Kobe Bryant: Dumb Jock

Kobe Bryant is a great baller, not a great thinker. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

There are many great sports figures I respect, but only a few I admire. Among that small (and getting smaller) number are Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown and both for their achievements within their chosen endeavors as well as the bravery to stand up as proud and strong Black men no matter what it cost them (and it cost them both plenty).

We should celebrate these men while they are still with us and mourn them when they are gone. Not just because neither boxing or football are the games they were when Ali and Brown towered over them, but because whatever factory of courage produced these American idols has long since shut down the line, closed up shop, and gone out of business.

There are still great sports figures whose achievements want respect, but far fewer whose pride isn’t simply ugly egotism and whose strength fades away when they attempt to express informed opinions on matters they have no grasp of.

Which brings us to Kobe Bean Bryant, the “Black Mamba” and gradually descending star of the Los Angeles Lakers whose 17th season was limited to six games due to injuries. Bryant wasn’t able to slow the lottery-bound Lakers’ descent to the second-worst record in the NBA Western Conference.   Still, while he can’t knock down jumpers, he can lob bricks at his team, his coach, and rivals like the Miami Heat’s LeBron James.

Speaking in a New Yorker profile, Bryant slammed King James for a 2012 photo of the Miami Heat team dressed in hoodies, heads bowed in respectful homage to Trayvon Martin, the teenager slain by vigilante George Zimmerman. Bryant swatted away what he perceived as a knee-jerk attempt by James to show racial solidarity with Martin.

“I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American. That argument doesn’t make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we’ve progressed as a society? Well, we’ve progressed as a society, then don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won’t assert myself.”

That should be easy.  When has Bryant ever asserted himself as an African-American?

Bryant was born in suburban Philadelphia, but his dad Joe “Jellybean” Bryant moved the family to Italy when Kobe was six. Kobe spent much of his early years outside of the U.S. speaks both Italian and Spanish and got his name from the Japanese beef his parents saw on a restaurant menu and maintains a love/hate relationship with the town of his birth.


Kobe’s not completely wrong.  Supporting someone just because they’re Black is the wrong thing to do, but LeBron and the Heat players didn’t support Trayvon Martin because he was Black.   They supported him because he was innocent.  They supported him because he was a victim.  They supported him because Black people who aren’t obscenely wealthy and totally clueless realize superstar status won’t protect them because they are still Black.

Did Kobe not notice there were a lot of White people who were rocking hoodies in support of Trayvon?

I’ve never warmed up to Bryant. Love his game. Hate everything else unrelated to his game. He’s never been a leader, never been an inspiration, never been anyone worth looking up to. He’s a “Me” guy not a “We” guy. It’s all about him and never about anyone else. Kobe, like Michael Jordan, has spent the majority of his life saying nothing about race in America.  He should  keep quiet about subjects he knows nothing about and he knows nothing about Trayvon Martin.

Bryant is a Black men whose identification with how African-Americans experience life is suspect.  This is something Barack Obama was accused of, but Bryant is living the dream where his wealth and success seemingly insulates him from harsh realities.

Brown caught heat last December for criticizing Bryant’s Switzerland approach to race matters.

“He is somewhat confused about culture, because he was brought up in another country,” Brown said on The Arsenio Hall Show . (Bryant spent part of his childhood in Italy, where his father played professional basketball.) “[Bryant] doesn’t quite fit what’s happening in America.”

In the 1960s, Brown pulled together a collection of top black athletes who shared his social activism. “If I had to call that summit all over,” he said, “there would be some athletes I wouldn’t call. Kobe would be one of them.”

Bryant took to Twitter to fire back at Brown with a sneering, “A ‘Global’ African American is an inferior shade to ‘American’ African American?? #hmmm. that doesn’t sound very #Mandela or #DrKing sir.”

It’s impressive Bryant knows who Mandela and King were but he doesn’t get how they laid their lives on the line for the cause of racial and social justice.  Jim Brown did too.  Bryant believes he floats about mundane trivialities of being Black in the post-racial paradise he made for himself.  Kobe is in La-La Land.  His above it all attitude mirrors that of another L.A. based superstar,  O. J. Simpson.

The hoodie is not the problem. The perception of the hoodie is.

Not a Black thing. More like a human thing.

The late sportswriter Ralph Wiley deconstructed the Juice’s attempted Escape From Blackness fantasy in an ESPN column and it still applies to the Black Mamba. “O.J. tried and almost succeeded at being everything but a black guy — and, more important, his own guy.”

