By Jason Keidel
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As the NBA absorbed the ripples from George Karl’s book, “Furious George,” two big-time ballers were shoved into the spotlight. The first was Kenyon Martin, who, while no longer playing in the league, is still quite fit and fuming over Karl’s dubious description of his former player in Denver.
The second victim of Karl’s two-pronged attack was Carmelo Anthony, who hasn’t been nearly as vocal or vociferous as Martin. Makes sense. As Martin noted in various interviews, Anthony has to be more laconic and sagacious, as he’s still not only a player, but a bona fide star. For his part, Anthony has indeed been admirably stoic, not trading barbs with Karl, whose book is widely seen as the paperback version of clickbait.
Karl sees Martin and Anthony as emblems of a wide divide between his perch as head coach and their place as players. But it transcends the arena.
And it advances the image of a league essentially run by wildly gifted and successful black men who are coached by the “get off my lawn” guy. Even Phil Jackson, long since sainted and deified, a basketball shaman of the highest order, got into trouble recently when he referred to LeBron James’ friends and representatives as a “posse.”
We can debate the toxicity of that noun. Feels a bit more innocuous than some make it out to be. Especially when you consider Jackson’s history as a uniter, not a divider. But Jackson concedes that his choice of words was not exemplary.
Essentially, Karl wrote, in a less self-effacing way, that he’s a coddled kid from the suburbs who had two doting parents and the best second, surrogate father a boy could ever want, in Dean Smith, who coached Karl at North Carolina. By stark contrast, Anthony and Martin are two black kids from the projects who grew up in single-parent homes (sans fathers) and never learned the proper way to become young men. So Karl sees Anthony’s game — stylish yet selfish, a “user of people, addicted to the spotlight and very unhappy when he has to share it” — as an adjunct of his childhood.
Martin did the talk-radio circuit, blasting Karl for his insensitivity and ignorance. Martin saw this not only as a dreadful typecast, but also as a slight toward his mother, who raised him right under ornery conditions. And when you consider Karl’s admitted upbringing, he’s the last person who should reduce minorities to a cultural stereotype.
And it further amplified the sense that Karl was judging, not measuring, his former players. To a man, Karl breezed, not strolled, through the locker room, rarely taking the time to make his players his family. Karl didn’t get to know, learn and love his players. And that’s on him. No matter the racial, religious or economic gap between people, it can be bridged with the right cocktail of honest and earnest dialogue.
Of course, when you fuse a few narratives, sans context, things can come across much more nuclear than intended. During his CBS Sports Network radio program last week, Doug Gottlieb said Karl’s barbs were a bit softer than most think, when you take them in totality. But as an NBA lifer, Karl should know better than most that any racial distinctions are perilous in the current, cultural minefield that is America. Especially after the presidential election we just endured.
If you’d care to blast Anthony for his hardwood wares, have at it. Any assertions that he was about money, style points and offensive points over defense, passing and winning are backed up his 15 years on the court.
Knicks fans drooled over the prospect of Anthony returning to New York, massaged by that nauseating, “I”m Coming Home” ballad — despite the fact that he was really raised in Baltimore, not the Big Apple. All during the pomp and circumstance, the only two local writers who saw through this hardwood charade were Peter Vecsey and yours truly. We simply stated — quite accurately — that Anthony would never be the best player on a team that wins an NBA title.
It’s become personal, as these things always do. But any label I put on Anthony’s game had nothing to do with his name, background or family. In fact, any man who prospers under the rigors of poverty and/or lack of parenting should be lauded, not lamented or chastised.
Take away the X and O and there’s one place where Anthony has been a champion — as a person. You don’t read about rampant entourages or late-night, strip-club shootings. You don’t see Anthony on Page Six for anything that matters. His best friends — LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade — are winners on and off the court.
While Anthony’s game may not be contoured for a title run, he has handled his time in New York City with class and dignity. Other than that surreal fortnight when Jeremy Lin morphed into Batman in the Big Apple, which made Anthony atypically envious, you’d be challenged to find a superstar handle the lights, cameras and action with more aplomb than he has.
Had Karl gotten to know Anthony, maybe he would have come to love him, not unload him.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel