I Am Not Your Negro | Relax, Ja Morant Is Young, Rich, And Evolving

James Baldwin predicted this. Take one look at the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” and you will understand.

Black men, propped up by the world to be both polarizing and beloved, only to find backlash when who they are in the moment becomes public. Ja Morant is the latest embodiment of a phenomenon so common in the American fabric that it startles the senses with how real the character the world created can get.

Reality vs. Sur-Reality

Although Ja Morant is a public figure that brings joy to the masses through his magic with a basketball, he is still a 23-year-old. The weight of a franchise, corporate brands, and a manufactured morality code that sells the fantasy of the NBA and its athletes is heavy; it was almost a certainty that any young person would crack. We also live in an all-access social media era with no chill, and boundaries of respectability have been blurred beyond measure.

Drop any NBA superstar athlete pre-social media, and you’ll have many lucky players who had the benefit of no mobile phone-to-internet shenanigans. The accountability scale has skewed dramatically with the ability to peek behind the curtain of athletes’ actual lives, and the fumble is bound to occur. It was always happening on some level; we couldn’t see it.

Case in point, the newly righteous Shaquille O’Neal, who with the benefit of age now has the wisdom that escaped him when he was younger lest the threat of a whupping from his step-father Phillip Harrison, the former Army sergeant.

Seven Footer Morality

“It was a bad choice; it was a bad decision, O’Neal said Tuesday during “NBA on TNT. “We have to stop putting ourselves in positions to where they can take away what we’ve worked so hard to get. You should always believe in a higher power. I’ve always had the ability to stop time and say, ‘if I do this, what’s going to be the outcome?’ It’s no excuse for what he did.

“Why are we in the strip club with no shirt? Why are you walking around with a weapon? And why did you hit the live button? So, we have to stop putting ourselves in positions to where they can take away the things that we’ve worked so hard to get. You’re not a rapper. You’re an NBA player.”

There have been many instances where Shaq has revealed his poor choices during his playing career. From practicing in the buff to razzing teammates and trainers with pranks, to hanging out in some unsavory places with notorious gang affiliates back in his early NBA years to his very public beef with Kobe Bryant.

No crimes committed, but some of Shaq’s past actions were not politically correct. We can talk about them in hindsight on his four-episode SHAQ series on HBO because waxing nostalgic is always preferred over answering tricky questions in the moment.

No Safe Quarter

Shaw has had morality bending situations like cheating on his wife. Back in 2003, when Kobe Bryant was arrested on sexual assault charges, the Los Angeles Times quoted a police report as saying Bryant told detectives in Eagle, Colo., “he should have done what Shaq does … that Shaq would pay his women not to say anything” and already had paid up to $1 million “for situations like this.” Bryant wasn’t labeling Shaq a sexual assault assailant but just that he knew how to sidestep potentially embarrassing situations for his clean brand.

In hindsight, being 20-20, Shaq has repeatedly admitted that “when you live that double life, you get caught up.”

Although Morant’s incidents have involved violence, a display of attributes not fitting your public persona can take on a range of suspect behavior. Shaq is not absolved of this in his youthful playing career either.

Ja Morant is not a morality totem. Ja Morant is not the NBA, corporate America, or your Negro. He is a young man adjusting to fame and pop culture while being thrust into the center in a world where social media culture is breeding our children to indulge in certain clout-chasing, childish actions, as they evolve into adulthood.

Now let’s watch him work out of the trick bag.


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