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...


At 3/30/2005 4:17 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

First of all, let me state that, for the record, I have always wanted hip-hop to be smarter than it is. And I have always been more sympathetic to Kobe than most, as evidenced by a post last week in which I claimed that Kobe's public image was improving by leaps and bounds.

I think there's a distinction to be drawn here between perceived avant-pop and "the real shit." Missy falls in the former category; 50, Jay-Z, all of New York, in the latter. The Diplomats are a little more complicated, since it's their sheer stupidity that makes them avant-garde; let's call them the Germs of twenty-first century NY pop-rap. If that seems like too much of a reach, since even if the Germs had done it "right," it still would have been aesthetically defiant. I'll settle for the Sex Pistols, near the end.

I have absolutely no idea how this translates into hoops. Is "real" hoops fundamental, or "real" in the street sense? Or is the "avant" hoops the street shit? I have to think that Darius Miles, Chris Anderson, Eddie Griffin, and Antoine Walker are the Diplomats of the NBA, but I don't know what use that conclusion is.

The point I think I really wanted to make is that Kobe is neither dumb hoops done really well or good hoops done really stupidly. Liking Kobe means something in terms of the value system of the league, but his game is impossible to fit into these aesthetic categories.

To recap:

Missy Elliot=fake avant-garde
Jadakiss=celebration of dumb shit
Diplomats=so dumb it's brilliant
Jason Richardson=fake cutting edge hoops
(Melo?)?=celebrating the (obvious)(??)
The aforemention foursome=DIP SET

I don't think liking Kobe is really a celebration of the obvious, since the way he plays the game is completely and totally peerless, for better or worse. He could change the game, but is so central to basketball itself that he can't ever really move ahead of it. He's Larry Bird, not MJ.

There's a good note to end this on.

At 3/31/2005 12:01 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i'm also familiar with the phenomenon you describe, and i see it this way. as distasteful as kobe and jay-z may be (arrogant, materialistic, bland, etc.), you have to respect the skillz. there are few in either game (hoops or rap) that can fuck with them. they don't match up to our heroes, i.e. kobe is no air jordan, and jigga is no rakim allah, but it's what we have.

in this post-modern era, we're faced with kobe mimicking jordan's mannerisms in press conferences, and jigga quoting BIG and tupac's lines ad nauseum. they both want the mantle of the GOAT, but can't think of any way to acheive greatness other than emulating the already canonized.

still, no one else has emerged that can truly eclipse the stars of the 80's, and so we claim the ghostfaces and kevin garnetts. i may bump doom in the headphones and rock a pau gasol jersey, but i can't deny that kobe and jay are dope. skillz are skillz, it's the post-hater era.

*i don't have a gasol jersey.
**the dynasty album is the best jay-z album. recognize!

At 3/31/2005 12:41 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

my kobe jocking is still clearly out of control.

notice that i didn't mention ghostface. he is seriously the KG of this shit. the one we will tell our kids about because history alone can't account for him. like pistol pete was, or that son of bazerk lp.

At 3/31/2005 9:43 AM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

"Jason Richardson=fake cutting edge hoops"


I didn't know where to fit this in, but it is a related point. It seems that more completely unskilled players are accepted in the league now than they were in the 80s/early90s. Like, how many hoopshype.com player reports read, "no offensive game whatsoever." Is that just acceptable now? Like it's just acceptable to yell over a casio (I sound like I'm 60) to be called a "classic?" John Thomas started a few games for the Timberwolves this year. I guarantee that would have never happened in the 80s.

At 3/31/2005 10:16 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

WARNING: the worst music/hoops comparison ever will follow directly after this sentence.

thinking about all of this, I would have to say that Amare is the Suicice of the modern NBA. basically just yelling over a casion--he has some moves now, but still barely understands how to play and gets by on ferocious athleticism alone--but stylized and mastered to a degree that it's marvelous and deathly effective

At 3/31/2005 3:21 PM, Blogger Ken said...

No, this is the real worst music/hoops comparison ever.

Robert Traylor is the Chubb Rock of the NBA, they are both fat.

Doesn't that suck.

At 4/01/2005 7:24 PM, Blogger beez said...

Ghostface is the (Earl Mani) GOAT of this shit!
Is Kool G Rap the Charles Oakley of rap?

Did that Overground to Underground to Overground jocking cycle realy happen allover Hiphop criticland or just in a particular space that some of us know/knew?

At 4/02/2005 1:21 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

tragedy might also be the oakley of hip-hop


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