No corners. Nothing crooked. Every point equal distance from its opposite. Absolutely flawless.
Unlike human beings.
Which is what disqualifies Irving’s latest suggestion: that the NBA’s half-century-old logo of a silhouetted basketball player be turned into a new silhouette. Irving would have the image change from one of Jerry West, the Hall of Fame Lakers guard of the 1960s, to one of a more recent Hall of Fame Lakers guard, the late Kobe Bryant.
“I think he deserves it,” Irving reiterated Thursday in Brooklyn after leading the Nets to a blowout win. “I think his family deserves it. I think we deserve it [after] seeing greatness personified as Mamba. And anyone that’s coming into the league should know that that’s the example that was set.”
Irving the past few days amplified an idea first suggested after the January 2020 helicopter accident that killed nine people, including Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter. There is no question Bryant exemplified what the league wants as a performer, which is why it named its All-Star Game MVP trophy in Bryant’s memory. Bryant all but came to represent the league’s midseason showcase, not unlike Bill Russell did the Finals, which is why the league named the Finals MVP trophy after the 11-time champion. Bryant was named to 18 consecutive All-Star Games and was the game’s MVP four times.
Whether Bryant was an exemplary enough citizen that the league should showcase him as its representative in perpetuity is more problematic. In 2003, Bryant tearfully confessed to sexual relations with a woman who accused him of rape before dropping the charges. The league fined him for spitting an anti-gay slur. He was at first critical of Black Lives Matter politics, a movement that players have worn as prominently as tattoos.
But this isn’t meant to be an exploration of Bryant’s merits as much as a caution against naming awards after ourselves, because as human beings we are so imperfect and our imperfection invites scrutiny.
Further, the NBA doesn’t need a new logo. The silhouette it unveiled in 1969 is nondescript even though we learned many years ago it was created from a photograph of West. And it’s not as if West, who went on to be almost as great of an NBA executive as he was an NBA player, is a monument to the NBA’s segregated days like the original owner of the Washington Football Team, George Preston Marshall, was to the color line in the NFL. This isn’t a Black Lives Matter cause, no matter that West is White and the league long has been predominantly Black. Nor is he J.G. Taylor Spink, the name long on the baseball writers’ award for career excellence; the association recently voted to make a change because of Spink’s stance against integrating the sport.
“Kobe Bryant. Logo. Yes. Needs to happen. I don’t care what anyone says,” Irving told reporters Thursday. “Black kings built the league. It’s exactly what I meant. It’s exactly where I stand.”
Not caring what others think about this issue is intellectual malpractice.
Bryant and Irving and those of their generations are more Black princes than Black kings. The kings are those of West’s generation, the first Black players to make an imprint on professional basketball, change it forever and assume its thrones. They are the original mononymous basketball stars. Russell. Wilt. The Big O. Kareem. Russell is lauded for his civil rights work. The Big O for being an organ donor. Kareem for his Black Lives Matter stances before there was BLM. If Irving must see the league reconfigure its logo in honor of one of its Black pioneers, then do so with Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook, Oscar Robertson’s one-handed jumper, or Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell snatching an errant ball from the stratosphere.
More importantly, how about honoring those who came before by ensuring through the players’ union — of which Irving is a part — that more of the game’s riches today are shared with those whose toil made the wealth possible in the first place? Players such as Zaid Abdul-Aziz, who filed a lawsuit for players from his era whose pensions expired. Or former players in the ABA — which merged with the NBA and ushered in the exciting, highflying style of play epitomized by Black stars such as Julius Erving and carried forth by Bryant — who don’t qualify for NBA pensions and are struggling physically and financially to make it to the next day.
“There is absolutely no question that predominantly African-American players came into the ABA and changed the style of play, made it more entertaining,” Scott Tarter, co-founder of Dropping Dimes Foundation, an Indianapolis-based organization that helps struggling former ABA players, told USA Today. “And now the guys who freaking made it work can’t pay basic medical bills or buy dentures. It’s absurd.”
West has said more than once that he never wanted and feels no desire to maintain his status as “the logo,” so if the league decides it must get out from under his shadow, maybe the simplest option would be best.
After all, a round ball, unlike any of its handlers, is unassailably perfect.
An earlier version of this column incorrectly said Kobe Bryant's eldest daughter was killed in the crash