I usually try refraining from making analogies between slavery and professional sports, but there are moments like this one where the connection is to obvious to ignore. Speaking on his fallout with Lamar Odom Mark Cuban recently declared:
“Did I get my money’s worth? No,” Cuban said. “I don’t know that the word’s ‘cheated.’ But did I get my money’s worth? No.”
I blame both Cuban and ESPNMavericks mouthpiece Tim McMahon who is clearly on Cuban’s side and apparently has his own disdain for Odom, for these comments. Cuban is ultimately responsible for making them and not being sensible enough to realize that his employees are not interchangeable widgets. McMahon is also to blame because fails to display a hint of reflection, which might have enabled him to realize that Cuban’s comments are insensitive if not downright crass.
A year ago it would have been blasphemous to even joke that someone other than Kevin Garnett was the greatest TWolve of all-time. Heck, a year ago, it would have even been possible to make a legitimate argument for Wally Sczerbiak as the second best TWolve of all time. Former Wolves players such as Sam Cassell, Tom Gugliotta, Stephon Marbury and Latrell Sprewell, might have had more accomplished careers than Sczerbiak, but Sczerbiak was a stable presence in the starting lineup for almost a decade. In any case, the battle was always going to for second because Kevin Garnett was number one by a mile.
However, a year later, it appears that with each fawning article the foundation is being laid for someone to make the case that Kevin Love is the greatest TWolve of all-time. Last year the praise was for Love’s rebounding prowess. This year Love has been garnering praise for his new svelte figure, improved scoring and the team’s first playoff push since the, you guessed it, Kevin Garnett era.
Love has the better individual stats over the first four years of their respective careers.
Until the arrival of Ricky Rubio, Love did not have a teammate comparable to either Marbury or Gugliotta.
What now remains to be seen is how Love manages the expectations of leading a playoff team next year when Rubio returns and the Wolves are a strong contender for a 6th-8th seed in the west. Garnett was a warrior, but he was never able to get the Wolves past the conference finals, a fact that arguably tarnished his legacy.
If Love manages to get the Wolves into the finals in the next six years he might find himself being anointed the greatest Timberwolve of all time just as Garnett is being inducted into the NBA hall of fame.
Like any franchise player Carmelo Anthony has taken a drubbing for his team’s poor play this season. Making matters worse is that his former team has had a better record ever since Anthony was traded. It’s understandable how some might get swooped up in all the talk about the Nuggets playing basketball “the right way,” and how their no superstars approach is the right way to counter superstar led team’s like New York and Miami. Moreover, with the Knicks struggling, it was easy to label Anthony as selfish.
Then came a day like Sunday when the Garden was electric and Anthony hit big shot after big shot as the Knicks upended the league leading Chicago Bulls. Having witnessed Anthony hit that shot from the elbow time and again yesterday’s heroics weren’t particularly new. But Anthony had never had a day like this in the Garden in front of a nationally televised audience on Easter Sunday against a long standing Knicks nemesis. Watching yesterday’s game you couldn’t help but think that this is the reason the Knicks traded for Anthony.
Regardless of what the standings say at this point, what the Knicks were vying for when they acquired Anthony was a day like yesterday. Sure, they’d love ‘em by the dozen, but if he could at least do this once or so a month and when the lights are brightest, you have to think that this franchise and its fans will forgive virtually anything that happens in between.
Back when I was a member of the Toronto Raptors Dance Pak (1996-1999), I was always the go-to girl for any media interviews about feminist critiques of our troupe. I guess that I must have seemed like the perfect person to counter such criticisms since I was scholarship student at York University and had won several academic awards. I was also considered “articulate” enough to speak to the press.
The questions were pretty predictable: “What do you say to those who argue that the Dance Pak takes us back to the days before the women’s movement? Do you think that you are good role models for young girls?” I usually gave the same answer: “For me, feminism is about choice. I am a trained dancer and I cherish the opportunity to have a job that allows me to express my creativity and to enjoy the camaraderie of other performers. I work hard to look and move the way that I do, and I don’t think it’s a crime to express myself in this way. My friends on the team are some of the strongest and savviest women that I have ever met.” These comments may sound a bit naïve, but as a young woman in my early twenties, I really liked the job.
