Offensive Remarks

Jun 11, 2004

In today’s news, people can’t seem to keep their mouth shut. We have Jimmy Kimmel cracking a joke about Detroit in this corner. We have Larry Bird talking about race in basketball in the other. I’m not going to touch Bill Parcell’s comments, other than to say the “Pearl Harbor plays” might be a much better name.

Let’s start with Jimmy. My problem with the outrage caused by his comments about Detroit’s flair for celebrations is that I found them pretty funny.

“They’re going to burn the city of Detroit down if the Pistons win, and it’s not worth it.”

C’mon. It is. Isn’t it?

I’m not a fan of the man — an interview he did on my local radio station a while back didn’t sit well with me — but you have to give someone credit when they rip off a good one. It’s not like the joke isn’t based on fact. It is inappropriate and it is a little off color but that’s comedy for you. If all humor were prim and proper we wouldn’t have blond jokes. How could we survive without blond jokes?

Mr. Kimmel shouldn’t be surprised about the backlash caused by his comments – a Detroit affiliate yanked him off the air. That’s what happens when you pooch your chances at a national spotlight. That said, there are places outside of Michigan where a joke can be funny. His apology proves some of them may be from his home town of L.A.

“What I said about Pistons fans during halftime was a joke, nothing more. If I offended anyone I’m sorry,” he said. “Clearly, over the past 10 years, we in L.A. have taken a commanding lead in post-game riots. If the Lakers win, I plan to overturn my own car.”

Mr. Bird, it’s your turn. Let’s chat about race.

“I think it’s good for a fan base because, as we all know, the majority of the fans are white America. And if you just had a couple of white guys in there, you might get them a little excited.”

Magic Johnson, I should mention, didn’t shy away from basically agreeing as well.

“We need some more LBs — Larry Birds. … Larry Bird, you see, can go into any neighborhood. When you say ‘Larry Bird,’ black people know who he is, Hispanics, whites, and they give him the respect.”

Bird did, of course, catch some flak about this. But, in this case at least, people seem to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s a legitimate star and earned the right to speak his mind, particularly when he takes great pains to balance his comments about race. Oh, and he’s right.

Well, he’s right to a point. As Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated points out, members of an underrepresented group can make quite a splash in unfamiliar territory. Think Tiger Woods. Think Eminem.

I’m of the opinion that an important part of being a fan is the ability to fantasize about being on the court, field, or rink. I could do that better. I would have caught that ball. I would have made that basket. There are other factors, mind you, but race is a significant one.

Where Bird’s reasoning falls short is in the current game of basketball itself. If I want to see someone shoot less than 50%, I’ll pick up a ball myself. If I want to watch an 18 year old learn the game of basketball, I’ll go visit my local high school. The game is plodding at best and full of interruptions at worst. The pro game needs to match college game in terms of excitement and I haven’t even mentioned what it really lacks: stars.

I can’t say that a white Michael Jordon wouldn’t make me more interested in basketball. I’d bet it would. But I can say that the game needs some legitimate stars that rise above the others. Greatness has its own way of generating excitement about a sport, no matter the color, race, or creed.

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