NBA Culture Clash Is Generation Gap

By Off the BASN Sports Wire
Updated: November 2, 2004

Allen Iverson

NEW HAVEN, CT.—Whether intentionally or not, Larry Bird, the Indiana Pacers’ president of basketball operations, touched on a real issue when he said the NBA needs a white superstar.

Maybe the NBA is too hip-hop for its audience. Maybe the urban culture, with its braggadocio and rebellion, is too much for the predominantly older, whiter ticket buyers and media.

“The league is more commercial and it’s all based on image, but hip-hop is basically where a lot of the people in the NBA grew up,” Denver Nuggets center Marcus Camby said.

“We grew up in the inner city, we grew up on hip-hop music. Trying to incorporate (hip-hop) into the basketball society, it never really works.”

Some players said they feel this is part of the reason criticism toward the NBA comes so quick and frequent. They said they hear all the time how people are tired of the celebrations, the trash talk and the excessive fanciness.

Hip-hop, or the influx of players influenced by it, is either considered responsible for or directly linked to the so-called waywardness of the NBA.

“I think a lot of people don’t really understand hip-hop,” said USC professor Todd Boyd, author of “Young, Black, Rich and Famous: The Rise of the NBA, The Hip Hop Invasion and the Transformation of American Culture.”

“A lot of times, it’s stereotyping; stereotyping young black men – which is the majority of people in the NBA.”

The NBA has certainly taken advantage of hip-hop’s presence in the league, unapologetically marketed to the urban community.

Hip-hop-inspired clothing lines such as Fubu, UNK and D’Funked have been licensed to peddle NBA gear. The league even has its own shoe with Reebok-sneakers with the NBA logo on the side.

Once-rare throwback jerseys, a trend catapulted by hip-hop artists, can now be bought anywhere sweat socks are sold. To capitalize off the throwback craze, the NBA created Hardwood Classic Nights, which are games when teams wear their franchise’s old school uniforms-a relative fashion show of jerseys.

And the NBA certainly took money from rapper Jay-Z, who was a part of the ownership group that bought the New Jersey Nets, and new Charlotte Bobcats owner Robert Johnson, who founded the cable television BET, the NBC of hip-hop culture.

But is hip-hop fine for profit but offensive on the court? The NBA, at times, seems embarrassed by it’s relationship with the culture.

Several players have been fined for wearing shorts too long (of course, oversized gear is a staple of hip-hop culture). Allen Iverson’s tattoos were airbrushed out on the cover of Hoop Magazine, an NBA publication.

The league also discouraged hanging on the rim and taunting via technical fouls.

“It comes down to a generational difference,” said Boyd, who overseas the study of race and popular culture in USC’s School of Cinema-Television.

“The gate-keepers of the NBA are older and white. They want to make the league out to be something to fit them instead of taking the league for what it is. It’s not just racial. There are many black people who don’t like hip-hop either. It’s a generational difference. People from older generations want to impose their beliefs on the younger generation.”

Los Angeles Clippers forward Elton Brand said a mistake is made when hip-hop is affixed just to those who are boisterous and unruly, to those who show-out on the court and get in trouble off it.

He said people need to realize some of the good guys in the league – the Kevin Garnetts, the Derek Fishers, the Richard Hamiltons – also fit under the umbrella of hip-hop.

“Hip-hop is not just gangsta rap and party music,” Brand said. “I’m sure they look at someone living a hip-hop lifestyle as someone with braids, tattoos, they smoke weed. They don’t see the other guys as hip-hop.”