How storms get their salt

This could easily be christened "NBA Quotation Semiotics #1," but FreeDarko refues to ally itself with too many numerical properties.

So while I'm fitfully adjusting to reading J.R. Smith's name in Power Rankings-type column, I'd all but forgotten about the original, Gerald Wallace. Things are cold down in Cha-Town, and only partly because 'Kub himself has pressed his hairy, sordid paws into what once fertile ground for future basketball. Yes, I object heartily to Morrison's de facto centrality in that line-up, but this is also the first time that they've had all their prospects intact and ready to thrive. To my knowledge, never have Okafor, Felton, May, and Wallace all been placed on a court at the same time and asked to weave buildings. Factor in Morrison, too, and there's to be some semi-awkward calibration of roles before we see the Cha break .500. For now, however, our man Wallace has stumbled into a completely uncharacteristic mediocrity. Inconsistent and streaky are his unpredictable signature, but these days he's Posey for the sacred set.

He has, though, managed to get caught up in the incident that inspired this post in the first place. Any one with access to AP content probably saw the following quote:

"He gets all the calls, that's what makes him special," Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace said of Wade.

No context here, just the naked insinuation that Wade is a whore who owes his prowess to referee favortism. Needless to say, I was overjoyed that this existed, but a little suspicious. Thusly, I dug a little deeper. From the Miami Herald:

The season is not even a month old, but already there have been three complaints from opposing coaches and players about the amount of foul calls Dwyane Wade received in the course of a game. The latest was Charlotte forward Gerald Wallace, who claimed, "He gets all the calls, that's what makes him special."

Here we have a less searing obesrvation, sort of. Wade's exceptionalism is a league-wide issue, Wallace states that these phantom calls are the special treatment, which is kind of retarded. Or is his quote the knock-out slap, the press-stopping salvo that ratchets up the argument from critical to cruel?

Actually, it's neither. Witness the complete quote, taken here from The Charlotte Observer:

All of the above, Gerald Wallace would say, about how officials are treating his Charlotte Bobcats these days.

"He gets all the calls -- that's what makes him special," Wallace said of Miami's Dwyane Wade, who scored 35 points in the Heat's 102-93 victory against the Bobcats Saturday.

Wade made 22 trips to the foul line, hitting 15, which clearly frosted Wallace.

"It seems like anybody who is an All-Star, or has the potential to be an All-Star, who plays the Bobcats is going to get all the calls. We're not allowed to touch him," Wallace continued.

So we have gone from utter beef instigation and potential league-wide zinger to the far less stimulating claim that ref don't respect pathetic operations. I for one am crushed, and the media is all the more poor for it, but this investigation has at least saved the rest of the world much chattering.

And in related waters, Etan Thomas's column on visual stereotyping left me a little puzzled. First off, I'm guessing anyone who has read this far is aware of my lasting committment to smashing racism in every and all American institution of note, so I'm not turning a blind eye here. But what Thomas and Antawn Jamison perceived as a brutal instance of racism—"you're not as dumb as you look"—is actually just grouchy old white man speak. It's exactly what you'd expect a ref to say, and to me sounded borderline affectionate. Hell, my dear old grandfather probably said it twice to me this past holiday. I don't doubt that some refs exhibit questionable behavior and I'm not discounting Thomas's right to call them on it. In this case, though, I think he's misfired. That and, as the Recluse pointed out, he "uses the fact that he's read the entire Left Behind series to illustrate that's he's intelligent, where I would think that accomplishment indicates the opposite."


At 11/29/2006 12:12 PM, Blogger T. said...

As to the first point, it's the old chicken and egg - do players get calls because they're superstars, or are they superstars because they get calls?

I vote for the first one.

I really don't have much to add about Etan Thomas (seriously? Left Behind?) - but I'm glad an NBA player who can starts and can write is given a forum to voice some thoughts - but these experiments tend to peter out in the long haul.

At 11/29/2006 12:29 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i don't think that's an insignificant distinction, especially when it's attributed to another player. "superstars get calls" is pretty benign, but for wallace to claim that wade's only great because of the calls. . .that's about as bold as it gets. that the press would casually conflate these two is not exactly the most responsible journalism.

At 11/29/2006 2:10 PM, Anonymous jack said...

I think you guys don't understand the consistency and frequency of remarks like "you aren't as dumb as you look" or "I'm glad at least some of you can read." The guy's probably been getting it from day one. It is racist, outside of context, and in the contexts described in the article it is still racist. The ref was not being a crusty old white man, he was being a racist old white man.

