11.04.2010

THE PASSION OF KEVIN GARNETT

jimmy-swaggart-1988

Jay Caspian Kang has a tumblr where he mostly posts videos of bad rap acts from the late nineties. Follow him on twitter at maxpower51.


Two nights ago, I walked around the Mission and watched as thousands of elated Giants fans flooded out of the bars and into the streets to celebrate. As I walked deeper down 24th Street towards the frontlines of gentrification, where handcrafted coffee houses with vaguely German names have staked out their own turf in the never-ending battle between the Nortenos and the Surenos, the scene didn’t change much. Everyone was elated, yelling. Even the nerdy brand of San Francisco hipster, the ones who can’t figure out how to dress interestingly, were out cheering on their stoops. The honking of horns, the unabashed revelry, the energy of the city was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. And although I have no allegiance to the Giants or even to the Bay Area, I found myself thinking of all the Roger Angell and Philip Roth quotes I had long since cast off as being sentimental, ridiculous. Baseball was stitching together a civic consciousness, a shared ecstasy. What that was worth was open for debate, but it certainly had an undeniable power to bring people together into something approximating a joyful moment.



A lifelong Red Sox fan, I watched Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS in a piano bar in midtown Manhattan. The bar itself had no mounted screens, but someone had wedged a small TV in one of the bar’s shelves. Me and the bartender were the only people who were watching. My new art school friends were watching the performance artist Soy Bomb sing the National Anthem of a fake country, in some language he had made up. When Johnny Damon’s grand slam cleared the short porch, I yelped, took out my phone and started furiously texting my friends back in Boston. My art school friends gave me a look usually reserved for cute Special Olympians and dogs who try to walk on their hind legs. I remember feeling a tingle at the back of my skull, a charge flood into my fingertips—the usual bodied indications that something was changing. Just three months prior, I had graduated from a college where the major social activity was crowding into the campus pub to watch the Red Sox. Now, I was sitting in a piano bar with friends-of-friends of a performance artist best known for jumping up on stage with Bob Dylan during some Grammy performance. I wondered how long it would be before I would stop seeking out the small TV in the corner of the bar. When would being friends-of-friends of Soy Bomb become my life? A year? Three months?

As it turned out, the tingly feeling was just the effects of the awful garlic-infused vodka I had been drinking. I kept watching sports, but as my priorities changed, I found myself caring less and less about whether or not my team won or lost.

By the time the Sox won again in 2007, I had started reading FreeDarko, which provided me with a name for my particular sports affliction. Liberated Fandom made sense, not only because my beloved childhood losers had been usurped by a bunch of rowdy Cowboy Up dickbags, but also because it allowed for a different engagement with sports, one that seemed to fit better with my particular circuitry. I’m sure that most of the people reading this are doing so because they, at some point, felt a similar detachment from caring whether a team won or lost, but could not quite pry themselves away from the intricacies, and, at times, the beauty of the spectacle on the court.

pedro-martinez

Within this aesthetic realm, where players exist as performers, who, while never completely excerpted from the calculus of winning and losing, share a relationship to the game similar to that of an opera diva and the libretto, the prima donnas are the Pedro Martinezes, the Allen Iversons, the Griffey Juniors. Those athletes, through their individual brilliance and magnetic personality, transcend the manufactured drama of millionaires pretending to collectively care about beating other millionaires in a fully corporatized game. The anti-heroes are always those millionaires who would have you believe that there is nothing more vital to humanity than whether or not they win or lose a playoff series.

Yes, as fans, we demand the players care about winning, losing and loyalty, but there also exists an unspoken line where the athlete should not cross. Namely, they should never, ever, never-ever-ever remind us that the scope of their lives is larger than our own. The history of fans violently turning against an athlete is just a list of athletes who felt entitled to publically disregard a communal rule. Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire cheated and we got mad because most of us don’t (or can’t) cheat at our jobs. The answer to LeBron’s Nike question is this: we wanted you to swap employers with quiet dignity, because when we switch jobs, nobody really cares. And since we like to think of ourselves as people who work hard at our jobs, we also demand the athlete care, but when he steps off the field of play, we expect him to be the sort of guy, who, to quote some disastrous election logic from a few years back, we can have a beer with.



