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John Beilein Doesn’t Belong In The NBA

The term "thug" has always been a covert way of saying the N-word.

Image Credit: Getty Images

In Gary Owen’s 2019 standup special “#DoinWhatIDo”, the white comedian, that’s made a career on the black comedy circuit, has a bit about how White people understand that there are certain words they just can’t say.

“Honestly, it’s pretty easy what you can and cannot say,” Owen explained. “You can’t say what Roseanne said on Twitter. You can’t say the N-word, that’s obvious. Just some white people won’t let that word go.”

And while Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Beilein didn’t say the N-word to his players, he used the closest thing to it.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, during a film session on Wednesday, Beilein shocked his players by saying that they were no longer playing “like a bunch of thugs.” Afterward, Beilein reached out to players one-on-one, insisting he meant to use the word “slugs.”

“I didn’t realize that I had said the word ‘thugs,’ but my staff told me later I did and so I must have said it,” Beilein told ESPN. “I meant to say slugs, as in slow-moving. We weren’t playing hard before, and now we were playing harder. I meant it as a compliment. That’s what I was trying to say. I’ve already talked to eight of my players tonight, and they are telling me that they understand.”

Ha, that’s funny.

Forgive me for not giving a 66-year-old white man the benefit of the doubt for not understanding that you can’t use the word thugs, even if it was a “slip of the tongue,” amongst a roster that includes nine black players and two assistant coaches.

Thug has always been a covert way of saying “Nigger.”

It’s as close as you can get to crossing the line without being labeled a racist, but we all know what it means and what you really want to say. It’s what Middle America called the NBA during the Allen Iverson era when cornrows were in high fashion, and especially after the Malice at the Palace. It’s why David Stern implemented a dress code because he couldn’t sell a global sport that has been infiltrated by “thugs.”

A similar situation took place back in 2016 when then-New York Knicks President Phil Jackson referred to LeBron James’ friends/business partners as his “posse.”

“I got nothing for him,” said James about Jackson.

“I’ve been in the league for 14 years and from the beginning two years in, I felt like I wanted to put my guys in positions of power, give those guys an opportunity to better themselves,” James explained. “You know, in the beginning we were highly criticized and I was highly criticized about what I wanted to do to help some guys around me become very successful in business.”

“It just sucks that now at this point having one of the biggest businesses you can have both on and off the floor, having a certified agent in Rich Paul, having a certified business partner in Maverick Carter that’s done so many great business [deals], that the title for young African-Americans is the word ‘posse.”

Terms like “thug” and “posse” are part of a coded language that are used daily in our society directed at a certain group of people without specifically naming them, kind of like “urban.” Another example of this takes place every year during the NBA Draft where you can tell the race of a player that analysts are discussing with your eyes closed. If a player is labeled as “athletic,” that means he’s Black. And if he’s described as a “gamer,” “hard worker,” “gym rat,” “competitor,” “deceptively quick,” or has “surprising athleticism,” he’s always going to be White.

It’s been reported that Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman canceled a scouting trip to talk to his team about the incident. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation, especially when Beilein has to face his boss, Altman, a 37-year-old Black man.

Reports have been swirling all season about Beilein as he hasn’t been able to connect with pros in the same fashion he did with players in college. There have been rumors of rebellion, which were highlighted by some recent occurrences when Kevin Love showed his frustrations with Beilein’s play-calling and philosophies.

The news shouldn’t have come as a shock, last year I wrote about Beilein’s inability to recruit top talent when he was at Michigan, and the Black cities throughout the state. There wasn’t a single McDonald’s All-American that played on Michigan’s roster during his 12-year tenure, as players from Saginaw, Flint, Pontiac, and Detroit were missing from the program.

You know, the places that some would say “thugs” could be found.

Altman and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert have a predicament on their hands, given that Beilein is only in his first season of a five-year deal.

But, at this point it’s clear.

Beilein has to go.

Because it’s one thing if your team doesn’t like you. But it’s another when you’ve proven that you might not even respect them, as men.

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