Early Friday morning, after UCLA frosh Shabazz Muhammad scored 23 points to lead the revived UCLA Bruins over Arizona, Yahoo!'s Pat Forde (a journalist we here at TSL respect and admire a great deal) wrote a piece ("With Gucci backpack, Shabazz Muhammad scores style points to keep UCLA on fast track") that, unprompted, basically put the kid on blast. Here's an excerpt:
After putting the Bruins on his back with a game-high 23 points, Muhammad put something else on his back before leaving the arena – a black Gucci backpack.
It was a nice look.
Nice enough that I checked Gucci.com Thursday night and found 18 backpacks, with the cheapest going for $990 retail. But, hey, I'm sure these things can be found on sale, right?
I'm not saying there's something fishy about Muhammad's designer backpack, even though most of his teammates were sporting more modest, UCLA-issue models. (Fellow freshman Kyle Anderson also had a designer model.)
You might recall the November drama that surrounded the 6-foot-6 wing player's college eligibility.
The high school All-American was under NCAA investigation for impermissible benefits received in high school – and a lengthy suspension appeared to be a possibility until word broke about an NCAA investigator's boyfriend being overheard blabbing about the case on a plane. With the investigation apparently considered compromised, Muhammad was released from NCAA jail after missing only three games and being required to repay $1,600 in benefits received.
This prompted Shabazz's sister, Asia, to defend her brother via Twitter...
@yahooforde need anything from anyone except his family. I understand you're a very distinguished writer, congrats on that.— Asia Muhammad (@asiamuhammad) January 25, 2013
@yahooforde but you're barking up the wrong tree on this one.— Asia Muhammad (@asiamuhammad) January 25, 2013
Early Friday morning, after UCLA frosh Shabazz Muhammad scored 23 points to lead the revived UCLA Bruins over Arizona,This whole situation made me feel uneasy. Since when did we -- journalists, observers -- start lobbing passive inquiries (really accusations) at college kids when they sport nice things? For all the respect I hold for Forde as a top-notch journalist and, from what I know, a stand-up guy, this seem like an egregious and borderline malicious instance of tattling on a kid and, at worst, emboldening the worst hypocrisy in sports -- the sham of amateurism. But maybe I was bugging. So, I hit up my Shadow League partners for their thoughts. What you see below is an edited synthesis of the email discussion that took place...
BRANDON SCOTT: [Forde] put him on blast because 'Bazz has already been involved in an investigation. It is tattling, but the sham of amateurism has created that environment and way of thinking.
RICHARD BOADU: The same thing has been happening to Johnny Manziel, too.
(Editor's note: Manziel had floor seats at a Mavs game that was televised on TNT and analyst Steve Kerr vocally questioned Johnny Footbll's means during the telecast.)
JAMES CARR: This is almost like LeBron's Hummer. Does it say more about the people throwing unchecked speculation out there or the sham of NCAA amateurism?
MICHAEL TILLERY: Exactly -- LeBron's hummer and also the jerseys. We get these stories every season, but only a select few are highlighted. Until the conversation is advanced past the court or field, athletes will remain the focus. Criminal prosecution must look toward the folk supplying the cake. It's really simple, but because of money, obstacles will be ubiquitous.
DJ DUNSON: This isn't even on the same level as a Hummer. Can you take out a loan on Gucci backpack? Gotta love how he checked the price and passive-aggressively assumed this backpack was too opulent. Not my style, but college kids are the main ones rocking this type of gear. Forde needs to table those thoughts, next time. See, this is why we can't have nice things.
J.R. GAMBLE: Exactly. This is outdated. This ain't 1982, blacks done come up! LOL. To even mention it is ignorant. Now, if u see these cats pull up in 2012 Lexuses, then maybe you have a story. A Gucci bag? Man, [Forde] knows nothing about being ghetto fabulous -- that's short money. You don't even really need to have money to buy one. Kicks are 300 nowadays and, if you walk through the trap, cats are rocking those sneakers. Rent may be due but the chrome is shining and the footwear is official-like name brand...ALWAYS.
(Editor's note: It should be noted that Shabazz does not come from meager means. His pops played four years at USC, his mother a four-year athlete at Long Beach State. This is beside the point, because Gamble illuminates a germane cultural climate, but it bears mentioning.)
TILLERY: But seriously, until the field advances beyond easy targets, the fat cats will continue to sit on the sidelines, enter the living rooms and fill the hot tubs. These conversations are as primitive as the Rooney Rule talk that happens this time of year, every year.
CARR: The people that narc on the corny rules are cornier than the corny rules, unless it advances the conversation to change those rules.
Well said, James. But in the most appropriate summation, let's leave it to The Shadow League's deputy editor...
KHALID SALAAM: Hatin' on a dude like this is ho-type (as in, the type of sh!t hoes do).
And we mean that in the classiest way.