(go to 4:07)

In the dungeon of tunnel-visioned stars, only Barry Bonds has carried the excesses of caring-too-much as poorly and awkwardly as Kevin Garnett. Jordan was protected by doting reporters and the persistence and impenetrability of the mask he wore whenever he was in front of a camera. Kobe is saved by his visible intelligence, his occasional moments of thoughtfulness. Garnett has never possessed any of these graces, or, at the very least, the institutional guidance to occasionally edit out his excesses. What’s worse, there’s always been something a bit off about Garnett’s famed intensity—he doesn’t quite burn in the same way that Chris Paul burns, he doesn’t have Isaiah’s grim determination, he doesn’t have Rodman’s “fuck it, we’re winning” mentality.

With Garnett, there’s always a sense of insecure theater, of a man who hasn’t quite convinced himself of the virtues and authenticity of his passions. We all know people like this in our daily lives—the sneering indie snob, the violently overprotective mother, the religious blowhard. When Garnett started crying in front of John Thompson in that famed TNT interview, I remember feeling bad for him, not because he was sick of losing, but rather, because he, in true Jimmy Swaggart style, felt the need to imbue such wild theatrics into his caring. When he made the comment about going to war and bringing teks and grenades, I remember thinking, “He just doesn’t get it.” Nothing that’s happened in the interim, from the weirdness of his championship ranting to last night’s confrontation with Charlie Villanueva and today’s bizarre attempt at an explanation, has budged that perception.



Anyone who has played pickup basketball has come across the guy who compulsively and needlessly bullies other players. These guys always force you into that ugly headspace, wherein you must calculate what is more debasing: to endure their abuse or to fight back. On Tuesday night, Charlie Villaneuva made a bad compromise by tattling via twitter, when the more appropriate response might have been to punch Garnett in the mouth and let the public decide whether or not it was justified. Strangely, it was Villanueva’s twitter activity, and not Garnett’s trash-talking, that violated an unspoken code: the one that dictates athletes take care of their own business without turning to the public opinion. And while I’m not so naïve as to say that Garnett’s comments marked some unbreached depth of trash-talking, I don’t find it instructive or even interesting, really, to argue whether or not this is in or out of character for him, specifically, or for NBA players, at large.

I’m certain there are tons of assholes who say asshole-ish things on the court. But a history of boorish behavior shouldn’t excuse what Garnett said and it certainly should not change the prevailing opinion on the sort of guy he has become. We all know he is the irrational, manic bully on the court, the one who you just wish would get a girlfriend or find a job he enjoys, the same guy who ruins it for everyone else. And we know that sometimes the bully’s intensity, even if its fraudulent at its core, can rub off on his teammates. What sometimes results is five guys who cry at every foul call, who puff out their chests and talk shit, who throw elbows and who say things that turn an otherwise friendly, enjoyable game into a slap-battle of dicks. There is no question that Garnett’s “edge” has helped the Celtics win games, but it’s also created a litany of ugly moments in which Garnett physically attacks and threatens much smaller men. Any rational fan, really, anyone who doesn’t salivate at the thought of jumping strangers, should feel their stomach turn whenever they watch one of these encounters. And, I’d argue, if what Charlie Villanueva said is true, and there’s no reason to doubt his word, especially when compared to Garnett’s preposterous explanation, anyone with any decency or compassion should cringe when they hear about a grown man evoking the words “cancer patient” while ridiculing another grown man about a rare genetic condition that causes him to have no body hair.

Let’s remember: the bully ruins every pick-up game. The moment Garnett was traded to the Celtics, he ruined yet another one of my childhood teams. I haven’t rooted for the Celtics since and I’ve enjoyed the NBA more.



It was a strange swing—from witnessing the elation of a city over the Giants to the ugly reminder that there is a way to care too much about sports and championships. Garnett has always been my benchmark for twisted intensity, for what happens when an athlete takes the dogma of winning-at-all-costs and turns it into something ugly and indefensible. Sports, after all, are not war, and although we burden the stage with military props and metaphors, I don’t think the model we envision for our athletes is wrong. The best should play with passionate intensity, but there is a sportsmanlike way to perform any task, especially one as fundamentally meaningless as trying to put a ball through a hoop more times than your opponent. Yes, Garnett has done this before and he will do it again and the next Garnett will do the same, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue to confuse cruelty with competitiveness and a genuinely pathetic lack of perspective with intensity. Why can’t we just call an asshole an asshole every time he acts like an asshole? What the fuck do we owe Kevin Garnett?

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33 Comments:

At 11/04/2010 5:10 PM, Blogger awgrbr said...

as someone who grew up watching, loving, and taking great pride in KG's tireless (and genuine) intensity night in and night out in MN, I would like to add the following:
suck a bag of d*cks, you are come off as an ungrateful whinny b*tch.

