Heat Wave Washes Away American Ideals: LeBron James, the Media, and the American Soul

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            Millions of Americans had pleaded with basketball superstar LeBron James to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and come to their city when he became a free agent. Bloggers, media pundits, and reporters of every kind seemed to devote much of their lives to figuring out what team James would be a part of for the 2011 season. 

            The speculation ended, Thursday, July 8, when ESPN opened a full hour of prime time for some pretend-journalism and an interview with James, who 28 minutes into the infomercial announced he was leaving Cleveland and going to the Miami Heat.  Floridians were ecstatic. With multimillionaire James joining multimillionaires Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, they were sure the Heat would once again win an NBA championship, something that had eluded James in Cleveland. The day after the ESPN show, the man known in Cleveland as "King James" held court with Wade and Bosh in Miami's American Airlines arena, surrounded by 13,000 screaming fans, all of whom watched South Beach and Miami city officials give the three superstars keys to their cities. Two days after the announcement, Miami Heat fans began buying replicas of James jerseys, with his new number, 6, stitched across the back. Most NBA jerseys sell for about $50; these were priced up to $150.

            In other basketball franchise cities, millions of fans who thought their team would have a chance to sign the man who wears a tattoo, "Chosen 1" across his back, wailed incessantly, as if their high school's Prom Queen had just rejected their mournful bid to go steady. On the day of the "decision," ABC-TV, a sister company to ESPN, devoted two segments on its nightly news to the forthcoming spectacular. The other networks settled for one segment. Following the "decision," the TV networks and local stations ran "breaking news" crawls beneath scheduled shows. The next morning, newspapers gave the announcement front page coverage, with extensive commentary inside. The New York Daily News devoted almost its entire front page to a picture of a scowling James, and the whining headline, "Hey, New York, we're the greatest city in the world, so . .  .WHO CARES!" The New York Post front page headline was a bold "LeBum."

            But, it was Cleveland where hatred unified a city of about 450,000, part of a metropolitan area of about 2.2 million. Within minutes after James announced his decision, the Cleveland fans threw his cardboard images into trash cans and burned jersey replicas, the same ones they had proudly worn for seven years. Within two days, they began tearing down a Nike-sponsored 10-story mural that featured LeBron James, his head thrown back, his oversized arms spread out, saviour-like. This city would not have any graven image of the traitor they once worshipped as a "hometown hero." Thousands even proclaimed they would boycott all companies—including Allstate, Nike, and McDonald's—that have endorsement contracts with James. Between tears and rage, Cleveland fans, aided by numerous sports commentators, claimed that the James defection would cause the city to lose at least $20 million in revenue and, for all we know, doom it to be a third world country. A bitter Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who had not received the courtesy of even a pre-announcement phone call from James, lashed out in a letter to his fans, calling the decision, a "shameful display of selfishness and betrayal," and that the hometown Cavaliers, unlike James, "have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you." But, Gilbert's most important statement might have been his observation of the entire process. Although Gilbert would have praised James and the TV coverage had he remained in Cleveland, the Cavaliers' owner pointed to an underlying truth. The decision, said Gilbert, "was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his 'decision' unlike anything ever 'witnessed' in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment."

            Even when the hyperbole is stripped away, a truth remains. For at least a week, it didn't seem there was any other news. But there was.

            On the day that LeBron James announced he was going to Miami, and the media and a couple of hundred million Americans sat in anticipation of the "Decision," another heat wave washed over America. In this one, three people died from the heat wave that gripped the northeast; hundreds more, mostly senior citizens and the homeless, had to be treated for heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

            On the day that LeBron James announced he was going to Miami, and the media and a couple of hundred million Americans sat in anticipation of the "Decision," about 15 million Americans were unemployed, and 46 million Americans had no health insurance.

            On the day that LeBron James announced he was going to Miami, and the media and a couple of hundred million Americans sat in anticipation of the "Decision," the BP oil spill in the Gulf was in its 79th day. On that day, 2.5 million gallons of oil polluted the Gulf. As much as 160 million gallons have now leaked into the Gulf, destroying wildlife, plants, and the livelihoods of several hundred thousands residents.

            On the day that LeBron James announced he was going to Miami, and the media and a couple of hundred million Americans sat in anticipation of the "Decision," three British and two American soldiers and two UN workers were killed. American deaths in Afghanistan since the war began now total 1,171; about 6,700 have been wounded.

            On the day that LeBron James announced he was going to Miami, and the media and a couple of hundred million Americans sat in anticipation of the "Decision," at least 60 civilians died from bombs in Iraq; about 360 were wounded. Since the beginning of the American-led invasion of Iraq, 4,412 American soldiers have died; almost 32,000 have been wounded, according to Defense Department records. Civilian casualties are estimated at 110,000, according to the Associated Press. Other reliable sources place the totals well over a half-million civilian deaths from hostile action.

