"Pass the Ball" - Hodaka's NBA and WNBA Business B 

Pass the ball...hello? Pass the ball!...Brick

Hodaka Kajita for SBS

Continuing with last week's column about Kobe Bryant and his image, I'd like to discuss the overall image of the NBA and how this reflects declining popularity and what determines this decline.

Note: Because the NBA is the most accessible in terms of seeing the player, the fan/player relationship is more intimate than any other professional sport. The court is small and there are only 10 players at one time. At a game, you can often hear conversations on the court. This effect magnifies the game and therefore player image is more significant compared to baseball or football. In a way, it is unfair to NBA players because there are a lot of things they can't get away with that their baseball or football counterparts can like talk trash or argue with a referee. But rules are rules whether it is game or social; it is the way a sport is presented and perceived in the public sphere that determines a player's action as right or wrong.

The most obvious and problematic issue with the NBA is that the players are their biggest fans. The most talented and gifted players turn out to be the most selfish and are engrossed with their own image. Part of the blame should go to the media who magnify their every action on and off the court but most of the blame should go to the players who present themselves as privileged individuals who believe it's their God-given right to be do whatever they want.

It's also the owners who feed this greed with millions. Without causing a stir here, but many of these players come from poverty stricken environments and when they are presented with a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract with an added signing bonus that is beyond most people's life time savings, they feel as if they've made it. And financially, this is true. But it's how a player rationalizes money and image that determine his self-righteousness. Unfortunately, there are too many cases where money interferes with rationality. Because NBA players are "privileged" they feel as if they can get away with anything like not showing up to practice or breaking the law.

No one wants to watch a one-man show, where the show doesn't just end on the court but off the court as well. How often did we see an NBA player's face in the news because he smoked marijuana or was involved in a domestic dispute? One too many; if the fans can't trust their favorite player to conduct himself accordingly, how does the NBA compensate?

The NBA has not directly solved this problem except for giving suspensions and fines, which seem a bit like child's play. The NBA has addressed a different issue in hopes of camouflaging player transgressions. In other words, they want to make the game so appealing that nothing else will matter. Luckily, the game is so bad right now that there are many things to improve on and last season David Stern and company made a big step in addressing the lack of defense by allowing teams to play zone defense.

The only problem is that while this will enable teams to play more effective defense, it completely contradicts players' inability to score. In 2003, the NBA averaged a meager .442 shooting percentage and averaged 95 points a game. Compare this to the day when keeping teams at 100 points was considered good defense.

Poor shooting goes hand-in-hand with NBA players' Manifest Destiny that they deserve to shoot because there is no one better. In fact, it's not about who is better but who has the better shot. Are the Philadelphia 76ers truly better off when Allen Iverson takes 42 shots a game (his avg. last season was 24 shots a game)?

The truth of the matter is, players these days like to go for the spectacular play in the form of a dunk or a three point shot. Much like in the NFL, where more and more players are mistackling because they want to go for the big hit that will land them an ESPN highlight instead of the sure tackle, NBA players are more concerned about drawing oo's and ah's from the crowd. This results in completely ignoring teammates by forcing the ball through the lane or taking an unnecessary amount of three point shots. Unfortunately, the NBA cannot devise some sort of plan that will make players shoot better. The way things are going, Albert Pujols will have a higher average than Jason Kidd, who by the way shot 39 percent from the field last season.

The Economics of an Affair

Hodaka Kajita for SBS

In true Shakespearean fashion, Kobe Bryant and his accuser have set the stage. In all of Shakespeare's plays, there is always an agenda and nothing is ever certain. This holds merit concerning the Kobe Bryant case. His accuser, a white upper middle-class college student, is known to be ambitious and emotional, a Lady Macbeth without the Macbeth or should I say, Bryant.

American mainstream society as a whole was surprised with the sexual assault charges against Kobe Bryant and his confession of committing adultery because of the "good boy" image he has created for himself. His endorsements represented this. Sprite runs a commercial of him being a hard worker and McDonalds has him asking to play a game of "pickup" basketball with children, whom of course look up to him in awe.

Bryant made approximately $20-$22 million in endorsements prior to the charges. For the moment, Kobe Bryant commercials are not being aired although not all his endorsements have been revoked. It is clear that Bryant's actions have contradicted the image we saw on television everyday.

There is talk that Nike offered him "only" $45 million compared to LeBron James' $90 million. The reason behind this disparity is that LeBron James embodies more of an urban, inner-city image that appeals to a large contingent that shares the same background. Couple this with the fact that LeBron James is the most hyped and sought after commodity in the history of the NBA. Amazingly, James has yet to play a single minute in a regular season game.