Sure, his trash talk has gotten worse with both the success of the team in boston and the frustration with his aging body. But, I have trouble with the assertion that he "hasn’t quite convinced himself of the virtues and authenticity of his passions." You go out of your way not to make spurious assumptions about the situation, but the leap to judge the nature of a man's motivation is no problem?

I believe KG is a very genuine person, although too loose with his language to be sure. Don't punish him for being on the opposite side of the "emotional-investment spectrum" from Kobe/Chris Paul. This is why his fans love him, and tolerate his transgressions over the line of taste. He doesn't get to decide whats tasteful, he gets to exist as the manifestation of his emotions and be either loved or hated for it.

The NBA isn't a pick-up game, the NCAA isn't a pickup game, elite high school basketball isn't a pickup game. In these realms, victory is most important, and battles are often won by the person who is willing to take every advantage; especially ones uncomfortably close or over the bounds of taste and in the grey areas of the rules. I suspect that KG's trash-talk gets him into the right mindset as much or more than it is intended to hurt the other player, and so what if thats not true. Bullies win frequently.

A Boston fan that quits the celtics for adding KG? A slap in the face to the millions who loved the man in MN, and were happy to see him succeed with a real team around him.

 
At 11/04/2010 5:18 PM, OpenID mnemesis said...

I'm confused by this post, even when I find myself wanting to agree with it. Garnett is a bully, the post argues, but what makes that unacceptable is not his status as bully, rather his inappropriately grandiose affect.

Is this what makes him a worse bully, or more cruel, or less palatable than Jordan or Bird or Rodman or Isaiah?

One wonders whether it is not "cruelty" in question here, but "decorum." I mean, it may be reaching Godwin's Law status here, but the off-court behavior of Kidd or Kobe seems to me far more cruel, much worse bullying, than anything Garnett has ever done, better "sportsmen" though they may(?) be.

I am fine with calling assholes assholes. But there's got to be a proportionate logic to our outrage, no?

 
At 11/04/2010 5:51 PM, Blogger Ben said...

"Those athletes, through their individual brilliance and magnetic personality, transcend the manufactured drama of millionaires pretending to collectively care about beating other millionaires in a fully corporatized game. The anti-heroes are always those millionaires who would have you believe that there is nothing more vital to humanity than whether or not they win or lose a playoff series."

But these players are athletes first, millionaires second, and I'm sure for many of them their whole identities are tied up in being athletes. And more than that, for someone like Garnett, it seems like he self-identifies as a winner--what I saw when I watched that Thompson interview was a man grappling with the deconstruction of his identity. I think it's sort of weird and uncomfortable, and probably unhealthy, for players like Garnett (or Kobe, or Jordan, or whoever) to be invested in the game this way, but this is almost a requirement that the highest level of athletics has for its best players. The specifics of his on court behavior are something different entirely, but I think your point that KG is some sort of phony, that he doesn't actually care that much (or at least, that he couldn't), is misguided.

 
At 11/04/2010 6:28 PM, Blogger Danny said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 11/04/2010 6:30 PM, Blogger Danny said...

Brilliant portrait in this post, and rings totally true for me.

Comments above seem to be looking for some kind of warrant or measure to judge KG "appropriately", where I think the point of the post is that KG is found wanting at an aesthetic level. It is only within a highly compressed (in the MP3 sense) emotional repertoire where his "intensity" can be seen as effective, and it points toward unresolved tension about managing his hate. Somewhat like Lebron's totally different issues as a media personality, getting by day to day seems to be about sweeping a lot under the rug, which inevitably leaks out in some unwanted fashion.

I'm glad to see Charlie break the illusion of "private speech" that has been used to justify KG's behavior. Of course, leaking to the world what actually goes on is never going to be justifiable under the patriarchal codes of sports, but the game is real and on FD of all places we should be able to appreciate these interventions of humanity into the script.

 
At 11/04/2010 6:38 PM, Blogger rick said...

Chalk it up to typical attention-seeking behavior. I don't think KG's behavior is a schtick - there's no self-awareness. I also don't believe he's somehow more competitive than other professional athletes.

Jay was dead on with the "bully" analogy. Bullies act out because it gets them attention (tho usually negative, which beats being ignored). KG gets overwhelmingly positive attention for acting out. Like bullies, he'll keep doing it until it stops bringing him attention.