Dancing in the Pak helped me to pay for my living expenses as a university student. I made more money dancing than I did at my previous job as a research assistant for a professor (about $8.00/hour). At the time, we made $75.00 a game (approximately $18.75/hour; we performed 2-3 dances per game and spent most of the time in the dressing room goofing around). We made a paltry $25 for each three-hour rehearsal; however, the most lucrative part of the job was the $100 an hour we made for appearances.
Moreover, the job opened up opportunities in the broader entertainment industry in Toronto and I was able to get an agent and my ACTRA card (the Canadian equivalent to SAG). The summer after my first season with the team, I made almost $10,000 for two weeks worth of work as a dancer in a movie. (And to this day, I’m still getting residual checks.) To the twenty-something me in the late 1990s, this was a very lucrative payoff – one that kept me from having any student debt. Of course, we also received invitations to the best parties and nightclubs. People knew who we were. There was a certain prestige associated with being on the team. We had a lot of fun hanging together. Heck, we got the opportunity of a lifetime to perform at the 1997 NBA All-star Game.
Even at the time, I recognized that being a member of the Dance Pak went against some of my beliefs as a budding feminist. I recognized that we were walking billboards. I was fully cognizant of our status as “eye candy.” Yes, we were often harassed by the players; they felt that they had some special kind of access to us. Fans sometimes took out their frustrations on us, yelling out criticisms of our hair, bodies, costumes, etc.
But, where else could you go to make money as hip hop dancer in Toronto? How else could someone from Kitchener, Ontario easily transition into the entertainment business of the big city? I honed my craft on the team, learning how to pick up routines one day and perform them the next. I became confident enough to dance in front of almost 20,000 fans. And, over the course of my short career in the industry, I worked with great choreographers from Barry Lather to Luther Brown to Frankie Manning. I worked on projects with actors, artists, and athletes, including Dan Aykroyd, Emilio Estevez, Alanis Morissette, Tara Lapinski, etc.
As Dance Pak members, we did our best to exert some control over our working conditions. We weren’t just passive automatons who agreed to everything. We insisted on being called dancers. (“Cheerleader” was a derogatory word in Ontario at the time.) We fought off the use of pom-poms. Once when Game Operations sent us to do our fourth-quarter routines in the stands and we were heckled by unruly fans, we all stood together and refused to do it again. Yet we still had only limited control over our representation on the court.
As I wrote in an earlier blog post, under Isiah Thomas’s management, the Raptors Dance Pak experienced a brief golden age. We were not your typical NBA dance squad:
We were a motley crew made up of diverse ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and even body types. We had wild hair and plenty of attitude. We worked hard but we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. We were known for free-styling a lot in our routines –we had “flava.” [For a time we even had male dancers.] On the flip side, many of us were university students on our way to becoming professionals. Others were performers who would soon leave Toronto to chase their dreams in New York and Los Angeles. . . .
We wore costumes that were sporty rather than sparkly. (Much of this began changing when the team went into the hands of Maple Leaf Sport & Entertainment a year later. The Pak got whiter and more monolithic in look. Our costumes became smaller, barer, and sequin-drenched. We had Labatt’s logos plastered across our chests. There was no more Biggie or Busta; it was only Motown, classic Michael Jackson, and “hip pop.” We were told that these changes were part of a larger plan to make the entire game experience more appealing to the (white) corporate big-wigs and VIP’s who sat courtside. Unfortunately, in the process we also lost the respect of the folks in the nosebleeds.)
There is certainly a glass wall in the NBA, and sex does sell men’s sports. However, the on-the-ground reality of the women who perform at the games is much more complicated than it might appear at first glance. Just like any other performers, we had to figure out how best to navigate our way through the sexism and racism of the sports and entertainment industries. I learned a lot about how the world works from my short stint on the Dance Pak. I wouldn’t give up that experience for anything.
