NBA Drama: O'Neal's Jabs Bryant in Recent Rant

Barbershoppers Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Arsalan Iftikhar and Justin Ross talk about the Obama-Clinton unity tour, the recent flap surrounding NBA star Shaquille O'Neal's rant against rival Kobe Bryant, and Don Imus' latest on-air woes.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and Maryland State Delegate Justin Ross. I may jump in once or twice, but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey fellows, welcome to the shop. How're we doing?

REUBEN NAVARRETTE: What's going on, Jimi?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey.

Mr. JUSTIN ROSS (Maryland Delegate, Democrat): Hey, I'm doing good, doing good.

IZRAEL: Just blazing the house. Yo, check this out. Senator Barack Obama is asking his supporters to chip in to help Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign debt, a little over 10 million dollars. He's asking his donors to, you know, help her chip away at that. Jus, do you think he's doing this out of the goodness of his heart?

Mr. ROSS: Hey, listen, I've got five on it. I mean, you know, I'm definitely - I don't care if he's doing it out of the goodness of his heart, or, you know, he's totally self-interested. But no, I think there's a real profound appreciation and respect they have for each other and, you know, like we've learned over and over and over again, you need a couple of players to win the title. And these two are going to work together, and I think they're going to, and I think it's real.

IZRAEL: You know what, this, and Obama still owes me money. The R, what's up man?

MARTIN: For what? A sandwich? What? A sandwich at a campaign stop?

IZRAEL: The R, how do you read this? Now see, me, in the piece I wrote for...

NAVARRETTE: TV 1 Online?

IZRAEL: I said that I thought that this might be a sure fire hint that he's looking at her for his VP choice. What do you say?

NAVARRETTE: Nope. Nope, nope, nope, not at all.

IZRAEL: Really? Wow, O.K.

NAVARRETTE: He needs her support, OK. He needs her support. He needs most importantly the support of the people who supported her. And he needs her to go out on the campaign trail and pull his arm up over his head, and do all that. And the price for her to do that is to help alleviate her campaign debt. So it's really quid pro quo. It's real simple in that regard. But what's complicated is that each of these individuals has to handle the other person just right. And just the right way. He's got to be respectful to Hillary without necessarily alienating his core supporters, because I don't think his supporters are having any of that. Forget about sending money to Hillary. They can't hold back from hissing and booing whenever the woman's name is mentioned on the campaign trail, as happened recently. So I think that this is a really sticky game for Obama. He needs to help Hillary because he wants her help in the fall, but he can't afford to alienate his core supporters who have really had it up to here, here, with Bill and Hillary, and they'd be fine if they never heard their name again.

IZRAEL: It'll be interesting to see how they come off when they stop today in Unity, New Hampshire. And people just feel the love, yo, A-Train, our resident Obama supporter. So I got that read all wrong...

MARTIN: I thought Delegate Ross might be supporting Obama, right?

Mr. ROSS: I'm a delegate.

IZRAEL: Clearly, I mean clearly, you know, the Obama T-shirt is something of a giveaway. But A-Train, you are a resident Obama supporter.

IFTIKHAR: The unofficial delegate.

IZRAEL: Right, right, right. How do you read it? I mean, the R said I got the read all wrong. What do you say?

IFTIKHAR: Well I mean I agree with both you and Ruben. I think it's important for Barack to - you know, he wants the 18 million voters that voted for Hillary Clinton. He doesn't necessarily need Hillary Clinton herself. I think another problem that he has is Bill Clinton. When it came to endorsing Senator Obama after he got the nomination, basically Bill Clinton issued a one single sentence from his spokesman saying that, quote "President Clinton is obviously committed to doing whatever he can and is asked to do to ensure Senator Obama is the next president of the United States." That is the lamest endorsement that I have ever heard in my entire life.

IZRAEL: Right, right, right.

IFTIKHAR: And, let's not forget, you know, at 2,300 dollars is the federal max for the number of dollars that people can contribute. They're going to need 4,500 people to donate the max amount in order for that 10 million dollar debt to be exhausted. And I think you'd be hard-pressed to find 4,500 Obama supporters who're going to pony up for Hillary in that regard.

IZRAEL: I agree, but I think, to Ruben's point, I think it may go a long way in getting some good will with them two together. And hopefully they'll do the ebony to ivory thing, and all will be good. But speaking of a (unintelligible), yo, your boy radio host Don Imus is back on the radio and back in the news for a comment he made about Adam "Pacman" Jones and his sundry run-ins with the law. Michele, I think we've got some tape, right?