 
At 11/04/2010 7:00 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

I still think KG is one of those weirdos who heard all the stories about how behind the scenes, Michael Jordan was super competitive and a trash-talking bully and thought, "I want to be like Mike--in every way." It's a variation on why Kobe has adopted the grudge-holding, cold-blooded killer version of Jordan. They think it's the only way to achieve that kind of success.

 
At 11/04/2010 8:03 PM, Blogger Jay said...

I don't really doubt KG's desire to win, I was thinking more along the lines of what BRE said-- that his caring can come across as theatrical, contrived and oftentimes ugly. It never seemed like his own, always an approximation of what he thinks intensity should look like. I don't doubt he wants to win-- I just wish he didn't find it necessary to win in such ugly fashion. We don't excuse other public or even private figures when they express their emotions in destructive and cruel ways. Why basketball players?

@mnemesis-- what makes him a worse bully is that he bullies people worse. I don't mean to be coy with that statement (or grammatical), but I can't think of a single player who made such a grandiose show of publicly humiliating his opponents. Maybe he's just a bad actor, but he's responsible for that, too.

 
At 11/04/2010 8:12 PM, OpenID Evelyn Roak said...

I can’t say I fully jive with the image of KG as dominated by an over compensatory authenticity masking the fear of being inauthentic. There is the punctum in the image of KG but I don’t think it is the above depiction that disturbs the concord. There is something askew but where you find a bully, a posturing in an attempt to find a language of expression, an adopted language you find faulty, I see something a bit more tragic, with KG acting out the mirror stage. The discord with the image of the self, the turn to identification, the ensuing elation and dejection in the introduction of the imaginary and symbolic, the governing Other. Constantly facing the Lack, circling The Thing. Striving for an unobtainable object, that if truly found would be detrimental. KG isn’t simply a bully but is instead performing constantly this universal experience, not adept at covering it up as many do and struggling to find a proper expression.


(To contrast, and find KG wanting, in comparison to Rodman? Rodman seems to fulfill your archetype more properly. He is all striving for an image as image, an image which he doesn’t understand as he grasps at the idea of the effect)

 
At 11/04/2010 8:18 PM, Blogger Jay said...

@evelyn OK, I'm going to break my own rule of only-one-response-per-thing-you-post and ask, do you really think Rodman didn't fulfill the role he placed on himself?

And why is the image of KG you put forth mutually exclusive with the idea that he would try to overcome the Lack through manic bullying?

 
At 11/04/2010 8:52 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

Nice job, Jay.

The strangest thing about this most recent episode is KG's response. In the process of composing it, apparently he concluded that saying a guy looks like a cancer patient is less offensive than telling the guy that he's a cancer to the team for which he plays. The former pushes the boundaries of what's acceptable on-court trash talk, but at least it's on the spectrum. The latter exists in an entire other space.

I'm not sure I'm yet able to completely articulate what seems off about telling a player he's a cancer. Partially, it's that it's a phrase typically used "seriously" only by the professional sports commentariat, reserved to reinforce their own warped view of the way the world ought to operate, and which players just shouldn't employ against each other. In part, it's just a weird basis for a player to use to cut down another--I mean what the fuck difference does it make if he's hurting his team; that just helps the Celtics. And then, it's not even really close to true, is it? So, it just kind of fails as an insult because it's neither close to home nor comically exaggerated.

That KG can't differentiate between a contextually appropriate insult and one that isn't somehow to me supports Jay's description of KG's intensity as theater.

 
At 11/04/2010 8:52 PM, Blogger Zak said...

I think fandom just got overliberated.

 
At 11/04/2010 9:28 PM, OpenID FreeWade said...

Jay, I think the biggest mistake you make is attempting to portray Garnett's form of anti-social crazy as an isolated phenomenon. One thing I learnt from Jordan the past year is the cost of being the G.O.A.T. is your sanity. The man still obsesses about some nobody that beat him out of the last spot on the high school varsity team when he was a HIGH SCHOOL SOPHOMORE! Dude is clearly crazy. Despite Garnett's histrionic personality disorder, his form of crazy still pales in comparison to Jordan's psychotic obsession with vanquishing all his foes.

 
At 11/04/2010 9:40 PM, OpenID Evelyn Roak said...

I think Rodman was adrift the same way that KG is, somewhat, described here. Rodman had an idea of an effect that he thought he wanted, and did surely conform to that idea/effect but, equally, do you think it was a coherent image or one that grasped around as similarly described in the post? He fulfilled this striving, not the end because the end was at best malleable, if not ever shifting, because it was dependent upon the reaction, itself ever shifting.

