Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is the NBA Anti-Gay?

The definition of a role model is a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.

Some of our role models like Steve Nash and Sean Avery have exemplified this definition in recent weeks, while others like Kobe Bryant (the face of the NBA for over a decade) and Joakim Noah have distorted and misrepresented it.

It was only a month ago Bryant uttered a homophobic slur at a referee in a playoff game. It was a mere 48 hours ago that Noah yelled the same slur in his playoff game in Miami to a Heat fan. There's the war on crime, the war on drugs, and the war on terror. What about the war on homophobic slurs? Commissioner Stern fined Kobe $100,000. Joakim was fined $50,000.

Even though Noah makes substantially less salary, shouldn't his monetary punishment be above Bryant's?

Noah had a blueprint four weeks ago of what not to do, what not to say, and made his insensitive remark anyway. But, there's a bigger issue than the amount player's should be getting fined.

Why are they saying these slurs in the first place?

I get that sports is an emotional game, things are said in the heat of the moment without thinking. Inhibitions to the wind and an athletes guard down is a lethal combination.

This is the scariest part.

At a player's most vulnerable and truthful moment, gay slurs are what comes out of their mouths. It makes me wonder what other thoughts are swimming around within the deep catacombs of their minds that often remained bottled up. Nothing is going to change until the sports society as a whole supports gay rights, but more importantly acknowledges its existence in the locker room and among team mates.

Studies show one out of every six men are gay.

It was a big step when Phoenix Suns President Rick Welts came out last week, but what the gay community needs is a leap. It's great that some athletes have come out to support gay rights, but what the gay community needs is many.

And, where's the current male star athlete who hasn't come out of the closet because of fear, stigma, and public perception?

It's 2011.

I thought we lived in a time of acceptance and understanding, of open-minds and open-hearts. Sports has been the pioneer on many issues, the catalyst of an ordinate amount of change. From Jackie Robinson to Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, sports has always been the Ferrari of change. But, as gay issues stand, it seems the sports community remains stagnant, turning a perpetual blind-eye.

There's a silent war between the homophobic and the unprejudiced. The unaccepting only need a handful to put fear into the collective. Charles Barkley said, "Athletes aren't role models." Okay, fine. But we do need them to be decent human beings. Whether we like it or not, our youth revere their sports icons as Gods. I did growing up.

Imagine the power a male star athlete coming out would have on a youth coming to terms with his or her own sexuality. Or, in a broader sense, the strength it would give to a child who is just "different". The child with ADHD. The one with Asperger's syndrome. The child with tourette's. The one with acne. The kid who is too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat. The one with glasses and braces, the Jew, the Muslim.

Can you imagine the strength they would gain from their icons embracing their differences instead of shielding them. Children would truly believe there is no mold they have to fit into, that cool isn't a generic model or a xerox copy of someone else. A realization that individuality is cool, uniqueness the most admirable trait.

Other than the sports sphere, sexual orientation holds as much weight as a feather duster. But, in the macho, testosterone driven world of athletics, homosexuality, especially in locker room land is taboo. Denial and narrow-minds seem to rule this realm with an ignorant hand. 

Our sports heroes need to stop pretending homosexuality doesn't exist. We need the sports figures who we would never expect to take a stand, to do just that. And, in this case, power is in numbers. Sexual preference need no longer be evaded.

After all, role models should know better.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose give the NBA a Humble Facelift

One's the scoring champ; the other is the league's MVP. Both have their young teams in respective conference finals. Both are also humble as mom's apple pie. Sure, the perennial power Lakers, Spurs, and Celtics were sent deep sea fishing for the remainder of the summer. And sure we won't see the Lebron v. Kobe finals we've been itching at like a mosquito bite for half a decade.

But, what we do have in the final four teams remaining are Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose, whose play is nothing short of electrifying. It feels like these two have been in the league forever, like they've been to dozens of All-Star games and won a multitude of accolades. But, each are only 22 years old.

