Thursday, June 28, 2007

The only Andrew Bogut Post You're Gonna See

Another hiatus, but as I said in my last post, Ballintellectual isn’t your ‘2007 NBA Draft headquarters’ (though I will be blogging on and off during the draft tonight). The Best of the Rest feature has also hit a snag, I’m slowly working on the late ‘90s Indiana Pacers and the 1990’s Seattle Supersonics. But that’s a ways away.

A while ago, Milwakee center Andrew Bogut made comments about the excessive lifestyle of American players in which he hinted at a possible cultural devide between the big spending players of America and the foreign players.

“The public’s got it right - a lot of NBA stars are arrogant and like to spend lots of money and have lots of girlfriends and all that.
“The smarter guys don’t do that. They like to live a regular life and want to retire and be set up. About 80 per cent of them go broke by the time they retire or come close to it.”

When I first read these comments I found them interesting, one of the few instances where an NBA player talks to the media in a seemingly unfiltered manner. I figured others would read the quotes, say a bit about it, and the whole thing would blow over. That’s exactly what happened, and Bogut’s comments were quickly forgotten; that is, until DWil (perhaps the most polished, most skilled writer I’ve encountered in the NBA blogsphere) called out members of the internet media for their neglect of this topic. Reading Bogut’s words again, I was struck by how much he is really saying, and what the implications are for the NBA.

First and foremost, I do not believe that this is a race issue. I will be the first to admit that race has been an unspoken social dynamic in the NBA for decades, and it still is . I understand that the compulsion is there to say that Bogut’s comments reflect some sort of racial divide in the NBA, Bogut is a white man calling attention to spending patterns often associated with black hip-hop culture. However, whatever the origin, white American players in the NBA are often just as guilty of the behavior called out by Bogut. The most thugged out NBA player I’ve ever met was Travis Knight, who spoke with a drawl that I could barely decipher. Frankly, hip hop culture is so closely entangled with basketball culture that white players, especially those from urban areas, have quickly adopted it as their own. Bogut’s comments were not racially charged, they were nationally charged.

Bogut’s comments draw attention to an issue that goes undiscussed, but that I suspect has been growing exponentially since foreign players began coming to the league in droves. After condemning the league’s players for their love of “bling bling,” Bogut argued that “that’s just the way the culture is in America.” Bogut went on to claim that “its just the culture over there (in America). I would never want my child to be brought up in an environment like that, where if you have money you’re supposed to flaunt it and make everyone jealous… That’s why the NBA guys who come from other countries, the Europeans, all sort of stick together away from the game.”

Whether or not you agree with, or are offended by Bogut’s comments, they are clearly symptomatic of the fact that the increasing foreign presence in the league has consequences that go beyond the product on the court. Think about how hard it must be to be in this league as a 20 year old, over 3,000 miles from your home. You’re teammates, with whom you must share a bond, range from 18 year old kids from the inner city to 40 year old fathers. Perhaps you don’t even speak your language. It is natural to develop feelings of isolation. The NBA is fast becoming a mosaic of cultural backgrounds, and while this is a wonderful thing that is a great example of the global era, it must be very hard for many players.

In the weeks leading up to tonight’s draft, a point that I’ve seen made time and again about Yi Jianlian is that much of his success at this level will be predicated on whether he is drafted by an ‘accepting’ program, one that will naturally accommodate him not only on the court, but off it as well. Yao Ming was very fortunate to be drafted by Houston team that was willing to expend the resources necessary to make Yao feel at home and was also willing to give him time for his game to flourish. These facts point to how important integration is for international stars. The barriers between these players and the rest of the league goes beyond language, there are cultural issues as well. This, however, is not a bad thing, nor should it deter the NBA from its current direction in foreign markets. At every point in our history, when Americans have interacted with other peoples in a new environment, there has always been a period of integration. What is important is that this integration period remains peaceful (such as 19th Century European immigration which was embraced economically) rather than hurtful (such as early 20th Century Chinese immigration which was heavily regulated by harsh government laws and met with disdain from much of the population). To create a fully integrated NBA, it is only natural that there would be hard steps for individuals such as Bogut as well as for his American counterparts. Still, I am happy that these issues are no longer repressed by the league and its players because they are important. The rest of the world needs to see both the highs and the lows of global basketball, because in a lot of ways international sports represent the growing international flavor of society at large.

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