LeBron James shows We all make mistakes. Last week I burned more than a thousand words celebrating the Memphis Grizzlies for taking up the NBA’s tough-guy mantle, never thinking their star player would carry the notion so far over the line.
Tuesday’s regular-season series finale against the Los Angeles Lakers will mark the second game the Grizzlies won’t be able to call on their All-Star guard, Ja Morant. The truly frustrating part: he isn’t sitting out with an injury; no, Morant is unavailable because he plays too much on the internet.
Early on Saturday morning, social media was jolted by the sight of Morant live-streaming himself from a Colorado strip club hours after a tough loss to the Denver Nuggets, the team just ahead of the Grizzlies in the Western Conference standings. On his Instagram feed, Morant appears shirtless, dancing and singing along to the NBA YoungBoy rap song Bring ‘Em Out, before flashing a pistol to the camera. Whether the gun was real is not yet known, and police are investigating the incident. Either way, the Grizzlies weren’t having it.
Immediately, they announced Morant would step away from the team for at least two games.
After another Grizzlies loss on Sunday, this time to the mediocre Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said there is no timetable for Morant’s return. Jenkins wouldn’t volunteer the steps Morant needs to take toward making amends, either. This was after Morant’s agent, Jim Tanner, issued a statement on his client’s behalf in which Morant took “full responsibility.”
This is just the latest in a series of troubling incidents involving Morant that have become public in recent days. According to the Washington Post, during a four-day span last summer the 23-year-old apparently ganged up on the head of security at a Memphis mall, and on a 17-year-old boy playing a pickup basketball game at Morant’s home. In the latter case, Morant is alleged to have threatened the boy with a gun as well. LeBron James shows (The boy and his mother have since filed a lawsuit against Morant.) Explaining himself to the police, Morant claimed to be acting in self-defense. The mortal threat Morant faced, in this case, appeared to be the teenager throwing a basketball at his head.
As you’d expect, reactions to Morant have run the gamut – from noted NBA screwup Gilbert Arenas calling on Morant’s critics to remember when they were young and dumb, to super pundit Stephen A Smith playing George Orwell, warning the young star about the league’s deep law enforcement connections. “The NBA knows what you’re doing,” Smith said. “They know who you’re doing it with. They know where you are. They know how you’re conducting yourself at all times.” And, well, the paranoia is about par for a multibillion-dollar sports league, much less one with significant business interests in China.
Still, the idea that Morant would need to be watched so closely is a twist no one saw coming.
If anything, no player bucked the boy from the hood NBA stereotype harder than Morant. He’s from a relatively comfortable background: a country kid from the South Carolina Midlands, a graduate of an arts-based high school, and the product of a two-parent household. His father, Tee, a high school teammate of NBA three-point specialist Ray Allen, forwent a career playing basketball overseas in the late-90s after his partner, Jamie, became pregnant with Ja.
While Ja’s one-time AAU teammate Zion Williamson broke the internet with his high-flying savagery, the Morants went viral with backyard drills of Ja dribbling around chairs and pogoing onto tractor tires. Oftentimes, these workouts featured other local kids – an apparent sign of the family’s place at the heart of the community.
According to official legend, Tee’s tough love is what got Ja to the league in the first place. Overall, the Morants seemed like the kind of parents some kids might relate to better than their own. But, as it turns out, that shared understanding may well be because Jamie and Tee act like kids themselves.
The incident at the mall started with Jamie getting into a dispute with a sneaker store employee and calling on Ja for backup;
police say he arrived on the scene with an entourage of at least nine people. Ja was already under NBA investigation after a January incident following a game against Indiana in which his entourage confronted members of the Pacers. The Athletic reported that the episode ended with someone in a slow-moving SUV spooking the Pacers with a red laser – an infrared sight off a gun believes one member of Indiana’s security team. What’s not in doubt: Morant was traveling in the SUV at the time.
This time, it was Tee who had lit the match by heckling the Pacers during the game, which triggered an on-court altercation. This was after Tee’s heated exchange with Shannon Sharpe that had the Grizzlies raring to fight the former NFL star. skip past newsletter promotion
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Morant would appear for all the world to be headed down the same self-destructive path that diverted Allen Iverson, Plaxico Burress, and former New Jersey Nets star Jayson Williams. But where those stars couldn’t run away from thug life, it seems Morant can’t help running toward it. Never mind that he’s The 2 draft selection who will earn $12m this season and $33.5m next year, that he just a signed lucrative deal with Powerade, and that he just replaced Kyrie Irving on a Nike signature line (the marketing guys there may want to take a long hard look at themselves). Morant thinks playing as a gangster is what nets true respect. But that’s a game he’ll never win.
He only needs to look at the dismal scoreboard in Memphis, which has one of the highest murder rates in the US – one day he may pull his gun on someone who shoots back. Not to mention we’re living in a time where tough-on-crime prosecutors are looking for any reason to lock up young Black men whom they suspect of contributing to societal rot LeBron James shows. Last May, the rapper Young Thug was arrested in Atlanta as part of a racketeering indictment. Authorities have said his lyrics – which make casual references to guns, violence, drug use, and trafficking – helped persuade them that he was the head of an extensive criminal organization.
Prosecutors spent the past nine years scouring the music and social media outputs of Young Thug and his associates in an effort to make their case.
As it turns out, scouring Instagram is a lot easier than boots-on-the-ground police work. All the more reason why Morant can ill afford to be so reckless. If they can do that to a Grammy-winner with three Billboard-topping hits, imagine the message they could send to a rising NBA star who celebrates teammates’ three-pointers by firing finger guns. (Morant and Alabama’s Brandon Miller should really learn to read the room.)
Morant may not have much in the way of guidance from his young Grizzlies teammates or his own mother and father, who appear no better than entitled tennis parents at this point. He does, though, have a sterling NBA example in LeBron James shows, who came from a single-parent household in a far rougher area than Morant. But James didn’t use his friends to intimidate others and create an image of something that he was not. He worked with them to build a business empire that gives back to their hometown. As for LeBron James shows social media persona? It’s mainly a nerdy dad boasting about his kids and heralding Taco Tuesdays.
At this point, far too many are banking on his success: the fans, the Grizzlies, the league – the hoops industrial complex. Everybody can’t come along for the ride. If it turns out that Morant’s family and friends can’t grow with him, then he needs to hurry up and cut ties.
The silver lining: this rough patch is nothing Morant can’t get past. He’s young and talented. Now he has the time and space to right the ship. Not capitalizing on this opportunity, though, would be a bigger mistake – one that could leave him adrift, beyond recovery. Sports News