Michael Jordan Says He Was Racist as a Teen
Welcome to another edition of This Week in Racism. I’ll be ranking news stories on a scale of one to RACIST, with “one” being the least racist and “RACIST” being the most racist.
–NBA legend Michael Jordan makes a shocking admission in an upcoming book about this life. The New York Post reported that in Michael Jordan: The Life by Ronald Lazenby, the Hall of Famer admits that as a teenager, he had contempt for all white people. Jordan grew up in North Carolina during the 1970s, in a hotbed of KKK activity. In the book, Jordan recounts a story where he threw a soda at a girl who called him a “nigger.”
“I was really rebelling. I considered myself a racist at the time. Basically, I was against all white people,” Jordan is quoted as saying. Of course, saying you used to be a racist isn’t a crime. There are a lot of awesome ex-racists out there. The guy from American History X, Paula Deen, the late Strom Thurmond, Michael Richards, and Mel Gibson all used to beracist. They saw the error of their ways and evolved. Same with Air Jordan. Eventually, Michael Jordan saw the many, many great things about white people. Golf, cigars, polo shirts, and money are all awesome. I bet some of Michael Jordan’s best friends are white. I bet the guys who fly Michael Jordan’s private plane and details his fleet of luxury automobiles are white.
It’s easy to hate when you are given ample reasons to do so. Having racial slurs (and actual physical objects) thrown at you is a pretty difficult rationale to quibble with, and I’m sure there are white people, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans who have similar reasons for being prejudiced. It’s even harder to avoid feelings of ill will when you’re trapped in a small town where races don’t easily mix. Once Michael Jordan’s talent developed and he was clearly destined to be special, it was no longer practical to hate.
As the world around you grows, so does your perspective. Maybe that doesn’t always happen, but it does more often than not. Unfortunately, not everyone can be as wealthy and gifted as Michael Jordan. “Be Like Mike” is less a slogan than a thinly veiled taunt. People of all races benefit from more opportunity, even if they can’t dunk. The more comfortable society becomes with ignoring economic and social disparities, the more racial tension will develop. If only people like Michael Jordan would speak up more.
Continue This Week in Racism
Donald Sterling’s Been Banned for Life, but He’ll Be Dead Soon Anyway
The NBA finally applied sanctions to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Sterling has been fined $2.5 million (the maximum he could be fined) and suspended for life for the racist rhetoric his former girlfriend recorded and released to TMZ as retribution for a lawsuit brought against her by Sterling.
The scandal, which has diverted attention away from one of the most exciting, competitive NBA Playoffs in modern history and potentially ruined the Clippers’ run at the Finals, might finally recede from the public consciousness now that Sterling has been punished. Of course, as long as he owns the team, there will still be the question of how long he’ll remain a part of the league and who will take over when he’s gone.
This Guy Played for Gaddafi’s Basketball Team at the Start of the Libyan Revolution
There are a few things to expect when you start playing basketball at an international level: a grueling training regime, competitive teammates, and maybe some kind of sponsorship deal involving toiletries or luminous drinks. Stuff you generally don’t prepare yourself for, however, is almost starving to death while the army shoots at civilians just outside your apartment, being forced to survive on cockroaches and toilet water and fleeing a country by way of a border occupied by rebel guards.
That’s what happened to Alex Owumi, an American ball player who moved to Benghazi, Libya after being recruited by Al-Nasr, a team owned by the Gaddafi family. Alex arrived at the end of 2010 and enjoyed a few months as the team’s point guard, before the revolution broke out in February of 2011 and he found himself trapped in his apartment—a lavish place owned by Gaddafi’s son, Mutassim—without any food or electricity.
With little contact to the outside world, he survived by eating worms and drinking toilet water – his teeth turning rotten and the pigment on his face discolouring—until he got a call from his former coach, who smuggled him over the border to Egypt. After arriving in Alexandria, he recovered and started playing for the city’s El Olympi, helping them win 13 games in a row and eventually take the championship.
I gave him a call to talk about his experience, the Gaddafi family and how the revolution changed his outlook on life.
VICE: So, that’s quite an experience you went through. Can you tell me how you ended up in Libya?
Alex Owumi: It was a pretty bad time for me as a player, then my manager phoned me up and told me there was this team in Libya that wanted me to play for them. At that point it was either doing this for me or going back home. And I was welcomed there with open arms.
Did you know at that point that it was Gaddafi’s team you were going to play for?
I didn’t find out it was Gaddafi’s team until I first got into my apartment. It was all beautiful and state of the art, but I noticed there were also quite a lot of pictures of Gaddafi and his grandkids. That’s when I finally asked my team captain whose apartment this was, and he told me it belonged to the Gaddafi family.
Will Unions Save College ‘Student Athletes’ from Poverty?
The 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament came to its frantic conclusion on Monday night, with hundreds of millions of dollars in bets, ticket sales, and ad revenue changing hands across the country as young men hurled themselves at each other in desperation on national television. In the end, UConn point guard Shabaaz Napier was basking in the glow of victory, smiling for the cameras with his teammates, which made it easy to forget that he recently expounded on the seedy underbelly of college sports in America.
"I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving," he told reporters in late March when asked about the Northwestern University football team’s ongoing effort to unionize.
In case you haven’t noticed, big-time college athletics is a pretty sordid business that rests on the exploitation of the labor of young men and women, many of them from poor backgrounds, under the auspices of the dubious “student-athlete” construct. Supposedly these kids are on campus to learn first and play second, ridiculous one-paragraph essays notwithstanding. But as has been repeatedly pointed out, the universities, coaches, and NCAA brass rake in huge profits each year—college sports is now a multibillion-dollar industry—while the kids who don’t make the pros (or suffer heinous injuries before they have the opportunity) are largely left high and dry.
