The Decision, Part II

Has it really been nearly four years? Why yes, it has.

On July 8th, 2010, LeBron James, known in some circles as The King, and others, as the “Best Basketball Player on the Planet, orchestrated a fantastical media extravaganza entitled “The Decision.” James had spent the first seven years of his career playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he amassed an impressive array of honors and recognition, including 6 All-Star appearances, and two League Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards…but zero NBA Titles.

Tomorrow night, the Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, NY, will host the 2014 NBA Draft. By the time the Draft officially ends in the wee hours of Friday morning, less than 96 hours (4 days) will remain until the onset of this year’s Free Agent Class. An always-important dimension of any NBA season took on added importance yesterday, as LeBron James’ agent, Rich Paul, announced that James will exercise the early termination option in his contract and become a Free Agent on July 1st.

In the original “Decision,” James, a native of Akron, Ohio, elected to leave near-by Cleveland, and “Take his talents to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat.” In Miami, he joined Heat star Dwayne Wade, and Toronto Raptor star Chris Bosh joined them both. The Big 3, as they have become known, went on an impressive run, appearing in 4 consecutive NBA Finals; losing to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2013, and the San Antonio Spurs in 2013, and losing in a rematch this year to those same Spurs.

It is important to note that this year’s LeBron Show will likely be very different than the media event of four years ago. Then, there was a fairly broad expectation that James would seriously consider leaving Cleveland, and little surprise when he did. This year, while it is certainly conceivable that he will leave MIA, it will not evoke much surprise if he ultimately opts to stay in South Beach.

It is no surprise that LeBron chose to opt out. MIA was summarily spanked by San Antonio in The Finals. They managed one victory, and that, only by a couple of points, while losing the other four games by 15 points or more, including two maulings at home in MIA. Ultimately, James may not wish to leave the Heat, but he certainly wants Pat Riley and the Heat to ensure that the team is more competitive moving forward. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d surmise Riley got the message loud and clear.

In addition to the possibility that the outcome (leaving his current team) may be different, my gut suggests he will not replicate the elaborate backdrop for his 2014 “Decision.” Mr. James endured a resounding backlash for his handling of that situation. While I did not find it as off-putting as some did, LeBron has usually been amazingly media-savvy. He is one of the more successful product pitchmen in contemporary culture. My expectation is, no matter what his “Decision,” LeBron will communicate it in a more understated manner than he did in 2010.

In the coming days, there will likely be quite a buzz regarding the possible destination that LeBron choose. Some have reckoned that he may lead the formation of a new Big 3 with Carmelo Anthony as a key player. There are a few teams that stand out in the mix, including the Houston Rockets, where he could join Superman and the Beard, also known as Dwight Howard and James Harden, the Chicago Bulls, who are also expected to vie for the services of Carmelo Anthony, the Los Angeles Lakers, who could create the cap space, but would not have a robust supporting cast, were they to do so, the Dallas Mavericks, though Dirk Nowitzki would likely have to absorb a sizeable pay cut, the Los Angeles Clippers, though they might have to jettison both DeAndre Jordan, and Blake Griffin, in which case they become a lot like the Lakers.

There are also teams that cash rich, but cachet poor, like the Charlotte Hornets, the Phoenix Suns, and Washington Wizards. I’m ready and willing to be surprised, especially in the case of the Hornets, but I put the chances of James “Taking his services to on of these three teams nestled between slim and none, and resting closer to none.

That leaves the team that I believe sits in the catbird seat in this year’s LeBron sweepstakes. Suffice it to say, I have no inside intel, but in my humble opinion, “The Decision, Part II,” will end just as the Decision did; with LeBron in South Beach. The NBA rules of engagement allow MIA and all teams to exceed the cap to re-sign their own players. MIA needs to re-tool, and certainly have the motivation to do so, and…I think they will.

I’m done; holla back!

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Dead Wrong!

