Etan Thomas Responds to Andrew Bogut

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

In Slam Online, Etan Thomas posts a response to Andrew Bogut's comments in the Sydney Morning Herald. Bogut sounded off about what he perceives as a slavishly materialistic, irresponsible NBA culture in which players spend obscene amounts of money on jewelry and the like and generally mismanage their money. To refresh, here is a portion of Bogut's comments:

"The public's image of NBA players is true," he says. "A lot of them get caught up in the hype and do video clips with rappers and all that crap. They want bling bling all over themselves and drive fast cars. But that's just the way the culture is in America - if you've got it flaunt it and if you don't, you can't."

Thomas, one of the league's most profound cultural critics, takes umbrage at Bogut's characterizations, which he regards as vast generalizations. For the sake of brevity, here are portions of Thomas' letter, though the post warrants a full read in its entirety:

When I first read your comments to the Sydney Morning Herald, I didn't quite know how to react. I wanted to wait and see if anyone else was going to object or have a discussion about your remarks. I was surprised not to see this issue as one of the main topics on ESPN -- I guess they would rather talk about other items that are more pressing. I have to say that there are aspects that I agree with and aspects that I take not only offense to, but that are just plain incorrect. You applied sweeping generalizations in your attempts to demonize an entire group of people -- or the "80%" you are referencing in your article -- into one big negative mass you simply refer to as "American Culture..."

I found it interesting that you said you were not perfect, and that you have admittedly bought yourself a nice car, some jewelry of your own, and that you didn't want to come across as arrogant, but that you also wanted to separate yourself from the image of most players. But, that's exactly how you came across: You exuded an overall elitist attitude. Your words showed that despite your desire in buying a nice car or jewelry, you viewed yourself as somewhat better than everyone else who does the exact same thing...

The fact of the matter is, nothing is wrong with a player liking jewelry or cars, if that's what you are into. Of course there's a problem if you do it in excess and don't save your money or prepare for the future, which is simply not an intelligent method of conducting the business entity of your own corporation. But to say "80% of them" -- it's very interesting how you consistently excluded yourself, as if you weren't part of the league -- "go broke by the time they retire," is quite an exaggeration.

I don't know where you are getting your figures from, but you have no idea what investments guys make. You have no idea what way guys are conducting their business. You assume that because you see an excess of "bling," and I do agree that there is a definite excess, that it somehow translates to us going broke, that simply isn't true.

Your statement that, "If you want to keep living that lifestyle when you're 40, but the millions have stopped coming in, you suddenly find your friends are gone and you've got nothing" is absolutely true, but, you don't stop there. You continue to say, It's tough situation for some of those guys, especially the ones who come from the ghettos or tough upbringings. Again making generalizations and setting yourself apart. You're equating bad decisions with "ghetto upbringing," leading me to believe that you are referring to an exclusive group of players. Interesting...

Then you go on to say, "The smarter guys don't do that. They like to live a regular life and want to retire and be set up...The American attitude is that we're the best. That's why the NBA guys who come from other countries, the Europeans, all sort of stick together away from the game."

So now you've completely drawn the line in the sand...You didn't say International players, I guess because that would have included Dikembe Mutumbo, Eduardo Najera, Adonal Foyle, Jamaal Magloire, Desagana Diop, Michael Olowokandi, Luol Deng, etc., and I guess they are not included in your highly exclusive circle of European players you feel more comfortable around.

In your words, "It's just the culture over there...I would never want my child to grow up in an environment like that."

Andrew, Andrew, Andrew. The entire country of America is not all the same. Maybe you haven't been here long enough, but you don't understand that the world we live in as professional athletes is in no way a representation of the way the majority of the country lives. You keep making sweeping generalizations. What if I were to say that 80% of Australians all share in the racist, hateful, evil treatment of the Aboriginal people of the land? That would be an inaccurate characterization and sweeping generalization, wouldn't it? I know when I pick up history books, that's what I see. Current events of the treatment and struggles today of the Aborigines seem to mirror an overwhelmingly consistent evil attitude of the past, but how could I equate a percentage to the entire continent? That just wouldn't be intelligent or possible.
You've been in this country for what, six years now? I am sure that it is easy to jump to conclusions, and I have been told that the actions of the few outweigh the many, but be careful. While I would definitely say that this country is far from perfect, and while it is a fact that this country is hated around the world primarily for the actions, choices and decisions of our leaders, to say that you "would never want your child to grow up in an environment like that" is a bit much.

Over-generalizations are reckless and irresponsible to make.

Something to think about before putting us all in one box.

Thomas has legitimate representational issues with Bogut's comments -- though I think he misinterprets Bogut in regard to the 80% issue. I don't believe that Bogut is saying that 80% of America abides by the Culture of Bling, to the extent you can fairly categorize Bling as a monolithic "lifestyle" as Bogut does. Personally, I've never liked the word "lifestyle" as a cultural marker, be it in relation to gay people or the purchasing habits of black people. What the hell is a lifestyle? It's a lazy heading that favors generalization over carefulness, which is dangerous when discussing race and class. To be sure, some NBA players adopt what Thomas himself refers to as "definite excess," and voices like Jason Whitlock have made some compelling, if sometimes overstated, arguments over the last year or so. But anyone living in 310/323 will tell you that there are plenty of celebs that flaunt, overspend, and indulge. So I would argue that Bogut stretching his generalization from NBA players to the U.S. as a whole is less irresponsible than just tarring the players. But I thing Bogut misses the point; these habits are not about pro ballplayers as much as the American culture of celebrity, be it athletes, starlets, playbo
ys, or whoever.

One of the more interesting things to watch as the game gets more internationalized in the coming years is how the culture of the league follows. Listening to Yaroslav Korolev addressing Clipper fans at Staples last season sounding like an emcee was as priceless as Radmanovic's cornrows. These are just aesthetic goodies. But the idea of an emerging unikulture in the NBA -- yeah, globalized and all -- seems like a lotta fun.