Mtn Dew Black Label, a carbonated soft drink made with real sugar, crafted dark berry flavor and herbal bitters, would like to suggest an "alternative" lifestyle for college students: one with a touch of class. That's right, there's no reason you can't make your four years of college an exercise in refinement, giving you an advanced degree in "Swagonomics."
This week we have Dr. Todd Boyd, who holds the Katherine and Frank
Price Endowed Chair for Study of Race and Popular Culture at the
University of Southern California. Known as "the Notorious Ph.D." he is
the author of Am I Black Enough for You: Pop Culture From the Hood and Beyond and The New H.N.I.C: The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop.
He was one of the first people in academia to begin incorporating
hip-hop culture into his courses, and has been a leading voice in
scholarly applications of hip-hop to American culture for more than two
Can you tell us some of the specific courses on hip-hop you teach?
Way back in the '90s, I started teaching a course called
Hip-Hop Culture, which is sort of self-explanatory in title. There are
other courses I teach where hip-hop can serve as an example of something
larger. Hip-hop extends far beyond music into other areas. Film,
television, sports, fashion, politics, design, dance… there are numerous
places where hip-hop serves as a useful example in terms of spelling
something out or illustrating a point.
Are there any more specialized courses that you teach?
I’m one of the very small number of people who really began
teaching hip-hop courses in major universities. So perhaps some people
who have come along more recently are doing things that have grown out
of the foundation that I feel I laid. When you talk about a course on
hip-hop, the Hip-Hop Culture course was a course on history but it was
also politics and a frame for studying American culture, for studying
race. It’s grown and morphed into new and different directions to the
point I don’t even think about it as separate anymore. I just think of
it as part of American culture.
What besides the music in hip-hop culture do you think has had the biggest impact in American history?
When hip-hop started it was about four elements: MCing, DJing,
graffiti and breakdancing. As hip hop started to move out of New York
become this popular form of music the MC was the easiest part of that to
sell. So the music became significant and the MC became the face of hip
hop. Hip hop was always a culture, an ideology, a point of view. So you
saw it impact movies, sports and fashion. It was all-encompassing.
There’s an argument to be made that hip-hop helped pave the ground for
the election of the nation’s first African-American president. Because
of the role culture plays in our society, hip-hop broke down a lot of
barriers that existed previously. So I wouldn’t specify one thing. It’s
the impact on everything hip-hop has had, and the fact that you can
point to that impact in a number of different areas kind of speaks for
itself. There was a time when hip-hop movies were getting a lot of
attention, and of course just this summer one of the biggest movies ever
of that genre, Straight Outta Compton, made over $100 million. You can talk about film, in sports, but it’s not just one of those things.
What were some challenges when you first got started? Was it
hard to sell people the idea of teaching hip-hop in an academic setting?
I’ve been at USC since 1992. I started immediately after the L.A. Riots.
It was a time when hip-hop was really instrumental and commenting on
what was going on in society. On one hand you had hip-hop predicting
what came about in the L.A. Riots, and on the other you had a sort of
commentary on it. For instance you listen to Ice Cube before the riots
and you listen to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic after the riots. The
music and what was going on was very closely intertwined so I started
using hip-hop to exemplify certain things.
As far as administration there was never any problem with me teaching
the course. There were other faculty members who didn’t know anything
about hip-hop who just assumed that because it was contemporary and
outside their frame of reference that it was insignificant, but history
over time has proven them quite wrong. There are always haters, be it
administration, other faculty or even students. But there was never
really any attempt to shut it down because it was immediately popular.
At the time I was one of the few people who had grown up in the culture
who had an opportunity to talk about it authoritatively.
Was there any aspect that students found consistently surprising?
