(hands up, if you know what “New York lawyer” is code for)

Responding to recent comments by NBA commissioner David Stern expressing regret over the Association’s handling of the Vancouver Grizzlies, the Vancouver Courier’s Mark Hasiuk boldy suggests there was a far more sinister reason for British Columbia ignoring pro hoops than the local team’s poor won-loss record.

The once proud league, which peaked 20 years ago during the Bird/Magic/Jordan era, has morphed into a reality TV show, where money and image trump teamwork and athletic achievement. Players like Allen Iverson–perhaps the greatest basketball talent of his generation–spend more energy producing sneaker commercials than winning basketball games. NBA players wear saggy shorts, roll in posses and cuss on camera. Television ratings have dropped steadily since 1996. Basketball icons such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the late Red Auerbach have denounced today’s players, calling them “thugs” and “bums.”

How’d this happen? Who’s to blame?

Basketball traditionalists (older white guys) blame the overwhelming influence of hip hop culture in the NBA. But they’re wrong.

Hip hop, a cultural movement spawned in 1970s New York, has been dead for years.

It sold its soul to corporate sleaze merchants, who repackage black music for a white suburban consumer base.

Nope, the remnants of hip hop–flamboyant chauvinism, jailhouse lingo, black ink tattoos–didn’t kill the NBA. It was New York lawyers like Stern, who cashed in on the athletic ability of young black men while ignoring the social realities of basketball in America.

According to a New York Times report, more than 70 per cent of black American children are born out of wedlock. Most NBA players hail from poor neighbourhoods–and despite token college careers–graduate from broken public school systems. They are often ill-equipped to handle multi-million-dollar contracts, or the expectations of a community desperate for positive male role models. To be fair, the NBA, like other professional sports leagues, is a business. And it’s not responsible for the endemic problems of black America. But considering basketball’s influence on black popular culture, the NBA has a responsibility to produce a “positive” product, not the ghetto garbage we see today.

Stern can keep his basketball franchise. His NBA cabal doesn’t belong around here.

“It’s not very often that a writer is able to reveal his hideously racist side, all the while claiming to be looking out for a particular race’s best interests” responds Deadspin’s Marcel Mutoni, and it is an impressive achievement, particularly as the author is neither named Phil Mushnick or Jason Whitlock.  Taking issue with Hasiuk’s specific claims would take all weekend, though I’d be very surprised to learn, for instance, that Channing Frye’s nerd patrol qualifies as “a posse”, just as I’ve not seen an A.I. sneaker commercial in about half a decade.   Indeed, television ratings for the NBA have taken a hit, as have those for NASCAR, MLB and Hasiuk’s beloved NHL.  I can only presume sports fans south of the border soured on the thuggery of Todd Bertuzzi (after, y’know, being won over during the golden age of Greztky and Lemiuex).

I do, however, take Hasiuk’s point regarding “corporate sleaze merchants who repackage black music for a white suburban consumer base.”  For years, we’ve waited patiently for an explanation of just how Big, Rich and Cowboy Troy were hired to perform at the 2005 All-Star Game, and this makes as much sense as any I’ve heard.