I don’t disagree that there is a disconnect in the manifestation of KG’s desire; I don’t necessarily think it is contrived (that implies a certain total knowingness). It may be flailing but it is more interesting, and, yes, sad at times, but also endearing in a way, than the poses other players fully adopt, wearing another’s skin as their own till the distinction disappears. Does this preclude bullying? No. But it isn’t bullying only, there are other elements that counteract the bullying that make it a far more complicated and fascinating picture.

 
At 11/04/2010 11:50 PM, Blogger Emil Werner said...

Interesting take.. I'm a Celtic fan, and love having KG on the team. That said, the histrionics are unnecessary and occasionally embarrassing. Things being what they are, though, I guess I'll take the good with the bad. Forced or not, Garnett takes his own lead.. "anything is possible!!," was almost so homemade as to be naive, and actually a little endearing.

 
At 11/05/2010 12:02 AM, Blogger tray said...

I never felt there was any theatricality in KG's displays of emotion, at least not back in the Minnesota days. Maybe now - Garnett's comportment as winner definitely feels derivative. But back then? He was the best player in the league on a perennial loser. That truly is tough; that is something about which anyone could cry in a perfectly non-theatrical way. I never played basketball, but I managed for two teams, one being Duke women's in a year where our whole starting lineup was comprised of top 5 WNBA draft picks and we still lost in the Sweet 16, another being a high school team that beat Mustafa Shakur for the league championship in his last game, at a time when he was rated the top point guard prospect in the country over Chris Paul. And I feel like the day-to-day emotions in those locker rooms were just as dramatic as what you see from Garnett in that interview. That's just the reality of competitive sports played on a high level.

 
At 11/05/2010 4:01 AM, Blogger Henry Bemis said...

This whole post/thread/conversation carries with it the distinct odor of far too idle hands (or heads for that matter).

KG has been nestled in a hedgerow of professional ego-strokers since the days when candy bar sales were funding his jerseys. I can't imagine any 35 year old multi-millionaire having remotely normalized social skills when they are fed nothing but their desires since the age of 17. I learned some of my best (and most painful) lessons with a series of no's and a few loose punches to the nose during that same time period. Not to point too much at the history of the rich and wastrel youth from Caligula to Britney Spears, we should not cast too many stones at Garnett's eccentric personality; nor should we question the sincerity of those who make their money via spectacle. All considered, barking at Jose Calderon is a far better outcome than bleaching his skin and having sleepovers with grade schoolers.

However, I will surrender the above position for the greater argument: WTFC?
No. Seriously. Who the f#ck cares?

Without posting a CV touting my extensive far left credentials, this is beyond the pale of pettiness. I have had worse things said to me by a three year old. On the subway. In Cantonese. This morning.

Buck the f#ck up. You are a professional athlete. Psyching someone out, intimidation should not make one cower from pressure but rise to it. This is, by construction, a place in society which has long prided itself for equanimity. The phrase "leveling of a playing field' is quite often not even metaphorical in its use. There are even uniformed professional hall monitors at every game. The following might be a little too Derridean or Lacanian but is the thread of my point: derogatory terms are only painful or derisive when aimed by those with power to remind those without it of their powerlessness. Garnett talked (and will continue to talk) a prodigious amount of shit, but is this specific comment more egregious than all the others? Is the act of talking shit someone in and of itself a structural abuse of power? Personally, I smell abuse comments (racist, sexist, homophobic, etc) like a Tex Avery wolf smells pie on a window sill, but I think that this stance is a bridge too far. Two people begin a contest in equal stature when one, trying to gain the mental or emotional edge, attempts to affect or disturb the other player. I probably sound like that swine Rush Limbaugh, but KG pulled Charlie's skirt.

It is petty for Charlie V to whine publicly as he has done, and there is no other way to describe his actions and still appear to be civil. This is difficult because before this I defended Charlie even in light of his repeated sub-par performances and timidity. Now I can't seem to reflect on him without seeing a grown man who cried about some break up openly in a bar, in front of dozens of people. Initially it feels a bit awkward but there is a compulsion to pick him up and consol him, but in the depths of one's heart you just want to wash your hands and walk away.

Was Garnett a jerk? Sure. Every wrestling match needs the heel. I don't think Garnet would turn down the opportunity to play Snidely Whiplash. But by crying about the name calling or the intimidation admits only that you are susceptible to the intimidation; it admits that you feel yourself to be inferior.

I don't want to start the maelstrom of political discussion all over again, hardly 48 hours later, but I think that if a few of our leaders had a bit more backbone we wouldn't have been over-run with crypto-fascist corporate Golems and half literate, "strict constitutionalist" whack jobs. But alas and alack...

Succinctly put -I have always enjoyed watching KG and I had believed that Charlie would turn his career around any day now. If Charlie V would have just stood up to someone calling him names -no matter how rude or inappropriate those names might be, I would have most assuredly backed him. But he didn't. Nobody likes a punk or a tattle.

 
At 11/05/2010 11:07 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I feel weird chiming in with only a few lines here, but I wanted to get this out there: KG in Minny had this overwhelming pathos to him that made a lot of this behavior (granted, it got worse in Boston) seem like angst, or inner conflict, or -- when he curses to himself -- a very competitive athlete who was being driven batty by his situation.

His theatrics seemed like a cry for help, or at least some evidence of what happens when that competitive impulse is repeatedly thwarted. It warps, gets distorted, sad, grotesque, fascinating, and yes, moving. KG's frustration, and fire, did seem more related to his sense of self, rather than him as part of a game.

 
At 11/05/2010 11:23 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

It's interesting to contrast Garnett's behavior with Pierce's. They were both stars stuck on shitty teams for many years, but Pierce seems to genuinely enjoy playing on a good team, while Garnett seems alternately burdened and unburdened by it. Pierce does have some of Garnett's unbecoming cockiness, though, unbecoming just because when his team sucked, he seemed to kind of give up a little bit, and now he's all, "How you like me now?" There's something fairweather fan about it, even though, obviously, he's a player, not a fan.

Meanwhile, Ray Allen quietly goes about his business.

(Also, how weird is it that of all the NBA players out there, Ray Allen was chosen to be the lead actor in a fairly big movie? I like Ray Allen and think he's a smart guy and whatever, but who would ever look at him and think, you know, Ray Allen might have the charisma and presence to be a great actor?)

 
At 11/05/2010 11:36 AM, Blogger Jay said...

@Mr.Six-- I agree that it was even weirder that Garnett thought, "Hey, you're a cancer to your team and to our league," was a more appropriate response. Even weirder that he thought anyone would buy it.

@Evelyn- Endearing is a weird word to use. I think I understand what you're trying to say-- that the flailing about, the endless circling to find an identity, but never quite finding it, is somehow more authentic than those who, in calculated fashion, take on and fully adopt a persona. It's why we like the new Batman and the old Superman. We want these guys to have conflict over their own personas. But, again, while that might be true, it certainly doesn't mean that we should cheer for the worst of them.

@shoals- even if it was a cry for help, isn't there a better way to cry for help? Like, how about, "TRADE ME!" Garnett's angst might be interesting because it was a conflict between his loyalty to 'Sota and his anger at losing, but there are tons of great players who have been stuck in similar situations. Not all of them felt the need to constantly lash out.

@BRE- I remember thinking the same thing about Ray Allen as Shuttlesworth. I've had about 20-30 talks about this w/ my friend Patrick and we've decided that that Spike wanted the player to be a believable Shuttlesworth, not so much emotionally, but in terms of the basketball scenes. Jesus Shuttlesworth is described as a combo guard who can go left, right, beautiful jumper, strong to the hole, great heart. Can you think of anyone else who could've played him better back in the day?

 
At 11/05/2010 12:16 PM, Blogger Yago Colás said...

BRE: Perhaps this is common knowledge, but it was news to me: apparently Spike tried to get AI first, but AI wanted his summer free. Allen was second choice. (read that in larry Pratt's bio of AI). Also, apparently, in the unscripted one on one scene, Denzel jumped out to a 4-0 lead on Allen.

 
At 11/05/2010 12:20 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

@Henry Bemis--That's interesting, but I think completely backward.

Even on the court, the NBA is a workplace. Like any workplace, it has an acceptable mode of discourse, which in its case, includes a level of trash talk. That doesn't mean, however, that it's impossible for a player, on the court, to go beyond the bounds of what's acceptable and move from trash talk to harassment.[1]

As a society, we've expressed our views on workplace harassment by protecting those who are subjected to it, encouraging them to report it, and making their employers responsible for investigating it taking corrective action. We've done the same for whistleblowers. In doing so, we've said that no one should have to accept various forms of abuse, including verbal abuse, as a condition of employment, and that the obligation to report wrongdoing is greater than the obligation of loyalty to a job or coworkers.