People have often said to me after taking my course was that it
was about so much more than the topic, or more than was stated on the
syllabus. To me that’s a compliment because when you’re talking about
hip-hop or really anything you’re asking, “What’s the relevance of this
issue to society? What impact does it have on the world we live in both
historically and on the present?” I think a lot of people think of
hip-hop as music they listen to, and maybe to some people it’s just
music and something they enjoy, but when you take something that people
engage at a leisurely level and say there’s a substance to it if you
look at it a certain way it’s often surprising that something people
think of as not that important has so many important facets attached to
Do you have a particular favorite figure that’s influenced hip-hop culture?
I’ve been there from day one pretty much, so there are so many
different figures. Biggie Smalls is a personal favorite, but there are
many, many others. Ice Cube, NWA, Public Enemy… I could keep naming
Is there anywhere you’d like to see academic hip-hop go?
As someone that helped bring hip-hop into the academy I must
say I’m disappointed in what I’ve seen come about since. A lot of people
tried to jump upon the bandwagon. They didn’t have a real connection to
hip-hop but they sort of attached themselves to it because they thought
it would sort of help their career. Now you have subsequent generations
of people who come along and it’s a situation here they’re trying to
bend hip-hop to whatever agenda they have. I don’t really think in terms
of where it’s going. I guess it’s just a different historical
perspective to sort of see where the culture went and to see what people
in academia are doing with it. I don’t run into a lot of people who
know what they’re doing, honestly. Or at least they don’t interest me in
the way the approach it.
Hip Hop University w/ Dr. Todd Boyd
Oct 17, 2015
Jun 21, 2015
"I want to be one with the ideas that I articulate. Like Rakim, the poet laureate of hip hop, once said, "I start to think and then I sink into the paper like I was ink."
“Dr. B” is the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture and Professor of Critical Studies in the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Dr. Boyd’s influential work as a public intellectual has consistently bridged the gap between the ivory tower and popular culture since the 1990s. He was producer/co-writer on the Paramount Pictures celebrated cult classic film The Wood (1999). He has been a regular contributor to ESPN, ESPN.com, The Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, Jim Rome on Showtime, Chicago Tribune, and ESPN Classic. A prominent media commentator, Dr. Boyd is well known for appearing in numerous documentaries including, Twenty Feet From Stardom (2013), winner of the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Dr. Boyd has also appeared in Fresh Dressed (CNN, 2015), Richard Pryor: Icon (PBS, 2014), The Doctor (NBA TV, 2013), Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp (Showtime, 2012), The Godfather Legacy (History Channel, 2012), Uprising: Hip Hop and the LA Riots (VH1, 2012), Planet Rock: The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation (VH1, 2011), The Running Rebels of UNLV (HBO, 2011), Straight Outta LA (ESPN, “30 For 30”, 2010), Blood and Crips: Made in America (Independent Lenses/PBS, 2008), The O.J. Verdict (Frontline/PBS, 2005) O.J.: A Study in Black and White (HBO, 2002), among others. He also provided voiceover narration on the Beats Audio Super Bowl commercial “Richard Sherman: The Pundits,” which aired on Fox immediately prior to kickoff, February 5, 2014. Dr. Boyd is the author/editor of seven books and over one hundred articles, essays, reviews, and other forms of written commentary.
What’s Your NativeAdVantage:
What do you do best?
Think and talk. Conceptualize and articulate.
Though the fear of public speaking is common throughout society, I’ve never had this fear. Be it lecturing, doing a media interview, leading a meeting, telling a story, or just having a conversation, I am at my best when running my mouth. When I was in elementary school I always got in trouble for talking too much; so I guess this explains it right? For someone who talks so much though I need to make sure that I have something to say that is worth listening to, so this is where the thinking comes in. Acquiring, evaluating, and articulating knowledge is what I do. But so that it’s not just empty rhetoric, I have to constantly remind myself, don’t just talk about it, be about it.
What makes you the best?
Preparation and Presentation.