I am a Lakers’ fan. From cradle until grave, I will be a Lakers fan. I was cheering for alley-oops (Coop-a-loop) long before “Lob City;” I have watched games at the Great Western Forum, the Staples Center, and elsewhere. So, when I heard the Derek Fisher had been traded, I was sad. With his jersey hanging in my closet, Fish has always been a favorite player of mine. Defensive-minded, but someone who has always hit key shots – .04 against the Spurs; his 3 against the Magic; his greatness in Game 3 against the Celtics – he has been instrumental in the Lakers’ championships. In a history of the NBA’s greats, Fisher is not one of them, yet his lore and power extends to the likes of West, Baylor, Magic, Worthy, Shaq, and Kobe
At an intellectual level, his trade to the Houston Rockets makes perfect sense. Fish is 37-years old and his best days on the court are certainly behind him. His effectiveness, whether on the defensive end or as shooter, has been in steady decline. Add to this, the economics of the game and that the Lakers’ had just traded for Ramon Sessions, a young and dynamic point guard, one has to concede trade makes sense.
It is clear from yesterday’s trades that the Lakers’ improved their squad, increasing their chances in the playoffs, something every fan has demanded since their last championship two years ago. Yet, I found myself conflicted, uneasy about the trade outside of “basketball reasons.” I was not alone with Lakers’ fan lamenting the trade of Fish (while celebrating the departure of Luke Walton and barely noticing the trade of Jason Kapono). Noting how he was a glue guy, how important he was to the team’s chemistry, and how instrumental he has been for the Lakers’ the overall tone was both reminiscent and predictive. Fans have expressed concern about how his departure may impact the team though little of it has focused on specific contributions – scoring, rebounding, assists, defense, ball-handling – that the Lakers are losing. Kelly Dwyer encapsulates this line of thinking:
There is absolutely no justification for the move. Fisher, to be quite frank, has been absolutely brutal on both sides of the ball over the last two seasons for Los Angeles. He can’t stay in front of even the NBA’s slowest point guards, at this point, and he offers precious little offensively save for the occasional (as in, “32 percent of the time he shoots one”) 3-point basket. By every conceivable standard, he was a millstone for the team on the court. No amount of leadership and smarts (two things Fisher provides in spades) could make up for his shortcomings.
It still doesn’t mean you trade Derek Fisher, heart of the team, to save $3.4 million and a few million more in luxury tax savings. Some guys really should just be untouchable, even as their minutes decrease to nil. Derek Fisher should have been one of those guys.
Beyond wondering if Dwyer has objected to the NBA’s salary system and if he criticized the owners during the lockout, given how in small parts the trade is certainly a result of salary constraints/luxury taxes, the argument emanates from a place of nostalgia and one that erases the business aspect of sport.
The frustration, anger and disappointment regarding Fisher seems driven by nostalgia; I get it. I get the sadness because it is an end of era, one defined by championships, great shots, clutch three-pointers, charges/flops, and a level of ferocity that Fish played with while on the Lakers. We all have fond memories and are saddened by the end of the D-Fish era and what it signals in the future: the ultimate end of the Bryant Era, given that they came into the league at the same time.
Whether reflecting on childhood memories watching Fish and the Lakers battle the Kings or Suns, or when I was a 20 something graduate student who arranged his schedule around Lakers’ games, sports serves as a powerful source of memory during lives. For Lakers’ fans Derek Fisher isn’t simply a player from the team, but someone that indexes and marks a period of time in our lives.
This discomfort also reflects unease about “getting old.” Father time is scary and the prospect of Fisher (or each of us) being disregarded because he (we) is not as productive as before or because is simply getting older is disconcerting. All of us will eventually get older. None of us are immune from “father time” and the idea that one’s importance and value diminishes as one gets older is understandingly uncomfortable.
Add to this, the trade of Derek Fisher, like the trade of Nene, reminds us all about the hypocrisy of demanding “loyalty” from players when there is no love and reciprocity from the teams. It reminds us about the fantasy of sports being just a game and the illusion that teams have any loyalty to their players and their fans. The response, in anger and sadness, to Fisher’s exist from the Lakers has little to do with the game itself but what basketball means to us all. And that is why it hurts so much.