When it's become the popular scapegoat to blame younger generation's Laissez-faire attitude for older generation's vast number of mistakes, it's nice to see guys in their early 20's setting the example. Our elders who believe youth is synonymous with immaturity are being proved wrong with every bounce of the basketball. The boomers who preach the back-in-my day mentality as if they really walked five miles to school in a Southern California blizzard are being served a facial by two of the NBA's most gracious players.

Durant and Rose prove every time they step onto the court that age truly is just a number, that people should be judged by strength of character rather than the number of candles on their birthday cake. Having said that, at the end of the day they are just a couple of kids. (Because anyone born after U2 released Joshua Tree still is). All these "kids" do is exemplify hard work and humbleness. It's fitting that both could be heading straight for each other in the NBA finals. Durant and Rose have been through a lot in their young careers.

Kevin Durant was drafted by the once upon a time Seattle Supersonics to replace a legend and all-time three-point leader Ray Allen. There were questions about his pixie stick frame and single year at Texas.

Would his game translate to the NBA?

Would he be strong enough to battle with NBA's fiercest defenders, the guys that have boulders for shoulders and steel beams for necks?

Durant made his slender frame an advantage, sneaking through the baseline like he was wearing Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. Even recently, Durant's been criticized for passing too much, letting his point guard ultra talented in his own right Russell Westbrook take pivotal shots in the fourth quarter. Durant threw that criticism in his stylish book bag he wears at every press conference, taking the detractors to school with every Thunder victory.

The road for Derrick Rose started bumpier. Rose came from the rough neighborhoods of the Englewood area, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods on Chicago's Southside. His entourage was his three brothers and mother, shielding him from con-men, drug-pushers, and all others looking to exploit Rose for his gifted talents on the hardwood. 

Rose enrolled in Simeon Career Academy. His junior year he won his school the Chicago public team championship and was voted the title of Illinois Mr. Basketball. Then there was the one season at Memphis, the SAT scandal and a shot away from winning the National Championship. Then came the pressure of being the first pick in the NBA draft. All he's done this year is lead the Bulls to the number one seed and the Eastern Conference finals.

Durant's and Rose's dominance in the spring of their careers is nothing short of astonishing. The desire to give their teammates credit and push personal accolades aside is remarkable. The scary thing for their opposition is- they are still getting better, at the base of a mountain's peak potential. Scarier still is their work ethic and unilateral focus. Durant could have left Oklahoma City for more money but he signed a five-year extension, a hometown discount; only he's from Washington, D.C.

Rose grew up in the shadow of Jordan. But, he puts number 23 in his rear view, while breathing and playing through life's windshield.

We have new stars that care more about giving than receiving, players who realize at a young age that every NBA player has talent, it's the work that transcends you. They know putting the hours in the empty gymnasium is how you perform at the highest level when the stadium is packed.

Rose's MVP speech was about thanking everyone else for an individual award, praising his teammates, being grateful for his mother. His smile one of appreciation, but also knowing his quest doesn't end with hoisting Maurice Podoloff over his shoulders. Rose and Durant see the big picture when the long term goal in a 48 minute game can be a difficult thing to focus in on. Just look at Lebron James, kneeling in prayer, and then celebrating with teammates like he won the first of seven NBA championships after knocking off his arch rivals, The Boston Celtics.

Was Rose even on the same Richter scale of jubilation after a second round win against the Hawks?

Derrick's actions were simple and clear: It's on to the next round, the next battle, the next fight. If Durant and Rose do meet in the NBA finals, it will be a series of high caliber talent, but higher caliber of character.

Resolve is their best teammate, humbleness their greatest strength. Durant and Rose wipe off crumbs of criticism with a dinner napkin. No stage is too big for these two young superstars.

Michael Jordan was everything, but anything other than humble. Kobe Bryant is the fiercest competitor, but rarely trusts a teammate. Lebron has embraced his role as the villain since taking his talents to South Beach. Rose and Durant appear to truly believe their personal success is measured only by team success. That their accomplishments are made possible by the work of their supporting cast, coaches, management, and family.

