Kobe, Conformity, and Responsible Journalism
As a disclaimer, this entry contains the much-dreaded music/hoops analogies, but I think my point will justify them.
Last year, I unwittingly became a huge Kobe Bryant proponent. This occurred at a strange point in my life and during even a stranger stretch of the NBA year, as Kobe was finishing off the season and driving the Lakers through the playoffs by making weekly buzzer beaters (seemingly always against the Nuggets and Blazers) and keeping the media busy talking about how we should/shouldn't heroize him for putting up consistent 30-point-efforts on his court case days. This was also during the time when he was absolutely brutalizing the T-Wolves in the playoffs, dropping kneecaps in Michael Olowokandi's mouth, living at the free throw line, and giving Derek Fisher and Kareem Rush (not to mention the Big Fella) the widest openest looks they had ever seen. I, like the rest of the "good-natured" sportsfan population, should have been hating the guy, but I couldn't stop praising his name.
I had spent the majority of the regular season by talking up the slightly more avant-garde Ben Wallace, Jason Richardson, and Andrei Kirilenko as my favorite players, but by the year's end, I was drifting back towards more mainstream fan-dom. How can I explain the shift to Kobe, the most overexposed, underservingly Jordan-compared, personality-less NBA star of the age?
To recall a page from my and Bethlehem Shoals' past, I believe what I engaged in can be described as short-term reverse backpackerism, a term that I coined to describe the following transformation that took place circa 2000-2001: Underground/independent hip-hop, Company Flow, Dr. Octagon, Latyrx, the Fondle Em catalog-followed shortly by Anticon, Blackstar, and a Dre-less Eminem-became the antidote for every coming-of-age music fan, wallowing in the post-Cobain jiggy-saturated boy-band/solo-girl influx. The tape-trading culture hit the internet in a big way, and the message board communities propelled a series of discussions, beefs, rating systems, lexicons, and organizational structures to the point where by around 1998, underground hip-hop was about as cool as a science fair project. And the first to take notice were those from the older set of hip-hop fans, those whose older brothers taught them at an early age about things like Public Enemy, Living Color, and De La Soul. The trend began to reverse itself, where everything underground was labelled uncool, while Jay-Z’s worst songs in years were praised as classics (see The Dynasty Album). [Sidenote: I realize that this pattern probably has emerged within every musical genre at some point—it’s simply that with hip-hop I experienced it firsthand]. Soon followed the set of those who were never really “keeping it real” to begin with. So deep was their fear of internhetto-pass being revoked that they clung to pop-rap, pedestalling it and praising it. Wanting you to know that they know that Buck 65 “doesn’t have any soul” and Joe Buddens’ new song is the “hottest shit” because it “bumps.”
This cycle, largely fueled by white guilt and holier-than-thou music-elito critical bullshit is largely the reason why R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” Missy Elliot’s “Work It,” and anything Lil’ Jon are consistently given best of the year honors by the INDIE-est of all critics (as if they are pointing a finger right back at me to say, see, I’m not a snob, I like popular music). I rely on the Billboard Charts to tell me what is popular and on elito-critic-blogs to tell me what is worth checking out. The two have become confused. Just as I did when I began parading around Kobe’s name like I wanted my fucking props for saying that the new Diplomats album is up there with Ready to Die.
But no, the cycle doesn’t stop there. I began writing this article some weeks ago, before the Lakers’ incredible slide toward lottery-pick slums, when Kobe was still being painted as the broken man trying to put it all back together and grow into a leader. Now the angle is pure be-careful-what-you-wish for mixed with he-had-it-
coming (does this at all recall the treatment of R.Kelly during the 'Best of Both Worlds' tour fiasco?). It's like, the narrative is now one of justice, in which the "driving out of" the Zenmaster + Diesel prevents you from ever winning another championship...And now Chad Ford is on some stupid shit proposing Eddy Curry + Ben Gordon for Kobe swaps. Can't wait till October when the story is, Kobe + draft pick + (Flip Saunders, Phil Jackson, Michael Cooper, Jerry West?) are on a mission to rebuild the Lakers Dynasty. This is getting a bit longwinded, and I think I'll cut it short for now...but we no doubt have more to say on the issue...