What Lies Above the Rim: An FD Guest Lecture

Maybe you remember a few months ago, when FreeDarko and Friends sat down to discuss the enigmatic Elie Seckbach. Subsequently, said NBA correspondent went on TBJ and gently suggested we do a little research. That stung, but we did find out that Jordan Farmar's dad had read FreeDarko. Anyway, a few weeks back Elie emailed us to let us know Elton Brand's light-hearted opinion of said roundtable. . . and offer us a guest post about his experience behind the scenes. And thus, here cometh the latest installment in our Guest Lecturers Series.

It's funny how in sports everyone is so concerned with the accuracy of the athletes, but no one seems to question the accuracy of the media. Why does the media love to hate certain players, while glorifying others? I am amazed by this time after time—it usually hits me when I interview a player who is more than often portrayed in the worst light, as if he's top 10 on America's Most Wanted, only to find a real personable and genuine individual.

Shaq gets hated on, constantly, for no apparent reason. Ron Artest gets hated on; I don't have the details of this weeks incident. While there is absolutely NO excuse for domestic violence, we have to remember everyone is innocent until proven guilty. I know of three NBA players who in recent years have been accused of such incidents and in the end charges were never filed. I don't want to embarrass them so I won't mention their names. And of course Stephen Jackson, who I happened to interview this week. I am not Stone Phillips, but I can tell you this much: Jackson was as far from the image thrust upon him as the Israelis and Palestinians are close to peace, and there will never be peace in the Middle East. I know it does not sound good, but yo, I keep it real. Where I'm from, we don't have a Pac-10 tournament—we have a Pack-9.

It was 1991, I was still in the West Bank of Israel, between Bet-Lehem and Hebron, watching the NBA Finals. The Bulls were playing the Lakers. I had no clue I'd be covering the NBA one day—in fact, if anyone had told me that, I would have sent them to have their head examined. I grew up in a city with one basketball gym, which was also the town theater, the concert hall and used by the local school during the day.

In any event, during half-time there was a feature about Scottie Pippen that went something like this:

"If the Grand Canyon could talk it would sound like Scottie Pippen. . . If the Mona Liza came to life, it would look like Scottie Pippen. . ." It went on and on about what an outstanding individual he was. I have to admit I was impressed—not only was Pippen a great player, but he seemed to be the closest thing to Mother Teresa.

Then a few years later, I was at the L.A. Sports Arena covering a Clippers-Bulls game. I was so excited to meet the Renaissance man Pippen, and let me tell you, wow, what an eye opener. If the Mona Liza were a meany she would sound like Scottie Pippen... if the Grand Canyon would talk trash even un-provoked it would sound like Pippen. Nothing like the image illustrated in the story. Pippen was an outstanding player, you can't argue with that—a key component to all those Bulls championships. But from there to present him as a Nobel Peace Prize candidate is a stretch.

It's not only in sports—this style of reporting goes on in other fields. One day I got to meet Steven Spielberg—I was shocked and walked up to him in excitement, only to be brushed away rudely. No joke. I held back, thinking it may have been me. In fact, I was very close to telling him the first thing that came to mind: that he cares more about Jews who are dead than Jews who are alive. But I didn't. Only later when I shared my impression with other people who know the party in question did they validate the sentiment.

We are all entitled to a bad day, but that should not be the ultimate focus. There's an old Indian saying that if a white board has a black dot on it, everyone will focus on the dot. Athletes are human—they make mistakes too. I don't know anyone who has never made a mistake in their life. Labeling someone as a troublemaker or in other cases a model citizen, when it's not true, is wrong.

Life does not start and end on the basketball court—there are things more important. Last month Jordan Farmar's grandfather passed away. His name was Dr. Howard Baker, a renowned neurologist and a successful horse breeder—real successful, as Dr. Baker was a member of the Racing Hall of Fame in Kentucky. While talking to me, Dr. Baker said that he was extremely proud of his grandson, and basketball had nothing to do with it: "What matters is what type of person he is, and he, Jordan, is a great person."


At 3/08/2007 10:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Elie Seckbach judges someone, be it the Diesel, Spielberg or Pip, based on how they react to his inscrutable presence, he completely refutes his own argument. It's all subjective, it can all hinge on the circumstances of a single day, and it's more than likely tainted by Seckbach's sycophantic manner and Yoda-like syntax. The questions are, how does this guy get to cover the NBA, does he realize he is a laughingstock, and why does he get a post on FreeDarko?

