams paid a tax at $70.307 million.  If the owners have their way, these numbers would fall to $50,915,789 for the cap and $61,672,807 for the luxury tax.  So what does this mean?  It means, that only 10 teams would be under the salary cap (these calculations include potential rookie salaries).  It means that 14 teams would be paying a luxury tax, which would be higher in the new system.  It means that the many teams that have empty roster spots would have little or no money to spend on free agents.  Faced with a luxury tax and only able to use a reduced exception that allows teams to exceed the salary cap, the new system is an assault on free agency and “free-market capitalism.”  It allows teams to ostensibly eliminate player leverage in getting the most possible money.

Imagine if this system existed in other industries.  Imagine if every company in your respective field was restricted in how much money they could spend on salaries.  Imagine if these companies were taxed if they spent over a certain threshold.  How would it impact your ability to garner employment?  How would it impact your ability to move from one company to the next?  How would it impact your ability to increase your salary because two competitors were forced to compete for your services?  What the owners and David Stern are trying to do, through the reduction of the BRI, through the changes in the mid-level of exception, and the tax structure is to limit the power and choice of the players.  It will invariably depress wages, bolster profits for owners, kill the NBA’s middle-class, and otherwise limit player power.

The owners’ proposal will likely HURT many teams and the quality of their basketball.  Look at the Boston Celtics: they have 7 players under contract for the 2011-2012 year, meaning they would need 5 more players just to get the 12-person minimum (teams often carry 15 players).  Based on estimates of a 50/50 BRI split, the Celtics would be roughly $15 million dollars over the cap, meaning that in order to fill out their roster they would be limited to minimum veteran salaries and one exception (unless they sign players previously under contract in 2010-2011).  They would be forced to pay a tax for every dollar they spend.  How do you think that will impact player movement?  How will it impact jobs?  What team will be willing and able to sign players beyond 12-man roster?  As much as it pains me to say this (as someone born and raised in Los Angeles), the proposal would be horrid for a team like the Celtics.

The NBA LOCKOUT is not about fans, despite claims that it is about helping the small-market teams and their fans.  As I have said before, I don’t buy the parity argument.  I buy it even less as it imagines the LOCKOUT as a struggle to protect small market teams from future player exodus. Focusing on LeBron James, Deron Williams, and Carmelo Anthony, all of whom left their teams for “greener” pastures in big markets, this argument focuses on the lack of fairness to the fans in these respective cities.  They cite the potential exits of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard as further evidence that the NBA needs structural change.  I am angered that anyone accepts this seriously flawed argument.  Whether thinking about the success of the Mavs or Spurs, or the failures of the Clippers, Knicks and the Warriors, market size does not guarantee success or failure.  It isn’t about the fans or fixing a broken system, but enhancing owner profits and further creating a league where players are     treated as “the help.”  It is about owners asserting their power to control the players.

Continue reading @NewBlackMan