With the reputations of NBA players rising and falling by the day, why are we so eager for the on-court redemption story?
You won’t see Jalen Rose sitting at a desk on ESPN anytime soon. The past month hasn’t been too kind to the former Michigan and NBA forward. First, there was the Fab Five documentary controversy, in which Rose said that Duke recruited only black players who were “Uncle Toms.” Grant Hill, presumably one of those Uncle Toms, responded with a damning op-ed in The New York Times.
Days later, Rose was arrested for driving under the influence. “Sir, step out of the car” quickly led to “Sir, move away from the camera” as ESPN suspended his employment. It’s an unfortunate turn of events for Rose, one of the nicest guys to play in the NBA and a childhood favorite from my NBA Jam days.
In other basketball news, our friend Ron Artest, who holds the league record for longest suspension, is one of four nominees for the highest citizenship award the NBA offers. Dennis Rodman, one of the most controversial American athletes ever, just capped off a week in which the Detroit Pistons retired his number and he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Rodman has kicked cameramen and been arrested for drunk driving more than once.
Confused? Welcome to the NBA, where current and former players’ reputations are more volatile than Byron Scott’s temper. On the one hand, we’ve been so desensitized to their antics that hoops players have to choke their coaches or draw guns on each other in the locker room for their misbehavior to even show up on our radar. On the other hand, we still celebrate the personal victories of players who, just a few years ago, were charging the stands to attack us. One day he’s a hero, the next he’s a villain, and vice versa. Maybe this is what LeBron meant when he asked “What should I do?”
Rose is due for a hearing on April 20, which is the earliest the network could conceivably bring him back. The NBA playoffs start before then, though, and you can count on ESPN finding his replacement before they do. Maybe Rose will share time with the new guy (or girl), but, in any case, he’ll almost certainly be back on the air next season, assuming there is one.
On its own, Rose’s fall from grace is not much of a surprise. It only takes a few snippets of bad press to stain a lifetime of hard-earned credibility.
After that, it’s an uphill battle to restore honor to your name, but one that’s clearly not impossible in the NBA. In Esquire, Stephen Marche predicted that Tiger Woods’ forgiveness is right around the corner, because, after all, athletes’ misdeeds become water under the bridge as soon as they start racking up wins again. But is that really all it comes down to: winning? [Insert overused Sheen-ism.]
Look around the league. There’s evidence across the NBA that victory will, in fact, cleanse a tarnished soul. We’ve all but forgotten Kobe’s troubles in light of his back-to-back championships. Now that Miami looks like a legitimate Eastern Conference contender, we’re witnessing the sports media’s re-coronation of King James. We praise Artest, in part, because he auctioned off his 2010 championship ring and gave the proceeds to charity. Had he not won a title, he would have had neither the ring nor the attention from the media.
It’s a redemption narrative that comes full circle on the court—not off it.
We still remember Jalen Rose more as a player than an analyst, since he only retired four years ago. But, at 39, he’s not going to come back and win any more games (I’m looking at you, Tiki Barber). So how and when can Rose mount a comeback? Time should be enough to heal the man’s damaged reputation, given his good-natured personality and the severity of the crime.
Sure, if Rose never screwed up, he wouldn’t have to redeem himself. And the same goes for Kobe, LeBron, Ron Artest, and any NBA players who’ve made public mistakes off the court. But athletes, like any of us, are bound to screw up. It’s up to them to decide if they want to keep screwing up, or if they want to straighten things out. And if they mess up while they’re still playing, it’ll just be easier for them to make us forget.