Thinks He’s / More Like: Jason Williams

October 9, 2008

Having recently announced his decision to retire from the NBA, the Internets are filled with tributes to the hard-running, no-look-passing, sometimes-brilliant-mostly-sloppy point guard from West Virginia.

He exploded into the league in 1998 with three major claims to fame: 1. He was the first white NBA player to be decidedly and obviously part of the hip hop generation – earning him the nickname White Chocolate (har har) 2. He was suspended for life from the Florida team after being caught smoking weed FOUR times; and 3. He went to high school with Randy Moss. Say howdy to today’s Thinks He’s / More Like feature: Jason Williams.

Thinks He’s: Eminem

The parallels are almost too obvious. From the release of his first major label album – The Slim Shady LP – it only took a few weeks for Eminem to become the biggest name in hip hop. For newbies to the scene, Eminem represented everything they assumed rap music was not: ironic and sarcastic, angry while funny, dangerous and experimental. He also had a flow unlike any other, slippery and caustic at the same time, and his subject matter was the kind of stuff that appealed to people who thought they were too cool for hip hop: killing his wife, raping his mom, and hugging his daughter.

In the same way, J-Will was also considered a groundbreaker; his flashy streetball moves were brand new to the NBA, and his race and proclivity for smoking weed while in college endeared him to a generation of frat boys who suddenly thought they could break ankles on the playground too. Both men were admired far and wide for bringing their own style to fields that were considered boring in the mainstream.

But the truth is a bit more complicated than that. Em certainly had skills that put him at the top of any class of emcee, but he was far from the father of his style. He even admits to having been influenced by Ice-T, LL Cool J, and NWA; and any hip hop fan of a certain age knows a young Marshall must have spent uncountable hours listening to Treach, Masta Ace, and Kool G Rap.

You guessed it, White Chocolate obviously didn’t invent streetball moves – I mean, he’s from West Virginia. In fact, a legitimate playground legend – Skip to My Lou – was selected in the same NBA Draft as Jason…32 spots lower. That’s right, Jason took Skip’s (now known as Rafer Alston of the Houston Rockets) moves, and rode them to a lottery position in 1998.

Now, pointing out the lack of originality in their work doesn’t diminish their ability one bit. And Jason Williams definitely knows that. He did win a title with the Heat in 2006, and all in all, his career has been a success. Jay probably feels kinship with Eminem in another way, and that’s their reputation for keeping it mad real, saying the things other people wouldn’t say, out of fear of being seen as disrespectful (or in some cases simply because they are wrong).

But there is one problem with the analogy. Even after years of relative non-activity, Eminem is still regarded by many discerning hip hop heads – as well as fanboys and Stans – as one of the greatest emcees ever. No matter what personal opinion one might hold about the path he’s taken to reach this top tier, it’s hard to deny he has at least made it to this tier. And he matters: he made Dr. Dre relevant again, he outrhymed Jay-Z on his own song, and was a driving force behind the emergence of gangsta-pop icon 50 Cent.

J-Dub hasn’t been so lucky (or talented). He won a title with the Batman & Robin show in Miami (Udonis Haslem was Commisioner Gordon, James Posey was Lucius Fox, Antoine Walker was some random Gotham cabdriver who was in the right place at the right time), and while he contributed to that team, he was far from the reason they won. (Maybe he was Alfred.)

In fact, the mere mention of Eminem can still draw folks out of their Jeezy-induced slumber, while the mention of Jason Williams usually results in the question “Which one? Motorcycle? Murder? Oh, White Chocolate?”

This is one detail, but this is a major detail. Thus, even though he thinks he’s the Eminem of the NBA, he’s more like…

More Like: Marky Mark

From Grammy-winning rapper to Oscar-nominated actor, Jason Williams seems to draw favorable comparisons, no?

Oh, but we’re breaking from form a little bit here. I’m not comparing White Chocolate’s NBA career to Mark Wahlberg’s acting career. Actually, let’s forget all about the honors and accomplishments of these two men and focus on one thing that trumps all the other stuff: the horrid horrid racism.

As a young man growing up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Marky Mark harassed Black kids with racial epithets. Oh, and racial epithets also were in play when he assaulted two Vietnamese men after trying to rob them.

Jason Williams probably deserves some credit for at least not allowing his hatred for Asians to a manifest itself in assault. He prefers the subtlety of, you know, shouting from an NBA basketball court at fans in the crowd, calling an Asian fan a “slant-eyed motherfucker” and threatening to kill him like “the Vietnam War” and “Pearl Harbor.” Interesting how his two historical examples were in fact conflicts that found America on the losing side, but I guess we should cut him some slack since he didn’t get to finish college. You know, the weed-smoking got in the way.

Then after the history lesson, he asked security to remove the Asian guy from the building. So I guess his threats of murder were actually his way of expressing fear – as professional athletes are routinely beat up by season ticket holders in khakis.

But it’s not simply that they are racist hacks, because there are plenty of them around. It’s more that their hate has been pretty much ignored by mainstream America. Marky Mark got his aforementioned Oscar nomination and J-Will got his NBA title with nary a whisper about these incidents. Oh wait, that happens for everybody…

Well I guess what really sets them apart is that despite their outright and subtler but probable homophobia, both have reputations for being popular pin-ups among gay men.

That probably helps them sleep at night.

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