Last night in a packed American Airlines Arena the Miami Heat, led by superstar LeBron James, defeated the San Antonio Spurs to repeat as the champions of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The hard fought 7 game series was championship basketball at its best and it gave the city of Miami a reason to celebrate. However the joy of winning, and the sight of Black men leading the charge, presents an eerie paradox in a city that is currently in the shadow of the venue for a trial that might lead to a different sort of civic moment.
As the confetti fell and the Heat enjoyed their championship win one could not help but think of the trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the Black teenager whose life was cut down and whose death is being justified on the basis of a barbaric state law. Even the Heat expressed their support of Trayvon Martin’s family by posing as a team in hooded sweatshirts – hoodies – the same attire Martin was wearing when he was gunned down. It is the madness of America that there can be such divergent realities for Black males. Those lucky enough to have exceptional athletic ability like James and Dwyane Wade might make it to manhood and find success, but many like Trayvon Martin won’t survive the booby-trapped reality of their racially oppressed existence.
But the Miami sound machine goes on. The thrill of victory is enough to anesthetize Americans and make them forget about the subterranean existence of Black men. The Black players on the Heat will be treated as conquerors and their exploits hailed as the city rolls out the red carpet for its team. Black youth in the city, the ones who could not afford to buy a ticket to the game and risk death to own the latest basketball gear, will be subject to a different sort of parade. These young men are more likely to be trotted out on a ‘Perp Walk’ and put on display in a police lineup than see anything that remotely resembles the success their sports heroes are experiencing at this moment.
And that is the true American tragedy. For most Black boys you have to soar through the air, run like the wind or spit rhymes that sometime foretells your own demise to have even a slim chance to avoid prison or the grave. Those like Trayvon Martin, eating Skittles and hanging out in all his teenager glory, run the risk of having their number called for simply being Black on the wrong street, on the wrong date and in the path of the wrong person. It is the other type of heat that reigns down in Miami, Newark, Baltimore, Detroit and so many communities across the country.
Now that a jury, all women and all but one white, has been selected in the Zimmerman trial a different sort of game is about to tip-off. And it remains to be seen whether this panel of George Zimmerman’s ‘peers’ feels any heat to deliberate in a manner that acknowledges the viciousness of his crime. In this one there really is no victory. At best there is justice but even that falls short for the parents who will never see their child again on this side. While winning and losing is so easily defined on the basketball court; the real win for Trayvon Martin will never be realized. That victory is defined by living, achieving academic success, reaching manhood and leading a productive life. There will be no such win for Trayvon. The ‘post-game’ analysis of his life took place in a morgue.
None of this takes away from the success of the Miami Heat. It does however put an NBA championship, or any sports title for that matter, in perspective. Once the arena empties and the lights are turned off, the Oz like transformation of the city reverts back to the dark and foreboding death trap of young Black men.