In the white squall of media coverage surrounding the Denver Nuggets of late -- and I do mean "white" -- the criticism has been flying like a Southern pilot on the Concorde: fast and racist.
Take the latest Carmelo Anthony smack-my-bitch-up incident against the Knicks this Saturday in New York, a city that only overpowers you with sudden wafts of inexplicable shit-smelling air 73 percent of the time. A hard foul in the waning minutes of a blowout leads to a mini-brawl, culminating in Melo cold-cocking Mardy Collins in the face, then back-peddling across the court — which, let's face it, Melo, was sort of bitch-made. But Melo's retreat aside, that's all that happened: a player smacked a player. And that player was suspended for fifteen games.
Fights in the NBA are nothing new, but in the long shadow of Ron Artest beating up an entire arena, such incidents are treated more severely. It's kind of like how some terrorists flew some planes into some buildings and now we aren't allowed to travel with shampoo.
But why are fights in the NBA such a big deal, anyway? Hockey players fight all the time and they don't have to explain why. And look at baseball: Slugfests and brawls occur multiple times a season, and though many of those players are suspended, none of them are forced to endure the same sort of treatment and disappointment and vilification that Carmelo is right now.
When Jason Varitek gave Alex Rodriguez a face-full of catcher's mitt in a mid-summer clash between the Yankees and the Red Sox in 2004, sparking a bench-clearing brawl, Varitek was not only celebrated for it, the move was widely seen as a heroic catalyst that turned the Red Sox season around, helping the team win the World Series. You didn't see people shining a spotlight on Varitek, making him bow his head and justify his egregious behavior, like they are with Melo right now.
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The difference? Baseball is a white sport, a safe sport. Basketball is a black sport, full of street toughs whom we can't have flexing their muscles and getting too irate -- because who knows what kind of hell would break loose, right? But Artest was a freak incident. Get over it.
And check out this quote from some marketing firm about Melo highlighted on the cover of the Denver Post yesterday: "The public and corporate America are now questioning who this athlete really is." I'm sorry, did you say corporate America? Who gives a shit? Look, we all know Melo has his hands in a lot of pies here -- I can't tell you how many times me and a nervous lady have had to use the C-Mel Home Pregnancy Kit -- but if corporate America is surprised by a 22-year-old street baller from Baltimore acting like a 22-year-old street baller from Baltimore, then I think we're going to need to order another round of focus groups here, boys. If anything, that punch will sell more shoes. Didn't we learn fifteen-some-odd years ago that the thug image sells?
But the Post isn't the only media outlet hopelessly outdated and quasi-racist in its appraisal of the current Nuggets team. Rocky columnist Bernie Lincicome reacted to Allen Iverson coming to Denver as if the town negro was taking his daughter to prom. In a December 15 column, Lincicome called Iverson a punk, a poser, a garden slug and lazy, and offered such quips as this: "He would not be a bargain for the Nuggets, except that maybe Iverson and Carmelo Anthony would need only the single hairdresser." Boo-yah, that's a punch-line! Oh, man, you're fucking hilarious, Lincicome. Because they both have the cornrows, right? Ha, ha, what a good joke. I love when we get to talk about how black people dress and act different than us. Hey, Bernie, the Improv called from 1986, they want you to headline. Good luck!
I think it's time they called a joint editorial meeting over at the Denver Newspaper Agency and, I don't know, maybe bring in some slam poets and a rapper or two. Because it's time for these papers to realize what marketers did at the dawn of hip hop. That this urban, street, call-it-what-you-will culture reflected in the lifestyle of many NBA athletes — a culture that clueless suburbanites dismiss as thuggery or somehow disrespectful -- is here to stay. Oh, and it's also quite profitable. Just ask Urban Outfitters. — Adam Cayton-Holland