At 11/29/2006 2:29 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

actually, i'd say it's the context that makes it not racist. refs and players have a working relationship that's sometimes affable, and i find this more plausible than a ref going out of his way to belittle a guy respected around the league.

At 11/29/2006 2:40 PM, Blogger T. said...

I won't pretend to know what it is like to be black in today's America, but I did grow up with "Oh you speak English so well, where did you learn it?" as a pretty common question - so I can kinda-sorta see the reptition of racial questions as annoying and patronizing.

The problem with using a word like "racist" is that is categorizes the mildly patronizing and mildly offensive in with white robes and pointy caps - and that's a pretty wide gap.

I do think - with this particular case (ref and Etan) - you'd really have to know the relationship between Etan and that particular ref - something which Etan knows better than any of us schlubs. I think the same comment coming from a ref he knew well would be seen more as a joke - but if they didn't have a long established previous relationship - then it comes off as racial or at the very least prejudiced.

At 11/29/2006 2:49 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

agreed, except in this case the guy knew all about etan's extracurriculars and approached him to commend him for it. that's something one would tend to cap off with a light joke, not a "you're not like the other ones" bombshell.

and let's not forget that these refs do spend a lot of time around these players. it's not like they only see them on tv and judge them based on their quotes in the press. so i seriously doubt this ref is surprised that an nba player has a brain.

At 11/29/2006 3:19 PM, Blogger seezmeezy said...

point 1- i've lost all faith in professional sports as being legitimate competition. they are scripted soap operas at best, reality tv at worst. the concept of "star treatment" and the fact that it's even remotely associated with the association proves the lig is about the bottom dollar... just like the news outlets that put their bias on the wallace quote. the ap wants a microwave quote that makes wallace out to be a disgruntled conspiracy theorist, the observer wants to give their man's words proper context.

i'd also like to toss this out there: stern realized how extremely bad behavior had become, so he instituted equally extreme measures to swing the pendulum the other way. the quality of his product was suffering and thus losing him big bucks. how transparently subjective does officiating need to become before we see a similar decline in ratings/merch sales and the resulting resolution?

point 2: to me, the idea that race has now been interjected into dude's quote is pretty bigoted. to assume that was his intention makes and ass of you and you alone. hell i love etan and can't believe he rides pine during crunch time after being named the starter but shit like this gets said to people of all races all the time, take a chill pill and write some more crappy poems.

wv oloxospo: martian IM for laughing out loud

At 11/29/2006 3:43 PM, Anonymous jack said...

jesus, listen to you guys. Etan's a whiny bitch because a ref, the white authority figure, implies to him that he (the ref) thinks black men are dumb? This is ridiculous. It's this kind of thinking that gets unarmed black men shot 50 or 81 or however many times, because white cops see them as dumb and dangerous.

At 11/29/2006 3:48 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

dude, i went out of my way to remind anyone reading that shoals sees racism almost everywhere. we're talking about whether a very specific interaction HAD to have that connotation, not whether or not such connotations are possible.

if you really think that freedarko stands for shooting unarmed black men, well, you're even less literate than i am. and if you think that being sympathetic to race-related issues means i lose the right to critically assess them, i don't know what to tell you.

At 11/29/2006 4:00 PM, Anonymous Jesse said...

Weird quote: "Maybe it’s the dreads that threw him off. Or maybe it’s my size. But would he have had the same reaction to Darko Milicic, Rasho Nesterovic or Nenad Krstic?"

Earlier he mentioned Wally and Nash, which is a sign, no doubt, for unabashed whiteness. But then when he gets to the big guys, why three former-Yugos (two Serbs and Rasho's a Slovenian, right?)? Is this just a sign that Euros are now the big white guys of the moment? That Bogut and Mihm didn't cross his mind? Maybe -- but Wally/Nash thing was so clear in its meaning, and this is so odd if a coincidence, that I can only assume that it means something as well.

One not-so-generous interpretation: "Don't assume black players are dumb. Look at these guys. They don't go to college and speak crappy English. And they're Slavs, so, you know..."

Ready to be suspicious, perhaps, because of the Left Behind bit.

