Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Andrew and the bling

This post is 2 days overdue for reasons I am not going to go into.

I'm first going to preface this post, as I usually do, by saying that I'm not usually going to making a social commentary about the world of sports. I say this simply because I’m usually not in a position to provide any insight or analysis on the matter. For example, regarding Gary Sheffield’s recent comments, I cannot certifiably state if Joe Torre treats his black players any differently from his white players or not. I know the media had never hit on that issue before Sheffield brought it up, but why would he need to put it out there if we all knew about Torre's prejudices anyway?

However, what I do know is that, like Bogut said to the Sydney Morning Herald, the sport of basketball and the hip hop culture are closely intertwined. If they were not, there would be no reason for Commissioner David Stern to try so hard to shed that image by instituting the dress code and coming down so harshly on fights during games, which, in other sports, are just brushed off or even encouraged.

“The public’s image of NBA players is true; a lot of them get caught up in the hype and do video clips with rappers and all that crap. They want bling bling all over themselves and drive fast cars. But that’s just the way the culture is in America — if you’ve got it flaunt it and if you don’t, you can’t.”

While I agree with this sentiment (note how he says “a lot of” instead of “all), I, like Etan Thomas of the Washington Wizards, take issue with the fact that he views himself as better than the rest of the NBA.

Bogut calls out the league in wanting to drive fast cars when he, himself, is a car collector. He says he’s not into flashy jewelry, but he does have a nice set of earrings. He admits to loving the game of poker, but not to the point where he squanders all of his money gambling.

In other words, he does everything that he calls the league out for, just not in excess. That is the issue that Bogut seems to take. But honestly, who goes around thinking of themselves as doing something in excess? I’m not trained as a psychologist or anything, but I feel like if presented with categorizing oneself on one side of an imaginary line between moderation and recklessness, all but the worst offenders would choose the side of moderation. No one is going to be saying something like, “You know what, I think my car might be just a little bit overboard and is probably not really necessary.”

“About 80 per cent of them go broke by the time they retire or come close to it”

I’m sure (I hope) Bogut is exaggerating here, but this seems like a classic example of an availability heuristic, which says that an event that sticks out more in your mind will be perceived as more frequent. It explains why some people more afraid of being in a plane crash than a car crash, though statistics claim that they shouldn’t be. There is a large amount of attention being paid to the Mike Tyson’s, John Daly’s and Charles Barkley’s of the sports world, figures that blew their money gambling, partying or simply by living the same extravagant lifestyle after the money stopped rolling in. However, there have been thousands of players in the history of the NBA (to my estimate, about 10K), and to say that only 20% of them live comfortably after retirement is just obtuse.

“That's why the NBA guys who come from other countries, the Europeans, all sort of stick together away from the game.”

First of all, Andrew is implying that all NBA guys that come from other countries are European. I’m sure Yao Ming, Nene, Carlos Arroyo, Dikembe Mutumbo, and all the other Asian, African, South American and other non-US, non-European players would take issue to that. Secondly, Bogut is barely European. He played high school ball in Australia before going to the University of Utah. The only real connection to Europe that he has is that he lived there for a few years. If that’s his definition, then Kobe Bryant is Italian. Since that’s clearly not where he’s going, is it terribly far-fetched to think that he just means white NBA players? I’m not going to put words in his mouth, but the more I look at it, the more it seems possible.

Etan Thomas’s final response is better than anything I’d be able to muster up:

“Andrew, Andrew, Andrew. The entire country of America is not all the same. Maybe you haven’t been here long enough, but you don’t understand that the world we live in as professional athletes is in no way a representation of the way the majority of the country lives. You keep making sweeping generalizations. What if I were to say that 80% of Australians all share in the racist, hateful, evil treatment of the Aboriginal people of the land? That would be an inaccurate characterization and sweeping generalization, wouldn’t it? I know when I pick up history books, that’s what I see. Current events of the treatment and struggles today of the Aborigines seem to mirror an overwhelmingly consistent evil attitude of the past, but how could I equate a percentage to the entire continent? That just wouldn’t be intelligent or possible.”

I hope, for my career’s sake, that this is the last time I have to concede that an athlete can articulate something better than I can (or want to), but I guess this is future Congressman Etan Thomas we are talking about.

Also, in case you didn't get it, "Andrew and the Bling" is supposed to be like "Anna and the King", and is a response to "The bling and I".