At 3/08/2007 10:42 AM, Blogger PostmanE said...

Shaq gets hated on, constantly, for no apparent reason.

Really? By who, exactly? (OK, besides me, sometimes.)

At 3/08/2007 11:16 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

This is the smartest blog, of any kind, that I have seen on the internet.

This post is way out of its depth.

At 3/08/2007 12:05 PM, Anonymous Abacus said...

perhaps the writing is not up to par (for this site), but the premise is certainly worthwhile. certainly for a site so self-aware as this...

At 3/08/2007 12:16 PM, Blogger shoefly said...

Well, since I tend to root for the underdog I’ll hazard a defense here. I think this post piggyback’s nicely with the Kobe/Obama piece below. Both, I think, get to the heart of what this blog and especially those on politics are capable of doing best, namely, reading through the lines of the conservative media bias and creating a worldview that can skeptically examine those storylines which so color our insular media environment. I don’t know how many of you have been following the Libby trial, but the picture it painted of the small world of media elites was, for me, terrifying. I mean, I’ve always known, on some level, that Russert was an over inflated windbag who merely lived to go to DC cocktail parties, but there’s a difference when you actually see into that world.

Russert, of course, is only an example in political coverage which is only the most obvious and dangerous, but there is really no substantive difference between he and say, Wilbon, or any of his colleagues at ESPN.

Which is why I do appreciate Sechbach’s efforts to move us beyond the traditional media narratives in his reports. While I find the way he goes about his project, the tactics are to my taste a little problematic and scattered, I think he should be congratulated for his efforts. Maybe it is no truer vision than that which we get on ESPN, but it is certainly no less true. We live in the age of the sound bite and the anonymous quote, both equally insidious and any attempt to move beyond that, particularly by someone with access is not to be so easily dismissed.

However, if I may, I’m going to try to tie this post into the last one, where we had the comparison of:

Obama: Coke
Kobe: Colorodo

Obviously the comparison is stretched, mainly because of temporal reasons. Bush’s indiscretions were similarly overlooked. I also think the narrative of politician vs. athlete is quite different, given that politician’s with rare exceptions have less fluid narratives, the product of their being older, more fully formed personalities, and of course the polish and focus it takes to get into such a position.

What struck me in the comparison was the feeling that these two, before Kobe’s fall, held the same spot in our cultural identity of African American, let’s call them the “Well-spoken” ones. I think Kobe’s problem was that he was placed in this category and he never really was one. By this I mean not merely the way he speaks, but a certain type of African American that we expect to go to church, be inoffensive, and above all humble. I don’t know about the church part, but Kobe really never was those things. I’ve always sort of viewed him as a venture capitalist, a real child of the 80’s for whom only the world was enough. He was bound to disappoint, and when he did so the repercussions would be terrible.

Now the reason I’ve written all this and the reason both this piece and Shoal’s have impacted me is it started me thinking about the black athletes that I choose to root for. Floyd Mayweather, Iverson, Melo, Barry Bonds, Bernard Hopkins, James Toney. With the notable exception of Tim Duncan (I’m sorry, FD) most of the athletes I hold dearest are far from the “Well-spoken” Archetype.

Which has gotten me thinking about how I relate to race. What does this say about me? I have become increasingly skeptical of Obama recently, with the justification that his religious rhetoric and agenda of bipartisanship are antithetical to my current political ideals. (I’m sick of the religious and want a bomb thrower who’ll end the war.) But thinking this over in this light I’m starting to wonder if those are reasons or if they’re justifications.

Sorry this was all about me, but again, I think both of these posts were provoking.

At 3/08/2007 12:16 PM, Anonymous Abacus said...

and by the way, nothing could make me happier than The Kang's recent resurgence. it's still way to early for it to mean anything, but if he keeps this up for another 4-5 games, i would love to hear what you guys think it means, if anything. for me it simply means there's hope.

from ESPN.com:

If you were on the 100-car bandwagon that said LeBron James was phoning in the season, we send our condolences after your massive derailment. King James put up 41 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in an OT win over East-leading Detroit. For those of you scoring at home, since the All-Star break LeBron's numbers are as follows: 36.6 points, 56.5 percent from the field, 45.0 percent on 3s, 6.4 rebounds and a 4-1 record. As All-Business LeBron would softly say, "I'm gonna have to call you back."