MARTIN: I think we do. You want to hear a short clip of what Mr. Imus had to say?

IZRAEL: Yeah, drop dead.

MARTIN: Yes, so this is Don Imus and Warner Wolf on Imus in the Morning talking about Pacman Jones.

(Soundbite of radio show "Imus in the Morning"):

Mr. WARNER WOLF: He's been arrested six times since being drafted by Tennessee in 2005.

Mr. DON IMUS: What color is he?

Mr. WOLF: He's African-American.

Mr. IMUS: There you go. Now we know.

MARTIN: Let me ask, does anybody buy his argument that he was making an argument about profiling?

IFTIKHAR: No.

NAVARRETTE: No, of course not. It's crazy.

IFTIKHAR: It's ridiculous.

IFTIKHAR: For Don Imus to go from talking about "nappyheads" in the Rutgers Women's Basketball team to acting like Thurgood Marshall in terms of speaking out against racial profiling against Adam "don't call me Pacman" Jones is probably a transredunculous news item of the week. I think that Don Imus is - I think it was a lame explanation. I think that it was his station and his people trying to backtrack and save his behind. And I just think Don Imus needs to go right off into the sunset.

IZRAEL: OK. All right, Jus Blaze, help me out a little bit here. You know what? Imus is paid to take cheap shots even if he was trying to, you know, give Pacman a little jibe, like, hey, black people are always in the joint. You know what, isn't this fair game? I mean, Jus Blaze, what do you think?

Mr. ROSS: He certainly has a right to, you know, free speech and all that. He doesn't have a right to have a radio show, he doesn't have a right to be popular. The guy's Archie Bunker with a publicist.

IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. ROSS: I mean, who cares? You know how I heard about this? Because a whole bunch of people said, hey, did you hear what Don Imus said? I was like, no. Like nobody actually heard it live, because nobody listens to the guy anymore. Who cares about him? He's irrelevant. I hope he does ride off slowly so he doesn't fall off the horse.

NAVARRETTE: OK, this is Ruben. He was trying to say in his next day explanation that, I was just saying that black people were picked on. Black people are more often picked on by law enforcement officers. So that's what I meant. I don't buy it. I don't think most of us bought it. But you know, the bigger lesson here is I'm not sure what got Al Sharpton all up in arms, the fact that this statement was said implying that African-Americans were somehow more inclined to commit crimes than everybody else, or the fact that it was Don Imus who said it. And I think it was the latter. I think it was the fact that Don Imus said it. That is a signal to Sharpton and others that it's time to get back in the limelight because this is low-hanging fruit, going after Don Imus. I'm not saying he doesn't deserve to be gone after. But from now on, he's going to be a - his built in punch line, you know. So if he says something like this, you can be assured that Reverend Al will be there because he gets him on TV.

MARTIN: But he wasn't the one who - you see, this is the thing. Ruben, I know this is - Al Sharpton is one of your favorite, you know, foils.

NAVARRETTE: Ah, yes, yes, yes, yes.

MARTIN: But the fact is people call him. OK. If people in the media call him, what should he say? Oh no, I have nothing to say about this because, you know, I have no opinion. So if people want to call him for his opinion, what should he do? Just not give it? That's his job to give his opinion.

NAVARRETTE: There's nothing wrong. If somebody calls you, there's nothing wrong in picking up the phone. But I don't think that most people believe that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have, throughout their careers, been able to pay their mortgages and built their homes because they simply picked up the phone. I think there's more to it that that.

MARTIN: OK, but how did this become about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton?

Mr. ROSS: Yeah, it's about Don Imus.

NAVARRETTE: Well, it's not just simply about picking up the phones. Speaking as somebody who's made those phone calls as a reporter to get people to come on record and say something, this is not, I mean, it wasn't the media or the reporters who put Al Sharpton up there to go out and protest in front of CBS or NBC. That's his deal. I understand that's his deal. But, you know, let's not go all the way through and say poor Al just picked up the phone. Somebody asked him a question. I mean, he is a professional provocateur.

IZRAEL: Right. And since when did - when is it Al Sharpton's job to be the Pope of blackness? I mean, is that what it says on his resume? Yo, I'm not buying that. Yo, I mean, people do pick up the phone and they do call Al Sharpton. And let me tell you something about Al Sharpton. When he's on message, he's dead on. And that needs to be said. But when he's off, he's way off. And you know what? I think this is a lot of dust up over nothing. And let Imus do his job and ride off to the sunset like he will eventually. That's your boy. I'm that dude.

