Monday, July 16, 2018

Sweet Pride O' Mine

by RG Daniels (writer), New York, May 23, 2007

When I was 17 I never knew how to see myself ten years from then. I knew, though, that it was nothing like what it turned out because at that age you are still eons away from being aware of who you are even though you’ve already settled in to what type of person you’ll become. As you get older you begin to establish your comfort level with that realization. Once that takes shape everything else seems to follow: your goals, your boundaries, your overall perception, and, of course the one thing that will ultimately determine how far you’re willing to take each of those, your pride.

Although it is sold as a positive quality to maintain I tend to think pride is a dangerous thing. I mean, it’s considered deadly in Christianity (which has and continues to strike me as the ultimate irony when you consider what’s going on in the world today) and for most people it is their pride that prevents them from progress. Although at the same time it is our pride that defines what we will and won’t stand for, and that no doubt is a deciding factor in which battles we choose to fight.

Of course, pride stretches a vast galaxy of circumstance. There were civil rights leaders who died proud. At the same time there were men in jumpsuits who drove motorcycles over parked buses, so really it’s a judgment call. When it comes to art your pride is almost always put to the test. You want to be noticed, but on your own terms and certainly not at the cost of being perceived as anything other than the artist you’ve envisioned yourself to be. In fact, anybody who chooses to express themselves for a living immediately puts their pride on the line from the get go. Most will say the lifestyle chose them and not that they fell into their respective forum for the prospect of recognition and fame. However, it is my heartfelt belief that the only reason you choose expression is to change the world and the way people think about it, so honestly, who are you fooling when you play down the notion that because fame and offers are coming your way you didn’t anticipate it the least bit. Anyway, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that for better or worse, pride is what directs an artist’s career. One of the most intriguing cases of this is Mr. W. Axl Rose, lead singer for the heavy metal band—although FM radio would suggest hard rock—Guns ‘N Roses.

Guns ‘N Roses are what many consider to be the most important band to have emerged from the desolate era of rock music, the 1980’s (as always, though, I make a small argument for college rock shaping the decade and those to follow). Their chauvinistic lyrics and tales of hard partying in the ever-horrific streets of L.A. catapulted them to instant fame. Their images were firmly in tow as skeletal caricatures of each member donned the cover of their first album in the pattern of a holy cross. Yup, rock and roll would never be the same after Axl and the boys wailed away on the first track of Appetite For Destruction, “Welcome To The Jungle”.

And rock and roll never was the same. While Guns ‘N Roses took the longhaired, pretty-boys-ready-to-fight image to the airwaves there was another movement right around the corner that was ready to knock them from their perch. Before this happens, though, Axl would enjoy quite a bit of success albeit at the expense of his own image and flaws that were exposed all too often. For example, frequently throughout the album we hear Axl screaming of his fight to do something or be somebody that never gets clarified, but that’s not really the issue; the issue is that if Axl is so goddamn fed up with being pushed around then why does he instigate in the first place? I mean, you’re frustrated Axl, but that’s just means to get fucked up again, not start a cat fight with the lead singer of Motley Crue at the MTV Awards. But I digress…

I can’t claim to really know where Axl is coming from on a lot of his songs because I’m sure his hardships are a lot different than mine, thus the reason for the lack of connection in the first place. I’ve never even been to L.A., I’ve only been in two real fights in my life, and I generally enjoy the challenges I face as a man. What I have done is noticed that, in time, Axl’s insecurities and lack of empathy have not only cost him band members, but fans as well. Appetite continues to sell and has in fact put a stamp on rock and roll. The albums that followed were equally popular all the way up to the pair of Use Your Illusion albums, which, if memory serves, was a pretty big deal to release two entirely different albums on the same day. Unfortunately that was more than 15 years ago in 1991 and Axl has done nothing but dangle another album in front of fans for too long. Perhaps he became his biggest enemy (as portrayed in the video for "Don’t Cry"…I think) and that is why he has hit the proverbial creative brick wall.

Oddly enough, the following year not only served as a catalyst for the vanishing merits of Axl and G ‘N R, but also the year of a remarkable display of Americana. While the Use Your Illusions became hot on the charts, thousands of miles away (in Barcelona, Spain to be exact) a group of basketball players would storm the court at the Olympics and restore a sense of pride in Americans that had been craved for a number of years. The Dream Team: an assembly of the country’s greatest current basketball players that traveled to the Olympics and gave the rest of the world the Nelson Muntz treatment.

The surrealism of watching a starting 5 of Magic, Bird, Jordan, Ewing, and Barkley is as comparable as watching Bob Saget doing his raunchy stand-up; you know it’s not impossible, but when you finally check it out you’ve only known these people in an entirely different form and setting, so it jars you into acceptance, then into becoming a fan. I watched a few Dream Team games that summer on a portable black and white TV I brought with me to sleep away camp. The games were incredible. And to no surprise, they won the gold medal (by a margin of victory that seemed like 209 points).

In 1996, we did it again with a team that included Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, and Grant Hill among others. The 2000 Games netted the same result. However, following that victory a change began to take place not just with U.S.A. basketball, but in the NBA as well. More and more international players began to get drafted stateside and the game of basketball became a global entity based solely on the efforts of commissioner David Stern to market it. The heart of U.S.A. basketball would never be the same. Injuries and fatigue decimated team rosters as a result of the extended schedule of international play. The arduous task of flying overseas and adjusting to the rules of the international game took its toll. The uproar from the sports media was no better. They lambasted U.S.A. basketball, saying the world has caught up with us. Foreign players got drafted in the lottery and became immediate difference makers on their NBA teams. Fingers were pointed at the Americans; they were accused of being selfish and arrogant, that they had no sense of what it was like to play for something other than a check. People wrote off the NBA, they wrote off basketball, and they wrote off the notion that we were the best. Well, they were wrong.

American basketball still is and always will be the best brand of hoops. It makes no difference that we finish in second or third or even in sixth place (as was the case at the World Championships in ’02). The truth of the matter is that I don’t blame NBA stars for choosing to not participate. Sure, Argentina may be able to put a team on the court that can challenge us, but aside from Manu Ginobili how many other Argentinean players are trudging through an 82 game schedule with the possibility of bangin’ the boards with guys by the likes of Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Yao Ming almost 6 times in a season (not counting the playoffs). Here’s a harsh truth: there’s no reward to playing international basketball. If it’s for honor then put in the guys who only play for the W—college kids. Because when you really sit down and think about it, the U.S. still has the best basketball in the world. It’s called the NBA. The last I checked international players were clamoring for their break into The League. If you honestly think Lithuania vs. Germany is a showcase of the world’s best talent then maybe you should watch a Suns/Spurs game and get back to me.

It’s downright hilarious how U.S.A. basketball is perceived as a crisis and a poor example of international competition. Pardon the arrogance, but you think we care? What I’m getting at is that if our basketball is so bad and so misguided and so horrendous to the point where numerous committees are brought in to push the panic button, then why do all of these international “superstars” keep coming here to play? Is it because they’re sick of taking part in the glorified practices of international play, or is it because they realize that if they really want to play with the best then they need to get drafted into the NBA. There’s more at stake in the NBA and as a result there’s more players (in any country) clawing and scratching their way in. Ha, maybe Axl had a point in “Welcome To The Jungle” after all.

About the Writer

RG Daniels is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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