Date: Feature Week of
November 28, 2004
WORKING FOR “THE MAN”? BE MORE LIKE MIKE!
What would you’ve done if you’d been Ron Artest and a fan in the Palace’s high-priced seats threw a cup of beer on you? On the other hand, if you’re a millionaire NBA team owner, what do you do about players like Artest?
Sports are a major part of the entertainment industry. A compelling spectacle, sports provide a boost to its participants and spectators and financial benefits to team owners. Ideally, sports promote the cherished American ideal of intense competition on level playing fields where race does not matter. Sports are big money is for players, corporations, colleges, and many American cities. It has been the ultimate crossover industry in which black means hip, cool, young, and edgy; but where the racism of America means being “too black” lurks just below the surface. Up to now, the NBA was recognized as being sports entertainment’s best example of taming the race issue and using it to turn a profit.
Nose-bleed seats at an NBA game costs $22; courtside is $1,000. The NBA’s TV contract, worth $190 million (network TV) and $90 million (cable), sells rap music, baggy shorts, Air Jordans, hip-hop dancing, and the brilliance of black athleticism, ala Michael Jordan. Seventy percent of NBA players are blacks. Blacks comprise 85 percent of the NBA’s multi-millionaire players.
The NBA’s taming of the race issue has gone awry. Artest’s incident is the latest illustration of a clashing of cultures. People paying the bills of the NBA are rejecting the NBA’s predominately black style of play and sportsmanship. People pushing the turnstiles are fed up with black professional basketball players; they no longer like the product, the attitude, the showboating or the flamboyance. When black owners ran the Negro Leagues, showboating was part of the entertainment package. But, those leagues catered to a predominately black fan base; and as long as the NBA customer base is white, the standard for appropriate sportsmanship, style of play and appearance will be set by them.
The NBA is the only league with blacks in any serious ownerships roles. Rappers Jay-Z and Nelly now own part of the New York Nets and Charlotte Bobcats. The single African American full NBA team owner echoes the league’s standard line. Charlotte owner Robert Johnson says: "What we're about in Charlotte is focused on doing our absolute best to create a family-friendly environment”. To curb NBA rowdiness Johnson says, "One of the things I'm going to suggest is to get municipalities to pass ordinances on stadium and arena behavior. Then police can prosecute. Those fans were wrong, too. They broke the barrier by throwing projectiles. We need a way of prosecuting someone who tosses something on the floor.” His reference is the Calvin Klein Law New York City passed after an incident in 2003 at Madison Square Garden when an inebriated Calvin Klein left his courtside seat and walked toward [Latrell] Sprewell, who was inbounding the ball. Klein grabbed Sprewell by the arm and got off a few words before being ushered back to his seat by security. The law bans fans from entering a court or field during professional sports events and provides civil penalties between $1,000 and $5,000 for entering the court/field during a professional sporting event, and $10,000 to $25,000 for making physical contact with a player.
Mainstream America is about to “step off” of the NBA. A study in 1993 said 62 percent of whites “loved or liked” the NBA. That dropped to 50 percent by 2003, with the number of whites who “disliked” the NBA rising from 21 percent in ‘93 to 30 percent in ‘03. The color contrast has the percentage of black Americans who loved or liked the NBA in 1993 going from 62 to 92 percent in 2003, and those who “dislike” it down only from 4.3 to 2.9 percent.
African-Americans have to accept the fact that Bad Boyz like Artest have to go. The reality is that Mainstream America is sports businesses’ revenue stream. To keep them coming, NBA owners have to bring about “family-friendly” places of business and greater “internationalization” of team rosters. Unless they become more like Mike, many black players with NBA-level quality skills will find themselves circling the country’s chitterling circuit playing basketball with Hot Sauce or one of the Harlem Globetrotter teams, while Europeans and Asians collect NBA checks.
© 2000-2004 William Reed - www.BlackPressInternational.com