On men, women, race and basketball


Esquire (June) puts the ball in the other guy's court, so to speak, with a section that asks "Do Women Love Men?" Nancy Friday chairs a roundtable pondering the question (you don't want to know the answers). As a sort of reverse-case study, Elizabeth Kaye profiles the Texas playboy who helped get the Duchess of York such bad press with his front-page display of pedal-digital delectation in 1992. Demonstrating that if in fact the past is another country, then it ought not grant visas, E. Jean Carroll looks up her old beaux. The usually straightforward Jimmy Breslin has a rather incomprehensible disquisition on the rottenness of men toward women. And if all that isn't enough, Heather Locklear, who sprawls across the cover with a come-heather look, offers her purported user's guide for guys wishing to have closer encounters of the girl kind (you have to read "Backstage with Esquire" to find out that the piece comes "with assistance" from writer David Rensin).

But we began with a reference to the other guy's court, you may recall, which brings up the most interesting thing in Esquire this month, Ron Rosenbaum's "The Revolt of the Basketball Liberals." It is an odd bit of business, at once glib and, however glancingly, profound. The profundity comes from Mr. Rosenbaum's eagerness to grapple with what remains, some 219 years after the Declaration of Independence put forth that "all men are created equal," this country's most fundamental problem:race and its discontents. The grappling comes courtesy Mr. Rosenbaum's enthusiasm for the National Basketball Association. That league's rosters are dominated by blacks. Of late (and this is what set him off), the NBA has been getting all sorts of bad press for its players' disagreeable behavior, and the media's hoop screams constitute the revolt in Mr. Rosenbaum's title. Can it be, he wonders, "That what was really going on in the revolt of the Basketball Liberals was an emblematic moment: the collapse of the last attenuated remnant of the dream of integration?"

For all that race and the NBA have become connected in the American psyche, emblematic moments are a mighty heavy burden to place on what is an essentially ephemeral enterprise. Nor is Mr. Rosenbaum's argument helped any by his smugness. Worse, he predicates his case on an artificial dichotomy between team play and individually creative play that, in setting basketball morality against basketball aesthetics, ignores what is the essence of the game: the convergence of the two.

Player's talk

The Dennis Rodman cover story in Sports Illustrated (May 29) has a certain pertinence here. It has gotten all sorts of attention for the San Antonio Spurs forward's comments about transvestism and Madonna (whom he once dated -- if that is the word). The article's real subject is Mr. Rodman's penchant for self-destruction. "I mean, why not be a little risque? Push the envelope," Mr. Rodman says. Sure, why not, but past a certain point performance becomes exhibitionism (or far worse).

Smaller Interview

The move makes sense, of course -- cheaper postage rates, easier racking for news-dealers -- but the downsizing of Interview (June) is a bit like the thought of Bruce Willis with a full head of hair or Yanni without one: a near-beer imitation of the usual disconcerting product. Oh, the cheerful vacuity of the Q&As; remains, as do the creative pairings of interviewer and interviewee (in the current issue, Jerry Garcia chats up his fellow member of the Grateful Dead Bob Weir, and vice versa). Furthermore, the new, 10-by-12-inch size is "huggable," as a reader notes on the letters page, which the old tab size was assuredly not. Clearly, though, Interview's Andy Warhol days -- when the magazine wafted on the oversize winds of its own glim-glam weirdness -- lie behind it.

Commenting on change

The same, surely, will not be said of Commentary (June) and its Norman Podhoretz daze (oops). After 35 brass-knuckled years as editor, Mr. Podhoretz is turning the magazine over to Neal Kozodoy. Neoconservatism will never be quite the same, but don't expect Commentary to change much. Mr. Kozodoy spent 29 years working under Mr. Podhoretz, and the latter promises in a valedictory note that he will serve as editor at large and continue writing for the magazine. Consider yourself warned.

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