At 11/29/2006 4:26 PM, Blogger seezmeezy said...

jack- i never used the words "whiny bitch." if i thought he was whining or being a bitch, i would have said it. instead, i said he needs to chill and write some more crappy poetry. assuming how i feel about dude based on your projections is the same mistake as etan's.

speaking of mistakes, do you think it's a coincidence etan decided to leave jason williams (white choco version) off the list of white players? might have deflated his whole assumption if the hypotehtical was applied to him don't you think? debate teams teach students to take a position and defend it in spite of obvious rebuttals, not get to the truth. pretty crappy technique to use in a column about racism.

i do agree that a particular environment of ignorance and hostility creates situations where unarmed black men get shot by white cops. you know, like situations where one's assumptions combined with impatience end up with bullshit utterances. in my opinion, assumptions like yours and etan's perpetuate the same environment you're criticizing and waste energy that would be better spent deconstructing actual racism.

At 11/29/2006 4:31 PM, Blogger GentleWhoadie9000 said...

"WEAVE BUILDINGS"? Like the drill, only with buildings or did you just say that to be confusing?

At 11/29/2006 4:50 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

I'll always give the benefit of the doubt: if a black person perceives something as racist, I'm willing to believe it was racist.

However, this is a statement that is easily (and frequently) directed at people of any race to people of any race. Out of context, I can't see it as offensive. Still, Thomas turns it into a solid article with good commentary (though I can't stand people referring to Michael Richards as "Kramer" anymore).

At 11/29/2006 5:20 PM, Blogger T. said...

implies to him that he (the ref) thinks black men are dumb?

This is the problem I might have with Etan's prism. Perhaps race is not the prism with which the ref is viewing Etan - but rather NBA players. No? Yes? A possiblity?

At 11/29/2006 5:46 PM, Anonymous the cheese said...

Anybody who is enthralled by the Left Behind series IS dumb.

At 11/29/2006 5:55 PM, Blogger d.d. tinzeroes said...

I like T's idea there. NBA players are, after all, athletes, also known as jocks, for which a bundle of stereotypes apply: unintelligent, brutish, womanizing, crude, base, materialistic, etc.

If this stereotype didn't exist then there wouldn't be an article once a year regarding Desmond Mason's painting, or Ray Allen's art collection, or Adonal Foyle's cooking. These (admittedly puff) pieces float on the turning of that "jock" stereotype ("whoa, he read's Virgil!").

When that athlete also happens to be black things get complicated. I suppose one could easily classify many of the jock stereotypes as racist stereotypes. Compare the unfolding of the Duke Lacrosse team thing to Zach Randolph's hotel thing & draw your own conclusions.

At 11/29/2006 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "you're not as dumb as you look" comment was a gentle jab, common in this country, that has no racial connotations whatsoever, generally, and I assume that is the case with the referee in question. If anything, the subtext indicates quiet respect.

The woman in the bookstore probably wasn't referring to race either - given that she knew he was an NBA player, in all likelihood, it merely indicates that she's read about the sexual assaults, gun ownership, fan-fighting, rampant promiscuity, etc. in the NBA, and she is simply glad some NBA players read.

In short, Etan needs to calm down. If anything, people in this country are OVERLY sensitive in dealing with people of other races.

At 11/29/2006 6:40 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

the bookstore lady didn't know him or his "kind." saying "you aren't like the rest" is still stereotyping. i can't believe i am having to explain this.

At 11/29/2006 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If only there was a white guy in the league who wore dreads, then we could see what the ref thought of him.

At 11/29/2006 8:52 PM, Anonymous PDGirl said...

I think one of the most interesting things about this thread is that some people seem to be insisting that the comments--both by the ref and the woman at the bookstore--weren't about race b/c they were instead made in reference to stereotypes about athletes in general (or professional basketball players, in particular).

Aren't stereotypes about professional athletes--especially basketball players--inextricably tied to race? I don't see how you could argue otherwise with a straight face.

Perhaps the ref was well-intentioned, but his lack of sensitivity or consciousness of this connection (and the impact his comment could have on Etan Thomas) is part of the problem.

The bookstore woman's comments are more blatantly sinister.

The idea that people should just "chill" or that Etan Thomas' article demonstrates an over-sensitivity to race is misguided. Ignoring race issues or minimizing the impact racism has on individuals (exemplified by the whole "it's not about race!" and "i don't see color!" schools of thought) only perpetuates racism and allows well-meaning but lazy people to feel better about not speaking out against it.

At 11/29/2006 8:58 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i don't know why i keep chiming in like this, but to me the ref situation isn't about stereotypes. the other one is, and that's why it's awful.

At 11/29/2006 9:09 PM, Anonymous PDGirl said...

Shoals, I wasn't really referring to your initial post. I get that your whole point is that the ref situation was a good-natured (if poorly-executed) attempt at ribbing a player.

What I'm saying is that it's significant (to me) that Etan Thomas thought that he *was* being stereotyped. It highlights the disconnect. Which is in itself a problem and something that I was trying to (clumsily :) discuss.

At 11/29/2006 11:20 PM, Anonymous megapickles said...

I'm late to the race relations discussion, so I'll just tiptoe over that.

Instead, I'd like to point out that Shoals used the word "weave" while referring to Charlotte's basketball team AND Etan took the metaphor in a different direction by referring to Charlotte's Web as a reality being woven.

Oh, and did you know that caffeine effects the way spiders construct webs? Fractal Geometry is tantamount to Vers Libre in FD-ness.

WV: mlsoqx- Major League Soccer expansion franchise, influenced by NAFTA

At 11/30/2006 1:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think ppl are too quick to cover up the suttle racism that is in the nba. we've already seen from stern's "dress code" and some of his other policies over the years that there are some racial biases that hang over basketball.
if etan works with these people on a regular basis then he's in a pretty good position to make that call.

At 11/30/2006 1:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

pardon my total irrelevance, but i've got nowhere else to go right now, so dead all this debate and pretend you're me listening to shakey dog getting worked up for the bengals tomorrow. wrong sport? can't care. chad on a thursday is so FD i hurt.

At 11/30/2006 9:42 AM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

What about the reversal: "You're dumber than you look"?

I think "You're dumber than you look" and "You're not as dumb as you look" are both intended to be back-handed compliments/light insults.

At 11/30/2006 9:48 AM, Anonymous torgo said...

megapickles, check out spiders on lsd. I saw some pictures online of spiderwebs after the spiders had been dosed. bizarre stuff.
I'd like to believe, just in part, that the comment was along the lines of "you aren't as dumb as you (being an athlete) look." I'm just going along the lines of the guy (this could be NFL, shit, I can't remember) who freaked out over a guy using a laptop, and thought he was in Ogre's frat in Revenge of the Nerds. Or (was it Smith?) the mention of the Nuggets player mystified that his teammate read books?
If we want to get into a race conversation, wouldn't it be good to bring in all the shite about how the universities that give athletes a stage to showcase their physical prowess ultimately fail many of them by not actually providing or requiring any kind of education? I went to a DIII school where there are no athletic scholarships, but we had people there on "grants" to run track, or wrestle, or whathaveyou. I had a guy in a critical reasoning class, couldn't read, but he could run pretty fast.

Culturally, our image of athletes/jocks is that books and learning don't hold a place in their overall consciousness. Going back to some of the Paul Shirley blogs, and some of the things he mentioned, while I enjoy reading FD, and discussing the feats that occur on a nightly basis, I wonder how many people who read this would honestly enjoy talking to half of the athletes we idolize? How deep of a conversation could we actually have? Not to say that there's no one in the NBA, NFL, or MLB that couldn't keep an interesting conversation going, but that they'd probably be rare, since that's one skill that they don't need for the job that they do.

wv: xqoin, oin and gloin's brother, who didn't make the trip

At 11/30/2006 9:56 AM, Anonymous Aaron said...

This blog has spent at least as much time discussing Nash's poetry as Thomas's. And I don't really think our approach to either was particularly different. In both cases I think the prevailing sentiment was that these players do something most NBA players don't, and that makes them different and interesting.

At 11/30/2006 9:57 AM, Blogger seezmeezy said...

pdgirl- good point about the inextricable link, bad point about claiming oversensitivity.

like i said, ignoring racism and overreaction to perceived slights are the same evil. they misplace energy best spent on dealing with reality.

At 11/30/2006 10:24 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

pv, if someone said "you're dumber than you look" to an athlete it would be far worse. . . since he'd actually be calling him "dumb." though which athletes really look "smart?"

the player was ricky manning 3. nfl guys start brawls over laptops, nba stars blog.

and about the conversation thing.. . . i don't think freedarko is for nba players. there are some guys who i'd like to get into these issues with, but that's kind of like expecting li'l wayne to be able to engage all the music criticism that esoterically jocks him.

At 11/30/2006 11:05 AM, Blogger Gregg said...