            On the day of the "Decision," if you added up the yearly salaries of only the American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the wars began, they would not equal the money that LeBron James makes in just one year. And, that, more than anything else, says a lot about America.

 

[Walter Brasch's latest books are the witty and probing Sex and the Single Beer Can, a look at American culture and the mass media; and Sinking the Ship of State, an overview of the Bush–Cheney presidency. Both are available at amazon.com, and other stores. You may contact Brasch at Brasch@bloomu.edu]

 

 

 

The NBA gets political as lawsuits against Arizona pile up

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Remember how Arizona’s Gov. Brewer signed off on a bill that allows police to stop someone based on “reasonable suspicion” of them being undocumented and when asked about the obvious racial profiling implications of the law, said that she “didn’t know” what an undocumented person looked like? Following the trend that Jon Stewart perfected, basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant made a bold statement against the law by wearing a “Do I look illegal?” T-shirt at the NBA’s Western Conference Finals in Los Angeles on Monday.

The buzz on the street is that Vanessa Bryant’s statement was a direct retort to L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s comments in support of Arizona’s new law, SB1070. Phil Jackson surprised a number of people when, during an interview with ESPN columnist J.A. Adande, he expressed support for the anti-immigrant law and practically chastised the management and players of the Phoenix Sons basketball team for taking an active stance against the law. In Jackson’s opinion, the law is doing nothing but “adapting” Federal immigration law to the state, by “giving it some teeth to be able to enforce it.” Given the coach’s strong Democrat leanings in the past, Adande was surprised at his take on the matter. In response to the way that the Phoenix Sons’ owner, general manager and key players like Steve Nash have spoken out against the measure, Coach Jackson said-

I don’t think teams should get involved in the political stuff. And I think this one’s still kind of coming out to balance as to how it’s going to be favorably looked upon by our public. If I heard it right the American people are really for stronger immigration laws, if I’m not mistaken. Where we stand as basketball teams, we should let that kind of play out and let the political end of that go where it’s going to go.

Given that the National Basketball Association has come out and called the law “disturbing,” it is no surprise that a lot of people were counting on the L.A. Lakers to take a stand against it. Considering the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution to boycott business with Arizona, there were high expectations that as representatives of an area with the largest Hispanic population in the country, the Lakers would make a symbolic gesture in opposition to the law. However, apart from Vanessa Bryant’s fashion statement and a small protest staged outside the Staples center on the eve of the game, there was very little politics involved in the game on Monday. Timothy Rutten, in an impassioned op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, expressed his deep disappointment at Jackson’s position, and urged the players of the Lakers team to take a stand. Speaking about the “clarification” that coach Jackson later offered to the press, Rutten writes-

It won’t do. Jackson’s original statement was not a declaration of neutrality, nor was it an argument for holding sport above politics. It was an endorsement of the Arizona law and a criticism of another NBA team that opposes it…If the Lakers, who have given this community so much joy and excellence, close their eyes to Arizona’s affront to so many of its members, then at least one disappointed fan will be withholding his support, and inviting as many others as will listen to do the same.

But while coach Phil Jackson and his team steered clear of mixing politics with sports, the mayors of the two cities (Los Angeles and Phoenix) used the opportunity to expose the absurdity of Arizona’s law. Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, both of whom have taken a strong stance against the law, turned the tradition of a friendly wager between sporting cities into a political statement about the harsh enforcement law. In a conscious move to use humor to draw attention to the law, Mayor Villaraigosa sent a letter to Mayor Gordon proposing that if the Lakers lost, Los Angeles would pay by accepting Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. Taking a stab at the many allegations of racial profiling against Sheriff Arpaio, Mayor Villaraigosa suggested that “Perhaps a stint in Los Angeles would teach him that you cannot deduce immigration status simply by looking at a person.” He joked about the implications of the law saying that if the Phoenix Sons star player, Canadian Steve Nash, was stopped as per the law, they would happily welcome him in L.A. Conversely, if the Sons lost, the Mayor joked that L.A. would sent across the Republican candidates for California governor Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman, since they are “currently battling for supremacy on the issue of illegal immigration. Perhaps some time in Arizona would show them both that being governor isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.” Mayor Gordon accepted the wager.

The Lakers beat the Sons hollow on Monday, and while the wager remains in jest, a number of civil rights group went ahead and filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Arizona and SB1070 this week. As planned, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF); and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) challenged the new law on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, violating the 1st and 4th amendments; that it encroached on the Federal government’s jurisdiction over immigration policy; and that it would lead to racial profiling. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of labor groups, a Tucson church, social service organizations and individuals, seeks to halt the controversial law from going into effect, something that is slated to happen on July 29th.