Bryant comes from a privileged background, having traveled the world, learn a foreign language, and being the son of a former NBA player, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant. Kobe Bryant played sports liberally as they were available. He does not have, what is called "street credibility," on his resume. Unlike many African American NBA players, Kobe Bryant did not experience economic hardship growing up nor was he surrounded by crime. The accusation of sexual assault will not deem him "hardcore" and be accepted by the "street." The fact that such a speculation is considered shows how sad American society is. It says that crime does pay and how society still associates specific crimes with specific ethnic groups.

Kobe Bryant is put in a situation similar to that of O.J. Simpson where the accusations against him refute his reputation as an outstanding citizen. Even if all charges of sexual assault are dropped, he has admitted to adultery. Although he won't see jail time for that, he will suffer the loss of millions of endorsement dollars and "street credibility" will not save him, if he decides to go that route. And only when the trial is over can he go that route, which he won't, trust me.

"What was Kobe thinking?" is a familiar undertone of most people following the case. Here is a player who had everything going for him. Married to a beautiful wife and on his way to becoming the next Jordan, Kobe Bryant seemingly has wasted away a very promising career for a few concupiscent minutes. Or was it just a few minutes? No, I am not questioning Kobe Bryant's vitality in bed. Could it be that this woman whom he had "consensual sex" with was a steadfast rendezvous?

If the accuser falsely accused Bryant of sexual assault, it is because of an agenda unachieved. Say Bryant and this woman were seeing each other for, say, a period of one year or so. And say the accuser's so-called friends did give valid information about her, saying she has struggled with her mental health in the past. One account says she attempted suicide after a breakup with her boyfriend.

If a woman would consider suicide after a breakup over a boyfriend, what would you think she would do after a "breakup" with Kobe Bryant? Lost hopes of marrying Bryant and achieving stardom brought her to irrational terms. She must have thought, "If I'm going down, I'm taking Kobe with me." How often does a country bumpkin like Ms. Runner-up American Idol contestant sleep with an NBA player, let alone meet one? The supply and demand of NBA players is low and high, respectively. She had to make the most out of the opportunity.

If Bryant inflicted bodily damage to her, it is because she threatened to blackmail him. His pleas to pay her off were out of the question and not enough. False hopes and ultimately being denied left this girl no choice but to resort to curve the path of the shooting star that is Kobe Bryant. This is an Economic Zero Sum game, where no one wins.

The best thing Bryant ever did was marrying his wife, a beautiful dark-skinned Latina who the public drools over. As much as he was being criticized for not having the urban flare of an Allen Iverson or LeBron James, he still presented a love interest that symbolized a sense of authenticity, though it still didn't bring him "street credibility."

Obviously, the worst thing Bryant ever did was venture into the realm of binary opposites. Kobe Bryant's status is bigger than anyone in Eagle County, Colorado. Nevertheless, the fact that he is an African American accused of raping a Caucasian woman is more damaging than a Caucasian being accused of raping a Caucasian or an African American raping an African American.

Is the public even aware that Jason Richardson, shooting guard for the Golden State Warriors, was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence against his girlfriend that took place on April 29? Granted, Bryant is far more highly profiled than Richardson, but it goes to show that the public is not fascinated with black/black-white/white issues. Do we all remember Hugh Grant's little encounter with Divine Brown, West Hollywood hooker?

I want to maintain a level of objectivity but at the same time explore the facts, as limited and uncertain as they are. I propose such an idea, that Kobe Bryant's accuser is falsely accusing him because 50% of all rape accusations are false: "False rape allegations are not the consequence of a gender-linked aberration, as frequently claimed, but reflect impulsive and desperate efforts to cope with personal and social stress situations" (Archives of Sexual Behavior).

From the information that is being given, Bryant's accuser fits this description of having "personal and social stress situations." This is a case of human nature being put up on a pedestal. This case has the potential of a true reversal of the saying, "rags-to-riches" and we are all anxiously waiting like the dogs we are.





Warriors' future looking Golden

Hodaka Kajita for SBS

On August 18, 2003, the Golden State Warriors and the Dallas Mavericks were involved in a nine-player trade. Much to the chagrin of many Warriors' fans--having to say goodbye to Antawn Jamison--who say the exchange of talent is incomparable, this trade will reap more benefits for the Warriors than many may think.

On the surface, it only addresses the loss of Gilbert Arenas and to what extent is yet to be seen. As it addresses the loss of Arenas, it seems counter-productive to lose Jamison, the so-called "leader" of the team. But, Jamison was a moral leader. A team leader he was not; I never saw that in his game. His play was rugged and weary, as much as it was effective.