At 3/08/2007 1:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Artest gets "hated on" because he beats up fans, and his wife. Yes, he's innocent until proven guilty as far as the courts go, but read the coverage of the latest incident and tell me it's not obvious that he's a routine wife-beater. Dude just lost any last shred of sympathy. What a piece of garbage.

At 3/08/2007 1:21 PM, Anonymous trouc said...

Hate to do bring up the last post here, but I really wonder where your collective defense of Kobe comes from. As a blog that makes use of academic cultural theory I'm surprised that there's not a stronger feminist influence, at least on this issue. To keep referring to Kobe's "Colorado Problem" is bad enough. It's not a "Colorado Problem," it's rape allegations. To then see this as a positive moment of transformation for him? That really stretches it. I know your anon's have been throwing shit at the walls for the last week or so, and I don't want to do that here, but still...

At 3/08/2007 1:22 PM, Anonymous Cameron said...

I'm pretty sure most domestic violence charges that are dropped are unfounded to begin with. I'm pretty sure Shaq is not seen a as a well-liked/marketable able. I'm pretty sure if I met Elie I'd take the time to make sure he liked me.

At 3/08/2007 1:48 PM, Anonymous trouc said...

Just to expand on the above a bit, I'm not here to question anybody's appreciation of Kobe's game, but the desire to see good in his personal life and to redeem his broader character just doesn't make sense to me. Also, there is plenty of domestic violence which does not get prosecuted, charged or not.

At 3/08/2007 2:17 PM, Anonymous White People Don't Know said...

How many autographs do you have to sign to entitle yourself to one free wife beating?

If you make a holocaust movie, are you then obligated to chat with all jewish fans, regardless of the circumstances? can you still be an asshole to gentiles?

is rudeness worse than rape?

the media often gets it wrong, but elie is a bitch.

At 3/08/2007 2:52 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

I'm by no means the biggest Kobe jocker around, but Kobe as "alleged rapist" reads like a precis of the script for "Duke Lacrosse II: The Prequel".

Has anyone seen anything on the intertrons comparing the fallout from the two? I mean Nifong is getting railroaded, deservedly so, IMO, but whither the equally politically calculating CO D.A. who not only charged a weak case just to make headlines, but had a trial. The horror that Nifong inflicted upon these upstanding Lax-ers...yet who even remembers the guy from Colorado's name?

At 3/08/2007 2:54 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

And further, trouc, NBA culture and feminism seem pretty much irreconcilable to me, at least if you are going to have an opinion of the A which is positive in any way, shape or form.

At 3/08/2007 3:09 PM, Anonymous trouc said...

Pooh, from the reading I've done I don't see it being quite that clear. At the very least though, name the event. "Colorado Problems" is just ridiculous.

Also, yes, reconciling the NBA and feminism is not going to happen. I'm not talking about that though, just looking for a little bit of awareness and curious how this is the one academic "ism" that doesn't seem to surface here at all.

At 3/08/2007 3:27 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Legally speaking, there was about a 0.0% chance of Kobe being 'guilty.' A he said-she said case with no physical evidence and a spectacularly unsympathetic complainant? No way do you get past reasonable doubt. Presumably, the prosecutor was no dummy and knew all this, so why did he charge it?

(Note: "Not guilty" not=2 "innocent," but it was still irresponsible on the part of the DA)

But what we do know is that Kobe was getting something on the side. Which makes him no different from any NBAer other than Doug Christie. (And deep down, we don't really care about that anyway, because why do you become an athlete/musician/politician if not for the girls?)

At 3/08/2007 3:45 PM, Blogger Beth said...

What exactly is the NBA culture? I hear that term all the time, but I can't seem to pin it down without coming forth with a bunch of stereotypes about the desires and behavior of rich young black men. Is it just a fantasy about how men in the NBA behave or something all of them actually do? How many NBA guys really live the NBA culture?