By this point, opposition to SB1070 has come from diverse quarters, and taken the form of television spoofs, protests, fashion statements, wagers, and lawsuits, to name a few. We only hope that this is not in vain and this extreme measure is halted before it is too late.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

On Cinco de Mayo, we have music and games in support of Arizona's immigrants

From the Restore Fairness blog.

By the time I get to Arizona…By the time I get to Arizona….

What happens if you get to Arizona and you are stopped by the cops there and you don’t have any ID on you? Once the new anti-immigrant law, SB1070, comes into effect, its likely you will be detained. DJ Spooky and Public Enemy’s Chuck D think that’s ridiculous and take a stab at what that might be like. Both of them felt strongly about the ways in which such a law engenders racism and decided to rework the classic Public Enemy protest song, “By the Time I Get to Arizona”, originally written to protest the Arizona state government’s 1993 decision not to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. This time around, the lyrics reflect their discontent at “those who don’t learn from the past with DJ Spooky seeing it as a “21st century look in the rear view mirror”. Check out the catchy tune.

Chuck D and his wife Theresa aren’t far behind. The rapper condemns the architect of the law Russell Pearce, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and the Arizona State Senate for supporting a law that he calls “racist and deceitful.” Chuck D, known for his socially and politically-conscious style of rapping and for trying to bridge the racial gap between “black and brown” makes-

a call to action urging fellow musicians, artists, athletes, performers, academics and production companies to refuse to work in Arizona until officials not only overturn this bill, but recognize the human rights of immigrants.

He also calls on the world of sports to “speak up in defense of our brothers and sisters being victimized in Arizona, because things are only getting worse.” And the world of sports, a space that often stays well away from politics, has spoken, with players, sports associations and teams calling the law unjust. A number of Major League Baseball (MLB) players have taken a stand against Arizona’s new law, calling it an “immoral” violation of human rights. On Cinco de Mayo, the NBA team, the Phoenix Sons, made a statement against SB1070 by wearing special jerseys that had their team name written in Spanish, “Los Suns”, for a big game against the San Antonio Spurs. The jerseys, usually reserved for a once a year occasion on the NBA’s “Noche Latina” program were worn to make a political statement.

In announcing the Suns would wear their Spanish jerseys for Game 2 against the San Antonio Spurs — which falls on the Mexican holiday known as Cinco de Mayo — Suns owner Robert Sarver went out of his way to knock Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement law known as Senate Bill 1070.

The young Latina pop sensation Shakira, who has met with White House officials to talk about immigration issues and even got an exclusive meeting with President Obama to lobby for children’s education, was quick to fly to Phoenix to offer her support to Latino families that were suddenly fearful for themselves after the passage of SB1070. In an emotional and heartfelt piece in the Huff Post, she writes-

To the rest of the world, the United States represents the dream of a better life based on justice and freedom for everyone — no matter the color of your skin. This law goes against those values and against the principles of every American I know…This law not only hurts the whole state of Arizona but the fundamental core values of America, the fabric of society itself. The true victory of a democratic nation is when its people can walk the streets without fear… This law won’t bring safety or protect America; it will cause chaos. It won’t create unity; it will create division.

Her words found resonance in Nobel Peace prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who expressed his deep sadness at the passage of the Arizona law that targets immigrants. Recognizing the fact that Arizona suffers from a broken immigration system he said-

A solution that fails to distinguish between a young child coming over the border in search of his mother and a drug smuggler is not a solution…An immigrant who is charged with the crime of trespassing for simply being in a community without his papers on him is being told he is committing a crime by simply being…These are the seeds of resentment, hostilities and in extreme cases, conflict…With the eyes of the world now on them, Arizona has the opportunity to create a new model for dealing with the pitfalls, and help the nation as a whole find its way through the problems of illegal immigration. But to work, it must be a model that is based on a deep respect for the essential human rights Americans themselves have grown up enjoying.

Let’s hope that all these efforts in the name of dignity, human rights, equality and peace do not fall on deaf ears. Write to President Obama and let him know the need for immigration reform now.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

This is What Peace Can Look Like, Afghans Win Gold in Basketball

So much hope.  Last summer I blogged from Kabul about Afghans in sports and predicted that they would become a world power once the futile, pointless nonsense of war was over:

I saw a couple of boys, maybe eight or nine, laughing and throwing a sock stuffed with sand or something, all you can afford for a ball. Their arms were great, and they were winging that thing 70, 80 feet and nailing each other, just fooling around, and any little league coach would have drafted them. Afghan is a mountain country, and everyone has the balance, coordination, and endurance of a mountain goat. After 9/11 Special Forces reported seeing Taliban fighters hopping from rock to rock barefoot in the snow...When these people pick up baseball bats and gymnastic equipment, and start getting proper nutrition...That will be something.