This will be a relatively short post.  Despite the brevity, do not equate short with unimportant.  This issue is deeply entrenched in contemporary American culture, and as is frequently evidenced, can unexpectedly affect any of us.

I still vividly recall that one of the suggested responses by the Gun Lobby and proponents of unfettered access to firearms, in response to the December 14, 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut was arming the teachers and administrators.  In fact, similar advice emerged after Century Theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20 of the same year.

As a card-carrying Concealed Handgun Permit owner, not only am I personally comfortable with firearms, I am properly trained, and have been qualifying on shooting ranges for more than 20 years.  Still, the notion of vigilante justice gives me pause.

First, I am concerned because I respect the power of firearms to instantly and irreversibly change the dynamics of any human encounter.  Second, just as people may be skilled vocal artists, or chefs, or public speakers, not everyone who engages in one of those pursuits is good, or effective at doing so.  The same is true with handling firearms.  A clear distinguishing feature is that typically the consequences of hearing a song poorly sung, or eating an improperly prepared meal, or listening to an agonizingly dull speech, are not fatal.  Alternately, a bad encounter with an armed individual may be one’s last.

On Sunday, June 8, 2014, Jared and Amanda Miller, a married couple, shot and killed Igor SoldoandAlyn Beck, two police officers while they dined at a Las Vegas pizzeria.  They left a swastika on one, and covered both bodies with a Gadsden Flag, which is a yellow banner depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike.  The words “Don’t tread on me” are positioned below the snake.  The flag is named for Christopher Gadsden, who designed it in 1775 during the American Revolution.

After killing the two officers, they stormed into a nearby Wal-Mart with Jared firing his weapon, ordering shoppers to evacuate, and shouting an anti-government message.  The two, apparently were supporters of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada Rancher who engaged the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in a 20-year standoff over unpaid grazing fees.  In April they tried to join the armed standoff against federal agents at Bundy’s ranch.  According to Bundy’s son, they were asked to leave for being “too radical.”

It was at the Wal-Mart that the Right Wing bromide that holds, the best way to counter an armed mischief-maker is to be armed, met with an epic fail as a strategy.  Mr. Joseph Wilcox, 31 years old, happened to be inside the Wal-Mart.  As fate would have it, he happened to be armed.  After observing Mr. Miller in full rant, Mr. Wilcox decided to intervene by confronting Jared.  Unfortunately, he was unaware that Mrs. Miller, who was behind him, was with Jared, and also armed.  At that point, she shot and Killed Wilcox before he could successfully intervene.

Kathleen Parker wrote an article that appeared in the June 10th edition of the Washington Post, entitled, “Armed and Dead.”  I think her caption writer nailed it, as least as it pertains to my position.  While noting Mr. Wilcox’s good intentions, Ms. Parker argues that this example should give pause to any who believe arming citizens is the best deterrent to a would-be killer.  She goes on to note “the would-be hero in Tucson — when Rep. Gabby Giffords and others were shot — was an armed young man who almost shot the wrong person.”

I understand one or two instances do not constitute a statistically significant data pool.  However, neither do the well-worn talking points of the Gun Lobby.  I believe in the Second Amendment and its explicit conferral of the right to keep and bear arms.  Moreover, I also believe in and affirm the Supreme Court’s ruling that such rights are not unlimited, and may be regulated by the State and Federal governments.

Ultimately, I am persuaded, the chicken in every pot, or in this case a gun in every belt prescription is just, well, “Dead Wrong!”

I’m done; holla back!

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Another Day, Another Conspiracy Theory!

By the time this post is delivered, three games of the 2014 NBA Finals will have been played. The focus of today’s blog, however, is Game 1. In a contest played last Thursday night in San Antonio, the Air Conditioning apparatus failed at AT&T Arena. The circumstances surrounding the malfunctioning AC were not immediately available, but in the second half officials from Spurs Sports and Entertainment released the following statement:

“An electrical failure for the power that runs the AC system in the AT&T Center has occurred, we are continuing to work on resolving the problem. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

This explanation, while perhaps plausible, maybe even totally accurate, did not reassure countless Miami Heat fans, or an array of conspiracy theorists. Americans are never at a loss when confronted with the opportunity to contemplate and propose various bases for good conspiracy theories.