Mr. ROSS: I want to say one thing. This is Justin. When it comes to Imus, I think we should all be a lot less concerned about what Don Imus says, and be more concerned about what a lot of Americans don't say. And that's still out there, and it's totally real. And there's a ton of real issues that are...

NAVARRETTE: Well look at the Barack Obama campaign. Just look at the Barack Obama campaign. Think about what white liberals and white conservatives are saying about Barack Obama. That stuff's infinitely more significant than what Don Imus says.

IFTIKHAR: And I think the irony of it all is that he's defending Adam "Pacman" Jones. Anybody who knows anything about sports...

Mr. ROSS: He's a bad guy.

IFTIKHAR: You're going to turn into Thurgood Marshall overnight and then defend, you know, one of the most indefensible NFL players out there and go after female college student athletes. I mean, it's redunculous on so many levels that it boggles my mind.

IZRAEL: Well, we got two redunculous items this week, ladies and gentlemen. My man, A-Train is on his game.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and Justin Ross in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Speaking of people off their game, slightly. Shaquille O'Neal taking shots at former teammate Kobe Bryant, yo, during a freestyle rap session at a New York nightspot. We got some tape of that too.

MARTIN: Well, let me put it this way. We kind of have some tape, but it wouldn't be too...

NAVARRETTE: Bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, Kobe, bleep.

MARTIN: That's what I'm trying to say. I'm trying to say we're - we'll try to suggest the situation.

IZRAEL: OK, well...

MARTIN: You just hear it, you just play it anyway. I'll play it for you. Here you go.

Mr. SHAQUILLE O'NEAL (Basketball Player): I'm a horse, Kobe ratted me out. That's why I'm getting divorced. He said Shaq gave a (beep) a meal. I don't do that 'cause my name's Shaquille.

IZRAEL: All right. Now wait a second...

MARTIN: There's more to it. There's the usual suspects that, you know, begin with the b word and, you know. You know what I'm saying.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. It was just bad.

IZRAEL: What's unfortunate - thanks for that, Michel - what's unfortunate is before you diss Shaq Diesel, keep in mind that he has some pretty good rap skills. Now he had five studio albums including Shaq Diesel which was certified platinum in 1993. And he got his start with the Fu-Schnickens as Shaq-Fu. So, yo, he's got some skills. But I can't tell. A-Train, what's up with that?

IFTIKHAR: The funny thing is, you know, the main line that got everybody all hyped up was, you know, you know how I beat last week, Kobe couldn't do without me. You know, alluding to the fact that Kobe Bryant couldn't win a championship. But it was really ironic because Shaquille O'Neal in the Phoenix Suns were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs this year. So I was like, Shaq, why are you talking trash? Kobe got to the NBA Finals while you were, you know, bouncing from the first round. And so, again, I think it was so bad that, you know, he made Bismarck - he looked like method man.

Mr. ROSS: This is Justin. You know, if he did have skills, he must have lost them somewhere near Miami or something. Because it was awful. And first of all, let me, I got a little bone to pick. Why do athletes think just because they can do one thing good, that gives them a right to go rap? I mean, you don't ever see accountants and lawyers and dentists and stuff rapping. You know, I mean, although, I think maybe in the next election, I'm just going to challenge people to come down to 33rd and Hamilton, to come down to my district. And we could just have a rap contest. And whoever wins, then I'll just - if you can beat me, then I'll step down. Or something like that.

IZRAEL: My man, I'll take that. I'll take that. And lest we forget, Kobe Bryant had his own rap album which he had Naomi Campbell singing on it. Which was just doomed from the beginning. You know what? My thinking is that he's feeling some hurt because Kobe - you know, Kobe said some things during his tryst in Colorado with the hotel worker. And during the course of that case, Kobe had said on the record that Shaq, you know, he should have done what Shaq did and pay off the girls he sleeps with. You know, so they won't tell his wife. And that's really a bad look. And he mentioned...

NAVARRETTE: He sort of like gave him up. Basically gave him up.

IZRAEL: Yeah, He gave him up. And I think the relationship has never been the same. And he kind of aired him out. Do you think he was in bounds?

NAVARRETTE: Well, he said that. He flat out said that, right? It was because of Kobe that I'm getting divorced, right?