Sure enough, today it was reported that at the South Asia Games Afghanistan won a Gold Medal in basketball:

First the Afghan basketball team beat Pakistan, then Sri Lanka, then India, and in the semi-finals they crushed Nepal 104 to 36. Today, Afghanistan did it once again, and beat India one more time to win a gold medal in basketball in the 2010 South Asian Games (SAG) being held in Bangladesh.

The news was reported in the poignantly-named site "Good Afghan News: Afghan News That Will Make You Happy."

All told, they so far have 6 medals, the Gold, and 5 Bronze, 4 in Judo and 1 in weightlifting.

Afghans are tired of war.  One competition bodybuilder -- bodybuilding is the all rage here, even if they use old car parts and pulleys for equipment -- said last year:

"We are tired of war.  We want to be healthy. We want to be famous in the world, not for our fighting, not for war. We want to be famous for our good behavior, our health."

Next to the Afghan hero Massoud, the likeness you'll see most of on billboards in Afghanistan is of Arnold Schwarznegger.  Whatever his politics, he is seen to embody the values of discipline, determination, and persistence.  In Kabul on almost any night somewhere you can catch a showing of "Pumping Iron."

Although the Taliban is doing the usual dance of rejecting talks before all US forces leave, a radio report from Kabul indicates that the back-channel talk, i.e. what really counts, is continuing.

"Plan to negotiate with Taliban leaders gains world support"

A top security adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai said today that the government is talking with Taliban leadership. He said the meetings were ongoing on the "local, regional, national and broader political level." This contradicts a statement released over the weekend by Taliban leadership that denied that they were talking with the Afghan government.

The US State Department and the Obama administration is having an "internal debate" over Karzai's overtures for peace talks with Taliban leadership.  That the Taliban high command is even considering this is a sign of weakness, and readiness to renounce Al Qaeda and come in from the cold.  The Pakistan Daily reports:

   The Taliban leader in Afghanistan, Mullah Muhammad Omar, is also ready to break with his al-Qaida allies in order to make peace in the country, according to the former Pakistani intelligence officer who trained him.

   Brigadier Sultan Amir Tarar (known as Colonel Imam), a retired officer with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, said: "The moment he gets control, the first target will be the al-Qaida people. He wants peace in the country, he doesn’t want adventure. He has had enough of that."

The Taliban leadership's relation to Al Qaeda, who they often refer to as "the Arabs," has always been problematic.  Afghan culture and its language groups are descendants of the Indo-European Farsi, spoken in Iran and distantly related to English rather than the Semitic languages of the Middle East.

In an interview with bin Laden's fourth eldest son Omar, Reuters reported in a piece entitled "No Love Lost for Al Qaeda" that:

Omar bin Laden witnessed a 1998 encounter in which the Taliban leader demanded the al Qaeda chief leave Afghanistan following al Qaeda bombings of East African U.S. embassies that drew U.S. strikes on Afghanistan.

In tense exchanges, Osama bin Laden won a reprieve by telling Mullah Omar the demand was "giving in to infidel pressure" and therefore un-Islamic, the book says.

But according to this account, Mullah Omar ended the encounter by refusing to eat a meal bin Laden's men had prepared and did not bid farewell, an insult his father had to accept.

"He (Osama bin Laden) could not afford to get into a battle with the Taliban. He would lose, and he knew it," wrote Omar.

 

Perhaps the war contractors are seeing all those billions slipping away.  There is no good reason to avoid talking to the leadership, since they resemble nothing more than a spent force looking for a face-saving way out.  Any posts they are offered will be largely ceremonial.  Afghanistan will never return to Shiara law.

Please join Robert Naiman's campaign to push the Obama administration into supporting talks.  It's okay; Afghans are rather used to shooting at each other one day and then eating goat stew together the next.  It's no big deal.  It's a warrior society.  Go to Robert's End the War in Afghanistan Action Page and send an email to your representatives.  

Perhaps this long-suffering people's time in the sun can finally begin, after the tragic misfortune of being born in a place which powerful empires consider a "chess piece," to be buffetted in one direction or another by backing one extremeist faction over another as the people starve.  It's time for the real games to begin.

The diarist is co-founder of Jobs for Afghans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presidential Hoops

One of my attractions to Obama's campaign from the very start was that he is an authentic sports fan.  There are so many politicians whose attempts to talk sports are truly cringe-worthy, it is so great to have someone where sports are an intrinsic part of who he is as a person.  His appearance on ESPN back when he was still debating about running was an honest boy's delight in appearing on the network of record for sports. When asked on the rope line by unknowing supporters whether he's for the Cubs, he always shoots back without hesitation "No, White Sox, South side." Spoken like a true fan.  

So I was very pleased they brought up his love of basketball last night on 60 Minutes which elicited a great response that he played a pick-up game the morning of Iowa and South Carolina but failed to before Nevada and New Hampshire.  And now they play ball every caucus or primary day.  He's not going to make that mistake again.

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