If one believes that, in this and other instances, KG crossed the line from acceptable trash talk into impermissible abuse of a coworker, then CV was morally and legally justified to report it.[2] The NBA, however, doesn't have an HR department to which players can report this kind of abuse.[3] So, CV took it to Twitter, which seems completely justified to me when it's clear that there was no way within the organization to have the matter dealt with.

I'd go further and say that CV didn't reveal himself as a punk because he didn't handle this business on the court. To the contrary, I think it was brave that someone finally called KG out for acting like an excessively abusive asshole, and to do it in a way that would force KG to attempt to justify himself.[4] Just like I think it would be brave to report sexual harassment or banks fraudulently foreclosing on residential properties. To characterize what CV did as punkery is to insist that pro sports, as a workplace, should still operate in a way that the civilized world adjudged retrograde a few decades ago.



[1] MJ, GP, Reggie, and long tradition of other great players were of course well known trash talkers. But particularly since moving to Boston, KG has repeatedly not just trash talked opponents, he's showily (theatrically) attempted to embarrass them.

[2] In this case, KG's harassment was neither sufficiently pervasive nor severe to be legally actionable. I'd be willing to wager, however, that it violated the NBA's personnel policies. So, if CV and KG worked in the L's offices, and KG had told CV that he looked like a cancer patient, there's a pretty good chance the KG would have disciplined for it.

[3] To the contrary, this is one of the many ways in which the NBA and all other pro sports leagues appear to think that the players aren't entitled to some of the basic workplace protections that everyone else enjoys. I suspect it has something to do with exactly this idea of tough guys and punks that died out in most workplaces decades ago (but that of course still sadly exists in too many).

[4] And, as I said upthread, I think that KG's attempt to explain himself actually reveals how messed up he is about this stuff.

 
At 11/05/2010 1:03 PM, Blogger Aaron J. Ackerman said...

"He doesn't get to decide whats tasteful, he gets to exist as the manifestation of his emotions and be either loved or hated for it."

Love him for it.

 
At 11/05/2010 1:09 PM, OpenID Evelyn Roak said...

@Jay. Yes, perhaps endearing was the wrong word. I agree with your characterization essentially that the flailing becomes more interesting than rote adoption. Where I differ, and where I differ with the post (“the sneering indie snob”) is the positing this as play of a striving for authenticity that masks a fundamental inauthenticity. The problems of judging authenticity are abundant and often even the question is problematic. I know I stutter when I find myself falling back upon this position, trying to get water from this dried up well. The bullying and posturing is not to be excused but it is to be inspected and understood. It may just be fascination, that has a certain attraction, in KG playing out on the public stage a certain universal experience, its warts and all. Maybe I am just trying to get away from my own judgments of authenticity but there is something different here than critiquing the poseur to praise the real-deal.

Is it easier to just say KG is John Cassavetes’ Nicky in Elaine May’s “Mikey and Nicky”?

As per Rodman, he is the performance of the adolescent, interesting when viewed on the continuum of development but sad and boring when carried into adulthood.

 
At 11/05/2010 2:41 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

Not to derail this conversation, but I read a lot about He Got Game back when it came out, and Spike did want an NBA or college player to play Jesus Shuttlesworth, because he really wanted the basketball scenes to be realistic. The player also had to look young enough to be believable as a high school student, so that limited it some. I think he could've found an actual actor who played college ball or something, someone who can play well enough for the scenes to work.

But, if he had to pick an NBA player from that time period, can you imagine if he picked Kobe? You could add "best actor" to his competition with Shaq.

From some website:

"Kobe Bryant had off-season commitments. Tracy McGrady auditioned but was found too reserved. Allen Iverson auditioned as well, but his acting chops didn’t impress anyone. Management for Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury wanted a guarantee that one or the other would be offered the part."

 
At 11/05/2010 3:39 PM, Blogger Yago Colás said...

Interesting, BRE, that the site says AI was rejected. From Platt's biography of AI: "H'ed just decided to durn down his friend Spike Lee's offer to audition for, and most likely star in, a basketball flick Lee would be directing, He Got Game. Rebuffed by Iverson, Lee would ultimately give the role to Ray Allen. Iverson's reason for turning down the movie? 'Man, this is my frist summer with money,' he told Lee. 'I ain't working. Me and my crew, we gonna enjoy having money.'"

 
At 11/05/2010 5:58 PM, Blogger eliburak said...

Yea he's an ass. Pretty much universally regarded as such. He's also got poor taste in insults.

