4.24.2007

NBA Geo-Ethnic Semiotics Arrives



"Give him a soccer ball," the Lakers' Kobe Bryant said when asked what could be done to stop Barbosa. "Tell him Brazilians should be playing soccer, not basketball."

On the surface, this is borderline xenophobic. "Brazilians should be playing soccer" has the same exclusionary slant as "blacks don't belong belong in NASCAR." That it's out the mouthpiece of Kobe makes it diaphanously important. Let's begin with the "soccer" part of the statement: Bryant is a well-known soccer aficianodo, so it's not like he's deriding the game. During his carefree childhood in Italy, Kobe grew fond of the rest of the universe's favorite game. Apt pupil that he is, Young Kobe would doubtlessly have become familiar with the marvel, the buffet of frequent style, that is Brazilian futbhl. Therefore, for him "Brazilians playing soccer" is as hallowed a point of reference as can be imagined.



I also don't consider it a stretch to assume that Bryant gets that there's such a thing as race in Brazil. Or at least knows that many athletes are poor, dark, and held up by their countrymen as supra-human entities. Saying that Barbosa belongs in soccer is a friendly acknowledgment that this tradition parallels the NBA. It would make no sense to claim that an American black man would point to a racialized international sports continuum in an attempt to assert his ethnic superiority over a foreigner. If anything, the suggestion here is firmly that of "separate but equal," with the joke that he'd rather Barbosa stay on his home turf. It's in no way malicious; on the contrary, it respects Barbosa while allowing Kobe to imagine a world without him.

Of course, "separate but equal" never works. Which is why it's worth our sweet time to step back and remember the exact nature of the speaker: Kobe Bryant, raised overseas and brought up in the shadow of soccer. As a player, he's a highly methodical brainstormer who is always looking for a new advantage. It's plain to me that Kobe sees himself as incorporating some of soccer's spirit—maybe even a specifically Brazilian ones—into basketball, and can do this because of his dual Af-Am/international heritage. He sees Barbosa doing something similar, and thus considers him kin; this remark is a knowing "get off my turf. . . shouldn't you be playing soccer?" that winks at Barbosa with the eyes of a friend. Kobe Bryant's main problem isn't that he's hard to understand, but that he rarely seems to care if anyone does get his real intentions.



I DON'T EVER EXPLAIN THESE, BUT THAT ONE ABOVE IS ABOUT CRYPTIC GESTURES, NOT RAPE. GO LAKERS!!!!!

NBARS if you want it to be: Silverbird pointed out to me yesterday that announcing teams have gotten way carried away with T-Mac "rising up." Yes, the man elevates, and against the Jazz this aspect is made to boom by contrast. But it also has a nice metaphysical ring to it, what with McGrady expected to make postseason unlike all of his others, and the team needing his 25-30 ppg to get wins. And you would be a mistaken reader of FreeDarko if you didn't hear a distinct echo of churchs and moaning in the embattled T-Mac "rising up" to fulfill his life's promise. Maybe this belongs under "NBA Theological Semiotics," but I wonder if you'd ever hear "Go Down, Matt Harpring" on the call.

Matt Harpring looks just like David from Six Feet Under, and I wish I didn't have to be the one to say it.



(Thanks to reader CM for the first image.)

(Oh, and anyone seeking proof that I can write a straight line should check out the special FreeDarko Guest Quickie over at Chez Shanoff today. Dr. LIC and myself cover all sports, and do so semi-responsibly.

27 Comments:

At 4/24/2007 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkofan: Re: Triple Teamed; It was remarkable to see the Suns sometimes rush three fast players at him on the wing. He is going to need a bicycle kick.

 
At 4/24/2007 1:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hold on here. Remember, this quote didn't follow the prompt: 'what do you think of barbosa'? -- Kobe was asked, 'what can you do to STOP barbosa'? So the answer, clearly a joke, is that the only way to stop him would be to trick him into playing a different game. That's like saying, "the only way to stop yao is if the chinese league recalls him" I agree with everything else about the underlying sentiment. But this is clearly just a clever form of a compliment.