“He fooled himself. He fooled white people. But he didn’t fool very many black people. Not the ones who knew him well, anyway.”

Who really knows Kobe Bryant?   Kobe has never before taken a stand on any social issue or controversy in the news.  This is why he kept his mouth shut.  He knew something stupid would fall out of it.

Bryant took to Twitter again, but this time there was a decidedly different message dribbling out of his brain.

“Travon Martin was wronged THATS my opinion and thats what I believe the FACTS showed. The system did not work #myopinion #tweetURthoughts”

Bryant hasn’t asserted himself on yet is the proper spelling on George Zimmerman’s victim. It’s “Trayvon,” notTravon.” You would think a guy named “Kobe” would sweat a detail like that.

It is undeniable Kobe Bryant is among the select few in the history of NBA who as an athlete and winner belongs among the few, the elite and clearly superior talents of the game.

It is equally undeniable he is a supreme jerk off it.

"So what was up with the hoody, man?'

“So what was up with the hoody, man?’

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The Devil and Gil Scott-Heron

It has been a bit annoying how the death of a man who gave so much of himself trying to push Black folks forward has become a secondary story to another Black man trying to drag us back.

Gil Scott-Heron was political but he was no politician.   Herman Cain is political, but shows no capacity to be a politician.   That’s a serious failing for someone who says he wants to be president.

Why is it for all this week I’ve had to hear all this crap.about how a Black conservative and fringe candidate whose primary aim seems to be absolving the Tea Party from charges of racism while a documentary about Gil Scott-Heron still hasn’t seen the light of day in America for nearly eight years?

In a few years, Cain will be a minor footnote when books are written about the 2012 presidential campaign.  Scott-Heron’s legacy as a poet and griot is firmly set as the scores of articles and eulogies following his death are evidence of.   Facebook and Twitter blew up with video links, tributes and shout-outs to the brother who predicted a revolution was coming.

There’s just one problem with all this.  Scott-Heron was something of a mess in the last decades of his life.  In no way does that diminish his grandeur as an artist, but one must be honest in the assessment of his life and times and the evidence is in:  Scott-Heron was a drug addicted, disheveled shell when he died.

If Herman Cain is a warning of the dangers of selling out, Gil Scott-Heron is a warning of what happens when your demons run you down.

The director of the 2004 documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: A Film about Gil Scott-Heron was shocked by the state he found Gil in.   Don Letts would find himself frustrated with the obstacles he faced trying to tell Gil’s story.  Letts told the Guardian in 2003 about the unique problems that come when the subject of your film is an unreliable and erratic addict.  Scott-Heron’s drug addiction was in full bloom in ’03 and he didn’t put on any airs of struggling with his demons.

“It was strained between us but it wasn’t personal,” he says. “It’s just that his life is strained generally. He’s trying to keep it together whilst the whole time having this fucking gorilla on his back as Chuck [Public Enemy’s Chuck D, a contributor to the film] puts it.”

In the UK, Letts’ reputation as a film-maker goes before him but Scott-Heron initially seemed unimpressed. “I’m not used to being dissed by anyone,” says Letts. “At the start of the two-and-a-half weeks we were over there I said to him ‘by the time this has finished you’re going to hate my guts’. Within about a week he was hanging up the phone on me – something which no-one has ever done to me in my life! But I wasn’t going to let the superficiality of what’s going on now cloud my view of what he’d done. This guy put out an album and two books by the time he was 19 in a climate where there was no black cultural back-up at all. He was just treading new ground.”

Nonetheless, the very logistics of working with someone who had a gorilla on their back were far from easy. “There were things like waiting for two-and-a-half days to do the interview. I usually like to make my problems my assets but he pushed it to the last degree. It was all I could do to get him to sit still. For, like, two hours!”

Letts’ difficulties aside, this is an excellent documentary and shame on PBS, BET, and TV1 for not picking it up and airing it.  The television networks don’t mind funneling reality TV, crappy rap videos, dumb comedies, dance competitions, singing competitions and Negro foolishness competitions into the homes of 35 million Black people, but God forbid they actually tell a story worth telling.   This documentary definitely deserves an airing in Scott-Heron’s homeland.

Yet there’s no sugar coating the unpleasant fact that Scott-Heron is receiving all this long overdue love based upon who he was instead of what he became.  The Gil Scott-Heron of the late Seventies and Eighties was a deep brother full of beats, rhymes and rational reasoning.   The Gil Scott-Heron of the new millennium was a hopeless addict who alienated friends, family and fans while becoming a slave to the very vices he had once cautioned others to avoid.

