Colin Cowherd is an unmentionable. I don't know the man, and might not even mean it as an insult. It's a character he plays on ESPN Radio, one he's gotten a lot of mileage of. Radio is all about knowing your audience, catering to them, indulging them, and interacting with them. Throw them a bone, and they will make you rich, famous, and something of a people's god. It's the ultimate bait-and-switch, or turning-of-the-tables -- you convince them you feel like they do, and from there, the power flows like barf.
Yesterday, Cowherd let loose with his brash, take-no-prisoners assessment of John Wall's debut in DC, or at least tried to. As you'll see, ol' CC didn't bother much with the specifics of the game -- in fact, he seems to have pretty much ignored even the day-after box score -- but instead with Wall's pre-game dance routine. Wall and dancing have a long history together; he made up a rather famous move of his own at Kentucky. For his coming-out party as a Wizard, though, the ever-humble Wall decided to go with the Dougie, throwing in the John Wall as a coda. As Joey Litman put it, this one's a few months of basketball away from becoming the new Soulja Boy.
Colin Cowherd wasn't feeling it. Or, as he might say, "what up g, my azz can't be down with dat!" I know that radio is performance, and that Cowherd likely let the moment get the best of him in the name of entertainment. But wow, what a moment. Transcript, in italics, taken from D.C. Sports Bog. Commentary is mine, all mine:
"Much like I called out Greg Oden, I'm gonna call out John Wall."
I have to confess, I missed Cowherd's show the day he called out Oden. I can only imagine it had to do with having too much fun, or smiling, or otherwise expressing himself before having proved a damn thing on the basketball court. I do, however, appreciate his even-handedness, and crusading rigor, here. No one must be spared. Oklahoma City Thunder, you jerks are next.
"Before the game started, he spent 34 seconds doing the Dougie. That tells me all I need to know about J-Wow [sic]."
The sane, sparring person in me wants to bash Cowherd for not yet having an opinion of John Wall. Really? You're ESPN Radio's national midday host, and you're still figuring out who Wall is, and what he can do for you? He was only the starting point guard, and primary catalyst, on one of the most dominant college teams of the decade, and a consensus first-team All-American as a freshman. Wall was taken at the top of the NBA Draft, and in one lottery scenario, would have been the impetus for LeBron James to sign with the Nets. His summer league games were major news, and Cowherd's own network had the Wizards play on opening night. In short, there's already a lot you should have processed about Wall. Assuming facts, the past, history and other empirical inconveniences, still matter.
Sadly -- and this isn't the first time you'll catch me crossing this line -- I can't sit here idly and just poke fun at Cowherd's stupidity. With all due respect to JWoww (I own an autographed poster; it was a birthday present from my wife), she's a lady, and a loose one, at that. This trick is a familiar one; feminizing young, virile black men is kind of like "boy," but worse. A girl like Jenni Farley? You can see how this goes. That's not my reading too much into a sentence; it's how this kind of sentiment gets out on the airwaves without a thousand boycotts reigning down.
Counterpoint: Since you can pretty much say anything now, especially about minorities, maybe Cowherd is just calling Wall a prima donna. Athletes are pretty little bitches who need to man up and fight, right?
"Then he opened his mouth later and confirmed it: not a sharp guy"
I routinely judge a man's intelligence by what he says in front of thousands and thousands of people. Especially athletes trained to play it safe and measure every word they speak. Note, Cowherd doesn't have Wall talking while dancing. He just wants us to know: "not a sharp guy," as if that hammers home his earlier point. I call foul on behalf of everyone who sounds a little country.
"All about him"
Does this mean Cowherd knows all about Wall, or John Wall is all about John Wall based on the 34 seconds -- I like that Cowherd counted -- he spent dancing in pregame intros, on the night he was introduced as a regular season Wizard. Who doesn't dance in those? It's not a touchdown celebration. Oh, wait.
"In that line last night, that 29-point line, when he was out of control, he had 8 turnovers."
Cowherd could stand to do a little research on what turnovers mean, especially in young players. Or on fast-paced offenses. Nice of him to omit Wall's 13 assists, or 9 steals. Coupling points and turnovers suggests dude wasn't trying to do anything but score. Subtle, but deadly, that Colin Cowherd.
"By the way, Rajon Rondo had 17 assists last night, 0 turnovers."
Yes, and night's like that are why he's up there with Chris Paul and Deron Williams. He also isn't a rookie on a lousy team.
"Rajon's got rings"
One, Colin, one. Rajon Rondo has one ring.
"Wall will never have one."
John Wall had 8 turnovers. Rondo had none. These two are opposites. Rondo played on a championship team -- as a role player then, but that's a technicality. What's the opposite of having "rings?" Never winning a championship. I can see it so clearly now. I don't remember exactly what it's called. Like a syllogism, but worse, because there's an added leap. Regardless, it's a fallacy, and by this same logic, I am the President of Mars. Watch this: I am not a rich man. Alec Baldwin is. Alec Baldwin is not the President of Mars. Therefore, I am. Now bow down before I sell your brain to a space-shark.
