The last couple weeks of the democratic primary race made me realize that OJ Mayo is Hillary Clinton and Kevin Love is Barrack Obama. I do not mean this in terms of basketball skill, style, or personality, but instead in terms of how the media has treated the two Pac-10 freshmen.
Basketball fans read about, watched internet video clips, and formed an opinion of OJ Mayo for five years before his first college game. His final high school play became an instant YouTube classic. Rumors were that he would give college a similar amount of respect and instead play one year of professional ball in Europe or another league. But he surprised everyone and announced that he was headed west, the way of crotch flashing debutants and Entourage, and to the Alma Mater of Reggie Bush and OJ Simpson.
This, coupled with Mayo being a black kid from the inner city, allowed the media and many college basketball fans to put him into an archetype: an archetype in which Allen Iverson has become the caricature of and which my Easy E loving skinny suburban white friends desperately wanted to be a part of.
Meanwhile, Love headed to LA as well, the way of short shorts, fundamentals, and Bill Walton. With the fervor of Chris Mathews speaking about Obama’s oratory ability, ESPN’s talking heads couldn’t stop talking about Love’s outlet passing. Lauded for his throwback style, named the high school player of the year, and blessed with a suburban upbringing Love was quickly placed into an equally lazy, albeit not as offensive, archetype: an archetype of the blue collar work ethic white man. Demonstrating zero interest in athletes as being more than easily definable stereotypes, the mainstream sports media has stuck to these initial archetypes.
Love’s decision to attend UCLA was only questioned by jealous Oregonians. The media and basketball fans nodded in agreement, not questioning the influence of LA. Meanwhile, Mayo’s decision to attend nearby USC was ridiculed, as the selfish act of an egotistical young man.
In a preseason scrimmage Mayo accidently caught a teammate with an elbow, fracturing his jaw. Like a TMZ “reporter,” sports writers went to Love to ask for his reaction to the incident, the incident he had nothing to do with. Love made a snide comment, alluding that he had heard that it wasn’t an accident.
As the season has gone on, Love and Mayo have both played tremendously. Love has lived up to the hype of the much ballyhooed outlet passer, while also proving to be a double-double man.
Meanwhile, OJ has quietly, with little acknowledgement from the media, proven that he is not a me-me-me style basketball player. Instead Mayo has demonstrated a mature team player temperament (one that Kobe Bryant is still developing). He has shown the ability to get his teammates involved and to take over when needed.
While Kevin Love is being mentioned as a candidate for Player of the Year in Pac-10 (and even in all of college basketball), it has been clear to me that OJ Mayo has been a more valuable player to his team’s success. UCLA would have been one of the top two teams in the Pac-10 without Love. However, Mayo has raised his team above the multiple teams in the Pac-10 which come selection Sunday will be precariously positioned on the bubble.
If I was voting for freshman of the year in the Pac-10 it would be Mayo (my player of the year in the Pac-10 is Brook Lopez). I can only imagine draft night when they show Love and Mayo in the waiting room. Unfortunately for Mayo, Tina Fey will not be there to bail him out like she did for Hillary Clinton.
Instead, ESPN will question Mayo’s character (showing the infamous high school YouTube clip) and then applaud Love’s character (showing outlet pass highlights). They will fail to mention that if Love really had the character that they so desperately want to give him then not only would he shave that chin strap, but he would show some respect for college basketball and stick around for a couple of years.
But of course we all know that Love came to LA for the same reasons that OJ did: to be drafted as high as possible.