 
At 4/24/2007 1:17 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that's true. but if someone other than kobe had said it, it would have been a flippant/semi-backhanded compliment.

 
At 4/24/2007 1:22 PM, Blogger Tragic Johnson said...

"It would make no sense to claim that an American black man would point to a racialized international sports continuum in an attempt to assert his ethnic superiority over a foreigner."

Why, again, would this make no sense? There's a century-old history of white ethnic groups adopting racist behavior to assimilate into American culture. Why wouldn't it make sense that a black person might use xenophobia and its attendant hierarchies similarly? Colin Powell and Skeeza Rice have made careers out of xenophobia.

Keep in mind, I don't think xenophobia is at the heart of Kobe's comment. I think it was an off-the-cuff comment about a player who had recently defeated the Lakers. Nothing more.

What does semiotics have to do with any of this?

 
At 4/24/2007 1:36 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

tj--i was kind of sloppy with that sentence, so let me explain myself better. i have trouble seeing how someone could at once acknowledge another culture's all-too-familiar race/sports dynamic and distance himself from the culture through this. it would boil down to "i cross boundaries to see how they're like me, but really i'm better than them."

 
At 4/24/2007 1:37 PM, Blogger Erik said...

The last thing I think when I watch Kobe is: Joga Bonito.

I still think popular opinion is correct - if you want to see soccer in basketball, there's Phoenix.

 
At 4/24/2007 2:11 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Disagree with you Erik - personal bias aside (I hope), Brazilian soccer isn't really about "passing" and "teamwork" (like the Suns are) - it's about flashy individual stars who are superiorly talented to everyone else. Brazil would be the NBA equivalent of Kobe, if he played with two or three other Kobes.

And here is the bias, of course: the Suns are more like Argentina, where passing and teamplay is combined with one or two stellar young athletes with unlimited potential (Messi=STAT).

 
At 4/24/2007 2:23 PM, Blogger Babydaddy said...

I look at Kobe's comment in the context of something Phil said [paraphrase]: "'Brazilian Blur'? He's a LOT faster than a blur." The theme being mad respect for LB and his pain-inflicting ways.

Are you sure Tracy hasn't been accused of "rAising up," i.e. alerting his cohorts to the arrival of the authorities? Not sure what that would mean here but it amuses me.

 
At 4/24/2007 2:27 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

I'm going to have to disagree with SML here. While Brazil is famous for producing flashy individual stars (as is Argentina), the prototypical Brazilian goal (scored by the prototypical Brazilian team) was the one scored by Carlos Alberto against Italy in 1970, a goal where the ball was touched by everybody on the team:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZkR5Wb2KQs

Brazilian soccer is all stylish play, whether this means passing, individual moves or teamwork -- not that I would say that they compare to the Dutch or the Germans in terms of the importance of team unity; however, to say that Brazilian soccer is all about the individual would be to ignore the failure of last year's World Cup squad.

 
At 4/24/2007 4:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, what goes without saying:

Kobe (or anyone else) would never suggest that NENE should play soccer. The comment says just as much about Kobe's frustration with someone so damn small and fast.

 
At 4/24/2007 5:11 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

"Kobe (or anyone else) would never suggest that NENE should play soccer."

But dude would be invaluable in corner/free kick situations! Even I could hit his head with a cross.

 
At 4/24/2007 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...that is Brazilian futbhl."

Was that an attempt to say soccer in Portuguese? The correct word is "futebol."

 
At 4/24/2007 5:41 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous said - Hold on here. Remember, this quote didn't follow the prompt: 'what do you think of barbosa'? -- Kobe was asked, 'what can you do to STOP barbosa'?

Actually I believe the question asked Kobe was "Aside from preventing Smush from matching up with him, what can you do to stop Barbosa?"

 
At 4/24/2007 5:45 PM, Blogger Erik said...

You might be right, lupica/zarko - I don't know much about soccer. I just got into it during the most recent World Cup. But I dunno, the analogy just doesn't feel right to me. If jazz=/=basketball, how does soccer?

 
At 4/24/2007 6:38 PM, Anonymous cw said...

