Tagged: Derrick Williams


Are You From Here?

As part of its efforts to expand its market share, and make inroads with basketball players in America’s inner cities, Under Armour recently launched its “Are you from here?” campaign.

Pairing commercials with exhibition basketball games in various American cities, Under Armour embraced a grassroots marketing strategy:  “While established brands are able to market globally with ease, Under Armour is building from the ground up using unique grassroots schemes to become a player in the ultra competitive world of basketball endorsement,” writes Peter Walsh in Slam Magazine. Walsh goes on to add, “With this strategy, Under Armour is hopeful that they will be able to build relationships with younger players and fans to build for the future as their popularity continues to grow.”  Featuring Kemba Walker, Brandon Jennings, and Derrick Williams, these commercials theoretically introduce the future generation of consumers to the future of the NBA. While the NBA lockout limited the exposure and visibility of these commercials, now that the season is in full swing and the campaign is getting a second life, it is worth noting the interesting representations of race, class, and basketball simmering in these ads.

These commercials reify the dominant narrative that most NBA players grew-up in inner-city communities.  While this fiction continues to hold sway, in reality a majority of NBA players spent their formative years in suburban and outer-burban neighborhoods.  It is more convenient and potentially lucrative to portray NBA players emanating “straight-out-of Compton,” Chicago’s Southside, Coney Island, Oakland, or Harlem.  To wit Under Armour’s commercials are laced with shots of metal fences, graffiti and other signifiers of urban life play upon the hegemonic visual signifiers of blackness, urbanity, and the NBA.

The commercial featuring Kemba Walker for example features him saying, I “grew up in the projects” a place “where every kid dreams about winning.”  Likewise, the one featuring Brandon Jennings, with countless visual representations of Compton and the urban streets of Los Angeles, has him saying, the “streets are filled with chance and choice and always one move from losing it all.”  According to Kemba Walker, “We’re just trying to show our faces in the communities man, we hood guys.”

Imagining America’s inner-cities as spaces of violence and opportunity, as space of despair and play, these commercial erase the complex experiences of urban America.  Historian Robin D.G. Kelley in discussion of media representation of street ball elucidates the harmful messages delivered here.  Commercials such as “Are you from here?”  “romanticize the crumbling urban spaces in which African American youth play.”  Such “representations… are quite remarkable; marked by chain-link fences, concrete playgrounds, bent and rusted nettles hoops, graffiti-scrawled walls, and empty buildings, they have created a world where young black males do nothing but play.”

The power of the dominant narrative of the NBA as refugee or the promise land for inner-city youth rests with its affirmation of the American Dream.  The NBA, given its association with black youth and America’s ghettos, aims to accomplish what bell hooks so eloquently stated almost two decades earlier, “affirms that those on the bottom can ascend this society even as it is critical of the manner in which they rise.” Even the commercial featuring Derrick Williams works to legitimize the rags-to-riches trope ubiquitous to media representations of the NBA.  It begins with Williams describing his childhood: “I didn’t grow up in a broken home or a bad part of town. I don’t have a rap demo. I grew up in a nice neighborhood, with food on the table and three years ago I was a nobody.” In imagining Williams as different, as an aberration from the “average” NBA baller, this commercial, along with the others, normalize the “hood experience” as the NBA experience.

Visually powerful, and challenging to the erasure of the hard work, dedication, and commitment of today’s NBA players, these commercials unfortunately fall back on the conventional story of violent and impoverished communities, where only the strong – only the NBA player – survive and live the American Dream.  The hard work evident in these commercials, while a powerful way of humanizing today’s NBA players all while highlighting the level of commitment required to be an elite athlete, is unfortunately undermine by the conventional narratives and deployed stereotypes.


Improving ESPN’s NBA Draft Coverage

With the 20111 NBA Draft lacking star power and familiar names, ESPN has an opportunity to do me and many other basketball fans a favor, bring real value to coverage of the NBA Draft.