In fact, there is a rich history of events colored by the lens of supposed conspiracies, ranging from the Kennedy, King, and Malcolm assassinations, to Nicole Simpson’s murder (Did OJ do it?), to the alleged Benghazi cover-up. Of course, many of us know people who still insist that Elvis, Tupac, and Biggie are still alive. Perhaps you are one of them. These are all events that when mentioned, easily generate as much of an enthusiastic reaction today, as when they unfolded.

While historical events in general lend themselves to the notion of conspiracies, the frenetic mixture of competition, the unbridled zeal of fans, and the steroidal commercialism of pro sports serve to make the “arena” a breeding ground for generating conspiracy theories.

Sports in general have gifted us with a number of interesting, if not compelling, conspiracy theories. Key examples include:

  • 1919 – Black Sox (Chicago White Sox) scandal; eight members of the White Sox were alleged to have conspire to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Several players careers were terminated as a result
  • 1965 – Sonny Liston was alleged to have fixed/thrown his Heavyweight Title Bout against Muhammad Ali, falling to what some deemed a phantom punch, and what slow motion later revealed to be a blow unlikely to have rendered the then Champion unconscious
  • 1973 – Bobby Riggs was alleged to have bet against himself, and thrown the famous Battle of the Sexes Tennis Match against Billie Jean King. He had easily defeated Number 1 ranked women’s player Margaret Court earlier
  • 1980’s – Baseball owners’ were alleged to have conspired to collude to drive players salaries down. This claim was eventually validated in court
  • 2013 – The NFL was alleged to have orchestrated a power outage after Beyoncé’s Half Time performance at Super Bowl XLVII in order to keep the Baltimore Ravens (who had built a substantial half time lead) from running away with the game against the San Francisco 49’ers

Baseball, boxing, tennis, and football all play a prominent role in American sports culture. This writer, however, is a huge basketball fan. As such, here are a few examples of basketball related conspiracy theories that have emerged over the past half-century or so:

  • 1972 – After the USA’s domination of Olympic Basketball (never having lost a game since its introduction as an Olympic Sport), the Soviet Union upset Team USA in a controversial game that still rankles many Americans, including and especially, the players associated with the game. Team USA members declined to claim their Silver Medals
  • 1985 – The first year of the lottery era was also one of the most controversial drafts ever. Even today, speculation rages that the lottery was rigged to allow the New York Knicks to receive the first pick, which was anticipated to be (and actually was) Patrick Ewing. Whether the luck of the lotto, or the will of the Commissioner, the pick led to a revival of the Knicks, who had been struggling
  • 1993 – Michael Jordan’s first retirement is rumored to have been more of a forced suspension, rather than a voluntary retirement. Jordan had garnered a significant amount of attention for his extra-curricular activities, and it is alleged that Commissioner Stern suspended him for gambling, and that the retirement was a convenient ruse to avoid dealing with what would have been the ensuing controversy embroiling the NBA’s marquee player
  • 2002 – The NBA is alleged to have rigged the Western Conference Finals to save the Lakers’ Season. The Lakers trailed the series 3-2, and were tied with the Sacramento Kings going into the fourth quarter. The Lakers shot 27 free throws in the quarter, scored sixteen of their last eighteen points from the line, and went on to win the game by four. They would eventually win the NBA Championship
  • This year, and every year since the advent of the Draft Lottery (i985) – The worst NBA teams tank (throw games) to improve their position in the Lottery. Anyone who watches the sport regularly has noticed that some teams appear to lose late season games, almost inexplicably. At the same time, other teams near the bottom exert maximum effort, and fight to the end, in search of the last of the sixteen Playoff spots, rather than one of the fourteen spots in the Lottery

That brings me back to Game 1 of this year’s NBA Finals between the Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs, the team with the best record in the NBA, and the defending Champion Miami Heat. By attaining the League’s top record this year; the Spurs earned home court advantage throughout each Round of the Playoffs, as long as they continued to win, including the Finals. As a result, the first two games of the Finals were played in San Antonio, with the next two set for Miami. Any necessary additional games will alternate between San Antonio and Miami, until one of the teams wins four games (Best of Seven).