I'm not going to get into whether the ref was being racist or not; it's pretty much exhausted. But in addition to the assumption that athletes are dumb, so is there the stereotype in place that being big = dumb. These are linked, obviously, and exhibit A is Moose from the Archie comics.

At 11/30/2006 11:06 AM, Anonymous Tinns said...

I probably shoulda wrote this in earlier, but at a Read to Acheive event with Bosh last month, the prick PR guy introducing him mentioned that Bosh was going to talk about the Odyssey and he added, with emphasis, that Bosh had ACTUALLY read the whole thing. Trans: the big dumb, black althete can really read. It was a bit shocking to say the least. (And then it turned out that Bosh had only read a couple books in grade ten.)

At 11/30/2006 11:09 AM, Anonymous Tinns said...

I probably shoulda wrote this in earlier, but at a Read to Acheive event with Bosh last month, the prick PR guy introducing him mentioned that Bosh was going to talk about the Odyssey and he added, with emphasis, that Bosh had ACTUALLY read the whole thing. Trans: the big dumb, black althete can really read. It was a bit shocking to say the least. (And then it turned out that Bosh had only read a couple books in grade ten.)

At 11/30/2006 12:04 PM, Anonymous surefunk said...

torgo- really think this blog is about idolizing players? i think you're getting fascination and a critical perspective confused with idolatry.
and, not to harp, but reading paul shirley to find out about the nba is like watching the fresh prince to learn about prep school.

At 11/30/2006 12:57 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

To trod some undoubtedly well compacted earth for many FD denizens, a conversation is actually a fairly complicated interaction, in which meaning can be altered radically by the way that each participant views the other and by each attributing different meanings to the same words. So, anonymous ref may well have only been engaging in well intentioned cranky old white man speak, but there's absolutely no reason to believe that a young black man is going to perceive it that way. As has already been suggested, there are too many variables about their relationship that we simply aren't privy to. But I don't think it's fair to dismiss Etan's reaction as overreaction. Sifting the words of whites to identify potential threats is a century's old survival mechanism. It may in modern times result in an over-misperception of racist intimations of violence where none were intended, but that doesn't mean that black Americans have some obligation to stop protecting themselves. Perhaps anonymous ref should have thought a little bit more about whether his relationship with Etan was really one in which a joke that's really a compliment would be perceived as such. As the speaker, the obligation was his to ensure that his audience would receive his words as he intended them.

And I have to say that, what's most interesting to me about the discussion of the interstertial stereotypes of black jocks, is the underlying assumption in many comments (not necessarily here, but around the nets) that the general population is better educated and more well read than they. I think there are some fairly good statistics to show that if not a majority than a solid plurality of American adults simply don't read books past high school, or if they do, that they reading lists are not particularly literary. It puzzles me (but doesn't really) that so many implicitly criticize pro athletes, particularly black ones, for not being large consumers of high culture, when that really only makes them more like everyone else, not less.

wv: nfjzb -- next for jay-z: brooklyn

At 11/30/2006 7:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I ever run into Etan in a Barnes and Noble, our conversation will go like this:

"Hey, aren't you that basketball player"


"Hm. Well, at least SOME of you avid readers play sports."

At 12/01/2006 10:17 AM, Anonymous Scott said...

from my experience with crusty-old-white-man-speak, the ref was probably referring to young people--which could be logically extended to include all the players, thus not necessarily creating the racial distinction presumed by etan. and, expert in COWMS that I am, it was a compliment. ray allen woulda knew that. so would chris webber if he was still in the league.

its a shame that we all can't just get along. we should all go and try to foster some racial harmony.

At 12/05/2006 6:01 AM, Anonymous RichCheng said...

I'm finding the discussion about whether the ref's comment was really: "You're not as dumb as you look [being a black man]." or "You're not as dumb as you look [being an athlete]." interesting.

When I've heard the phrase used before, it's never been meant to imply that the person does, in fact, look dumb: "You're not as dumb as you look [but I don't really think you look dumb; I just think this is a more jocular way of paying you a compliment]."

I find the fact that Thomas, and various commentators in this thread, believe not only that the ref actually does think that Thomas does look dumb, but also that he looks dumb because he is a black man, frankly, bizarre.

Having said that, I am willing to concede that I don't know Thomas's relationship with the ref, and that they may have history that affected Thomas's perception of the, admittedly, ill-considered joke.

So basically I agree with Shoal's original article and this was somewhat of a pointless comment. I am, in fact, as dumb as I look.


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