Is feminism really incompatible with the NBA culture? Assuming that NBA culture = "hip-hop culture" = media stereotypes about male behavior, I'd have to say a feminist probably wouldn't glorify it, or live in it, but this doesn't mean she or he wouldn't want to talk about it. Plus, since "NBA culture" does not equal NBA basketball, it's not going to prevent anyone from loving the game.

Wrt feminism, since the 1980s-1990s, much energy has been devoted to analyzing hypermasculine all-male spaces. I don't see why the NBA/"NBA culture," or, you know, even sports blogs on the Internets wouldn't also be worthy of such analysis. It's actually fascinating to contemplate all of that, and it's well worth any feminist's time because it teaches us more about masculinity, which in turn teaches us about femininity and gender roles and sexuality in general, and that is always a good, interesting thing.

At 3/08/2007 5:38 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

That's a good point Beth - "NBA Culture" is probably more racially loaded than I meant it to be. I'd expand it out into "jock culture" more generally.

But to the extent that FD is a celebration of aspects of NBA culture specifically, I don't see how the celebration of a certain sub-genre of alpha male and a true feminist critique can coexist. Similarly, I can't see how one can really reconcile Marxism and sportswriting (probably why Dave Zirin is so angry)

At 3/08/2007 6:25 PM, Anonymous MaxwellDemon said...

Very intelligent commentary inspired by an extraordinarily weak post. If Elie writes this badly he may not really be Jewish.

At 3/08/2007 8:26 PM, Anonymous White People Don't Know said...


At 3/08/2007 10:49 PM, Anonymous Freddie said...

So I know I shouldn't reduce people to caricatures, but I can't help but think that the fundamental message of a lot of these posts was, Kobe being accused of rape is no big deal. The fact of the accusation in and of itself has to be taken seriously; when the accused himself corraborates 95% of the factual details as told by the accuser, it merits even more attention. (I'm a little less than impressed by the legal opinions of the arm chair Perry Masons.) A woman made an accusation of rape, that accuastion did not result in a conviction. So what? We should apologize for being a society that takes rape seriously? We shouldn't do everything we can to find out exactly what happened when a young woman had a sexual encounter that she found violent and threatening? Because it's our favorite basketball star?

And by the way, no, constantly saying "of course I'm against rape" doesn't get you off the hook. I'm sure some of your best friends are black, too.

At 3/09/2007 2:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Freddie u might not be too great with math...if you want to play with numbers you can but i never heard Kobe corroborate the crucial "5%" which would be admitting to rape.

At 3/09/2007 8:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah no shit Kobe didn't corroborate the last 5% otherwise he'd be sitting in a jail cell somewhere.

At 3/09/2007 11:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm great point was raised in reference to the Duke LAX furor.

Let do a quick analysis.
- Sperm from multiple people found on both victims. High probability that the alleged victims had sex within a short period after the said crime
- Close friends of both victims challenge the claims-(in Kobe's case the alleged victim was directly quoted as bragging about Kobe's penis size at a party)
-Very low probability of conviction in both cases. You can bet the Lakers had a team of top-notch lawyers combing the facts before they extended a max-contract his way.

-Kobe, black millionaire athlete while Duke LAX-white,upper middleclass athletes that attend highly academically competitive university
-Kobe's millions present an incentive to pursue a civil case and force him to settle out of court. Duke LAX DA trying to win political support for re-election
-Bill O'Reilly and the rest of the far-right media will go to bat for the Duke LAX team, Kobe gets crucified by everyone with the exception of some NBA fans who irrationally back him.

At 3/09/2007 1:28 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Freddie, look where I said that "not guilt" doesn't equal "innocent". BUT, in our system where we are innocent until proven guilty, you are essentially operating under a guilt by accusation standard. Neither of us know what happened in that hotel room, but based on what we do know, you can't convict him. If you have reached the level of DA, you probably are smart enough to know this. So why charge him with a crime that you have no hope of proving, yet the mere accusation will be immensely damaging?

You know it's possible to both take rape seriously and be of the opinion that it would be irresponsible to prosecute Kobe for rape in these circumstances. It's called nuance, try it sometime.

At 3/09/2007 6:00 PM, Blogger T.A. Negro said...

"If the Grand Canyon could talk it would sound like Scottie Pippen"

this may very well be the greatest thing anyone has ever said in the history of the communicative universe.

At 4/13/2009 5:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...




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