It’s become a custom in pro-sports to reward players for years of dutiful service on hard-luck teams with a chance to play for a contender before their careers end. Neither JaVale McGhee nor Nick Young fit the usual profile of players receiving such a benefit, but nonetheless both players received promotions for their picaresque years of service with the Wizards.
The Nuggets and Clippers meanwhile have to be very happy with their haul at yesterday’s deadline. In return for Nene’s bloated contract, Denver gets a 7-foot shot blocker. This will be McGee’s first time experiencing a playoff run and playing alongside a veteran playmaker like Andre Miller is guaranteed to boost his stock. This is a win-win for the Nuggets and McGee. If McGee plays well, the Denver goes even further in the playoffs. And if he just plays at his current level and Denver realizes that the JaVale experience is not what they’re after, then they still have a legitimate 7-footer to offer in a sign-and-trade deal.
Los Angeles should be just as eager to have Young on board. Young can definitely shoot the rock and once he realizes that he’s not in the Wizard’s haphazard offense anymore, then he should fit in nicely alongside Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Caron Butler.
Meanwhile for Washington, while it may feel good at the moment to get McGee out of the locker room, we will see if this enthusiasm persists two years from now when John Wall is looking down the bench and seeing Nene and Rashard Lewis and finally decides he wants to ask for a trade. 60million is a lot to pay for stability, so for the Wizards sake let’s hope that it’s worth it.
It’s good to see that LeBron and Wade have included John Wall into the fraternity of elite players, but you cannot help but wonder if they’re both being a bit too generous. Wall is talented, but he has a far more talented team than James had in his first year and he’s been surprisingly unable to marshal the best out of his teammates. Granted, there is a particular breed of dysfunction in Washington, but at some point the Wizards need to figure out how to hold Wall accountable. Otherwise, in two years he’ll be demanding a trade to _____ in order to get a better shot at “winning.” And as far as a wall trade that makes, sense, I would love to see what would happen if Wall and Tyreke Evans were to swap teams.
NBA players have done some stupid things on Twitter, but this weekend’s outpouring of support for fallen TWolves guard Ricky Rubio ranks as one of the more endearing acts on the social media site. Dwyer catalogs for those who missed it the slew of twitter posts by Rubio’s NBA brethren offering him prayers and a speedy recovery. If anyone wonders whether European players have been accepted into the fraternity then this has to make it clear that the answer is a resounding yes.
RealGM linked to this tweet from Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix declaring that the Thunder would not trade James Harden and Serge Ibaka for Dwight Howard. Management wise it’s the smart thing for OKC GM Sam Presti to make it clear that none of his core-players are on the trading block. But it did strike me as odd that no one really questioned this declaration. The silence might just be because this is a meaningless tweet from Mannix where what is presented as privileged information is not really information at all. Or it might really be because Howard’s been on the trading block for so long that the league really has no idea what he’s looking for. At least with Carmelo you had a sense of his intended destination and it made sense to leave Denver to play in New York. Whereas with Howard, especially given how well his team is performing this year, the reaction has mostly been, why doesn’t he just stay in Orlando? Back to the point of Mannix’s tweet, if the combination of Howard, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant is not enticing enough to make Harden and Ibaka available, then it might be time where we gave serious thought to how much Howard would bring to a contender.
For the next three years Simmons should rename this column, “In case you were wondering, LeBron is still #1.” No major disputes with Simmons’ ranking. Although, I might’ve given a nod to Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady for old time sakes, but other than that, he’s pretty much on point.
Five years ago a day did not pass without Tony Parker’s name surfacing in trade rumors. Many believed that Parker was the Spurs’ Achilles heel and even though they won a title with him at the helm, Parker was not a good fit for the team. He allegedly dribbled too much, clashed with coach Greg Popovich too often, and his lack of an outside shot made it easy for teams to collapse in on Tim Duncan. Five years later, Parker is still with the Spurs and his play is a large reason why the franchise hasn’t slid into the lottery. Parker even has an outside chance of stealing one or two MVP votes from LeBron James and Kevin Durant this year. By contrast if you look at the legion of point guards whom Parker should have been traded for you’ll see it’s a motley bunch. On the low end, there’s Knicks reserve Baron Davis, whose mix of size and outside shooting would have bolstered the Spurs. And on the high end, there’s Steve Nash, the two time league MVP who’s still playing at an advanced age. Who knows how the Spurs would have fared with Davis or Nash–but we do know they’ve fared with Parker, and for all extents and purposes they have done well with him.
