The Dr. Todd Boyd Interview: History, Pop Culture, Race and Sports Part II

Elaborating on the intro in Part I, one has to understand that my view of life is grounded in my view of history as it relates to sports. I went hard on Ricky Rubio (Dr. Boyd and I elaborate on Rubio and also Kobe Bryant in the next part) because I don’t want history to be affected by the here and now. It is personal to me, but nothing personal to Rubio no matter what you say or think. If we improperly over hype this kid now, history will be adversely affected regardless of how his career ends up. What about Evans and Holiday? Don’t they have size? Why are their weaknesses highlighted as well as Jennings? The post was a segue into this interview, but you’ll have to wait until the last part for our chat on the 18 year old hope. In this part, we start with Black ownership. We also get into why the NBA means more to Blacks than any other race, Black reporters and the effect we potentially have on history and why his first three books are written. Simply put, this was a great conversation I had with the good Dr. and I hope you find it entertaining as well as it continues.

Michael Tillery: Is Black ownership a solution to provide others a base to see through the stereotypical images you allude to?

Dr. Todd Boyd: I think ownership is a part of it, but that’s not all of it. Bob Johnson owned BET and currently owns the Charlotte Bobcats. Oprah is a billionaire. These are wealthy individuals but how do common platforms change? Their own lives are changed. Ownership is a start but it’s more than that. We’ve been saying that for a long time. Certainly since the late 60’s.

It’s about having the right mind state. It’s about understanding more than ownership. It’s deeper than that.

We have images of Black ownership…Magic Johnson…and it’s great symbolically. I’ve always said we have to impact things across the board, not just in one area. Not just financially and economically, but culturally, socially, politically and holistically. Everything needs to be connected to be effective over time.

MT: Just wanted to put this out there to see how you respond. Are successful Blacks considered a threat…intellectually, emotionally, physically, mentally…if they ascend to a point of impacting a total social America?

TB: I don’t know if we need to worry so much about being a threat. A threat is in the mind of somebody else. If I threaten someone because of my intelligence, that’s on them. I’m not going to do anything to comfort anyone’s insecurities. That’s for any individual to deal with. I have issues to deal with on my own. If my intelligence, physicality or presence intimidates someone they need to deal with it.

We’ve made too much out of minimizing a threat. Sometime that threat can be useful. If you are consciously trying to threaten somebody, that’s another story but we cannot go out of our way to convince others that they have nothing to fear. What they have to fear is right in front of them in the mirror. That’s a personal issue. I’m not going to go out of my way to make someone feel comfortable if the reason they are uncomfortable is unjust.

MT: The reason why I ask is there is greatness in the Black community that is never able to bubble to the surface. That’s why I tried to tie it into the whole ownership dynamic regarding where we want to go. I have a squad of talented and hungry writers who should have a bigger impact journalism because the sports we cover are made up of mainly of Black athletes.

Anthony Gilbert, Anthony Carter, Vinnie Goodwill, Ron Glover and I are making headway, but I want to see Terrence McNeil, Jerold Wells Jr. and Jeff Young get some traction. Are we asking to get into golf like that? Nah. Basketball and football is where we live.

It’s never just about me. My main objective in doing this is to bring the talent we have in our community to the surface and impact the future because I know for a fact the younger kids we influence are reading our stuff and asking questions about a lot of the BS that’s out there.

TB: I feel that 100%. Things sometimes don’t happen as fast as we would like, but eventually it’s gonna have an impact if the quality is there. It might not be the impact we assume. You know Martin Luther King said, “Truth crushed down to the earth will rise again.” There are gonna be challenges, obstacles and difficulties but you just have to keep grinding. You can’t let those hindrances stop you from grinding. It’s just like attacking a defense. If a team puts forward a complex defense, your job as an offensive player is to try to figure out how to attack that defense.

Injustice clearly still exists in terms of people being overlooked. The NBA is a business…a corporation. I don’t need to tell you this Mike, you know it just as good as I do. We invest ourselves as observers, as critics, as commentators and as fans.

Also the NBA means something to us as Black people.

I’ve said this for a long time this is ours. This is our game. Damn James Naismith. This is our game. What you look at when you watch the NBA now is something that emerged from the Black cultural condition. That’s something to be proud and conscious of.

It is not our game in a sense we own all the teams or control the league, but it is our game in terms of the culture that has given birth to this global phenomenon. As time goes forward, we will continually be able to cash in on that fact, because without that, there is no NBA. Now, that doesn’t mean the NBA suddenly recognizes you or will afford you the respect you think you deserve, but it does mean that because of that culture, you, I and many others have access to that that can’t be denied anymore because that cultural impact is so strong.

When I look at that and I look at the fact that Yao Ming is an immigrant to America whose knowledge of the English language is defined by his relationship with Black basketball players. To me, Yao Mings view of America is gonna be very different than that of a traditional immigrant coming to this country who are not going to have that same access.

That’s subtle, but on another level it’s profound.