IZRAEL: Right, right, right, right.

NAVARRETTE: It's just a shame. These are two very good players. I think Kobe is a different level than where Shaq is, but you want to believe when you see these people as former teammates that they at least have a respect for one another. They may not always get along but you shouldn't have, you know, one kid's hero going off and dissing another kid's hero. It's just not necessary.

MARTIN: I was going to ask about that. Because, you know, what is up with that? I mean, is that supposed to be part of sports now? That, that's part of the game, is to tear somebody else down? And I feel, I also must say, that people like to act like professional women are all like at each other's throats and, you know.

(Soundbite of imitation angry cat noise)

MARTIN: Yeah, no, and I'm - excuse me, excuse me, you do not hear women at the top levels of sports conducting - you don't hear of Michelle Wie bragging to, you know, the other, sort of, golfers. You don't hear - you just don't hear women in the WNBA trash talking each other like this and tearing each other down.

NAVARRETTE: There's a lot more than the NBA.

MARTIN: Well, I guess the thing I don't get is when you're on the court, can you leave it on the court? Why does this stuff - you know, why do I have to hear about this?

NAVARRETTE: There's jealousy - I'm sorry, it's just there's jealousy. There's big money contracts, there's people not getting enough facetime, airtime. You got the endorsement I didn't get, it just went all bad. I mean, this relationship proves it.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I mean, you know...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: You know, we talk about people like Mariah Carey being divas, well these are just divos. They're paid to play basketball, you know. Again, you know, you don't see most Mos Def trying to join the NBA. You know, it's the culture of celebrity that we have. We're just trained to, you know, expand ourselves into everything. And I agree with Michel. You know, you don't see this level of trash talking in and animosity the female professional athletes.

Mr. ROSS: I think it's also. I think it's actually greater than that. I think it's part of another example of the coarsening of popular culture. And it happens a lot in rap music, and it has bled into sports. And it has a lot to do, I think, with sort of masculinity and what it means to be a man. And you can't be a man unless you bring somebody else down. Now you can't appreciate what they accomplish, you've got to like embarrass them like that. I mean, it's crazy, but it's - I think, unfortunately I think a lot of people - I think that's what this is.

IZRAEL: You know what? I'm going to be the one to censor and say, you know what? Trash talk is a playground tradition. Any playground in America where they're playing b-ball, you will find some brothers snapping on each other. And you know what? I have to cosign this battle. And I hope Kobe grabs the mike and spits back. And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I believe it's a...

(Soundbite of Izrael beatboxing)

IZRAEL: Wrap. Thank you so much. I've got to kick it back to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: That was most impressive. But I thought you had something else to say to one of our colleagues, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Me?

MARTIN: Yeah.

NAVARRETTE: About another male tradition, about venturing off into marriagehood...

MARTIN: Exactly. Ruben! Ruben, be the grownup here please.

NAVARRETTE: Matrimony.

IZRAEL: Yeah, go ahead man.

MARTIN: Go ahead, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: We are gathered here today, dearly beloved, to bestow best wishes upon our brother Arsalan who is going off into that great unknown called marriage.

IFTIKHAR: That's right.

Mr. ROSS: Congratulations.

NAVARRETTE: He's getting married.

IZRAEL: Right! Right! Amen!

NAVARRETTE: We've been talking about him getting married for like a couple of years now.

IZRAEL: Right.

IFTIKHAR: You've been ranting at me about getting married.

NAVARRETTE: The longest engagement on record. So...

IZRAEL: Right. Right.

IFTIKHAR: That's very kind of you gentlemen.

IZRAEL: Yeah, congratulations, man. Congratulations.

NAVARRETTE: Go with God, go with God.

IFTIKHAR: Thank you, gentlemen.

Mr. ROSS: I want to give you a little bit of advice. I got this on my wedding day. It said you can be right, or you can be happy. But you can't be both. I've been happy ever since.

IZRAEL: My man!

IFTIKHAR: I realize that I'll never be right again for the rest of my life. But thank you, gentlemen. Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: These are some very wise words. Best wishes and congratulations, Arsalan.

IFTIKHAR: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com and TV ONE online. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us in San Diego. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and contributing editor for Islamica magazine and a groom to be. He joined us in Chicago. And Justin Ross is a Maryland state delegate. He joined us in our Washington studio. Gentlemen, thank you so much.

Mr. ROSS: Thanks a lot.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

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