Free Dresscodo Pt. 3367: Benefactor vs. Zenmaster
(Another installment in our ongoing coverage of the NBA Dress Code fallout).
By now we've all heard his take:
"The players have been dressing in prison garb for the last five or six years," Laker Coach Phil Jackson said. "All the stuff that goes on, it's like gangsta, thuggery stuff. It's time. It's a good time to do that."
And although perhaps this quote cuts at everything we stand for, not to mention is a tad offensive, I refuse to place it in a good/bad, square/james dean, balla-balla/not-at-alla-balla dichotomy and participate in the standard narrative that is unraveling. To be redundant, let me say that sports commentary is painfully predictable, which to get slightly off topic, is why Stephen A. offers so much hope. He had Bill Buckner on his show yesterday, and just asked him what we all wanted to know. And Buckner's answers were suprising and spontaneous. He hadn't totally made peace with the error, everytime he sees the video, he thinks "Maybe I'll catch it this time," the Red Sox finally winning in 2004 didn't relieve him of any demons...he seems like a disgruntled broken man, who in what he calls "the greatest achievement of my career" worked his ass off to return to the Red Sox in 1990, in attempts to redeem himself. That was real. 99% of everything else on ESPN isn't. I consider it a dark age, when one of the most redeeming factors of Sportscenter (at least for me) has become THE WITTICISM OF THE ANCHORS. Their player interviews and soundbites consist of a string of meaningless words that are somehow meant to constitute the player's necessary personality...such that even Chad Johnson's hilarious lockerroom bits have been reduced to, "Hi, I'm the flashy wide receiver."
And so, we shall not let the Dress Code saga continue to play out into such a scripted drama. So far, everyone has played their role. Allen Iverson spazzes, Grant Hill complies, Ron Artest says something crazy, an old white guy uses the terms "gangsta" and "thuggery." Do I think PJax's remark was racist? No. Hell, in a weird way, I sympathize...And the recent Tony Allen situation is about the only good argument I have seen for an age limit. Does thuggery have anything to do with clothing an image? HELL NO. Which is why I was surprised that the most level-headed and ACCURATE argument against the Dress Code and explanation for PJax's comments and Stern's initial decision came from:
A few days ago on PTI, and brilliantly echoed on his blog, Mark Cuban made the very poignant point that this is not so much an issue of race as it is an issue of AGE. Young people do what young people do (by the way, I am resisting the tendency to paraphrase Cuban's entire post...you should really just read it). Cuban's best point is as follows:
"On an individual level. If you think NBA players, or any professional athlete that you never have had any interaction with is a thug. Then the problem is yours. You are an idiot."
Cube's remarks on Phil's remarks, suggest that, if anything, he is simply INCREDIBLY OUT OF TOUCH with the newer generation of ballers. Sure, he "knows" his players, but in his comments, you see a striking difference between the way of the Zenmaster and oh, say Larry Brown's hands-on "I love you guys" schtick. Phil's generalizing makes him sound like a demented grandparent figure, one who the kids sometimes visit in the old folks home. Not so different from:
(Ironically, it was Phil's suggestion for Shaq to quit rapping that made Diesel into the focused 3-time world champion he is today...)
Cuban's even more striking point, not that I necessarily agree with it, is that you dont have a dress code in the much more scandal-filled NFL, because the focus of the NFL is on the team and not the individual. Commentators in the NFL talk about plays, whereas NBA guys fill us up on cliches about players "having heart" and "being winners" and "being projects" and "being soft." (back to ESPN)...the NBA shootaround gang is absolutely horrible if you're looking for analysis. If I didn't know them, I would think that Legler and Anthony never played a game in their lives. I want to know who has trouble going left and who has developed a hookshot to go along with his baseline game. I want to know when a team likes to press, and which teams have trouble rebounding because of zone defense. I understand there's a compromise between player-hailing and serious bball discussion, but what we are getting by and large is straight CLICHES. By the way (and Cuban recognizes this as well), Barkley exists completely outside this realm, and in the coming days I shall devote an entire post to the Chuckster...but back to the topic, the focus on the individual in the NBA is basically a product of commentators/announcers (a) not telling us shit about the game itself (b) not having time to tell us during the game (c) roster sizes are smaller (d) the fact that unlike in the NFL/MLB/NHL, the players dont have such extensive uniforms. We see them as individuals because we can actually see their faces...
So why not just accept that the best thing about the NBA is that it is a LEAGUE OF INDIVIDUALS that emphasizes uniqueness and INDIVIDUAL STYLE. Everybody knows who Joel Przybilla is just like they know who Paul Pierce is. The dress code seems to be taking a lot of that independence away... but who knows, maybe Ostertag will rock a possum-skin jacket and Artest will get velvet with it...the important thing is that...THIS IS NOT OVER.