Essays from 116th Street

Self-therapy, since 2004...

Location: New York, New York

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Crossover Appeal

When Nelson George, in his comprehensive and most popular (not to mention already outdated) narrative, Hip Hop America, went through the process of dedicating an entire chapter to the influence of the game of basketball upon hip hop culture, he recognized that such a concept was much too broad to write about effectively in one chapter. He considered using Michael Jordan as an example, but MJ was too obvious a choice and his appeal was too universal, anyway. That's when he decided that the story of the linkage beween basketball and hip hop could be told through the history of one franchise in particular. He dedicated an entire chapter of his book to the Philadelphia 76ers.
The premise of George's chapter, "The Sound of Philadelphia - Dunking," was fairly straightforward; as cultural currents shifted and the sound and themes of hip hop music evolved, one could identify the correllation between the demeanor and cultural significance of the three most prominent modern players in the team's history. The original, post-soul era of hip hop, with its B-boy flash and rock-the-party vibe could be personified in the spirit and game of Julius "The Doctor" Erving. As Dr. J aged and his cultural significance waned, hip hop became more brash, outspoken, political; is there an athlete from the Public Enemy and N.W.A. era who fits this description better than Charles Barkley? As we found ourselves nearing the late nineties, authenticity came to rule the day, with 2Pac's ill-fated "thug life" giving way to the man who told the world "you got to keep it realer," Jay-Z. With this new ethos, hip hop found a new hero upon which to build its aspirations, Allen Iverson, who kept it realer than most people are even comfortable with.
I write this because the Jay-Z era of hip hop seems pretty much over, and I suppose it's no coincidence that Iverson's career with the 76ers appears to be nearing its conclusion at nearly the same time. Last night was Fan Appreciation Night at the Wachovia Center, and Iverson and Chris Webber weren't even dressed to play. They came late to the arena amid hazy rumors about whether or not they were going to play, anyway, but the Sixers' brass were decidedly less than thrilled about their tardiness. Tardiness is no new thing to Iverson, but (here's that cultural shift again) where fans were once willing to stick up for their hero, it seems as though more fans than usual wouldn't be against his departure. With the Sixers mired in mediocrity, attendance is down, and where fans once awaited every crossover dribble and tear-drop floater (even if it meant the captain missing some practices along the way), they now eagerly anticipate a new direction. All good things really do eventually come to an end, and while Iverson's apparent departure saddens me, I am ready to welcome the next movement. Even LL Cool J has to hang 'em up at some point (right?).


Blogger Melanie said...

I was with you all the way until you mention *my* LL calling ti a night. As long as that man has the money to keep his body looking that tight- I will continue to be all about Mr James Todd Smith.

1:27 PM  

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