Look Down That Lonesome Road
(Please read my latest Arenas explication. From Saturday.)
With all the introspection going on last week, I got to thinking about the role of politics and race in FreeDarko discourse. I don't really bring these issues up anymore, and I'm not afraid to say why: discussing them realistically leads to dreary repetition and frustration, more fantastic plans are an insult to social justice. Sports can have political undertones and associations, but rarely lead the way. Certainly, they're more likely to do passive harm or impede individual opinion than provide anyone's vehicle. The NBA may mean something, but that doesn't mean it stands for shit. That has as much to do with the players themselves as the top-down authority of the system.
Thus, it came as a mild shock to read that Tracy McGrady's decided to step up where LeBron once wilted. He first caught wind of the atrocities through "insiders" Mutombo and Deng; then, at the behest of no one whatsoever, T-Mac recently journeyed to refugee camps in Chad to educate himself on the Darfur issue. He also brought a film crew, and plans to help spread the word to the public. Go read the entire article at the Houston Chronicle and then come back here.
On the one hand, this makes me second-guess everything outlined above. Here's a marquee name in the league, taking it upon himself to go hang out in tragic squalor. Ira Newble raising his voice is one thing; actually, it's nothing. Tracy McGrady, though, is a huge name—respected, liked and admired around the league. And perhaps more significantly, he's an authority on such grim matters. T-Mac's got such a personal relationship with death and loss that I can't quite imagine any other star making this trip in the same way. I mean, theoretically any player could, but McGrady's experienced enough death that he's functional around it and, paradoxically, able to really let Darfur register. I think that most humans would go into some kind of shock if faced with that kind of situation, no matter how rough a neighborhood they came from.
Just in: T-Mac's out of media day because his grandfather passed. It's really mind-boggling how much death hovers around the Rockets' number two. For both its friends and foes, the NBA is intertwined with hip-hop; those for and against hip-hop are tapped into its tricky relationship with life cut short. But Tracy McGrady is in an entirely different category, where loss and mourning shed all dissonance, outrage and, well, swagger. I'd say at this point, T-Mac is as attuned to—and conversant with—the value of life and shiver of death as anyone in professional sports.
To really comprehend that scale of slaughter and displacement—and actually open up emotionally to its victims—it would probably take someone like McGrady. To show up in a refugee camp and calmly listen, be available as more than a celebrity observer, requires the kind of perspective T-Mac's got. I also feel like Tracy McGrady has no choice at this point but to throw himself into causes like Katrina or Darfur. He's got to make something constructive out of his misfortune. Or, if you want to be darker about it, he's doomed to follow around death as it has thus far stalked him. Does this set a precedent for LeBron and Carmelo? Superficially, yes. At the same time, it also underscores how unique it is when McGrady takes political action—and how little anyone should want to be able to follow him.