This is the most faceless draft I can ever remember and I freely admit I know nothing about 85% of the players in this draft, which is why  I need information.  I need to be enlightened.  ESPN  has an embarrassment of resources; top writers and analysts,  cutting edge technology, and unprecedented access.  There is no limit to how ESPN can cover a game, event or story.   So why is there coverage of the NBA Draft so, well, wack?

Say what you will about ESPN’s coverage of the NFL Draft.  Yes, much of it is overkill, but you definitely leave informed.   You can’t say the same the same about its NBA coverage.  It is time for the biggest sports media company on the planet to put all of these resources to good use.  ESPN, please do the following on the night of the NBA Draft, I  and I’m sure many other NBA fans, would really appreciate it.

1. More X s and O s: Basketball is not nearly as technical as football.  But that is a good thing.  It would be relatively simple to explain to the viewer  what system a draft pick played in during his college days (High/Low? 1-4? Motion?)   and compare it to the system he would have to learn in the NBA.

2. Less fluff: I know ESPN will never get rid of the interview with the crying mom after her son gets drafted.  There is always a need for the human touch in entertainment.  But they could easily trim some of the other fat that fills their broadcast.  What value do fans get from the interview with the drunk Nets fan in between picks? Or the college coach who will say nothing but positive things about his former small forward?  And please, no Dick Vitale.

3. More in-depth scouting reports: In prior years, when a player is selected, ESPN runs highlights of the player and posts a “positives/negatives” comment.  The comment is usually something  like “positives: good hands, shot blocker/ negatives : jump shot”.    I expect a little more than that from a network that broadcasts what feels like a billion college basketball games a year.  How about a shot chart showing that Brandon Knight doesn’t make 3s from the top of the key? Or a list of tendencies like : Derrick Williams goes left 80% of the time when he faces up to the basket.

4. More information about the decision makers: What is Michael Jordan’s draft philosophy? Do the 76ers  trust international players?    Who has final say in the Hornets draft room?  The draft is as much about the general managers and scouts as it is about the players.  Tell  us what the executives are thinking.  Pat Riley and Danny Ainge don’t count.

5. Focus on skills, not attributes: Instead of Jay Bilas telling me a player can’t be effective because he’s a “tweener”, tell me he can’t be effective because he lacks shooting range.  Or instead of Chad Ford insisting Jimmer Fredette is the next Steve Nash because of his heart and desire, talk to me about his ability to finish around the basket, or break full court pressure.




NCAA Basketball: Division I Championship-Arizona vs Memphis

Should the TWolves Draft Derrick Williams?

The short answer to this question is No. But it also doesn’t seem as if Minnesota has any other options.

Minnesota already has three players, four if you count Anthony Tolliver, who are similar to Williams.  Martell Webster, Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson and the aforementioned Tolliver are all 6’8″ forwards with varying degrees of talent and flaws.  Excluding Tolliver, they were all lottery picks and each are gifted on the offensive end.  And again, save for Tolliver, I’d be hard pressed to make an argument that Williams is an infinitely better basketball player than any of the other three.  Does he have the potential to be, sure, but he could also pan out to be worst than them as well.  And Minnesota fans surely can’t feel at ease by the similarities between Williams and Beasley, which stretch down to the fact that both were drafted behind all-american point guards.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, no one in this year’s lottery makes much sense for them.  They can’t draft a point guard like Brandon Knight because they already have half a dozen including their recently arrived franchise guard Ricky Rubio.  A power forward like Enes Kanter is also out of the question because of the presence of Kevin Love.  And as of now, they can’t seem to find a killer trade option for the pick.

Seriously, has there ever been a team so hamstrung by a lottery pick in the draft’s history?  Even the Nets had a legitimate need for a power forward when they drafted him in the otherwise underwhelming 2000 draft.

The best case scenario for Minnesota is that they take Williams and he morphs into some variation of Paul Pierce or David West.  In the idea world, Williams will come in and will be the iso complement to the Rubio/Love pick and pop duo, similar to how Pierce functions in Boston.  And in late game situations, he’ll go down on the block a la West, and give Minnesota baskets and stability in the low post as they try closing out games, something they were atrocious at this past season.