Fed up with the status quo, the Northwestern Wildcats—a mediocre but widely identifiable Division I football program—filed with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to form a union and earn legal recognition as employees earlier this year, and, in what is being hailed as a potentially landmark ruling, they won. Now the students are set to vote on April 25 on unionization, and there is at least some chance they will embrace the opportunity, assuming the university overlords don’t scare them away from the idea. With employee status and union bargaining power could come protection for those with athletic scholarships from suddenly being cut off from receiving an education if they became injured or didn’t perform as expected—and maybe, further down the line, they could receive a real share of the cash generated by the massive advertising revenue their athletic endeavors make possible.
JR Smith and America’s Out of Control Love Affair with Drug Testing
JR Smith isn’t like you or me, because he’s very good at basketball—so good, in fact, that he gets a lot of money to play the game for the New York Knicks. Last season he won the sixth man of the year award while burnishing his reputation for being TMZ fodder whenever he stepped off the court. In January, he crudely propositioned a high school student via Twitter with the line, “You trying to get the pipe?“; during the playoffs no less a personage than Rihanna said he partied too much. Previously, he tweeted a photo of “the girl with the biggest ass ever“ lying in his hotel bed (she turned out to be the on-again off-again girlfriend of rapper Joe Budden), and more seriously, back in 2009 he killed his friend in a car accident and spent 30 days in jail for reckless driving.
In a turn of events that came as a surprise to absolutely no one, Smith recently got suspended for five games for failing a drug test (the fourth such test he’s flunked) and violating the NBA’s substance abuse policy. Though what exactly he tested positive for hasn’t been publicly confirmed, the scuttlebutt is that they detected marijuana in his system.
It’s understandable that the league would want to keep its players away from performance enhancing drugs, but why shouldn’t Smith be allowed to smoke weed? He’s not in charge of the nation’s nukes; he just shoots a basketball in front of tens of thousands of people about 80 times a year. But many, many people have to deal with the same kind of intrusive testing he does. Actually, the fact that Smith has to worry about fucking up a drug test is one of the only things he has in common with the majority of non-NBA Americans.
Watch the North Korea Episode of VICE on HBO Right Now, for Free
Chances are, the first time you heard of our HBO show was when news outlets around the world reported that we took Bad-as-I-Wanna-Be NBA Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman to North Korea, along with members of the legendary Harlem Globetrotters, to take on the Hermit Kingdom’s national team in a friendly, if entirely absurd, experiment in basketball diplomacy. As you probably know, the enigmatic young ruler of the country, Kim Jong Un, showed up to the game, making us the first American news organization to meet him. It was pretty much the most thrilling thing that could have happened, and when pictures were beamed back to Brooklyn that day, the poured-concrete floors of our offices rippled in cracks and dents as our jaws collectively hit the floor.
Our trip to DPRK is the glorious capstone of the first season of VICE. Here it is, in all its absurd glory.
North Korea Has a Friend in Dennis Rodman and VICE
Earlier today former Chicago Bulls superstar Dennis Rodman presided over a mixed-match basketball game in Pyongyang alongside Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. The teams consisted of VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy; Moose Weekes, Buckets Blakes, and Bull Bullard of the Harlem Globetrotters; and North Korea’s “Dream Team,” all of whom played their hearts out in what we have termed a “basketball diplomacy” mission. Following the game, Rodman gave a stirring speech after the game that extended an olive branch to the Hermit Kingdom. The VICE crew is currently having a reception at the Supreme Leader’s house, and Duffy has invited Kim Jung-un to America and to tour the VICE offices. There isn’t much more to say than that because our jaws are still on the floor. So while we pick them up and get more info from our team, enjoy these photos of the game. You can watch the highlights on VICE, our new HBO series that premieres April 5th.
Photos by Jason Mojica
That’s So Jordan
Normally, there’d be something odd about all of basketball spending NBA All-Star weekend getting all misty, awed, wistful, and click-bait-slideshow-y about the 50th birthday of the man who owns the league’s worst franchise, and who is known as one of the most capricious and nastiest narcissists in sports history. This was not quite one of those Dictator Birthday Spectaculars—150,000 terrified civilians performing choreographed praise semaphore in some totalitarian urinal of a soccer stadium while brainwashed children sing odes to a blank-faced hemorrhoidal birthday-tyrant and the military marches its missiles around for seven hours—but also not totally not that kind of thing. That the 50-year-old in question is Michael Jordan explains a good part of it, naturally: He is the greatest basketball player ever, and that being more or less beyond dispute does not make it something basketball fans are less excited to talk about. But in the decade since Jordan’s last NBA game, talking about His Airness has become a different and stranger thing than it was.
It’s not that Jordan lacked complexity back when he was great and vicious and dazzling as a player. Jordan was known both as an impossible-to-solve athlete who dominated the NBA and a businessman who first crafted and then actually personally became a vanquishment-oriented global luxury brand. He berated and belittled teammates, he gambled and philandered extravagantly and did all the other things that professional athletes do, he coupled his unreal physical grace with heavy anger and gnashing narcissism. Whatever illusions once existed about Michael Jordan not being a warped, rageful asshole—the Ayn Rand ideal of a prime mover come to implausibly elegant and predictably brutal life—were clearly illusions even at the height of his beauty.
This week, David J Roth compares the Lakers to LA, fights on Bravo reality shows, the US Senate, Ocean’s 11 crossed with a Lars von Trier film, and the way we live now. He also points out that Kobe possesses the eyes of a psychotic teddy bear and Steve Nash would rather be listening to Wolf Parade. All that, plus jokes about Cialis packs and Anthony Keidis wearing a dumb hat!