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Playing “Political” Hoops

Recently, celebrity couple Jay-Z and Beyonce–who often traipse around awards ceremonies and other events as if they are the emperor and empress of a nation to which all young rappers and other wannabes are begging for citizenship–were criticized by civil rights leader and entertainer Harry Belafonte for their lack of political involvement. Beyonce’s camp. who is generally mum when criticisms are lobbed at the star, responded in part by publishing a list of her philanthropic efforts, consequently expressing either a lack of comprehension or attempting to conflate philanthropy and political activism to inattentive yet interested parties.

During the same time period, ESPN published LZ Granderson’s article about the “political” Michael Jordan, which discusses Jordan’s reluctance to express any political affiliation during (the prime of) his career. Granderson cites Jordan’s most infamous effort to remain apolitical: His Airness’ “Republican’s buy sneakers, too,” retort when Harvey Gantt’s campaign asked him for an endorsement. Granderson speculates about why Jordan chose to participate in the Obama Classic, a fundraiser for the POTUS’ campaign that featured several current NBA stars and up-and-comers. Granderson considers Jordan’s nearly unshakable wealth, his friendship with NBA commissioner David Stern, who co-hosted the event, or simply regret for that earlier gaffe for Jordan’s recent political “activism.” Although Granderson omits that Jordan’s first political endorsement was in support of the presidential candidate, then-Senator Bill Bradley, a former basketball player, the point is well taken. After all, although the Obama Classic is a fundraiser for the campaign of a basketball crazy Chicago Bulls-loving president, Jordan’s refusal to say anything negative about a blatant racist for the sake of sneaker sales makes nearly any political endeavor seem radical–or does it?

The combination of Belafonte’s words about Bey and Jay in combination with the slew of young basketball stars at the Obama Classic and Jordan’s participation, compel me to once again publicly ruminate on just how radical supporting Obama is at this point. After all, one need not read Bill Rhoden’s $40 Million Slaves to see how decidedly apolitical contemporary black athletes tend to be, whether or not Belafonte calls them out. Although the game’s biggest stars, namely LeBron and Kobe were absent from the event–although injuries, age, and a need for a vacation could easily explain them not being there–the fact that a sizable number of the NBA’s talent participated (surely, the appearance of Master Mr. Stern helped), leave me with a couple of thoughts: either these athletes want to use their voices for something being selling sneakers and soft drinks, or supporting the POTUS isn’t really all that controversial.

I trend to the latter thought. As much as Jordan’s participation warrants an ESPN article, I’m afraid that Kyrie Irving, ‘Melo (My Man), et. al. showing up to shoot hoops for the President not only reiterates that these guys are probably just supporting a guy who admires their skills, but that black athletes, like Jay and Bey, still belong to the Dollar Party. A rubric laid, in part, by Mr. Jordan.

Maybe eyebrows will be worth raising if and when a notable athlete supports an effort of someone whose goal is to shift the conditions that often result in making it to the NBA as an actual viable option to leave poverty. Until then, I’ll just shrug the next time I hear about some NBA hooper playing H.O.R.S.E. with the POTUS. At some point we have to move beyond how impressed we are by just seeing black folks in The White House. When Jim Brown is kicking it on the South Lawn, maybe then he’ll be my Funk President.