Two requests: 1. Forgive me for writing about basketball two weeks in a row, and 2. Allow me to wonder aloud for a bit.
Last week, one of the most disappointing articles I read was about the rise and fall of Allen Iverson, the first overall pick of the 1996 NBA draft (to the Philadelphia 76ers) and the star of David Stern’s nightmares for well over a decade. Although he was an incredible player–a first ballot hall of famer–Iverson’s greatest impact is still felt off the court: the braids, the baggie clothes, his refusal to wear a suit and practice?! heavily affected the NBA we see today. Iverson’s brash swagger is (part of the) reason why the NBA has a dress code. In some ways, there is no Lil Wayne the public figure without Iverson. The article about Iverson today is heartbreaking. He’s lost most of the money he made. The folks he spent most of that money on have seemingly disappeared. By many accounts he’s an alcoholic. And without basketball, Iverson is unmoored, to say the least. He’s also alone and estranged from his family, including his ex-wife and childhood sweetheart, their children, and the children Iverson had with other women during their marriage.
Two years after Iverson entered the NBA, Sports Illustrated published its now famous Where’s Daddy? issue. The cover featured Khalid Minor, the child of former NBA player Greg Minor, with a basketball. He is flanked by words describing what Sports Illustrated called the “startling” number of pro athletes who were absentee fathers. The feature article describes, in detail, the stories of several women, their children, and their attempts to be acknowledged by these pro athletes. Now, Iverson is not mentioned in the article. Yet his impact on the game and the culture, the Post article about his current dire straits, and this Sports Illustrated expose have significantly colored the way I look at today’s NBA.
For those of you who don’t follow the sport, the NBA playoffs are well underway. As such, committed fans are treated to series that go too long, fashion shows before and after the game, and boring and rather predictable press conferences. What else do we see, though? Players and their children. Perhaps its the blackcelebritykids era we live in, but the NBA’s biggest stars–LeBron, Kobe, D-Wade, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony–and some of the more marginal players seem to always be flanked by their children. They’re at the new conferences, on Youtube, in commercials, on reality televisions shows. They’re always around. We know their names.
And it’s all very cute, right? Daddy and his kid(s). How much of it, though, is part of the more respectable branding of the NBA? The unspoken partner to the NBA dress code? Or the (sub)conscious response by today’s players to those, like Iverson who came before them? I like Little CP3 as much as the next person, but it’s hard not to wonder if Mr. Stern is smiling at Chris Paul’s fatherly attentiveness. After all, the President notwithstanding, these players are the most recognizable black men in the world. And if little Kiyan Anthony sitting courtside watching his pops get buckets also helps the re-branding efforts of the NBA and black masculinity and patriarchy… Well, that’s a peculiar after-taste that displeases the palate, yes?