You have to forgive me for being a bit behind the times, as I have just recently returned from four years abroad in Latin America, but it seems to me that I woke up and all of a sudden the Hip Hop generation has grown all up and to top it off, we have a Black man as President.
In the first playoff series that I had seen in nearly three years, I couldn’t help but brim with pride. See, the game is a blur of fast-paced action and the camera angles are constantly changing in search of the perfect shot. My favorite shot, and the source of my beaming pride, is the players’ benches. Before October of 2005 I may not have swelled with so much pride at the sight of injured players, little used reserves and assistant coaches. October 2005 was the month that David Stern mandated that players abide by a strict dress code, turning the NBA into a millionaires’ Prep Academy.
Before October 2005, the players’ bench looked more Riker’s Island than St. Frances Prep. Those outside of the Hip Hop generation, pretty much the majority of the population, cringed at the sight of it all. Allen Iverson and his hoodie, grown men wearing gigantic flowing pants and outlandish chains, hats and braids. Bling gone wrong. Today the braids are still there, but the outlandish, often clown-like outfits have been replaced with smart looking suits, sharp sweaters, slacks, long sleeves and ties. And all of this due to one man.
Did David Stern push America over the tipping point? Did he make Black beautiful again? It is arguable; and those of you who have Read Malcom Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point”, may be able to relate to the idea of David’s Stern’s dictum leading to the election of the first Black President of a major world power, that the hotly debated mandate issued Oct 19, 2005 was the tipping point for the integration of this generation’s Blacks into mainstream America.
Don’t get me wrong; the 80’s brought us Michael Jordan, the idyllic Huxtable family and the silly antics of Gary Coleman, Steve Urkel and others. But the 80’s also brought us nightly news reports about gang warfare in America’s inner cities, the advent of Gangster Rap with its acerbic vitriol and a counter Cultural Revolution centering around baggy jeans, tattoos and often angry, menacing gestures and music. No wonder America would not elect a Black man as President. America had convinced itself to be scared of Black people.
Certainly it wasn’t just David Stern who saved the image of the Black man; countless others have been chiseling away at the dominance of the gangster thug. Artists like Common, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. Squeeky clean Will Smith, Tiger Woods (Well pre-Thanksgiving 2009 Tiger Woods) and others who are conscious of their image. The rise of Denzel Washington, Terrance Howard, all working to break the stereotype and create a new psyche among the young, restless and Black, a new prototype to aspire towards.
But can it be that the simple fact of seeing some of the worlds most sleek and popular athletes in suits and ties was the tipping point? Was it that America wasn’t ready to fully embrace Black America until it could embrace its athletes as wholesome, classy and stylish? Was David Stern’s act of paternalism exactly what an adolescent Hip Hop generation needed to grow up, realize its full potential and gain mass acceptance? Can we go so far as to say that it was the spark that ignited the hopes and imaginations of millions?
And so it is that I secretly brim with smug satisfaction every time I pick up a GQ and find a strapping young NBA baller. I bob my head with just a little more meaning when I hear a Kanye West track in the background as I watch Barak Obama on TV. These Dapper Dons of popular culture have brought us recognition, acceptance and acclaim. They may well have brought us a Black President and maybe, just maybe, we have David Stern to thank for it all.