But come on, he's a grown man who has been rewarded his entire life for doing what he does so well. Being a bully has been one of his tools that has allowed him to thrive as a basketball player, and he has thrived because we as fans have encouraged his success.

I wouldn't want KG teaching my kid in pre-school (if I had one) but hell, it seems to work. We all know the psychological aspect of performance is as important as the physical and at the end of the day, we want our team's number to be higher than the other team's.

I have to also say Jay, that it's a shame that one player could get you to turn against a team. Doing so discredits all the hard work of the other members of the team such as Rondo and Pierce. If I had to personally like every member of a team that I supported, I don't know if I would ever support any team.

Note: Biased opinion, I'm an avid Celtics fan and hope in the end, our bad boy KG beats out the infernal LJ for a spot in the finals this year.

 
At 11/05/2010 8:42 PM, Blogger aimlessgun said...

We can definitely call an asshole an asshole. KG is an asshole.

But I'm going to second Henry Bermis' "WTFC". It's some asshole talking trash. Tasteless, offensive trash, but that's only to be expected at this point. Is it 'insecure theater'? I don't think enough evidence has been presented to support that conclusion.

Mr. Six, saying the NBA is a workplace, and KG's comments should be held to that standard: I disagree. On the court the NBA feels like as much of a workplace as a reality TV show. Even a particularly bad piece of trash talk is not enough to cross the line in this context.

 
At 11/06/2010 7:13 AM, Blogger Barrie Stretham said...

I think Mr Six's comment against sport workplace exceptionalism is a good one.

Perhaps KG was running his mouth like this in Minnesota. But one of the questions now is how much his new position as not-the-best-player-on-a-contender contrasts with the man-alone-without-help context in evaluating his persona. And then secondly, the Celtics have always flaunted an organised intimidation factor (quasi-racist in how it has been received by the casual fan) that seems to inflect all individuals playing for them with a different light.

Bottom line though, being a snitch is selling out the weak to the law. There are some structural constraints here. Garnett's comments drew their impact from the weak, believing that the code of the game would protect him. But in real life, few who've had to deal with chronic illness can really feel that good about being material for multi-millionnaire trash-talk. It's hard not to feel that those defending him would have told players reacting to racial slurs not that long ago to 'man up'.

 
At 11/07/2010 4:25 PM, Blogger Dave M said...

Wow. Somebody said there was free coffee and donuts here?

 
At 11/07/2010 5:51 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

Even a particularly bad piece of trash talk is not enough to cross the line in this context.

So, I'm curious. Do you think that there can never be such a thing as workplace harassment between players of professional sport? Or do you just think that KG hasn't crossed the line?

 
At 11/07/2010 8:07 PM, Blogger Dave M said...

Mr. Six,
Without necessarily taking a stand one way or another, I'm trying to get a bead on workplace harassment on the field or court of play. At the bottom of an NFL pig-pile, player A enthusiastically breaks player B's thumb. As he does so, player A also waxes poetic about happy plans for player B's loved ones. Might I assume that action one would be A-okay but action two could be deemed "over the line"? Or is it really only an issue if the guys in the sound truck neglect to mute said conversation?

 
At 11/08/2010 2:08 PM, Blogger bushytop said...

in the parlance of free darko, can we please for one moment jump off the garnett-as-front-running-bully-to-the-defenseless meme? please? everywhere i look i see a new piece about kg's unwillingness to confront another "bully" or to stick his neck out there when his team is down.

calderon, peeler, and villenueva are rolled out as exemplars of this behavior, but remember that kg spent the better part of his first ten years battling tim duncan and the spurs in sisyphean clashes. kg never backed down; not in losses, not when td laughed back at him (instead of engaging).

are kg, mj, and kobe normal? no. is that the behavior i want to replicate? eff no. but if i were an elite professional athlete, is there another approach i would mimic? definitely no. it may be sociopathic, but it certainly gets the job done.

in my humble opinion, this is a non-story (but for the tweeting). i've been called worse on the basketball court. shit, i've been called worse by coaches.

as a 16yo, i got berated by a coach for not boxing out. thought the ref missed the over the back call, but whatever. my coach didn't care. he berated the shit out of me. he started by telling me i was scared of black people (i was one of three white kids on the team). he then told me i was disrespecting my mom: "...and you're there, pretending you're boxing out, but all that's happening is you got some guy, jumping all over your back, his nuts all up in your shit, and your mom is sitting there watching it all." made me play harder in the second half, so i guess the trash talk got the job done.

if talking shit is wrong, i don't wanna be right.

 

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