I see no problem with Mike Dunleavy Jr., the third overall pick last year for the Warriors, filling the vacant small forward position. Not only will this allow Dunleavy to expedite his development as a solid NBA player, it will quiet those fans who unfairly call him a bust simply because he did not put up the numbers as the likes of Amare Stoudamire and Yao Ming.

All in all, this was purely a business move for the future. The Warriors botched things up by overpaying Jamison and Fortson. This was perhaps the only way to alleviate those mistakes and to prevent future mishaps like letting Arenas and Boykins walk

This is the second time in the Chris Cohan-era that a deal has deemed a long-term vision. The first time was when the Warriors signed Jamison to a max contract, big mistake. Jamison's proclamation about bringing a championship to Oakland despite the history of woes sounded nice at the time.

Taking a look back at that max contract signing, the fans were a bit over ambitious and admired Jamison's determination. No one ever questioned his heart and the lack of a legitimate supportive cast.

Still, there was always a cloud of doubt regarding the thought of playoffs, let alone a winning season. Though an effective scorer, Jamison's game had, and still has, gaping holes and never warranted a max contract.

A player who warrants a max contract is someone who will makes his teammates better--something Jamison said he would want to do--or at least have an all-around game ala Tracy McGrady. Additionally, a max contract player should show significant improvements to their game every season; Unfortunately, Jamison's handling, passing, and defense never matched his efforts to improve in those areas.

With those reasons, Jamison was traded along with Danny Fortson, Chris Mills, and Jiri Welsh. Of the four players, Jamison and Fortson's contracts were seriously hindering the Warriors' chance to sign much coveted guard Gilbert Arenas. The Warriors did the next best thing by unloading their contracts and gaining players that cost less and/or that run no longer than a few years.

Chris Mills, who was often injured and sparingly used, was vastly overpaid but his contract was up after the 04'-05' season so he was thrown into the deal just to make the numbers work.

Perhaps the most promising player in the deal was Jiri Welsh who showed signs of being the prototypical European talent, who can shoot, handle, and display sound fundamentals not shown in American counterparts.

From a pure business perspective, this trade makes sense because it has "future" written all over it. According to Marc Stein's article, the Warriors should be $20 million under the salary cap after the 2005 season, giving them financial freedom to sign free agents. By that time, Chris Mullin should be the general manager. Moreover, there are rumors that say Mullin had a lot to do with this recent trade, as he is a big Mike Dunleavy Jr. fan and went to Houston to meet with Nick Van Exel before the trade. There may be a St. Jean-to-Mullin transfer earlier than expected.

From a talent perspective, the Warriors got better and the deal was indeed a fair tradeoff. Of the four Warrior players, Jamison was the only one getting significant playing time. Of the five Maverick players, Van Exel was the only one getting significant playing time. Of course, playing time is not the perfect assessment of a player's value, but if this allows Dunleavy to blossom and remedies Arenas' departure, the benefits are definitely there. Not only is it a fair exchange of talent, the Warriors rid themselves of contractual mistakes and takes on much needed non-committal contracts.

Allowing Mike Dunleavy Jr. to takeover the SF position is a crucial element in the Warriors' future as Jamison, who was suppose to be that player, did not show signs of taking the team to a higher level.

Nick Van Exel, although not as promising as young Gilbert Arenas, is possibly an upgrade from Arenas. Like Arenas, Van Exel came through in the clutch time and time again, and is playoff worthy, should the Warriors ever make the playoffs within the next two or three years.

Although Earl Boykins was a fan favorite, Speedy Claxton is just as much a legitimate backup point guard...except that he signed with the intent of starting.

Team chemistry may be a problem this upcoming season, but the core players are still there: Erick Dampier and Adonal Foyle are one of the better 1-2 center combinations, Troy Murphy seeks to improve on his already improved game, Jason Richardson should be able to draw oo's-and-ah's from the crowd, and Mike Dunleavy Jr., from what looked like an impressive summer league performance, will do what Jamison never did: make his teammates better.

Only two, albeit it key players, will not be present from last year's starting lineup. If Eric Musselman was able to pull together a team to become the NBA's most improved team in his first year, I don't see why he can not do it this season, especially when most of the players that played are still here and then some.

Whatever the case may be the Warriors are essentially in a financial rebuilding process and would probably covet a high profile free agent before the 2006 season. Until then, Warrior faithfuls must be patient and pray that the team's renovated look will lessen some of the pain caused by Gilbert Arenas' signing with the Washington Wizards.

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