I have a good ‘ol love/hate relationship with sports.
For the former, we have the joy of being a fan, the way it unites communities, the way it sews together the stories of nations and the path it provides from one generation to the next.
I’ve played sports, I’ve coached them, I’ve studied sports and athletes, and I’ve taught stories about them.
What’s not to like?
On the other side of the docket, we have the money in sports, the way sports reinforce disgusting concepts of masculinity and the harm they can cause to our children in ways both physical and psychological.
And then there’s the Ticket aspect.
I’m not against there being tickets to sports… well, I kind of am, see money (above). What I’m unsure of is the corrosive nature of sports being seen as The Ticket Out… and that is the subject of this post (kind of).
This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with a man named ‘Frank.’
Frank, a baby faced man in his early thirties, has worked for the local NBA team for almost fifteen years now.
I didn’t, in our one hour conversation, actually get what Frank currently did for the organization, so taken was I by the enthusiasm with which he told his story.
He told me how he had done many small jobs at first for the team, and how this got him access to the players from a very early age.
Athletes are rich and NBA players are particularly so, but there were no stories of Cartier or Cristal to be shared.
Instead, there were stories, copious stories, of humanity. The experience of being around legends of the game, many of whom were Black, as is Frank.
He did have a story about having to park Michael Jordan’s car once (we both had a laugh at the fact that it was probably the only Aston Martin he’d ever seen outside of a James Bond movie), but this was again countered with a story of what it was like to laugh with ‘Mike.’
What I was left with was the story of a Black man who as a younger Black boy had never dreamed of hitting the shot himself so much as playing a role in how a group of professionals might.
Suddenly, the role of the NBA was not one of a tone deaf organization hoping the communities it catered to in commercials would buy its branded products, though few would ever be able to see a game in person.
Instead, this hoop dream was for the vendors, the parking attendants, the front office and all those others who come to work and get more than just a paycheck; they get a role model.
Suddenly, though not for even the first time this month, I’m faced with a call to re-investigate the role sports can play in (especially Black) America.
The Shot. The Title. The Career. Maybe each of these does have a place in the narrative of the many of us who are less-than-millionaires.