The case of the malfunctioning air conditioning at the AT&T Arena is now officially added to the long list of NBA-bred conspiracy theories. The reasoning goes something like this. LeBron James, the Heat’s best player, and by most accounts, the best basketball player today, has a history of having trouble playing through cramps. Overly warm arenas are thought to be a key element in players, particularly LeBron, cramping in games.

Of course, the primary event that drives the notion of a conspiracy in this case is that LeBron cramped up, and missed more than half of the fourth quarter, including most of the last eight minutes (There are 12 minutes in a quarter). It is not difficult to reason, if you subtract the best player on the planet from your team, production will decline. The Heat went on to lose Game 1, and the pushback against the “nefariousSpurs was immediate.

Facebook, the Twitterverse, Instagram, the office water cooler, conversations at the gym, and between men and women on the street frequently buzzed with the notion that Gregg Popovich (the Spurs’ Coach) and Company had purloined Game 1 in an underhanded scheme designed to render lame the most potent force in the game.

Not to be left out of the conversational frenzy, at least one basketball player joined the fray. Jason Terry, of the Sacramento Kings, and formerly the in-state rival Dallas Mavericks, opined:

“You know what, Pop [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] has done that so many times. I don’t know if it’s a conspiracy, but I’m telling you, going into San Antonio is a tough place to play.

And I can remember very well one time where it was cold showers, there were about a thousand flies in the locker room. This year, there was a snake in the locker room. So, they’re going to pull out all the stops to get into your head.

When you go to San Antonio, expect something like that. And Miami fell victim to it.”

The snake Terry referenced was found by Thomas Robinson of the Portland Trailblazers in his locker prior to Game 2 of the Blazers’ Second Round Series against the Spurs. There are certainly a lot of snakes in Texas, but one making it into a locker room/locker; deep inside an NBA arena is a lot less likely than an AC malfunction, at least, in my view.

The temperature in the arena reached 90 degrees during last Thursday’s game. That’s hot if you were doing nothing but sitting. Playing a basketball game under such conditions would undoubtedly be uncomfortable. So why do I not believe it was a conspiracy/intentional? The propensity of LeBron to be affected by cramps notwithstanding, how could the Spurs discern that LJ would be the one person, of all players on both teams, to be so negatively impacted by the ensuing conditions that he would be unable to play effectively, or not at all? Moreover, how could they be sure that the debilitating effects would not extend to members of their own team?

I have sobering, if not good, news for those concerned about there having been a clandestine operation to derail Miami, in route to its third consecutive Title. Because the Spurs have home court advantage in this series, the Heat was always going to have to win a game in San Antonio in order to win the series and the Championship. The absolutely great thing about this is, there is nothing whatsoever that ever suggested it had to be Game 1. They have up to four shots at it, if needed, as long as they win at home. Moreover, the Heat won Game 2 Sunday night, which in effect, allowed them to steal home court advantage for themselves; mission accomplished…problem solved.  Well, momentarily anyway. The Heat, with no AC problems that we know of, at home in American Airlines Arena in Miami, gave it back. This marked the Heat’s first home loss during this year’s Playoffs. They have still not loss two consecutive games in the postseason this year, so expect them to bounce back tomorrow night. Of course, that won’t get home court advantage back; they must win again in San Antonio to do that. No question they are capable, but will they?  We shall see. By the way, lest you Heat fans feel inclined to throw in the towel because your team trails 2-1 after 3 games…last year at the end of Game 3, the Heat trailed 2-1…to the Spurs, so chin up!

