Truly Can't Be Killed
I'm looking forward to all-star weekend for so many reasons, one of which is that it is the last time (hopefully) for a while, that we will be Barkley-less.
I felt like we lost a body part when Charles Barkley decided to take a leave of absence from TNT following his recent DUI and the embarrassing fallout that ensued. It's a strange situation given that prior to this incident, Barkley was essentially bulletproof. Bill Simmons has famously proclaimed him one of the few people who can say whatever he wants with absolutely no repercussions. Barkley's old disclaimer, "I am not a role model," also absolved him from a whole host of misdeeds during his playing career. Ironically, it only absolved him insofar that people recognized him as an unmodifiable jerk who wasn't going to change for anybody.
I thought it would be interesting to bring up Barkley in the context of the week we've had with Michael Phelps' marijuana incident and A-Rod's steroid admission, which have had the combined effect on America of finding out that Barack Obama has been having an affair with Sarah Palin. Phelps and A-Rod, even in their douchiness, have become larger than sport, and have come to represent a restoration of order in our flailing country, a reiteration of America's brawn and swiftness. Watching these figures tumble has invoked a significant degree of cognitive dissonance for everybody who believes in heroes. I don't imagine Barkley himself gets any personal joy from the tribulations of Phelps and A-Rod, but he must know that he always has that trump card: "I am not a role model."
Reinterpreting that statement years later--although I'm sure it was the genius product of someone at Wieden & Kennedy--it sounds more like an admission of disgust rather than a warning. Barkley is not and was not a role model because nobody placed him there. Just like nobody has place LeBron or Carmelo or Chris Paul there. At least not to the degree that both the public and sport itself has placed, say, Alex Rodriguez and Michael Phelps.
And that is the ironic beauty of the NBA's second-tier status. All the while that we've bitched about the NBA not getting the love that the NFL, MLB, or olympics receive, we have failed to recognize the hidden benefit. Because there isn't so much of a high climb for our hooping favorites, there isn't as much of a hard fall. One might say, well, basketball players have a surprisingly better track record than these other guys...but look at how easy Kobe Bryant bounced back. Remember how through the whole rape trial he was still getting praised for his Colorado-to-Staples performances. Look at how little anyone in the media ever brings up Ron Artest beating the shit out of some fans. Does anyone even remember Josh Howard admitting to smoking weed? Sure, I was outraged at all the attention it got at the time....but the beauty of these situations is--well, Josh Howard was never gonna be a role model anyway, so who cares if he tokes a little. Michael Phelps, on the other hand, he was supposed to teach my son algebra and reduce the federal deficit.
(sidenote about this whole 'the NBA is under the radar' point: how brilliant is it that nobody even talks about Tim Donaghy anymore? Bud Selig gets reamed every time some 22-year-old moron puts a needle in his body, and David Stern sits back and laughs).
I do wonder what would happen if one of these days an NBA player got busted for performance enhancing drugs. If it were LeBron, Shaq, Amare, Kobe, or even D-Wade, sure it would be front page news (as much for its significance as for its anomaly--doping in the NBA?!). But it wouldn't wreck the sport. It wouldn't taint permanently any records or championships. People would go on with their lives eventually. [I should note that it's also unclear that steroids would have much of an enhancing effect on basketball players. In most cases it seems like it would slow them down]. The NBA simply isn't idealized to the level of baseball or the olympics.
In the end I simply bask in the subjugation that the NBA has received over the years. The NBA has really gotten the good and the bad of the media's subtle racism and disrespect toward NBA players: React in faux-outrage when those savages when they do wrong, but never deem it meaningful enough to write one of these Buster Olney "America is over" pieces. I can enjoy this paradox for now, but in the future I would like to see a standardized treatment of all athletes for their personal offenses. The strange and varied reactions to the Barkley situation, and the diversity of opinion surrounding Plaxico Burress, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Pac-Man Jones, and Chris Andersen has inspired me to ask for help a group project. I want to construct a personal offense scale that ranks athlete offenses from worst to least bad, and then we can decide on the appropriate punishment/media treatment for each. My personal list (from worst to least bad) is below:
Child abuse/Domestic abuse
Shooting another person
Performance Enhancing Drug use
Drug abuse (not steroids)
Shooting oneself accidentally/Gun charges
Sexual infidelity toward spouse
Being a bad teammate
Complaining about one’s contract
Cheating on taxes
Making it rain (with adverse consequences)
Also, just for the hell of it--thanks BWE--Kevin James riding a segway wearing a Troy Hudson jersey: