Senate Confirmation Basketball Semiotics, #456

I've got supremely mixed feelings about this whole "basketball is the new America" meme, and all the articles written on how everyone in Obama's cabinet played ball, wondering what kind of offense they'll run, and if the President will be more like Phil Jackson or Jason Kidd. Excepted from that, of course, is Alexander Wolff's definitive treatment of the subject, largely because it's more interested in the nuances of one man's relationship with the game than taking an Obama presidency as some monolithic endorsement of BASKETBALL.

In fact, some of could border on uncomfortable, if not a little racist. Like, why do Senators need to ask Eric Holder about whether he could beat Obama one-on-one? Even when black dudes reach the highest peaks of civil service, they still get asked about their game? That's kind of fucked up, you might think. . . if not for the fact that it's Herb Kohl asking, a guy who refuses to sell a team as everyone screams for him to, someone with a sincere love of the sport who is probably as excited as any African-American to see it in the public eye.

But what really makes this video special, and why it's the first time I've weighed in on Obama/hoops since the election (and since the appointees made it into a far less nebulous notion) is Holder's earnest as fuck invocation of The City, Connie Hawkins, Kareem, and Tiny Archibald, that near-sacred list that any real hoops fan is used to revering—but probably never expected he'd hear intoned, with no small measure of seriousness, in a Senate confirmation hearing. There's laughter right away, as there should be, but for that moment I felt for the first time like the sport was being legitimated, if not vindicated, in the public eye.

UPDATE: My once-and-for-all take on Kevin Pritchard.

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At 1/16/2009 12:07 PM, Blogger Hypothetical Self said...

Honestly, it's just nice to be able to laugh again.

Not to say that the post was cynical (cos it was a legit commentary), but there needs to be a moratorium on political cynicism for at least the first 100 days. I think that everyone needs to take a deep breath and have some faith that things will run at least somewhat ok. As much as the public can self-legitimize blind patriotism after 9/11, so should we have optimism after Obama's success.

Also, I hope that Obama joins the DC intramural circuit and plays the Supreme Court's team on the court that is directly above the Supreme Court's courtroom. ("Truly the country's highest court," as the tourguides joke.)

At 1/16/2009 12:10 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

In total agreement with you about a suspension of political cynicism. The cynicism in here has to do with the sudden national interest in basketball, but I might just be territorial.

At 1/16/2009 12:30 PM, Blogger Hypothetical Self said...

It's really nice and familiarizing to hear those kinds of name-drops in a confirmation hearing.

It'd also be nice if the country / administration did think of government and political action in terms of the less-contact-driven and arguably more graceful sport, rather than the realpolitik take on things that I imagine comes with football culture or the idleness of baseball (I love those sports, but basketball is much better).

I don't know the actual breakdown, but my guess is that basketball fans are more likely to be liberal than conservative (is there anything written on this?).

There is an 1970's Supreme Court antitrust case (Flood v. Kuhn, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_v._Kuhn) that involved baseball team's trading rights of players that was decided in direct contrary to the law, protecting franchises and hurting the players. In the decision, Justice Blackmun lists 83 great players in baseball history, eliciting a sense of tradition that implied an elevation of the sport almost above the law. While I hope that one's love for basketball does not justify oppression in a future governmental action, I'd love to hear more people in power speak sentimentally of the sport.

In a lot of respects, basketball is a proxy for many minority perspectives in the recent DC power elite (race, class, urban attitude if not urban upbringing, politics, and even age) and it's great to see it appear like this.

At 1/16/2009 1:37 PM, Blogger dizzle said...

willfully ignoring the french lick/hoosiers basketball tradition, basketball is one of the most singularly urban sports- and we know about the link between more liberal politics and city dwellers.

At 1/16/2009 1:51 PM, Blogger A said...

As much as I hate being the voice of reason, I think the above exchange is just Senator Kohl burning the remainder of his time to be friendly and put a human face on what is otherwise most likely a dull and stressful hearing.

That said, it is refreshing to see this kind of interaction at any level of government. As somewhat of a CSPAN junkie, there's usually a time and place for lightheatedness, but it's become less frequent in recent years. Hoops isn't going to cause peace, love and understanding, it's just a good vehicle for bringing people together.

You're right about probably being territorial, Shoals, but the popularity of the game has grown in leaps and bounds under Stern. The interest in hoops is there, but it's the scope that has become suddenly visible. I don't think if Holden was white we'd be talking about Bert Blyleven or Gordie Howe.

At 1/16/2009 1:59 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I'm not trying to take this too seriously, but it is some serious basketball. That's what I find heartening. Connie Hawkins on C-Span just doesn't happen every day.