Commissioner David Stern need not worry. The NBA is in good hands.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Rick Reilly Rebuttal

Dear Mr. Reilly,

I read the commentary on the speech you delivered at your alma mater, the University of Colorado. As all your columns, I enjoy the insight, humor, and above all, the truth to your words.

This piece resonated to my core.

I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008 with a degree in English Writing. Since, I have freelanced on Examiner.com and created a sports blog featured on the Yardbarker network and Bleacher report.

I agree that writers shouldn't offer their services for free, it will only lead to others taking advantage of the craft we spent four years in college and post-university working on. Not to mention the thousands spent in tuition most of us are still paying back.

However, the world has changed. The media landscape has been run over by a rotary tiller. There was a time when newspaper and magazine internships were the next logical step to begin an editorial career. Unfortunately, for my class of 2008 and beyond, those days are gone.

Twenty years ago, recent graduates would begrudgingly get coffee and work the Sunday football scores section. Our generation would kill for that opportunity to get a foot in the door. Your generation would describe this work as being a "gopher". My generation calls it a grand opportunity. Even an unpaid internship at a newspaper is nearly impossible to land.

How do you get work noticed when your a SeaMonkey in a shark tank full of limitless content?

As much as we want to stick to our ethical standards we learned in Journalism school, what choice do we have?

Getting noticed today isn't about the quality of content, but the quantity of which it is pumped out onto the web.

Speed has surpassed caliber. Gossip now outweighs fact.

The nostalgia once felt from a newspaper in between someones finger tips have been replaced by the frustration of holding one. As much as twitter, facebook, and blogging have diluted journalistic integrity and editorial aptitude, it has become a necessary evil. Turning our cheeks to this technology would only stick young journalists in deeper stagnation and professional writing quick sand.

There are thousands of us out here. A countless number of 20-somethings who pine for the days when reading the paper was part of our social fabric.

No writer wants to write for free. But, what other option do we have?

Stick to our guns, wait it out, and hope society reverts backwards?

In a 24/7 mobile media culture, what evidence suggests that will happen?

The only option for most of us is to blog with ferocity, tweet and share with intensity, and hope blind luck trips us like an uneven sidewalk.

Trust me when I say we all have pride. But, in this current economical and sociological climate, pride is going to have to take a backseat to gainful employment.

Most of your columns are dead on. On this issue however, Go Fish.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The NBA Needs to Follow Tinseltown's Lead

The NBA is a lot like the royal wedding. We can watch the ceremony on TV in all of its glitz and glamour, but the reception behind closed doors is where Prince Charles probably strips down to his thermal long-john's attempting to do the worm, while William and Kate celebrate their nuptials with the electric slide.

The NBA playoffs have been exciting, drama-filled, and star-studded, but its collective bargaining agreement behind the scenes is getting increasingly uncomfortable. An NBA season next year is as certain as the timetable for when our troops will be getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. One thing is for sure: The NBA hasn't been this popular since Air Jordan was winning championships with the Chicago Bulls. The Knicks became relevant again, the Heat self-proclaimed by Lebron James as the"Heatles" invaded the eastern conference. Derrick Rose, who was named the league's MVP is as exciting as he is humble. Kevin Durant is as unselfish a scoring champion as they come, and Memphis and Oklahoma City are relevant playoff teams. The league appears to be flourishing more than ever.

The hardwood of a basketball floor appears flawless to the fan in the stands, but the maintenance worker knows there are small cracks within. This small crack is a $300 million dollar one. This is the number the NBA is in the red for this season. Not exactly the banner year commissioner David Stern was hoping for. This week NBA players balked at rollbacks in existing contracts, a hard salary cap and a larger share of basketball related income -- 57 percent of which is guaranteed to the players under terms of the existing labor agreement, which expires June 30. The legal jargon can get tediously complex. The best way for me to explain the NBA's biggest issue is by comparing it to my favorite TV Show, Entourage.