I am at my best when I am fully prepared. Someone once asked Bruce Lee to explain his style. His response was “my style is no style.” He explained this by saying that in a street fight style is irrelevant because there are no rules to a street fight; anything goes. So in order to be prepared for a street fight one needs to be flexible in order to properly respond to whatever you might encounter. The only way to be flexible is to be fully prepared to deal with whatever comes your way. In other words, if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.
I often think about life as a performance art space. It's important to understand then that ideas need to be presented properly within this space. This involves both the ideas in their own rite, as well as the person presenting these ideas. I want to be one with the ideas that I articulate. Like Rakim, the poet laureate of hip hop, once said, "I start to think and then I sink into the paper like I was ink." So for me in terms of presentation, it’s all about making a sartorial statement. This is the package that I offer the public. It also serves to underline my ideas. My clothes are my uniform, my armor. I used to read GQ magazine in high school, while most of my peers were reading comic books. When you see me, I’m going to give you some fashion to go along with the intellect. This way even if you do not like what I am talking about, you can at least say that I was clean when you saw me.
How will you become the best?
Dedication. Staying true to the game. Continuing to hone my skills. Avoiding the haters.
For me the pursuit of excellence is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. The pursuit is ongoing, but learning to fully experience the journey holds its own rewards.
What are your aspirations?
Personal: My personal aspirations involve drinking copious amounts of espresso, champagne, and Chateau Latour in hopes of becoming a truly conscious, evolved, authentic, and enlightened individual in the process.
Business: My business aspirations involve being able to continually generate the income necessary to afford the espresso, champagne, and Chateau Latour.
What fascinates you?
As someone born in the 1960s I am continually fascinated by all of the ways, both subtle and profound, that technology has changed how we live our lives. For the first half of my life a phone, a camera, and a typewriter were three separate objects that performed three separate tasks. Now one device can do all three things, along with performing countless other tasks. People of a certain generation may take these changes for granted, but to have been born into a world where none of this existed and then to reach a point where such things are commonplace is particularly fascinating when you think about it.
“Hipness is not a state of mind. It is a fact of life.”
Malcolm X, Jack Johnson, Miles Davis, Richard Pryor, Billie Holiday, Norman Mailer.
Tag Heuer Monaco watch a.k.a. "The Steve McQueen"
Goliath Ultra eyeglass frames a.k.a. "The Lew Wasserman's"
"Stingy" brim fedora
Acqua di Parma Colonia
All Apple everything!
A long time ago I figured out how to make a living off of my passions. Whenever I watch a movie, listen to music, engage with a sporting event, visit a museum or art gallery, I am “working.” This represents my attempts at living a seamless life. When you can get paid to do things that you would do for free, I call this winning.
Dr. Todd Boyd:The Native Society Interview
Apr 27, 2014
Jim Rome on Showtime (May 14, 2014)
Disrupt w/ Karen Finney (May 3, 2014)
Dr. Todd Boyd, a USC professor and celebrated author on issues of culture and sports, has long been among those in town who have openly wondered how Sterling's behavior has avoided league censure. He thought this latest bit of ink-stained wretchedness was just more of the same. If he was trying to be sarcastic," Boyd said, "it actually might have been funny, but he wasn't. Boyd said the main issue was the propagation of a tired generality. You know, he said, Sterling's history is so tainted at this point, nothing would surprise me. (Los Angeles Times: March 1, 2011)
The Sterling Uproar and L.A.'s Race Relations (Los Angeles Times, Live Video Chat: May 15, 2014)
Disrupt with Karen Finney (MSNBC : May 3, 2014)
Racist Views Exile Sterling From the NBA (Associated Press : April 30, 2014)
Will the NBA Eject Donald Sterling (Which Way L.A.? : April 28, 2014)
Outside The Lines (ESPN : April 28, 2014)
Latest Ad From Clippers Owner Donald Sterling is Nothing to Celebrate (Los Angeles Times : March 2, 2011)
The Donald Sterling Rule: All Bad Deeds Go Unpunished (Novemeber 25, 2009)
Massa Sterling and Uncle Elgin Go to Court (Notorious Ph.D. : February 24, 2009)
Colored People Talkin' Greasy... (Notorious Ph.D. : May 12, 2009)
Clippers Owner Inconsistent on Approach to Race (NPR : September 19, 2006)
Apr 28, 2013
No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert]
It is not uncommon in this rapidly expansive digital age, with so many media outlets available, for some would-be entertainer to emerge on the scene demanding their Warhol time. Fifteen minutes is about all they get though, as their fleeting flirtation with fame passes before the blink of a blood-shot eye. Famous for being famous has unfortunately become a reality these days. The type of fame that once emerged as a result of impeccable skills mixed with sweat equity often seems to be a relic of a bygone era now. There are no shortcuts to greatness however. This desired destination is only reached after putting in much work. One hit wonders need not apply. It takes years for this. Dues must be paid.
Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor’s tenure as a stand-up comedian, actor, writer, producer, and unabashed American icon stretches from the 1960s to his death in 2005. The 60s were his formative years, while the 80s represented his ascent to movie star status in Hollywood. Yet the 70s were his decade. He owned it. Having absorbed the lessons of the 60s, while cashing in on his hard work during the 80s, it was in the 70s that he made his most lasting mark.
The 1970s were a magical time in the history of American popular culture. In the decade set between the counter-cultural 1960s and the newly conservative 1980s, the 70s offered a decade of free spirited expression unrivaled in modern times. Central to this vibrant decade was the emergence of a new black cultural style motivated by the shifting social and political currents in this enlightened era immediately following the heyday of the Civil Rights movement.
In the last days of the dominance of the three major broadcast networks, television ratings were ruled by black situation comedies like Sanford and Son, Good Times, and The Jeffersons. The mini-series Roots inserted the problematic racial history of slavery and American society into the prime time mainstream when it premièred in 1977. In music, stalwarts like James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder created sounds rooted in both the black church and the black protest tradition, while expanding the American musical palette in ways both profound and proficient. This sense of genius would be equally matched in the sporting arena, as a transcendent athlete like Muhammad Ali set about changing the game. Following on the heels of Melvin Van Peebles’ black power classic Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) Hollywood embarked on an era that would come to be known as “Blaxploitation,” where the sights and sounds of the streets represented gritty urban fare previously absent on the vaunted silver screen.
Black entertainers and performers had emerged from the ash heap of a segregated racial past to command attention on the main stage of American life in the 1970s. The demands of a newly liberated populace would not be suppressed. Blackness was on the march and authenticity was its theme. As the dust settled and the clouds moved away a new voice could be heard in the distance. That voice would grow louder and louder. No longer exiled in the foreign land of unspoken black frustration, that voice had moved from margin to center. The voice in question belonged to none other than the great Richard Pryor.
Pryor’s live performances and his stand-up comedy albums, catalogued in this collection, along with his numerous film and television appearances define his creative output during this time. But it was the brilliantly provocative and outspoken albums that functioned more like graduate seminars of the streets, providing us with the foundation upon which all else would be built. Representing the best of the oral tradition, Pryor used the comedy stage as both a bully pulpit and a chopping block. Nothing was sacred, nothing deemed off limits. Pryor scrutinized his own personal shortcomings as much as he dissected the racial hypocrisy that had defined this nation for so long. If it is true that the same things that make you laugh will make you cry then Pryor’s comedy turned tears into unmitigated hilarity. Things once considered infuriating now prompted belly laughs. Topics that had previously only been spoken of in private were suddenly circulating in an open forum.
When Richard Pryor emerged in the 1960s, moving from a series of low budget industrial Midwestern gigs to New York’s celebrated Café Wha? he was a joker, not yet a comedian. Trying to find his own voice, he, for a time, opted to use Bill Cosby’s instead. But one can only imitate someone else for so long before the appropriation becomes a burden. Cosby’s college-educated humor was certainly helpful in integrating both the comedy stage and the television dial, but Cosby’s user friendly approach would not work for Pryor. Though Cosby was knocking down previously segregated doors with rapid precision, Pryor couldn’t yet walk through these doors because he was still wearing Cosby’s ill-fitting hand-me-downs while trying to attend what was in essence a formal gathering. Pryor simply needed more schooling.
