It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby

Lebron James and supermodel Giselle

Lebron James and supermodel Giselle

At first, they were cute. Miniature Cabbage-Patch puppets throwing chalk in the air, guarding each other one-on-one in their puppet living room, and trash-talking. You know I loved the trash talking part (“Lebron, have you seen my championship rings? You got to be hungry Lebron, you got to be hungry” and Lebron following Kobe around clapping puffs of chalk into the air). If you did not crack a smile at least once, you might want to check your pulse. Still, something bothers me about these commercials. Sure, they’re funny and helped to heighten the Kobe versus Lebron debate tenfold but we are in the year of the black president, and two of the most dominant players in the league are puppets.

Hmm, see something wrong with this picture? The recession hit everyone hard, with the meaning of “budget cuts” taking on a whole new level. (I can just picture Oprah saying to Gayle, “Girl, I can’t afford to get Stedman that new Rolls Royce Phantom, he’ll have to settle for the Bentley”). So, it’s little wonder that Nike is attempting to save a few pennies on their advertisement schemes with puppets. I’m brown-bagging it to lunch, searching for free pizza on campus, and I even understand if the boyfriend wants to go to McDonalds for dinner instead of some fancy-shmancy  restaurant. So, I can definitely understand Nike cutting a few corners to save a few pennies. However, just as I would politely decline my boyfriend’s McDonald’s offer, I politely decline to accept Nike’s puppet commercials as an economical attempt to trim their multi-million dollar budget.

Perhaps the advertising staff at Nike is unaware of minstrel shows and the historical image of African-Americans as shuffling, stuttering, bumbling sources of entertainment for the masses. You’re a young black male enrolled in college with a steady girlfriend? Bo-ring! You’re a pretty young thang who doesn’t want to be America’s Next Top Model? Bo-ring! Rap, sing, act, play a sport—this is your claim to fame and mo’ money, mo’ money, mo!

Up until Thursday night, all of the commercials featured something Kobe or Lebron achieved or wanted to do. Hearing Lil’ Dez break into an impromptu rap: “Yeah, it’s Lil Dez yall” and watching Kobe and Lebron sway to the beat, a bitter taste in my mouth surfaced. A not so comfortable silence floated around my living room. My sisters, mother, and I forgot about that moment, watched the game, but the bitter taste remained.

I can’t blame Nike for everything. Kobe and Lebron signed onto this.  Who can forget Lebron’s Vogue cover with supermodel Giselle? I mean, if the editors were going for the whole Godzilla look, they nailed it. Excuses abound, like the youth factor. BronBron’s age made him unaware of the “white-damsel-in-distress-animalistic-black-man-rape-fantasy”. Really, Lebron? You’re a black man in America, isn’t this fact alone enough to make you realize the social implications of this cover art? The Black Mamba doesn’t get off so easily, scoring a 1050 on the SAT’s, Kobe did not balk at the suggestion that he become a puppet.

A better argument might be that Kobe, Lebron, and other black superstars don’t face the blatant racism of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Beyonce recently said during an interview that she has transcended race. Crazy as it seems, Beyonce might have a point. Jack Nickelson loves Kobe and basketball arenas are filled with white people cheering for beloved players who happen to be black.

Sorry, Beyonce, but I do not believe anyone has transcended race. Racism is akin to seeing cockroaches scurry after flicking on the lights for that midnight snack; turn off the lights and you can fool yourself into believing the cockroaches aren’t really there. I doubt that anyone will break into Kobe or Lebron’s mansion, damage their trophies, scribble racist graffiti on their walls, and defecate into their beds. Bill Russell endured this treatment in the 60s. Forty-odd some years later, Kobe and Lebron receive rock-star adoration from fans. Highly paid and considered one of the best defensive players in the league, Russell carved a space for himself beyond the world of basketball, telling the world: “I am a man first. Basketball is what I do, not who I am.” Russell played for the Boston Celtics—not easy to do in the late fifties and sixties with the Civil Rights movement reaching a fever pitch. Why, then, were Russell, Ali, and others able to remain true to their beliefs with so much more on the line? For today’s superstar athletes, perhaps the truth lies in the sizes of their bank roles, reminding us of one fundamental truth: it is all about the Benjamins, baby.


~ by Miss Tea on June 14, 2009.

One Response to “It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby”

  1. I love the puppets they crack me up! Its just funny no harsh feelings but these commercials are the junk!

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