On January 16, 1959, Elgin Baylor sat on the bench, dressed in street clothes, intentionally sitting out a game against the Royals. Of course, the Lakers lost to Cincinnati, Baylor was an incredible ball player–king of the hanging jump shots, 11-time NBA all star.
But, today I am interested in this particular game, one in which Baylor did not play. He wasn’t injured. He wasn’t under the weather. He refused to play in “protest”–the hotel the team was originally supposed to stay at refused to accept African Americans–turning away Baylor, Boo Ellis, and Ed Fleming. So, despite the fact that the team found a new place to sleep–Baylor wouldn’t play. He later said “he wouldn’t have played even if it cost him his entire year’s salary.” Baylor’s actions received mixed responses, but he both the Lakers and the NBA opted not to take disciplinary action.
In 1959, the protest made national news, and I feel like it is important that we revisit this story in 2011, when most Lakers fans were raised on Kobe and Shaq. This is an entirely different team, one that becomes more and more disappointing as playoff after playoff pass. In 2004, my dad wrote the following:
“So here is where the Los Angeles Lakers stand, despite any protestations to the contrary: the inmate-in-chief, Mr. Bryant, chucking his way to the empty accomplishment of scoring titles (ask Tracy McGrady about this), is running the asylum now. And in 2004-2005, as the Lakers win 42-45 games with Bryant at the helm, and bow out in the first round of the playoffs, they won’t even be fun to watch. Not unless you enjoy watching teammates come to blows on court, because basketball of the sort we are about to see can’t be played with one ball, and David Stern, unless he changes the rules quickly, doesn’t let the players use more than one at a time.”
I guess I never realized that my dad is able to see into the future. And, in 2004, I also probably never realized the depths of repellent behavior Kobe would resort to.
Pay close attention to 00:36.
Bryant’s response/attempt to weasel his way out of yet another instance of completely repellent behavior– It “should not be taken literally…My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do not reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone.” Kobe is getting fined a whopping $100,000–that is like a penny to him, isn’t it?
I was somewhat happy (or at least mildly relieved) to see John Amaechi’s response to Kobe’s actions. He writes:
“Right now in America young people are being killed and killing themselves simply because of the words and behaviors they are subjected to for being perceived as lesbian or gay, or frankly just different. This is not an indictment of the individuals suffocated by their mistreatment, it is an indication of the power of that word, and others like it, to brutalize and dehumanize. This F-word, which so many people seem to think is no big deal, is the postscript to too many of those lives cut short.
As for the original apology, I am amazed that people still think apologizing in such a way as to make it clear that it was the victims who misunderstood is acceptable. I had hoped that the sorry-if-you-are-oversensitive school of apology would by now have been thoroughly discredited.”
How did the Lakers go from being a team with players whose actions are well thought out, intentional, and had a real purpose/impact turn into the absurd festival of bigotry and hatred that Kobe really represents (for me)? He should be kicked out of the NBA, fined millions, and put in jail. Derek Fisher is the Laker who should be getting attention–once the third highest scorer (following on the heels of Shaq & Kobe)–but also a person with real values–someone who put family before career, and who is conscious of how his actions affect others.