"Folks, when you rob a bank, it's not just the act of it, it's that you sat down for weeks and planned it. That tells me you're an idiot."
I'll pass on THE ONLY OTHER THING COWHERD ASSOCIATES BLACK PEOPLE PLANNING WITH IS ROBBING BANKS. Robbing banks is bad, and shocking, and just seems like the kind of analogy that exciting AM radio would gravitate toward. Mostly, though, that's because I wonder how planning out a bank robbery makes you an idiot. Wouldn't robbing one on the spur of the moment be the stupid thing to do? Okay, okay, he's saying that athletes who plan out flashy celebrations are stuck-up and fatuous. Hardened criminals are ... idiots? That doesn't work. Unless you see dancing during line-ups intros and committing felonies as somehow similar. Both are "idiotic." You will have to tell me, what exactly do those two things have in common?
You know what, this is totally not cool. Just not for the reason I initially thought. A dude who decides to do a dance is the same kind of pernicious force as a person robbing a bank. The dance is from a rap song. A disproportionate number of criminals are minorities. I give up.
"The act is just the final icing on the cake. The cake is you sat down for weeks and planned it."
Actually, no. Planning a dance, and then screwing up the execution, still captures the same spirit. Trying to rob a bank and failing because the plan sucked? There's no pay-off there, hombre.
"I always give people credit just for getting a job. If you interview with 300 people and get the job, you beat 300 people out for a job, you've got to have some skill-set."
I have no idea what this little interlude means. Is he contrasting dancing athletes and armed felons with people who get a real job? Also, bizarre use of "skill-set," a sports term that's being employed in a non-sports context. Wall has one hell of a skill-set. It's as if Cowherd is belittling "skill-sets" and instead using the term to mean something honest, good, persistent, that has nothing to do with hip-hop dancing point guards or guys robbing banks. If you squint hard enough, this passage gets really iffy, really fast.
"Oh, I'm gonna get a lot of callers -- Colin, he's just having fun. What he did last night, Rondo never would, Isiah never would, J. Kidd never would, Stockton never would, Nash never would, Magic never would."
Maybe not. Magic sure did smile a lot, though. Let's back up a bit, though. Rondo isn't on the same level as Kidd, Stockton, Nash, or Magic. These are Hall of Famers. Rondo is just starting to come into his own as a perennial All-Star. John Wall has played four games. I suppose, if the standard is this high, maybe Cowherd knows a thing or two about the Wiz rookie after all. Or maybe he knows even less than I thought about basketball, so much so that Magic Johnson in his prime is all his mind can see or hear.
John Wall is an extremely talented, right-minded basketball player. That Cowherd can't even begin to acknowledge this fact blows all his sport cred; his lionization of Rondo seems to ignore all that is great, unorthodox, and controversial about the Celtics point guard savant. What about when Rondo quit on America this summer?
Either we're dealing with a very narrow version of sports, or we're not really dealing with sports here at all.
"Point guard is like the quarterback. It's an IQ-judgment position."
What is "IQ-judgment?" Gauging if those around you are smart? I guess I'll have to wait and see ...
"The great ones are not about themselves. They're about the others. Leadership is IQ, it's not skills."
This is a totally legitimate explanation of what makes a great point guard great. It also describes lots of really crappy players. But if John Wall wasn't about others, or lacked basketball IQ out on the floor, Cowherd would have a point. The problem: John Wall is about others, and is certainly not wanting for in-game intelligence. Even if he talks kind of slow, and with a thick drawl. If Cowherd had ever watched Wall play before, even at Kentucky, or in high school, or had watched the NBA Draft, or had simply read any of the many features written about Wall as he cemented his standing as the most coveted rookie since LeBron James, he would know these criticism simply don't stick here.
That's the worst part -- Cowherd is using one of the biggest basketball stories of the year as an excuse to make a trivial, frequently offensive, point. John Wall is not a cipher. He is not just that dance. Do your job, hoss.
I could keep going on, but after this point, Cowherd just starts repeating himself, albeit with greater emphasis and more spittle. He fakes some ebonics, as if his opinion of Wall weren't already dripping with racialized contempt. But you get the point. I am at peace; my work here is done. You don't need me to see straight through this noxious, and fairly obtuse, line about being a quality person the way Magic was: "The haves get it early, the have-nots never do."
And, as we learned on Tuesday night, that Cowherd says it means, sadly, that there must be a demand for it. It's also becoming abundantly clear that figures like Cowherd, loud, proudly abrasive types who know how to push buttons, are the new power brokers in this country. And let's face it -- they might well be tomorrow's elected officials. It's not like experience matters anymore. I'm really in no mood to take things lightly, or dismiss Cowherd as a clown.
Nor do I think "it's just sports" holds here. Those boundaries just don't exist anymore. Nothing is too stupid. No one is too green. No field too irrelevant. All that matters is that bully pulpit, and an urgency, and ugliness, that makes for cheap, easy release. If Colin Cowherd wants to run for office in 2010, as of now I would have to say he has a pretty good chance.
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.