We should remember Scott-Heron, but we shouldn’t shut out the unpleasant realities of how hard he had fallen.

I had heard about the profile that ran  The New Yorker last year  It had become notorious as the article where Gil Scott-Heron smoked crack in front of the interviewer.  I didn’t want to read it.  I knew it was bad.  I figured it would be painful.  I thought it would hurt.

And I was right.  It did hurt, but Gil was the one in pain.  I could always turn the page or click away to happier and sunnier subjects.  Nobody enjoys watching someone whose artistry and activism you have admired end up as a zombified shadow of himself.

Unhappily, that’s the price you pay for thinking you can freeze a deeply flawed human being in a moment of time and think he will stay that way forever.  The music and poetry and words of Gil Scott-Heron are immortal.  Nothing diminishes the power and the glory of “The Bottle,” “Johannesburg,”  “Lady Day and John Coltrane” and of naturally, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

Not even Gil Scott-Heron himself.

Gil vs. the Devil. The Devil won.

A Open Letter to David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker

Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

"Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."

Dear Mr. Remnick,

I am writing you today to express my outrage and disappointment in The New Yorker for the depiction of Barack and Michelle Obama as terrorist Muslim subversives.

Cartoonist Barry Blitt may have thought he was doing a clever satire, but he fell far short if that was his goal.  Satire has wit and intelligence.   His illustration is totally devoid of both.

I don’t read The New Yorker. I don’t know anyone that does. But if I did, I would ask, what exactly do you find funny about a illustration of a gun-toting, Michelle Obama, sporting a frizzy Afro and military fatigues and boots, standing in what appears to be the Oval Office of the White House, fist-bumping Barack Obama, decked out in Muslim gear, while an American flag burns in the fireplace and a picture of Osama bin Laden looks on approvingly?

I know what’s funny and I know what doesn’t work. This cover illustration doesn’t work. If it’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and a funny commentary on the ridiculous fear that Barack Obama is a covert Muslim, it doesn’t get the point across.

Maybe it does for you, Mr. Remnick.  It doesn’t for me. Not even slightly.

I’m all for freedom of the press and satire in a democratic society. I’m also a big believer in responsibility of the press and int his case I don’t see anything remotely resembling responsibility.

Please don’t think I’m calling for boycotts or censorship.  I do not favor such heavy-handed tactics.

The right of The New Yorker to publish whatever they want to on their cover does not invalidate my right to be offended by it.

I’m tired of having to defend the patriotism of African-Americans which constantly seems to be called into question and I’m really tired of liberal elitist magazines like The New Yorker taking cheap shots at The Obamas.

What I’m most sick and tired of is the overbearing presumptuousness of liberals presuming because they are liberals they are somehow magically exempt from being boorish, insensitive and as intellectually stunted in understanding what is offensive to Black people as any right-wing conservative.

Due to the chilly relationship between White conservatives and Blacks,there is a certain reluctance by conservative to say or do anything that might be misconstrued as having racial overtones. There are exemptions such as Rush Limbaugh who just don’t care if what they say is received poorly by Blacks.

White liberals are not similarly constrained. Some presume because of their supposed greater enlightenment and sensitivity to race, they are incapable of deliberate acts of insensitivity.

It is a pitiable, but sobering thing to note, in the battle to see who can best demonize Barack Obama, it’s his supposed allies on the Left that have continually stabbed him in the back even while he anticipates a brutal assault on his character from The Right.

Now The New Yorker is joining Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Geraldine Ferraro, and The Clintons in the dog pile on the Obamas.

The only thing missing from this abomination of a cartoon were the two Obama daughters, Malia and Sasha, wearing burkas and chanting,’Death to America

To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, ‘Shame on The New Yorker.’

This isn’t about looking to be offended or lacking a sense of irony. There are no limits and nothing is out of bounds for those on the Left or the Right that fear, hate, and despise The Obamas .Everything is fair and everything is permitted as long as it makes themlook bad. Up to and including the fear more than a few people have that Barack and Michelle Obama don’t really share ‘traditional American values.’

The New Yorker owes an apology to Barack and Michelle Obama specifically and the American public in general for your furthering the coarsening and division that plagues the current political dynamic.

If this supposedly falls under the category of ‘entertaining satire’ then why aren’t I laughing?


Jeff Winbush
Columbus, OH