That seemed like an unnecessary defense of Kobe. Obviously he was joking.

And, I don't want to always be ripping Kobe, but since you are always propping him up, it seems like there should be the other half of the conversation. You say (and have several times said something similar) "As a player, he's a highly methodical brainstormer who is always looking for a new advantage." I just don't see it. I can think of lots of times when his overal strategy was faulty.

In game 1, to use the latest example, when he was passing in the third the Lakers were doing great. The shot like 75%. But then, when the lakers were something like 6 behind, he reverted to his I'm taking over mode and misseed 10 of 11. Efveryone else just stood there. I mean if he was like this genius basketball player, he would know that he was tired, that there is no way he can win the series by himeself, that he has to keep his teamates involved. I mean, how many times did Lamar Odom touch the ball in the 4th? Luke Walton? I know the Lakers don't have a lot of good palyers, but shouldn't the good players you have toucht he ball? Sure Odem missed a couple of layups, but Kobe missed 10 straight.

And that's kind of the story of Kobe's career. When the going gets tough--when teammates miss shots--he has two responses. 1 is to force up a bunch of crap. 2. is to not take any shots to "show them." Sometimes 1 works. 2. speaks for itself.

That doesn't sound like a brilliant strategist to me. In fact, his thinking about the game is his biggest weakness, in my opinion. If he was just thinking about winning games, Shaq would still be there and they'd have at least 1 more ring.

And where was phil. WHo thinks Phil has given up and is practicing buddist acceptence?

 
At 4/24/2007 6:50 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

Actually Erik, I agree with you in that the closest thing you're going to get to Jogo Bonito in the NBA is the Suns and that's because of Nash, who's a huge soccer fan (specifically of Spurs) and his play has some analogues to soccer to it.

Speaking of soccer, today's Champions League semi was an absolute classic.

 
At 4/24/2007 6:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Give him a soccer ball," the NO NO NO. You guys got the quote mixed up. Here's the real quote:

"Give him a hockey stick," the Lakers' Kobe Bryant said when asked what could be done to stop Nash. "Tell him Canadians should be playing hockey, not basketball."

 
At 4/24/2007 7:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh my jesus. I can only thank you so much for that dirk/cuban/nash pic.

 
At 4/24/2007 7:48 PM, Blogger crazylegsjackson said...

Barbosa = C. Ronaldo. Both players are grease-fire fast, deceptively strong, capable of incredible individual performances, but have underdeveloped passing skills, are always a half-second away from turning the ball over, and tend to blow their easiest opportunities.

igdrjpho: Imagine Dr. J. playing for Pho.

 
At 4/24/2007 8:24 PM, Anonymous Freddie said...

I like Houston's team a lot this year and I'm rooting for them in the first round (and probably second). But watching them beat the Jazz makes me feel so sad. Has there ever been a more hangdog playoff-quality team? Every time I look at Memo Okur or Paul Milsapp I just want to hug them and tell them that everything will be alright.

 
At 4/24/2007 8:25 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

The real question concerning Leandro Barbosa and his Brazilian-ness (Brazilianity?) is when is he gonna drop his surname and just be "Leandro"?

 
At 4/24/2007 8:39 PM, Blogger BenQRock said...

Agreed, Wild Yams. Nene already dropped 'Hilario'. It's time for Leandro to do the same thing with 'Barbosa'. I might even be tempted to buy a jersey of his if he did that, proided that it wasn't that horrendous orange alt.

 
At 4/24/2007 9:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to thank all of you for proving the fact that Americans are indeed stupid and inferior when it comes to soccer.

 
At 4/24/2007 11:41 PM, Anonymous amphibian said...

C. Ronaldo is a starter and a gigantic tool.

 
At 4/25/2007 4:21 AM, Blogger T. said...

Barbosa = Sloskar (during the late 90s). Super sub, scoring machine, fantastic pace - maybe a bit more flair from Barbosa though.

 
At 4/25/2007 6:22 AM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

Didn't I read somewhere that Barbosa already is just "Leandrinho" to his countrymen?

 
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