A casual fan of the series would assume that Vincent Chase, played by Adrian Grenier is the star of the show and therefore makes the most money. Or maybe Eric played by Kevin Connolly, Vince's best friend and manager whose name has first billing in the opening credits. But, the actor who makes the most is Super Agent Ari Gold played by Jeremy Piven. Adrian and Kevin make $200,000 an episode respectfully, but Jeremy is in a class all his own earning $350,000 a pop.


Because he's the catalyst, the cause for all of the effects that transpire in the show and the driver of the funny bus, while everyone else are really just passengers. If the show is a band, he's the front man. More eyes tune into Entourage because of Ari and most fans would leave it if he was gone. There in lies his value and appropriate pay grade in comparison to his cast mates. I think it's time the National Basketball Association took a page out of Hollywood's book. If not, we could be seeing two of our countries most popular sports locked out next season.

The bad news for the NBA is there's no guarantee fans will flock back in droves like people will to the NFL. The NFL could disappear into the depths of Mordor for a decade and it would come back without skipping a beat. We have too much invested in football from betting games, tailgating, and fantasy leagues for it to go away. The NBA is enjoying bountiful success at the moment, but if they want to sustain it, they will have to fix how they pay their players.

The solution to avoid the NFL's current predicament is simple: Pay players per performance.

Why should a bench player make more annually than a team's star player? 

A Doctor doesn't make less than a Physicians Assistant. A sheriff doesn't get paid less than his deputy. The NBA is a face league and the continuation of overpaying for underachievers will alienate fans and bankrupt the league. A prime example of the gross miscalculation of how player's are currently being paid is Brandon Haywood, backup center for the Dallas Mavericks.  He is making eleven million dollars this season, $8,487 for every minute he's on the floor. He averaged a whooping four points and five rebounds a game in 18 minutes.

What other industry pays top dollar for crowning mediocrity?

Newly minted MVP Derrick Rose is making six million this year, not too shabby. But, his teammate Ronnie Brewer who averages three points a game and two rebounds is making almost 5 million. Kobe Bryant made almost 25 million this year, absurd in the real world but understandable market value in the basketball realm.  He's still one of the faces of the league and the best player on the NBA's most popular franchise. His jersey is a top-seller as are his shoes. Bryant is an international marketing machine.  NBA fans go to see stars and he's the closest thing to MJ we've ever had. Conversely, bench player Luke Walton made over five million this year, averaging one point and one rebound a game.

Anderson Varejao, center for the economically downtrodden Cleveland Cavaliers averaged nine points and nine rebounds and raked in a cool seven million. By far the most telling salary problem comes from Oklahoma City Thunder's payroll. Kevin Durant led the league in scoring this season, while Russell Westbrook has emerged as one of the league's premier point guards. They are arguably two of the ten best players in the NBA. Their teammate Nick Collison averaged four points and four rebounds this season. He made over 13 million, 3 million more than Durant and Westbrook combined.

Player's salaries should be congruent with contributions to their teams. In the case of an All-Star caliber player who is injury prone like Grant Hill was in Orlando or Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming were in Houston, they should have to pay back part of their salaries after missing a certain amount of games. This money would then be pumped back into the league. Player efficiency and plus/minus should also go into contract negotiations to help prove someones true value.

Finally, the NBA needs to educate current players on how to save and invest their money in safe and productive ways. Too many player's spend frivolously the day they sign their rookie contract and like any bad habit, it's not broken easily. A lot of players enter the NBA at 19-years-old, unable to balance a checkbook. They hire friends who turn out to be scam artists and it gets them into financial trouble. The story came out a few weeks ago that Lakers star, sixth-man of the year Lamar Odom pays the rent for 20-30 of his family members and friends. 20-30! Players aren't going to want to give up any portion of their salaries if they are supporting countless others.

The NFL and the NBA may be in short supply next season. Hey, at least Entourage is always on Demand.