Bogut's words must be discussed

The Baltimore Sun

Have you heard what Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut said about his fellow NBA players?

If you regularly soak up every newspaper, magazine and major sports Web site you can get your hands on ... you probably have no idea what he said.

Too bad for those news outlets, and too bad for us. What Bogut told a paper in his native Australia two weeks ago (yes, two weeks ago) about the American league in which he plays and the players, most of whom are black, populating it ought to open up another good avenue to discuss the issue most desperately in need of sane discussion: race in American culture.

Yeah, you're right. Who wants to talk about that? Better to talk around it. Or, if we do talk about it, to shriek and shout and curse about it and tune out whatever the other person is saying (or shrieking or cursing) about it. Or, the most attractive alternative: to not talk about it at all.

Here is what Bogut, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick and former college star at Utah, said in the middle of an otherwise fluffy feature in the Sydney Morning Herald (under one of the more spot-on headlines you'll ever see - "The Bling and I"):

"The public's image of NBA players is true. ... A lot of them get caught up in the hype and do video clips with rappers and all that crap. They want bling bling all over themselves and drive fast cars. ...

"There are guys who drop a hundred grand for a chain. The public's got it right - a lot of NBA stars are arrogant and like to spend lots of money and have lots of girlfriends and all that," he continued. " ... About 80 percent of them go broke by the time they retire or come close to it. ...

"I would never want my child to be brought up in an environment like that, where if you have money you're supposed to flaunt it and make everyone jealous. The American attitude is, 'We're the best.' That's why the NBA guys who come from other countries, the Europeans, all sort of stick together away from the game."

Wow. Sure you got everybody? No more bullets left in the chamber?

Now, a few who have scrutinized the above comments have argued that Bogut was aiming at American culture overall more than he was one race.

You could assume that as well, had he not dropped in that line about the players from other countries "stick[ing] together." Or the stuff about "bling bling" and chains and rappers.

But the real news in this is that, in the two weeks since Bogut's remarks were published, they have not become news at all. A quick Google search late last week uncovered exactly one American newspaper or online columnist who commented on it: Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

There was so much meat in Bogut's quotes to carve up, too. There were kernels of truth (no question, there is a strong immature knucklehead faction in this league), ridiculous exaggerations (80 percent go broke? Really, Professor?), easy stereotyping (clearly, Bogut needs to expand his circle within the very league in which he works) and blatant hypocrisy (raising his kids back in the home country will be easier with the mountains of filthy lucre he made in this corrupt culture).

Yet somehow, this completely evaded America's radar - even though he said it during the NBA Finals, when every aspect of the relationship between the players and the public was being pulled apart and put under a microscope. Why were the ratings low? Why are the Spurs unpopular? Why has Tim Duncan not been embraced? Is LeBron James a product of substance or hype? What messages are viewers sending? What messages are players sending? Why is everything so different from the days of Magic, Larry and Michael?

Constantly bubbling beneath the surface of every last argument were race, nationality and culture - where they intersected, converged and diverged, as they always have and always will when the NBA is involved. But rarely did anyone phrase it in those terms.

Amidst it all, a very prominent player - hey, he's a No. 1 pick with a decent track record two years into his career - takes on these very issues, doing everything but uttering the words "black" and "white," and virtually nobody talks about it.

Well, that's not totally true. The blogosphere blew up as soon as the article started making the rounds. A dozen or so blogs engaged the core topic directly. Refreshingly, much of the talk was calm and reasoned, something we're still waiting on with the Imus and Duke lacrosse cases.

So it's not as if some sort of black-vs.-white fatigue has set in. One segment of the population talked about the same issues Bogut brought out without actually mentioning them directly, while a parallel media universe dug into Bogut's comments and actually advanced the dialogue.

Here's to that parallel universe, then. And, grudgingly, here's to you, Andrew Bogut, you sweet-shooting, court-savvy xenophobe, you. You lit the most dangerous fuse in your adopted country, and somehow watched it not explode.

Compared to that, banging with Shaq and Duncan should be easy.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Points after -- David Steele

The NBA age requirement may go against every principle and ideal America stands for, but it sure made Thursday night more interesting, didn't it?

Joakim Noah, the first-round pick of the Chicago Bulls, clearly was making a statement with his draft-day suit. The statement: "I'm so rich, people will look at this outfit and call me 'quirky,' instead of 'dork.'"

Ex-Terp Steve Francis was shipped to the Portland Trail Blazers because his bloated salary made the Zach Randolph deal with the New York Knicks fit under the cap, not because the Blazers want him to play there. Which raises a question asked here not long ago: Franchise, how did your career come to this, and how did it get there so fast?

Apparently, it took the sight of Derek Jeter doing the backstroke into second base Thursday night at Camden Yards to persuade the umps to call the game.

Not only will it never happen, but it also will never be mentioned again: Now that NFL Europa is history, how about if the NFL created a developmental league in this country, so it can develop its own players and not count on the colleges to do it?

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