Topic: Sports & EntertainmentSociety

Jerry West
(July 2004)

The National Basketball Association certainly has come a long way since the days of Jerry West, the L.A. Laker great who is now president of the league’s Colorado Grizzlies. West was the ultimate All-American crew-cut sportsman and the winner as well, and he had lots of classy company on the court in those days: Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, Bob Cousy, Bob Pettit, Dolf Shays and others. But that was thirty-plus years ago. Today’s NBA thrives on “attitude,” trash talk, “styling” millionaires and entourages. Long ago it exchanged its old values, Jerry West’s values, for merchandising, TV ratings and gross appeal to the celebrity culture. Thus Kobe Bryant’s rape trial was initially hailed by one NBA exec as “great for the league,” and teams are even now lining up to trade for the current criminal defendant.

It’s Kobe’s values that reign supreme now, and that’s what the NBA is promoting in its new hit video game, NBA Ballers, by Midway Sports for PlayStation 2. The game’s twist: winning games isn’t for sport, glory, or personal achievement, it’s for cash and celebrity. Each game won translates into jewelry, luxury cars and million dollar homesÂ…you know, the stuff that matters. Did I forget to mention women? Yes, success in NBA Ballers gives you currency to acquire women, each a luscious paradigm of breast-enhanced beauty profiled for the player’s shopping pleasure. Why, you can acquire a whole stable of them!


60 current NBA stars and 25 NBA legends compete for the cash, gewgaws, cars, homes and arm candy. One is tempted to salute the NBA’s honesty, since any pretense that the sport still aspired to traditional sports values like teamwork, sportsmanship, sacrifice, and creating healthy role models became laughable long ago. But not content to warp the next generation’s values in the sports arenas, the NBA now chooses to do so with mass-produced technology. It’s all about the cash, cars and swagger, kids. And, of course, that’s what gets the girls.

Jerry West still remembers his values, the ethical ones. And thus he did not want to see himself, or even his computer pixel likeness, associated with the dead-end values being sold to kids like street crack by NBA Ballers. He insisted that they take him off the legend team. A symbolic act only, it is true; the video game flourishes without him. But many of the kids who might have been infected by NBA Ballers have parents who remember Jerry West, and know what he stands for. His gesture may well get their attention, and keep the game out of their homes. By such small victories are ethical environments renewed. And Jerry West has reminded us of why he was always special. Ethics Scoreboard hopes his autograph just got more valuable.

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