Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Is Etan Thomas going to call out Greg Oden and the Blazers?

Henry Abbot, over at Truehoop, points us to a blog post about how much easier it is to root for the Blazers now that they have shed their "Jailblazers" image.

The first line that Henry excerpted caught my attention:
[Greg Oden] plans to live on a reasonable stipend and not partake in the typical excesses of the NBA lifestyle.
I can already hear you saying "What's the big deal?" Normally, I'd agree with you, but it caught my eye because I thought it had particular resonance with the mini-brouhaha that erupted in mid-June over some comments by Andrew Bogut that were quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald. Basically, Bogut said that he wouldn't want to raise his children in an environment where you're supposed to flaunt your money, and he strongly implied (actually, he more or less came right out and said) that the majority of NBA players are arrogant, like to spend money (often foolishly), and have multiple girlfriends.

About a month later, Etan Thomas (currently on the Washington Wizards) responded to Bogut's comments in a piece posted on Slam Online. He took Bogut to task for not knowing what he was talking about and making generalizations, and possibly implied that Bogut's comments might be the result of racial bias (From Thomas' response: "You're equating bad decisions with "ghetto upbringing," leading me to believe that you are referring to an exclusive group of players. Interesting..."). I thought Thomas' response was a bit uneven, but I certainly agreed with (what I took to be) his main point that Bogut had made some very sweeping assertions without any (non-anecdotal) evidence to back them up.

Especially since Truehoop had been the first site to really bring Bogut's comments to the forefront (or, at least, Truehoop was the first site where I saw them covered) and Henry had predicted that Bogut would probably receive a rude reception from some of his fellow NBA players this season as a result of his comments, I expected any post on Truehoop to be especially sensitive to comments that might be interpreted as being similar in substance to Bogut's statements. So when I saw the first line in the blog post quoted by Truehoop, my antennae was raised.

It isn't surprising for a puff piece on a rookie to talk about how the rookie is planning to live responsibly and not let the hype get to them. In that context, the line about "excesses" could have been nothing more than filler (it should also be noted that this line was used to summarize a longer article, not a line from the article itself). However, in reading the article that the original blog post references, I think my initial sensitivity to resonance with the Bogut situation turned out to be well-founded.

The quote from the article that really caught my eye was this one:
"How many No. 1 picks would be driving a Ford Taurus?" said Blazers assistant coach Bill Bayno, who ran Oden's workouts last week. "He's not really caught up in all the hype. And that's nice. I think the NBA needs that. A lot of these guys are caught up in the wrong things: money and cars and bling. Greg's just a good dude; a down-to-earth kid. I don't think he'll let the money or the fame change him, which is rare in the NBA."
I was expecting the article to have some comments that made the same point as Bogut, but with a much different tone--talking about how Greg Oden was living responsibly, and only implicitly contrasting this lifestyle with that of other NBA players (after all, there's no need to talk about a player living responsibly if people assume that most players are living that way). And, for the most part, the article follows this script. Oden's budget and down-to-earth lifestyle are described, and Oden is certainly never quoted saying anything negative about other NBA players. The quote by Bayno, however, strikes me as basically the same as Bogut's comments in both tone and substance (even down to the focus on cars and "bling").

Somehow, I don't expect Bayno's statement to get the same attention as Bogut's statements. I think the reaction to Bogut's comments was less about what was said (since these types of comments about NBA culture have been around for years), and more about who said them. People (myself included) tend to have a circle-the-wagons mentality when people outside of "their" group criticize some aspect of the group's behavior. Bogut, despite having been in the US for six or seven years at this point, still qualifies as an outsider. He is a high-profile, white non-American in a league whose culture is defined by black Americans. Bayno, as an assistant coach, is much lower profile than Bogut. And while he's white (at least when I googled him the picture that I found was of a white guy--I had no idea who he was before I looked him up), he is American, which I think counts for a lot in making the insider-outsider distinction in this context.

If someone makes uninformed comments, then let's hold their feet to the fire. But let's not pretend we're upset with the message (or that the message must clearly be wrong) if we're really just unhappy with the identity of the messenger.


Louis said...

Rather than debate which messengers to shoot and which ones to listen to I wish there were a way to get beyond anecdotal information to hard numbers. Is there any information out there about the savings rate of NBA players? Is there a way to statistically prove that, for example, yes, most NBA players do drive nice cars but no, they don’t pay for them because some dealer gave them the car for publicity reasons. Can we find out the savings-rate for NBA millionaires vs. other millionaires? Personally I think Oden should drive a Tesla when they come out next year. Sure it’s a $100,000 sports car but it’s all-electric so he’s offsetting his spending with environmental tenderness.

Sam Cohen said...

Fair enough, but I doubt anyone is actually going to undertake that study (although it would be interesting). I have a hard enough time finding all the statistical information I want about how players actually perform on the court, much less how they behave off of it!