Yes, “Another Day, Another Conspiracy Theory!” You may of course believe that which you are inclined to, or can imagine. As far I am concerned, this one fails the reasonable man test. Of course, that conclusion is based upon my temerity to presume I am a reasonable man. I’m done; holla back!

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Why Reparations?

The concept of reparations vis-à-vis the African American community is not new.  It is a notion, well traveled, much debated, occasionally promoted, and frequently dismissed…casually by some, and with malice by others.  Its proponents have ranged from Abraham Lincoln to the Black Panther Party to Quakers (and me); conversely, opponents range from John Wilkes Booth to Rush Limbaugh to the contemporary GOP-Tea Party (not to be confused with Lincoln’s Republican Party), and undoubtedly a number of people I call friend.

You probably know by now that Ta-Nehisi Coates has written (what I think is) a compelling essay, which appears in the current edition of “The Atlantic,” entitled, “The Case for Reparations.”  You can find the article, accompanied by multi-media augmentation, by clicking on the first link below.  Though be forewarned, the piece requires some degree of commitment to read and watch in its entirety, as the narrative alone contains 16,000 words, spread across 10 chapters.  I read them all, each and every one.

Mr. Coates lays out cogently the key metrics that underscore the pro reparations argument.  Simply put, those numbers are: 

  1. Two hundred fifty
  2. Ninety
  3. Sixty
  4. Thirty-five

One of the common reactions to even the mention of reparations is the retort that notes how long ago the atrocities of slavery occurred, and that is when there is even a concession that any offense actually occurred.  Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher I wrote about several weeks ago, actually posited that blacks were better off during slavery.  The point of that time sensitive reply, apparently, is to suggest that after such an extended passage of time, we (the African American we, that is) should just let that go!

Well, think again hombre.  The numbers that Ta-Nehisi provides should disabuse the most ardent reality deniers of that notion.  Let’s revisit those numbers, complete with what they mean.  When viewed this way, you might be surprised: 

  1. Two hundred fifty years of slavery
  2. Ninety years of Jim Crow laws
  3. Sixty years of so-called separate but equal treatment practices 
  4. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy

While some of the above eras overlap, let’s be clear and stipulate that the evils represented by those numbers cover the period from 1619 (when the first indentured servants and slaves arrived on America’s shores) until today (or if you prefer, right here, right now).  In other words, there has been no cessation of the crimes, only a variation of type and degree.

Coates describes the slavery era as a war upon black families and black people.  He noted that John Wilkes Booth wrote before killing Abraham Lincoln :

“This country was formed for the white, not for the black man.  And looking upon African slavery from the same standpoint held by those noble framers of our Constitution, I for one have ever considered it one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us) that God ever bestowed upon a favored nation.”

Favored nation?  I guess the idea of “Exceptionalism” goes back a long ways. 

In his treatise, Mr. Coates introduces a number of characters.  At least one of them, Clyde Ross, left what Coates described as the kleptocracy (in Mississippi) to make a life for himself in Chicago.  In Chi-town he made a stable wage, married his wife, had children; his paycheck was his own, there were no Klansmen to strip him of his vote; he could walk down the street without having to move or avert his eyes because a white person was passing.  Mr. Ross sought only one additional thing to complete his entry to middle class – a home of his own.

The acquisition of this final piece of his personal hurdle proved vexing.  Ross bought a home on Chicago’s West Side, in a community called North Lawndale.  However, he did not actually have a mortgage.  He had bought his home “on contract,” as it was called at the time.  As such, he had ensconced himself in a predatory agreement that combined all the responsibilities of home ownership with all the disadvantages of renting – by signing an agreement that offered the benefits of neither.  As it turned out, from the 1930’s through the 1960’s, blacks across the country were largely precluded from the legitimate mortgage market.  Such was the case with Mr. Ross and his black neighbors in North Lawndale.

