Kobe Bryant may have used a gay slur

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During Tuesday night’s game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant was hit with a technical foul. When he went to the bench, TNT’s cameras caught him apparently calling referee Bennie Adams a “f******g [gay slur].” (What he said looks pretty clear to me, but watch the video and judge for yourself.) Thanks to the skills of @Jose3030 and the power of twitter, the video quickly went viral.

Let’s be clear about something: Kobe Bryant has been a controversial figure, both on and off the court. This post is not about Kobe Bryant. I don’t know Kobe Bryant personally, but in all my professional dealings with him he has come across as intelligent, funny, and well-adjusted. I have nothing but the utmost respect for him as both a basketball player and a person. The issue here is not Kobe; the issue is the word he used.

I’m sure that if you asked Kobe, he would tell you that he wasn’t expressing any homophobic feelings when he called the referee what he called him. I don’t know whether he actually was or not, but in any case I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The gay slur Kobe used is often used as a general insult — Kobe lost his temper, and in a fit of rage he called Adams the worst thing he could think of. I don’t think Kobe’s unfortunate choice of words revealed that he has a deep-seeded hatred of gay people.  I do think they revealed that athletes are still comfortable tossing around a word that, like a few other very hurtful and powerful words, should not be tossed around.

The word Kobe used can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Intelligent, funny people like Louis C.K., Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Joe Rogan have all made cases that when they use the word, they’re not saying that they have a problem with homosexuality or homosexual behavior; they just use it to denote behavior they find unacceptable. The problem with that logic is that while we can control what we say, we can’t always control what people hear, and it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to separate our words from our intentions, especially hurtful words.  In my younger years, I had the foolish belief that proper contexts to use that word somehow existed. I no longer hold that belief in any way, shape or form. The fact is that for a lot of people, homosexual behavior and unacceptable behavior are synonymous. Until that changes, I believe that there is no appropriate context for that word.

In a Gallup poll conducted last May, only 52% of Americans said that they found homosexuality “morally acceptable.” Homosexuals still do not have the right to marriage in most of the country. Research conducted one week ago shows that gay and lesbian teens are twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression as their heterosexual counterparts, and three times more likely to report a history of suicidality. According to the It Gets Better Project, 9 out of 10 LGBT students have experienced harassment at school.

The belief that we are a post-homophobia society is foolish and arrogant. Some people will say that making a “big deal” out of incidents like this reveals that the real problem with our society is that it has become too “politically correct.” Tell that to the teens who have to endure physical and verbal abuse at school because of their sexual orientation, or the families of the teens who couldn’t take the abuse anymore. Maybe the day when it’s okay to use the word that Kobe used and have everybody know that you have no problem with homosexuals or homosexual behavior at all will come someday. I don’t think it will, and I know that that day is not today.

Does the word that Kobe used get used by professional athletes almost every day, in every locker room, without any cameras or tape recorders catching it? Absolutely. In fact, during a playoff game a few seasons ago, Kevin Garnett was actually caught screaming the exact same thing that Kobe screamed. Does that mean that we should say “well, boys will be boys” when someone gets caught on tape like Kobe did? I don’t think so. I’m not calling for Bryant’s head: I believe in freedom of speech, and don’t think he should receive an additional fine or suspension for his choice of words.

What I would like is for some good to come out of this being caught on tape. It’s easy to point the finger when somebody like Tim Hardaway says something blatantly homophobic and pin all the issues with homosexuality and professional sports on isolated cases like him. The truth is that the problems run much deeper, and many of them are more rooted in ignorance than hatred.

Simple math tells us that it would be a miracle if no active MLB, NBA, or NFL player is a homosexual, but no player current athlete has come out, and I would wager that most professional athletes don’t think they have any gay teammates. It’s in environments like that where casual homophobia can seem harmless. Ask yourself this: if Joe Smith, who was sitting next to Kobe, or Bennie Adams, the referee, was gay and Kobe knew that, do you think he still have used that word? If the answer is no, why should we expect any homosexual who was within earshot or watching the game on TV to not have an issue with Kobe’s choice of words? Is it reasonable to ask sports fans to check their feelings about words like the ones Kobe used at the door, words that may have been directed at them, with hate, in their own lives?

This is a beautiful game, and people of all races, religions, and sexual orientations should feel comfortable playing it, watching it, and enjoying it. When the most respected player in the league by players, coaches, and media members alike gets caught uncorking a gay slur and nobody has a problem with it, it can give the impression that the NBA doesn’t care about creating a welcoming environment for all of its fans. Kobe has an opportunity to clear up his feelings about homosexuals and whether or not he believes the word he used is or is not acceptable language. I hope he takes advantage of it, and that the NBA becomes just a bit more welcoming than it would have been otherwise.

James Harden is playing with a bruised right knee

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James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets are on a 13-game winning streak. They have a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. But it’s not all rosy in Space City.

Harden suffered a bruised right knee against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, and almost had to sit out the Rockets’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters after the win over the Bucks, Harden said that he was in some pain but a doctor told him he would be able to play and that he would not make the condition worse.

Via ESPN:

“I wasn’t feeling well at all, but the doc came in and just told me that there’s going to be pain for a bit, but you can play through it,” Harden said. “It can’t get worse, but it’s going to be pretty painful until obviously you give it some time. Once he said that, I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”

“I wasn’t moving like I usually move, but we won,” said Harden.

If Harden wasn’t feeling well, it sure didn’t show. He had 31 points, although on 8-of-21 shooting against Milwaukee. Chris Paul chipped in with 25 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

It doesn’t sound like Harden will be missing a game any time soon, which is par for the course for him. He’s played in a minimum of 89 percent of his team’s regular season games since entering the league in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are blasting their way into 2018. They play the Warriors next on January 4.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: ‘It would mean a lot’

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).