When Pryor arrived in Berkeley, the Mecca of the counter-culture in the late 60s, he was there to get his degree, but his degree would not come from the University of California, instead it would be conferred by the academy of the underground. Mingling amongst the creative and intellectual black vanguard of the Bay Area, Pryor, counting Black Panther Party leader Huey P. Newton among his new friends, immersed himself in the speeches of Malcolm X, with Marvin Gaye’s colossal What’s Going On serving as his soundtrack.
Evidence of Pryor’s coming to consciousness during this time can be heard in a previously unreleased radio interview that originally aired on Berkeley’s KPFA/KPFB in 1971, now available in this collection. Sounding especially somber, and particularly disturbed by the infamous murder of black prisoners at the hands of the state in Attica, Pryor begins the interview by saying that it’s really “hard to be funny” in the aftermath of such a notorious event and concludes that what happened at Attica “ain’t cool.”
There is nothing funny about what he’s saying though. It’s actually quite real. Pryor’s own frustration with American racial politics can be heard loud and clear, without a laugh track in site. In the parlance of the 70s, Pryor here is as serious as a heart attack. The deep conviction that can be detected in Pryor’s voice speaks to the transition that he had undergone while contemplating life in Berkeley. When he emerged from this self-imposed exile, he was a new man. He had discovered gold underneath the trash. The old imitator of Cosby had been laid to rest. In his place the newly discovered Richard Pryor would emerge.
Pryor’s sojourn in Berkeley had revealed to him that his best assets lie in his own colorful upbringing. The voices inside Richard’s head were the ghosts of ghettoes past. The comedian went to the dark side of American life so as to introduce the nation to the long lost underground characters who populated the nefarious confines of a Dickensian urban environment seldom seen by the outside world. The brothels, juke joints, street corners, dope dens, and the jailhouses that had defined Richard’s own life became familiar landmarks in his newly energized comedy. Pimps, winos, and dope fiends now had a voice. Serving as their agent, Richard was going to make sure that everyone heard what these people had to say.
Take for example, Pryor’s detailed description of “the backroom where the Negroes shoot craps,” on “Crap Game,” included here, which originally appeared on Craps (After Hours). Complete with sound effects, Pryor describes the motley crew that inhabits this colorful underworld space; the old man who observes the crap game but never bets, two white “hillbillies” trying to acquire the services of black prostitutes, Big Black Bertha with her 280-pound “sculptured ass”, the Uncle Tom ebony and awkward ivory cop tandem looking for the elusive Jesse, Raymond who “ain’t seen nobody since 1922,” and the aptly titled Cool Breeze, who needs his money “like a hog needs slop.”
Not only did Pryor bring a new class of ghetto inhabitants to the party with him, but he brought their unique take on language to bear as well. Pryor worked with the precision of a linguist when he articulated the sounds of the urban streets. His liberal deployment of what by the time of the OJ Simpson trial in the 90s would be known as the “n word” provoked some, while embarrassing others. Yet Richard was not simply in search of shock value, he was using the word “nigger” like a surgeon wielding a scalpel as he went about dissecting the rhetorical heritage of a nation’s ugly racial past, while demonstrating the liberating properties of unfettered free speech in the process.
Prior to Pryor, the “nigger” was a passive, helpless victim of white verbal abuse. Pryor would turn this hapless victim of racism into an empowered representation of a newly defiant black urban identity, an identity that merged an aggressive disdain for bullshit with an impassioned performance of enlightened indifference. In the process, he had transformed the “nigger” into a “nigga;” though it would take a new generation of rappers to fully recognize what Pryor had unearthed in his groundbreaking urban research. It is this reconsideration of a word like nigga by the hip hop generation that truly demonstrates Pryor’s lasting influence. The impact had moved from one generation to the next, here offering evidence of Pryor’s profound cultural contribution long after he had initially made his presence felt.