This scheme was part of a larger stratagem known as Redlining, made even worse by policies of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).  The FHA employed a system that rated areas on a map from A to D.  The A rated areas were colored green, and residents therein were perceived as excellent prospects for insurance.  At the opposite end of the spectrum were the D rated areas, coded red.  Neighborhoods where blacks lived were rated D, and as such, were usually ineligible for FHA backing.  Neither the percentage of black people, nor their social class mattered.  Ultimately, Redlining went beyond FHA standards and spread to the entire mortgage industry.  Blacks suffered the double indignity of being steered to Redline areas, where they were then systematically excluded from most legitimate means of obtaining a mortgage.

Ta-Nehisi points out that the early American economy was built on slave labor.  Slaves built the Capitol and the White House. Today, a number of policy analysts and academics lament the deficiencies of the black family structure.  Moreover, it is true there are certainly elements that need to be shored up.  However, no serious contemporary analysis can minimize the deleterious and lingering effects of slavery, and its subsequent kindred machinations, on the contemporary State of Black America.

That’s right, the pervasive destruction did not end with slavery.  Discriminatory laws served to pile on to the morass by combining the equal burden of citizenship with the unequal distribution of the great American bounty.  This construct is so not new.  President Lyndon Johnson said in his famous civil rights speech:

“Negro poverty is not white poverty.”

Of course, there are similarities, but they are not the same, and they are not simply racial in origin.  They are the consequence of ancient brutality, past injustice, and present prejudice.  It is unacceptable to recall the past, only when the past is flattering.  There is no question, black history does not conform to the quintessential American ideal, and yet, without the fully exploited contributions of Black America, there is no America, as we know it.

Slavery’s contribution to America the Beautiful is not merely a function of having tilled the soil and harvested the crops.  “In 1860, slaves as an asset were worth more than all of America’s manufacturing, all of the railroads, all of the productive capacity of the United States put together.  Slaves were the single largest, by far, financial asset of property in the entire American economy,” wrote Yale historian, David W. Blight.

In January 1989, Michigan Representative John Conyers introduced H.R. 40, legislation designed to form a Commission to study the financial implications of slavery and various reparations proposals for African Americans.  The proposal itself does not seek to enact reparations, but rather seeks to determine the impact of the institution of slavery, and establish what it would cost to repay such a tab.  Representative Conyers has introduced the bill every year since 1989.  It has never reached the debate stage on the House Floor.

It is worth noting that Congress has on one occasion approved reparations.  On April 16th, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act into law.  The bill ended slavery in Washington, DC, and provided compensation to slave owners for the loss of their property.  Let’s be transparent here; what that law did not do was compensate the slaves!

At the outset of this post, I mentioned that the problems related to practices and policies stemming from slavery persist even in the current era.  As recently as 2010, the Justice Department filed a discrimination suit against Wells Fargo alleging the bank had steered blacks into predatory loans, regardless of their creditworthiness.  In 2011, Bank of America agreed to pay $355 million to settle charges of discrimination against its Countrywide unit.  In 2012, Wells Fargo settled its discrimination suit for more than $175 million.  For many, it was too little, too late.  In 2009, half the properties in Baltimore, whose owners had been granted loans by Wells Fargo between 2005 and 2008, were vacant; 71% of those properties were in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Back to the title question; “Why Reparations?”   There is little doubt that approving reparations is a political, if not financial, impossibility…at least at this point in time.  Nevertheless, imposing the will, the sheer intestinal fortitude to have the conversation is important.  It is essential to act on Mr. Conyers’ bill and discover not just the scope of the actual debt, but to foster a broader and deeper understanding of how and why black poverty is a function of the combination of public policy and private theft facilitated by racism.  There is a lingering and unfair notion that blacks are asking for a handout and that we have already been given too much…when in fact, there has been a trenchant refusal to consider just how much has been appropriated (stolen) from African Americans, from the time of our arrival on these shores until now.

I’m done; holla back!

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