The evolution of Parker’s career is in many ways analogous to the one Rajon Rondo’s is currently experiencing. Parker went from being his team’s weak link to lynchpin with far less fanfare and praise than what’s been heaped on his more revered teammates Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Just as Parker will never be thought of in the same regard as Duncan, Ginobili, and maybe not even Avery Johnson for that matter by Spurs fans. Celtics fans and the front office are likely to always be dismissive of Rondo, forever turning the conversation to his poor outside shot and his purported sullen demeanor.
If the Celtics continue focusing in more on Rondo’s weaknesses than his strengths they are bound to make the same mistake that Dallas made when it traded Nash rather than heeding the lesson that the Spurs learned in dealing and building around Parker. The Celtics need no look further than in their own conference to see how lacking a top flight point guard can lead to a team floundering. Had Atlanta had a point guard of Rondo’s caliber in the last three years the Hawks would’ve likely made at least one Eastern Conference finals. And before the arrival of Jeremy Lin, the Knicks offense looked as if it was being run by a rec league pickup.
Rondo is young, has the most reasonable contract of any comparable player in the league, and unlike Stephon Curry, Chris Paul or any other players who have been mentioned in trade rumors with Rondo over the past two years, he’s the only one to have led his team to an NBA title.
The problem with the Celtics over the past three years have not resulted from Rondo’s actions, but rather the doings of GM Danny Ainge who’s burdened the team with the likes of Marquis Daniels and Jermaine O’Neal. Since teams can not trade GMs–otherwise the Celtics would have inquired about an Ainge for Sam Presti swap ages ago–GMs instead fuel chatter about their players.
If the Celtics are keen on rebuilding without suffering a lost decade, then they must make it clear that Rondo’s here to stay. Otherwise, they will be quickly reminded that a sullen, disinterested fan base is far worst to deal with than a point guard whose only crime is that he’s a little quiet.
Having seen Andray Blatche play on a number of occasions over the past few years I feel confident in saying that he’s a good basketball player. He can score from either the blocks or the perimeter. He rebounds well. And if he gets hot, he can easily go for 20 and carry a team to victory.
Now should Andray Blatche be the best player on a team? Definitely not. And even if he were the second or third best player on your team there’d be no guarantee of success. But that does not mean that he wouldn’t be an asset to most teams in this league.
Blatche’s biggest weakness as a professional basketball player is, well, it’s, Andray Blatche.
His contract is not too onerous.
He is capable of averaging 13pts and 7 rebounds a game.
And did I mention he’s 6’10”?
If you called into any front office and you told them that you have a 26year old 6’10 player who’d give them 13 & 7 a night they’d likely jump at the opportunity to sign this person.
However, if you happened to lead with that you have Andray Blatche, the conversation is likely to instantly go cold.
The fear of Blatche precedes the realities of the actual player. Blatche is not the first player in this regard, and nor will he be the last. What makes escaping his own reputation more difficult for Blatche than it is for other players who’ve had to deal with this issue is that in truth Blatche is a pretty average player. He’s not like Rasheed Wallace or Vince Carter, players who arguably could have accomplished significantly more with their talents. It’s been so long since Blatche was considered a prodigy that the general public has long since forgotten any talk of him having an unsurpassable ceiling. Seven years into his career, Andray Blatche is simply Andray Blatche, and the cold hard truth is that Andray Blatche is someone most teams would rather do without.
But Blatche does not have a bad enough attitude or even perception, like say what plagued Zach Randolph and his “Jail Blazers” teammates early in his career. With Randolph you could at least talk yourself into trading for him because there was an edge to go along with the talent. There’s no such overriding edge with Blatche.
He’s essentially Joe Smith with a bad attitude.