In the 1970s people were experimenting with a range of new social freedoms, previously denied them. In the age of Deep Throat (1972), Plato’s Retreat, and suburban key parties like those portrayed in Rick Moody’s The Ice Storm, Pryor’s open and frank discussions about sex provided an X-rated voice-over commentary that was directly in line with the mood of the times. In the decade after the introduction of the birth control pill and in the lead up to and aftermath of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, Pryor’s comically explicit reflections on his own wildly abundant sex life helped solidify that the personal was indeed political. With Pryor nothing was off limits, no matter how embarrassing. The awkwardness of personal intimacy co-existed alongside the at times sheer absurdity of it. Again, Pryor put words to a topic that was challenging this Puritanical society at its very core.
Another social taboo that Pryor tackled in his 70s comedy involved dissecting his own prodigious drug use. This emerged at a time when Richard Nixon was declaring a so-called “war on drugs” that lingers on to this day. As underworld drugs stared to flood the urban landscape and as many Vietnam vets returned home with their own debilitating drug habits, Pryor wore his drug usage like a badge of honor. It was his choice to get high and he wanted the world to know that this was an act of liberty not to be confused with an uncontrollable addiction. Pryor had the money and access to “cop” as much dope as he wanted, choosing to live in the nether world where being high was the password for admittance to this secret society. Yet he willingly talked about his penchant for an elevated mind state in spite of the destruction that such activities could have on one’s life. In this regard, Pryor was like Charlie Parker and Billie Holliday, before him, indulging in a sort of method acting performance that offered equals parts creative genius and self-destructive tendencies. Burning the candle at both ends allowed Pryor a unique vantage point from which to observe and comment on a picture of America that was not always pretty to look at. The greatest performers often give as much of themselves as they do their art. Pryor was no different in this regard. He got high on cocaine, while his listeners in turn got high on him.
There was something radical about Pryor’s very being during this time. In an era when black people were supposed to be transitioning into the mainstream, as demonstrated by the numerous first-time black mayors who were being elected in major cities during the 70s, Richard took it back to the streets. Pryor embraced the streets over politics and the pulpit, though his mocking renditions of the black preacher still prompt uncontrollable laughter. Standing a healthy distance from the masses, observing the action through a mind-altered scope, Pryor was able to speak truth to power through his embodiment of this indifferent street persona. He gave life to the clandestine locales exclusive to those to prefer the darkness of night to the light of day.
Yet as Pryor introduced America to the ghetto streets his own success in the entertainment industry began to challenge his connections to these very roots. Pryor had survived life in the nation’s underbelly. The question had become whether or not he would survive the roller coaster ride of success in white America that his incredible comedic skills had afforded him. Making it out of the ghetto was one thing. Surviving the unexpected drama of fame was another thing entirely. The man who had risen to the top by deconstructing America, now had to exist in the America that he had deconstructed.
Pryor’s mantra through all of this is best summed up on a track in this collection entitled “I Don’t Give a Fuck.” Echoing the sentiment embedded in his friend Miles Davis’ classic “So What,” Pryor relishes having come to a point in his life where the anger he once felt so deeply had been replaced by evolved feelings of extreme indifference. The reality is however that Pryor never really “gave a fuck,” as it were. It was his indifference to the dictates of the status quo that had always made him so important. If he had given a fuck, in his life and in his work, then he certainly would not have been as funny nor as revolutionary as he turned out to be. As an audience we would have all been deprived of his ability to channel that anger into conscious reflective comedy. Thank you for the sacrifice Richard.
