The Brooklyn Nets Feed the Post
If you didn’t know yet, the New Jersey Nets have become the Brooklyn Nets and are embarking upon a slight rebranding campaign based in hip-hop imagery and a sleek Black & White frills-free design template allegedly designed by the (minority) boss himself, Jay-Z. Personally, I think it’s pretty cool. You got the home of hip-hop and hip-hop’s undisputed emperor unleashing hip-hop and taking the new experiments in monochromatic jerseys and design pioneered by “cooler” teams like the Heat and expanding them. They’ve got “Brooklyn’s Finest” and “Hello Brooklyn” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” shirts (taking a moment here to say Rest in Peace to Adam Yauch aka MCA of the Beastie Boys. It’s a sad day when someone so young, especially a pioneer such as himself, passes away so early from cancer. Fittingly, he’ll be relevant to this article). One of the nicknames for the squad is the Brownstone Ballers. Now they may not pick up Dwight and still look to be a lotto team in the next few seasons, but damnit they’re dope as hell.
But what’s happening here is a pretty interesting case study in the NBA’s ongoing Odd Couple-esque relationship with hip-hop. The NBA needs hip-hop as it is perhaps the most urban-relevant of the major American sports leagues and draws from the culture of modern basketball itself, which is decidedly underclass and has supplanted the Princeton archetype with a much more “colorful” interpretation of style. There is a reason why the NBA merged with the freewheeling ABA and a reason why its rise to true prominence nationally coincided with the rise of hip-hop. However, the NBA is also often at odds with hip-hop and its mostly African-American listeners (often including the players). This is predictable when a group of out-of-touch billionaires make the real decisions and pay the bills. “Blackness” is cool until it’s “too Black” and the moment players break from their tightly scripted molds of the acceptable expressions of Blackness and hip-hop they are labeled “thugs” and “hoodlums.” Ask Allen Iverson. This is why a case like
New Jersey Brooklyn is interesting. You have a Russian owner who doesn’t seem to care much about “character” or how “Black” the players seem (indeed, this is a man with more alleged criminal ties than ANY player or exec in the league) who cares about having fun and winning with style. You have a group of minority owners that include hip-hop moguls and THE hip-hop mogul in Jay-Z. You have Brooklyn, itself a microcosm of race-cohabiting dynamics and hip=hop culture. And you have an increasingly large contingent of White fans and commentators who are growing uncomfortable with the whole thing.
Enter Phil Mushnick, sportswriter for the New York Post. This isn’t a post where I blast the NY Post for their content or delivery (although it seems as if many of their articles are written by roid-raging barely-literate idiots). But Mushnick utilizes a particularly incendiary writing style where he often says insensitive or racist bullshit and has a shitty excuse later. An article he wrote last night may have been even too much for him and for the Post (I know). In it, Mushnick (in a sidebar unrelated to anything else he’s writing about) states:
As long as the Nets are allowing Jay-Z to call their marketing shots — what a shock that he chose black and white as the new team colors to stress, as the Nets explained, their new “urban” home — why not have him apply the full Jay-Z treatment?
Why the Brooklyn Nets when they can be the New York N——s? The cheerleaders could be the Brooklyn B—-hes or Hoes. Team logo? A 9 mm with hollow-tip shell casings strewn beneath. Wanna be Jay-Z hip? Then go all the way!
After being (perhaps rightfully) flamed by all of Twitter and numerous news outlets for being racist, he offered the following excuse/nonpology:
Such obvious, wishful and ignorant mischaracterizations of what I write are common. I don’t call black men the N-word; I don’t regard young women as bitches and whores; I don’t glorify the use of assault weapons and drugs. Jay-Z, on the other hand…..Is he the only NBA owner allowed to call black men N—ers?
Jay-Z profits from the worst and most sustaining self-enslaving stereotypes of black-American culture and I’M the racist? Some truths, I guess, are just hard to read, let alone think about.
This is the type of stupidity and willful feigning of ignorance with respect to racism that I hate. And it’s really just a masked way to complain that white folks don’t get to say the “N Word.” We’ve been over this. Get over it. You shouldn’t want to say it because when you say it, it hurts people. Sorry. You can’t change that and your stupid whining can’t either. But it does seem like Mushnick has some points in his nonpology that seem at least partially valid right? I mean Jay-Z did and does glorify/promote some pretty awful stereotypes in his work. He does profit from a regrettable element of hip-hop culture. But statements like Mushnick’s are less the nuanced criticism that he thinks and more a blanket uninformed attack on Black culture.
Look, we get it. Any marketing campaign that deals in hip-hop is going to have to eventually brush up against the less….PC elements of the form. But to say a campaign in hip-hop led by Jay-Z is unworthy and would invite misogyny, etc to the club is a fundamental miscalculation about what hip-hop is. Almost every music genre has misogynist and violent elements, because frankly those sentiments are woven into the very fabric of our society. There’s underground country music devoted to being able to carry guns and kill intruders. Red Hot Chili Peppers said some pretty wild things about the female gender. While the problem may be more public and hyperexaggerated in Black culture (as Black culture is a kind of canary in the coal mine for the rest of America), hip-hop at its best represents the true spirit of the sport and is the true cultural expression of many who embrace it. Yes, Jay-Z is the man who bragged shamelessly about selling cocaine in his youth, but he’s also the man who exhorted thousands of Black youth to get out and vote and who donates regularly to the President. Hip-hop has a tremendous capability for destruction but a commensurate capability for construction….and that seems to be exactly what the Nets need right now. It just seems like the hypocrisy surrounding hip-hop and the NBA is getting deeper. And let’s not even get into the realities of why hip-hop and Black culture are so often dysfunctional in the first place. Kids in inner cities are put in shitty schools with no resources for betterment starting at age 4. While there are necessary elements of self-determination, policies are made specifically at the expense of Black people every year. “Self-enslavement?” Please.
One more thing. Mushnick implied in his apology that Black folks are the reason for the prevalence of the “N Word” and that his children heard it first from rap. Clearly it’s our fault that the word is even in the lexicon, right? Because White folks are trying so hard to move on and not think about race. I leave you with this: