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kottke.org posts about Gene Demby

The Worst NBA Player Is Way Better Than You

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2021

Last month, a video of a high school kid challenging former NBA player Brian Scalabrine to a game of 1-on-1 went viral. Scalabrine, of course, won easily: 11-0. As this Sports Illustrated article about the video put it: “Even NBA benchwarmers are ungodly basketball players.”

The video is a reminder of just how much better pro athletes are than regular Joes. Scalabrine was not a good NBA player. Considering that he played 11 years in the league, it might not be fair to call him a bad NBA player, but he was certainly one of the least productive players in the league during his career. But even almost a decade removed from his last NBA season, he’s still capable of schooling (almost) any person who hasn’t played at least college basketball. Don’t be fooled by the red hair and the fact that he tucked his hoodie into his sweatpants.

Sopan Deb interviewed Scalabrine and a couple of other NBA & WNBA players to find out if these challenges are common, why they happen, and why they almost always end the same way.

“Being a white N.B.A. player from the suburbs, I have to level up,” said Scalabrine, who is from Long Beach, Calif., and was often referred to as the White Mamba, a play on Kobe Bryant’s Black Mamba nickname.

“People don’t understand how a little bit nuts you have to be to sustain an N.B.A. career,” Scalabrine said. “Especially when you’re not that talented. You have to be ready. You have to be up for the fight. You have to be like that every day. And if you’re not, you lose your livelihood.”

Scalabrine told another challenger years ago: “I’m closer to LeBron than you are to me”.

Gene Demby’s thread about the Scalabrine video is full of stories and videos of other former elite athletes easily besting all comers. This is a favorite:

I had a friend in high school who was at a camp & David Robinson showed up. My friend was feeling cocky after dunking on the Admiral twice. The Admiral told him he’d give him $1000 if he did it again. My friend walked away with a story about how he dunked on David Robinson twice.

A few years ago, WNBA player Devereaux Peters wrote about how these types of challenges are different when you’re a woman.

I’m a tall woman at 6-foot-2, and almost everywhere I go, people notice me. The first question is: Do you play basketball? When they find out I’m a professional player, some are just impressed and want to know more about the life of a pro athlete. Most of the men I talk to, though, ask me to play one-on-one.

If you’ve ever had that impulse, let me stop you here. I’m not going to play you one-on-one. I’m never going to play you one-on-one. I have been playing basketball my entire life, and for just as long I have been challenged by men who think they are better than me. I had to prove my skill in middle school against the boys who thought girls couldn’t play basketball. I had to prove my skill in high school when the guys’ egos were hurt because the girls basketball team was more successful and more popular than theirs. I had to prove it in college when grown men started challenging me to one-on-one games because there was no way this college woman was better than they were. Time and time again, I have trounced men — far too many to count. Now I have nothing to prove.

My kids and I have been discussing a related question recently: in which sport would it be easiest for a normal person with some athletic skills to score against or produce some kind of positive result against a professional player. For example: get a hit off of a major league pitcher, beat Steph Curry player 1-on-1, win a set (or even a point) against Serena, score a penalty shot in hockey, or score a rushing touchdown (or even survive the day) from the 5-yard line against an NFL team. That last one may not even be the right scenario, but you get the idea. The best answer we’ve come up with so far is scoring a penalty kick against a goalkeeper — I think if you gave a person who played soccer in high school 12-15 years ago 10 chances against a world-class keeper, I suspect they would score a few. Or perhaps that’s too easy of a challenge — after all, most penalty kicks succeed. Maybe the appropriate challenge would be to stop penalty shots from someone like Messi or Alex Morgan, surely a nearly impossible task.

Update: In 2018, BuzzFeed invited some normal folks to try scoring from the spot against MLS goalkeeper Tyler Miller. Admittedly Miller is not one of the best keepers in the world and who knows how hard he was really trying, but a few shots did get past him.

In Europe, where you’re much more likely to find folks on the street who grew up living & breathing soccer and can put the ball in the corners with some pace, I suspect the success rate would be higher, even against the likes of ter Stegen, Alisson, or Navas.

The Dangers of Running While Black

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2020

In this special video edition of the Code Switch podcast, host Gene Demby explores the dangers of running while Black and why the safety of Black runners has not been given the same sort of attention as the safety of white women. The most striking bit of the video for me was right in the beginning when Demby debunks the myth of “all you need to run is a pair of shoes”.

When we runners talk about running — or let’s be real — when we evangelize about it, we talk a lot about how democratic it is. But it’s not really that simple. You’re gonna want gear, which costs money. Then there’s the issue of actual physical space. You want sidewalks that aren’t jagged, trails that aren’t overgrown, air that’s clean enough to breathe. (So ideally you don’t live near landfills or power plants or factories.) So yeah… all you need are shoes. And space. And money. And time. Oh and you also need something from the people around you — the sense that you belong in that space. Women don’t always get that luxury. And neither do runners of color.

Even a seemingly simple thing like running and who can do it is affected by decades of policy decisions that disproportionately favor residents of predominantly white neighborhoods.

A Short History of Housing Segregation in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2020

In this video for NPR, Gene Demby summarizes the history of housing segregation in America and how it’s a factor for current differences in health (poorer), wealth (much less), education (underfunded), and policing (much more aggressive) for Black communities in US cities.

If you look at the way housing segregation works in America, you can see how things ended up this way. Once you see it, you won’t be able to unsee it.

When you’re talking about housing policy in America, Kimberly Jones’ Monopoly analogy starts to sound a lot less metaphorical and more literal: if Black people cannot buy houses or can only buy houses on certain streets, they will not be able to build wealth like others can.

For more on housing segregation, check out historian Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. From a 2017 interview with Rothstein:

The federal government pursued two important policies in the mid-20th century that segregated metropolitan areas. One was the first civilian public housing program which frequently demolished integrated neighborhoods in order to create segregated public housing.

The second program that the federal government pursued was to subsidize the development of suburbs on a condition that they be only sold to white families and that the homes in those suburbs had deeds that prohibited resale to African-Americans. These two policies worked together to segregate metropolitan areas in ways that they otherwise would never have been segregated.

Rothstein talked about the book with Ta-Nehisi Coates during a conversation at Politics and Prose Bookstore.

Update: This is excellent: you can explore the maps created by the federal government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation at Mapping Inequality by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab.

These grades were a tool for redlining: making it difficult or impossible for people in certain areas to access mortgage financing and thus become homeowners. Redlining directed both public and private capital to native-born white families and away from African American and immigrant families. As homeownership was arguably the most significant means of intergenerational wealth building in the United States in the twentieth century, these redlining practices from eight decades ago had long-term effects in creating wealth inequalities that we still see today.

(via @masonadams)