Freshman year of college, I had a teammate named Rick.
Rick was White, about 6’5”, and fairly skilled despite his lack of athleticism. Rick wasn’t particularly great at anything, but competent at everything. He could play point guard in a pinch, was solid at boxing out for rebounds. Rick wasn’t a lights-out shooter, but you couldn’t leave him open.
Rick was what coaches would call a “heady” player — coachspeak for a player who’s not very talented, but (somewhat) makes up for it with a high basketball IQ.
Rick was a sophomore at a school (Penn State Abington) where, at the time, athletes could play only two years of sports. As a heady, dependable sophomore, Rick had earned the trust of Coach Mo, and it was clear why.
Playing two years at Abington meant Rick had pretty much squeezed all the juice out of his basketball potential (that’s a compliment).
Rick had been a key contributor the previous season before I got to Abington, where the team had won a league championship. When our starting back court — also both sophomores — became academically ineligible after the Fall semester my freshman year, Rick stepped into a Team Captain position. He was well-respected amongst his teammates, at least when it was time to play.
I always had one issue with Rick, though. He was a show-off-for-the-teacher type, a serial opportunist who was only encouraging to or hard on teammates when it was within earshot of our coach to earn himself a few “leadership” points.
One day in practice, we screwed up a play we were working on. I said something to Rick about it, loud enough that only Rick could hear me. Rick responded, loudly enough for everyone to hear it. “Dre, stop making excuses and just make the right play!” Coach Mo jumped in and piled onto me, even though he’d never heard what I’d said.
Rick was really good at that kind of thing. He did it to all the freshmen constantly. Coach Mo, who co-signed this behavior, was either too oblivious to notice, or he liked it enough to act like he didn’t. Naturally, this created factions within the team.
We did not win a championship that year.
I’d have been alright with taking shit from Rick if I’d known he was actually trying to help me. He could’ve made that obvious by taking me aside anytime and offering advice, how-to information, hell, even trashing my game if he wanted — but doing it one-on-one, where it was clear it was in my best interest. We were all together every day, after all. I never respected Rick’s making a show of his “leadership” in front of the coaching staff.
I told you that Rick was a good-enough player. When I think of him though, the showing off for coach is what I remember; it didn’t help that Rick was a privileged suburban kid with a very punchable face.
I hope Rick is doing alright these days.
You’re probably well aware that the NBA and its players have taken on speaking out about social justice, along with all the phrases / “movements” that come with such a position. Fine by me. If that’s what they — or, more accurately, the majority who have sway — want to do, they’re not hurting anyone. They have a right to free speech, and every consumer has a choice of whether or not tune in.
Players have publicly defended their choices by asserting that because they have the “platform” of the NBA from which to speak, they can draw attention and awareness to what matters to them.
Also fair game. They’re right: basketball players are the most visible athletes in America. What they say gets heard, and what they do gets seen — by their fans, at least, of which there are many.
What started to concern me was when players used the platforms of post game interviews and pregame “walkway” tunnels (where NBA cameras are keen to chronicle off-court fashion) to speak the names of Blacks who have died or been badly injured as suspects in interactions with police.
Names like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have been the most prominent.
Floyd was a childhood friend of former NBA player Stephen Jackson. The WNBA dedicated their entire season to Taylor, who got caught in the crossfire when police executed a search warrant at her home as part of a larger drug investigation.
I can understand people being emotional upon seeing (Floyd) or hearing about (Taylor) a Black person losing their lives while dealing with cops. And, when you’re emotional, talking about it is probably better than not talking about it.
But it started to get to the point where dropping these names seemed more like a gesture to a welcoming audience than anything else.
When Colin Kaepernick took a knee in 2016 to ”start a conversation” about racism and oppression and subsequently watched his NFL career go up in flames, the NBA watched quietly.
No NBA players kneeled then. They knew what the consequences were.
Now that kneeling is league-sponsored, media-approved and a woke-athlete rite of passage, everyone from women’s soccer to basketball to baseball and (soon) football wants to (ironically) take a stand. This ignores the fact that no one has come up with any actual strategy despite having four years to figure one out.
When NBA players bring up Breonna Taylor, they get likes and retweets and take social media victory laps, ushered through that lap by woke White leftist journalists who couldn’t be critical of NBA players even if they wanted to be (penalties: NBA banishment; social media lynching; loss of career).
It’s reminding me of Rick calling me out within earshot of Coach Mo to look like the leader that he wasn’t— and Coach Mo accepting it.
There’s no way to measure or to prove either side of this. I don’t know the NBA players or interact with them daily as I did with Rick back at Abington. I’m not implying that they’re being intentionally dishonest, maliciously using the names of Floyd, Taylor, et al. for attention, either.
Have you ever been to a Black Church? I liken what NBA players are doing now to a member of the congregation catching the holy ghost during a particularly powerful sermon. The energy of the environment swept you up in the hysteria. Group dynamics are real.
The NBA and its players are currently in two bubbles: the physical bubble in Disney World designed to keep out any COVID cases (according to reports, it’s working), and the thought bubble designed to block out anyone who might have a critical question or statement about all the BLM wokeness promoted by the league and players.
Both are working excellently.
To be clear: The NBA and its players are not “wrong” for their stance— the people they’re talking about aren’t here anymore to be offended by it. You could call it exploitative, you could call it cheap, or you could disagree with me and counter with your belief that the players really care about the lives of Taylor and Floyd aside from the attention they get from using their names.
Both are fair arguments.
Every time I see another t-shirt, or a player dropping a name and the social media sheep applauding it, though, I can’t help but to think of Rick.
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