Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Black Mamba 360

As of May 2nd, I am officially a professionally published journalist. You can see for yourselves if you are near any of these locations; and as you can imagine, I feel pretty damn good. I haven't thought about how to celebrate yet. Maybe I should ghostride the farm. Anyway, the point is that nothing in the sports world can disappoint me right now...and I pledge my fandom to the Knicks. However, like always, I have some things on my heart I need to get off my chest—some [stuff] to address—so this won't be as lighthearted as originally planned.* Open your minds...

*(It was supposed to be my lighthearted attempt to actually defend Kobe winning the MVP, but I can't do that now that I've started my deep thinking.)

As I'm sure you fellow hoop lovers know, Kobe "Black Mamba" Bryant has won his first MVP award. He wasn't my pick to win it, but I can't argue with it because he was one of three very deserving candidates. For some, including myself, the player that proved he was most valuable this season was newly-cemented-favorite-NBA-player Chris Paul. I've been receiving claims through Facebook wall messages and instant messages about how I should rant and rave about The Mamba winning his Lifetime Achievement MVP Award; and depriving its right owner (*cough* CP3 *cough*) of it. However, I'm going to discuss the notion that Kobe has now come, "full circle," and is the golden boy he was prior to 2003...and how that's not as true as it appears to be.

From an outsider's perspective, Kobe appears to have been a person lucky enough to easily get most of the things he wanted. He's the son of a former pro ball player, and has seen more places in the world than some wealthy people. He speaks at least four languages, and was the crown jewel of the 1997 high school class (#2 in said class...Tim Thomas). He was blessed to be drafted into a professional situation in which he could flourish immediately, was on a team with the most dominant player of this era, and was a three-time champion before he was 25—something even His Airness couldn't even claim. And despite him being constantly compared to Jordan, he somehow managed to thrive in a pressure others have wilted (see: Vince Carter, Jerry Stackhouse, Tracy McGrady, and others); but still has grown into his own player. Then came 2003.

Kobe's ego was growing uncontrollable by the game, but the divorce between he, Chief Triangle, and the Big Aristotle hadn't become final yet. Then, after that fateful rendezvous with the hotel worker in Eagle County, Colorado; Kobe quickly realized that he was only a pet mamba. Let me explain.

It seems that athletes—Black athletes, in particular—are loved as long as they don't disturb the space/time continuum that is the mainstream. Yes, I know this topic has been discussed on numerous occasions; but with Kobe winning the MVP, I feel it's necessary again. Kobe was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and he wasn't a professional actor. He took his rightful place as heir of the Best Perimeter Player in the League kingdom, and had plenty of endorsement deals and commercials. But once it was revealed that he was flawed, all of that was swiftly taken from him. He went from hero to pariah in one summer. To me, he had become basketball's O.J. Simpson. He wasn't a murderer, but some would argue rape is a more heinous crime. His tearful apology couldn't help him as he was stripped of his media pedestal and tumbled to the cellar of infamy.

Yes, his personal on-the-court success continued; and I have a great deal of respect for him because of that. It takes immeasurable mental stamina—much more than a buzzer-beater requires—to endure the criticisms and insults, and still be able to perform without any significant dip in production. In my opinion, the media had realized not just that he was a flawed athlete, but a flawed Black athlete. The unconditional love he once had in the media now had two stipulations: a criminal record and skin tone. It seems that once a superstar athlete of any race messes up in his personal life, that closeness mainstream has with him or her evaporates; and that athlete becomes a social outcast.

I apologize, but I can't shake the suspicion that Black athletes get way more scrutiny than their Caucasian counterparts, especially with the recent plights of Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, and now OJ Mayo; and Mayo's not even a professional yet. It seems they receive a little more coverage a little longer than any White player would get. I'm not defending anything criminal, but I am defending fair treatment. To me, it seems there are a few variables that go into determining the amount of ridicule and how far an athlete falls from grace. I believe star status (Michael Vick opposed to Leonard Little), severity of the crime, public visibility (Roger Clemens as opposed to Mark McGwire), denial versus confession (Rafael Palmeiro opposed to Jose Canseco) and race (Clemens to Barry Bonds) are the main determining factors of this equation. For example, the reason why Mark McGwire isn't talked about in the steroids conversation is because he disappeared. The reason why Michael Vick was chastised and Leonard Little isn't is because Vick was a superstar player, and Little is an above-average defensive end. My point is, if Kobe Bryant was Trenton Hassell—a journeyman in the league—then he wouldn't have had to worry about answering as many questions about his night in Colorado for as long as he did after the incident had been settled. Think about how long it was between the release of Kobe's last pair of Adidas and the release of his first pair of Nikes...

Five years removed from the Eagle Co. experience, and most is forgiven. Kobe has all the fanfare that comes with being the best player on the NBA's glamorous franchise. His public image is mostly repaired, and he no longer has to worry about talking about court dates and his wife's feelings. Maybe Kobe's situation had nothing to do with race, but this admitted subscriber to conspiracy truths theories can't help but feel that way. I, am in no way, attempting to rain on the Mamba's MVP parade. Even though he isn't anywhere near the top of the list of my favorite players in the league (somewhere after #10...yes, I like ten players more than the Mamba), he has my utmost respect for the dominance he exhibits on a nightly basis. I'm just glad his career was allowed to continue, and he can—for the most part—put that dark cloud of his behind him. But, please believe, the mainstream hasn't forgotten.

Congratulations, Mr. Bryant.


P.S. - If this kinda put you in a somber mood, check out my Top 20 cartoon songs of all-time. 20-11 is here, and 10-1 is here. Enjoy!

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