The material contained in this box set covers the breadth and depth of Pryor’s illustrious career as a stand-up comedian. The collected comedy is representative of an entire body of work. This is no one hit wonder we’re talking about. The opportunity to accumulate a body of work was certainly not a given for a black man when Pryor started out in the entertainment industry. In many ways the very existence of the material assembled here demonstrates his massive success. Richard Pryor was a major American artist and the voluminous nature of this material implies just that.
In studying a career worth of work, one gets the opportunity to experience a long journey, one that stretches from obscurity to superstardom. Noticing the developments along the way can provide as much fulfillment as reaching the destination. One gets to listen to the ideas as they take shape, the characters as they develop, and the bits as they become perfected over time. This box set represents what one might call “The Richard Pryor Experience.” One should indulge this experience to the fullest, as it is a uniquely American experience. Thanks to the numerous changes that have reshaped American since Richard first emerged on the scene one shouldn’t expect such an experience to unfurl again. Richard was an American original and originals are of course one of a kind.
Jan 25, 2013
I've had my fun/if I don't get well no more/my health is failing me/and I'm goin' down slow/please write my mother/tell her the shape I'm in/tell her to pray for me/forgive me for my sin.
Howlin' Wolf, "Goin' Down Slow"
The last time that there was an NFL team in LA, Bill Clinton was still in his first term, no one had ever heard of a tweet, and Moby Dick was still a minnow. In spite of this glaring absence, the city, short of a few entrepreneurs contemplating stadium deals, has really seemed not to care that the NFL brand has had no home in the nation's second largest city. One of the main reasons that this has seemed not to matter is due to the large shadow cast by the Los Angeles Lakers.
There is always a lot of nostalgia around the Dodgers in this town, but beyond that, as far as pro sports are concerned, the Lakers have since the 1980s ruled the LA sports landscape with an iron fist. No pro football team has meant no big deal as the Lakers have continually provided drama and intrigue even when it wasn't basketball season. There is no doubt that LA is a basketball town. To say that LA is a basketball town though is really to say that it's a Laker town, as the purple and gold are synonymous with basketball in this city. Or perhaps I'm speaking in past tense here?
The City of Angles is at a precarious moment in its basketball history. The Lakers are sinking deeper and deeper into irrelevance, in spite of a roster that includes two former league MVPs, two former Defensive Player of the Year award winners, a Sixth Man of the Year award winner, and six current or former All Stars. This precipitous decline would be one thing if it were only that, but as the Lakers have sunk to unforeseen lows, the Los Angeles Clippers, the city's orphaned stepchild of a franchise, has developed into one of the best teams in the league.
The Lakers have been unraveling every since Andrew Bynum pulled off his jersey and walked off the court when he, along with Lamar Odom, were tossed while the team was being swept off the floor during Game 4 of the second round playoff series against Dallas in 2011. When that game ended Phil Jackson drifted into retirement, while the Lakers began their drift into mediocrity. In that series Pau Gasol looked more like the soft Pau who showed up in the 2008 Finals against Boston, than the skilled big man who showed up during successful '09 and '10 championship campaigns. Kobe Bryant was unremarkable in this series also, though many would blame this on a lingering knee injury. The Lakers, a team with three seven footers, who a year earlier had outlasted Boston in seven games to win another NBA title, suddenly looked old and slow. The Dallas Mavericks, the team who went on to win the '11 title, were not a young team, so exposing the Lakers in this way spoke volumes beyond the actual embarrassment of the sweep.
As the summer of 2011 turned into lockout summer, with NBA players barnstorming across the country playing in pick up games, the Lakers made the first of several mistakes when Jim Buss decided to fire a number of important team support personnel, including assistant general manager Ronnie Lester, who had been with the club for 24 years. As Lester was quoted as saying at the time, "You think of the Lakers and you think they are a great organization. But if you work inside the organization, it's only a perception of being a great organization. It's probably not a great organization, because great organizations don't treat their personnel like they've done."