And I'm territorial not about the game being popular, but the new genre of writing where people oversimplify basketball, mention John Wooden, and say this is where we're headed.

At 1/16/2009 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do see where you're coming from about how the emergence of basketball jargon into journalistic aesthetic and political procedure can be read as (and to an extent, certainly are) racialized, though. As allergic as we can be about talking about issues of race, I don't think those sentences should be lost on us for the next four years...

At 1/16/2009 5:46 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Incidentally, I just noticed that at the end, Wolff's article mentions John Wooden and tells us life is like a game of basketball. I guess I was preoccupied with the earlier sections.

At 1/16/2009 6:21 PM, Blogger Anthony Wilson said...

Instead of discussing this, can we just argue about Kobe and LeBron some more?

Hey, guys, LeBron is better than Kobe because he has better PER. So suck it.

At 1/16/2009 9:07 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Yeah, well PER stands for puerile empty reasoning! Na na na na na na!

At 1/16/2009 11:18 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Holder could pass for Paul Hewitt.

At 1/17/2009 7:40 AM, Blogger nadiel said...

What ever happened to Obama's basketball court? Did the bowling lobby win out?

Before the internet, I believed all those stories about the declining interest in basketball. The great basketball blogs have since shown me the way of the diehard.

But all this new attention seems a bit...unsettling. It has a "Hip-hop in late 80's/early 90's" feel to it. There are the hardcores who love the movement, but then you get crappy tv commercials with "rapping".

As in, I am scared I am going to turn on CSPAN tomorrow and see our potential secretary of treasury rapping "My name is Timothy Geithner and I'm here to say, I love playing basketball everyday!"

While baseball is revered, Obama's basketball movement is "Will Smith cool". I see the "new genre of writing were people oversimplify basketball" denigrating quickly into that scene from 3 Ninjas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRO_6NPrFbc

Wither Allen Iverson?

At 1/17/2009 2:37 PM, Blogger Claude said...

This clip is reminiscent of a Saturday Night Live skit, in a good way.

I think it's cute the question was asked. It introduced some humor. I mean, when was the last time you actually watched part of a confirmation hearing?

As far as asking the question at all, there's nothing racist about it. If Tiger Woods were elected as president, someone would ask his Attorney General designate, "Do you play golf?" So, I think the question is a function of how much has been made of Obama's interest in basketball.

And note that the question wasn't, "Could you beat Obama?" Kohl asked if Holder would promise to do everything in his power to defeat Obama "as badly as you can." Wow. That's spoken like an NBA team owner.

Also, did you notice how Kohl was genuinely listening to Holder's response? In other words, he wasn't just asking a throw-away question.

I like that Holder answered tongue-in-cheek mock-serious, and we learn something about him in how he answers the question at all. At first he seems to take himself almost too seriously, then he seems to realize this is all in fun and goes with it. But not right away.

This is all gold coins to David Stern's ears, of course. And why not? Mentioning some of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players. Although, I admit I was a little disappointed Holder's list was so short (Julius Erving? Bernard King? etc.).

I also like Holder's shout-out to his old P.S. 127 in Queens. Put yourself in those kids' shoes right now.

So I think everyone made the most of that moment.

I don't think there a "basketball is the new America" thing going on, or even a "basketball is life" thing. But I do think that there's a thing going on along the lines of "how you play basketball gives clues to how you _________."

At 1/17/2009 2:49 PM, Blogger wsfh said...

"Honestly, it's just nice to be able to laugh again"

You know I think this says it all.

At 1/17/2009 11:54 PM, Blogger EL MIZ said...

does the fact that mayor royce would have answered the same way as holder make you more or less disappointed of the entire situation?

shoals, great point about the sport being legitimized.

At 1/18/2009 1:35 PM, Blogger ohkeedoke said...

Peter Robert Casey,

He looks like Paul Hewitt had a baby with Ralph Nader.

At 1/20/2009 1:31 PM, Blogger j. edwin brandt said...



At 1/20/2009 5:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ESPN's lack of decent discourse around sports and society....too much dunking not enough thinking...plus there tendancy to beat a dead horse has helped to spawn and sustain the hoops blog movement.

And for the record, Brian Scalibrine shut down Amare last night. It was a site to behold.

At 1/21/2009 4:11 PM, Blogger El Presidente said...

Why did the most recent post get deleted, btw? Just internal cleanup?

wv: shotor - Antoine Walker

At 1/21/2009 4:20 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I didn't say what I wanted to say, and then someone called me "stupid."

At 1/22/2009 10:49 AM, Blogger Kirk said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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