However, if you see him play, you can’t help but wonder how Blatche would perform if he weren’t playing alongside a point guard who can make a good pass, and teammates who seem to forget one another once the ball finds its way into their hands.
How would Blatche do playing alongside Steve Nash or Chris Paul for example? How would he do as the sixth man for the Heat, Spurs, or even the Lakers?
I’m willing to bet there’s a second act in the career of Andray Blatche. And for his and The Wizards sake, that second act kicks off on March 15th.
(This is part four in a special 5-part series by sports analyst David J. Leonard on the NBA’s abysmal performance when it comes to gender equity.)
Mary Jo Kane, in “Sex sells Sex, Not Women’s Sports” links the marginalization of female athletes to the hegemony of sex within sports. She successfully debunks the claim that sex sells women’s sports: “Sex sells sex, not women’s sports.” As part of the Nation’s series on sports, Kane argues: “Millions of fans around the globe just witnessed such media images and narratives during coverage of the Women’s World Cup in Germany. Perhaps such coverage will start a trend whereby those who cover women’s sports will simply turn on the camera and let us see the reality—not the sexualized caricature—of today’s female athletes. If and when that happens, sportswomen will receive the respect and admiration they so richly deserve.”
This is pretty easy to see as one looks at the ways female athletes enter into the sports media sphere. Historian Patricia Hill Collins notes how contemporary sports cultures works to “simultaneously” “celebrate and ‘feminize” their athleticism by showing women in action and showing their navels”. Coming on the WNBA’s marketing campaign, Collins argues that WNBA “ads all shared another feature — unlike their basketball uniforms that provide more than adequate coverage for their breasts and buttocks, each woman was dressed in fitted sweat pants and in a form-fitting top that, for some exposed a hint of their midriffs, an occasional naval”.
In regards to the WNBA, one has to look no farther than google to see the hegemony of sexualization. If one types in WNBA and “hotties,” “sexy” or “sexiest” one is faced by an avalanche of websites offering top-10 lists. Whether on the Bleacher Report, Spike TV, ESPN, and YouTube, women in the WNBA are far more readily available as sexual objects than ballers. Routinely radio stations and websites pit women of the WNBA in a battle for who will be crowned as the “hottest” WNBA star (see here for example). In these contests, presumably male fans vote for the “hottest player” illustrating the ways in which primarily male fans interact with women ballers: as sex objects, as body parts, as sources of pleasure. Women, thus, enter into the sports realm reaffirming patriarchy and gender boundaries, reinforcing the primacy of males in this space.
The sexualization of women within basketball is of course not limited to WNBA players, but is on full display during each and every NBA game. Over the past decade women have been deposed from their positions as referees and play by play analysts. When the NBA hired two women referees, Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner, in 1999 three years after promoting Cheryl Miller as a play by play analyst, it appeared as if women were shattering the NBA”s glass wall that kept women away from on-court positions of authority. However by 2003, Palmer was the lone woman referee in the NBA and there were no other women doing play by play for nationally televised games. Therefore if you watched an NBA game on TV in the last thirty years the only women you saw was either a sideline television reporter—but that still depended heavily on which team you were viewing and whether it was a televised game. So more likely than not the only women you saw gracing the courts during NBA games were cheerleaders.
The sight of scantily clad cheerleaders who make limited wages for their in-game performances (around $100 dollars per game) affirms that the place of women on the basketball floor is quite clear. Cheerleaders are the most prominent examples of the “sexy babe mode” mode of representing women. According to Kane, the “sexy babe mode” “represents a “hot” female athlete, falls just short of soft pornography.” This carries over into sports media with websites and “mainstream” sports like NBC Sports or Sports Illustrated offering pictorial slide shows, often showing women in sexualized positions (cleavage shots seem to be a requirement for some websites).
In spite of the fact that it operates a professional woman’s basketball league sex and sexuality remains the predominant vehicle through which the NBA transmits images of women. While sex sells sex, it also sells “MEN’S SPORTs.” Whether in advertisements for strip clubs in local newspapers, athlete pictorials, or eye-candy cheerleaders, women in sports remain sexualized objects for the consumption of male consumers.