Great franchises not only have great people on the court and in the coach's chair, but they also have top notch support staff who work behind the scenes spread throughout the organization. Well, at least this was the case during the reign of Jerry Buss. Jim Buss, like George Bush 43, seemed as though he was now calling on a "higher power" when making decisions that looked like the undoing of his father's handiwork.
Buss then hired Mike Brown to take over for Phil Jackson. While no one could realistically replace the Zen Master, Brown was always an odd choice to run a franchise with the history and magnitude of the Lakers. Brown never seemed to have the proper disposition to run the Hollywood blockbuster of a franchise that is the Los Angeles Lakers. He only lasted a season and five games into a second before figuring in the third fastest coach change in NBA history. While Brown was never a good fit, he deserved better treatment, especially when one considers his inferior "seven seconds or less" replacement Mike D'Antoni.
Jim Buss fumbled the Brown hire, fumbled the firing, fumbled in the communication with Phil Jackson and then fumbled again with the D'Antoni coaching hire. Excuse me while I mix metaphors here but Jim Buss has put the ball on the ground more times than a Nebraska fumblerooski.
Many Lakers' fans point to the aborted Chris Paul trade last year as reason for the team's struggles. After the protracted lock out where small market franchises were complaining about being at a competitive disadvantage, there was no way the league could allow a trade that would have surely benefited the Lakers immensely, not as long as the league's twenty-nine other owners were subsidizing the New Orleans franchise. Chris Paul, as it turns out, is a powerful man. While the aborted trade helped sink the Lakers, it concurrently made the Clippers a title contender.
The Lakers and their fans have won so much that like the GOP they became entitled, assuming that some new superstar was always going to come along to prolong their dynasty. Yet the long view of sports suggests that every team's fortunes ebb and flow. No one wins forever, nor does any one team enjoy only good fortune. As Kurt Blow once said, "these are the breaks."
Yet the fun doesn't stop with the coaching carousel or the post aborted trade angst. The Lakers, who were again exposed as old and more out of touch than Mitt Romney's failed presidential campaign in losing to OKC in the 2012 playoffs, decided to sign a petulant man-child who was coming off of back surgery and an aging point guard who had seen better days as a way of doubling down on their entitlement. In spite of Kobe's numbers, it should be obvious to any objective onlooker that his production against the better teams in the playoffs is no longer enough to carry his squad. So just adding stars to a spotty roster was never going to make any difference.
When the petulant man-child with his free shooting woes didn't immediately gel with the team's resident Don Diva and the aging point guard struggled to even get on the floor, things went from bad to worse. Recently it is said that the petulant man-child was supposedly confronted by the team's aging superstar and resident grande dame. The petulant man-child demurred. The thought of Kobe Bryant verbally punkin' an NBA player of Dwight's caliber is still hard to imagine, but we are talking about a petulant man-child after all.
The Lakers are done for all intents and purposes. As Kobe piles up stats for the record books on his way to a retirement that certainly is sooner than later at this point, the team faces some dark days ahead. One of the reasons that the Lakers have been so good for so long has been the presence of Jerry Buss. Yet as the son takes over for his father, making one bad decision after another, people shouldn't expect the same success that has defined the Lakers for so long to continue. You can hire and fire coaches, sign, trade, and cut players, but if the man who really calls the shots doesn't know his ass from a hole in the defense then it is all for naught.
During Michael Jordan's reign in the 1990s, Chicago Bulls GM Jerry "Crumbs" Krause was famous for suggesting that players don't championships, organizations do. Considering that the Bulls have nary a title without Michael Jordan, Crumbs was wrong. However when one considers that the Lakers have been the most dominant franchise in the NBA since the 80s, a span that has seen four of the best players in NBA history-Kareem, Magic, Shaq, and Kobe-at the forefront of teams that won titles, Crumbs' assessment celebrating the organization would now seem to apply. Though Lakers' fans have become accustomed to winning, the absence of names like Jerry Buss, Jerry West, and Phil Jackson suggest that it would be wise for these fans to disabuse themselves of such lofty notions going forward.