Quick story on this video. Jeff was shooting and I was walking in the back almost looking like Deebo. It’s crazy, but it was funny seeing all the hater faces as we walk through the hall or sit down with LeBron, Wade or Bryant on our never ending tour to document the league and add something different. One hilarious moment was a well known writer from DC shouting out to us “Who does he work for!” and pointing at Jeff almost as if Jeff was invisible standing right next to us. He was heated and resembled a little kid having a temper tantrum simply because he couldn’t get this type of stuff. Knock yourself out. No one is stopping you. Step your game up because we aren’t going anywhere.

Here’s a Kobe Bryant AXG production also from DC.This is for all you cats who think Kobe is just a kid from the burbs licking shots of that Jelly Bean silver platter.

MT: Elaborating on your point, the brothas here have unique relationships with the biggest and the baddest. Take your pick of who I’m referring to. These relationships have been cultivated through years of hard work spending our own dime to get what are in fact exclusives. Our conversations are more deeper and streamlined than most reporters (of course because we are our own editors).

One LBJ interview linked above became a State Farm commercial.

Is it all about game recaps and soap opera metro sexual gossip?

So it seems like America may not want to hear our voice as it is, but ultimately our content or something similar is made more palatable for the masses.

TB: Has a lot to do with the gatekeepers. Media is still predominately controlled by the same people who’ve controlled it all along. We have a place in it now that we didn’t have twenty or thirty years ago…a much more prominent place. We are dealing with corporate entities and situations that are gonna deny you access when you should have access.

On the same token, I remember working at NBC in Detroit during the late 80’s before I went to grad school. I saw Michael put 59 on the Pistons on Easter Sunday in 1988. I’ll never forget. I had to go and get Chuck Daly’s (RIP) press conference. I thought, by the time I get to Michael, he would have probably said the same thing over and over again. Maybe he’ll be gone. I’m trying to get over there as fast as I can. I had to do what I had to do and get Chuck first.

So I get into the Bull’s locker room and there’s a group of reporters standing in front of Michael that was hard to get into. So I just used my street instincts and went over to the side. When there was a gap, I said, “Michael, you said in the past Joe Dumars guards you better than anybody in the NBA, but obviously if you put 59 on somebody, then they are not doing that good of a job…at least not today.”

He turned and his whole body language changed. He turned and faced me directly. It was funny because you could see all these reporters now shift and now they were all standing behind me.

MT: Exactly!

TB: You know what I’m saying. So, I’m standing there going back and forth with Michael for a minute and I remember when we finished and I said “Thanks man” and he said “Nah, thank you.” There was a level of understanding. Game recognize game. That’s what that was. These other “journalists”…if you will…they don’t have the ability to ask a question like that because they don’t have the same knowledge. There are not able to approach the subject in the same way you are able to approach it or your boys are able to approach it because they don’t have that same experience. They don’t understand the culture of the game the way you understand it. There has always been this sort of arbitrary relationship between players and media because a lot of people in the media do not understand what they are talking about!

They might understand it at a service level, but they don’t understand the level again that you understand because of the community you grew up in, the relationships you have, because of the historical background.

So, you really are talking about people approaching things from two completely different perspectives and that’s when you become a threat because you have the ability to ask questions and dictate a conversation doesn’t have. When they see that, perhaps they (other reporters) feel left out.

On the same token, I love the fact that Charles (Barkley) and Kenny (Smith) are on television now bringing that sort of cultural commentary to the game that has never been there before. You sit there listening to Charles and that’s like sitting at the crib with your boys talking about ball. It works because it’s so authentic. It’s so real and relevant to the culture. They took it from your boys at the crib to national television. That level of discourse, to me, is much more relevant than a lot of other things I hear when people are commenting on the game who again, really don’t know what they are talking about.

That’s not to say the only people who know anything about basketball are Black.

I do interviews all the time as you know Mike. Some people call and ask the dumbest fuckin’ questions that has absolutely nothing to do with anything!

I remember when Kobe was going though that who sexual assault charge stuff. People were talking about him snitching on Shaq. This reporter talked about how Randy Moss took plays off and then about Kobe snitching on Shaq. Moss was just being real and there was obviously fall out for saying that, but snitching?

If you come from a community where the police are actually helpful to you, then you understand why somebody is saying stop snitching.

If you come from a community where fireman climb up in trees and rescue cats then you don’t understand that line of thinking. If you come from a community where no matter what your accomplishment may be and you can have a gun put to your head by a cop just because of the color of your skin, then you start to see those things differently.

I have never in my life looked favorably upon cops. That doesn’t mean there aren’t cops who don’t do good jobs, but dang…as an institution? I have never had love for cops based on the way I grew up.

So when somebody says to me “Stop Snitchin” I understand where it comes from but again if you come from a community where cops do what they are supposed to, then that sounds crazy.

Simply put, if you are coming from different cultural perspectives then you obviously are gonna arrive at different conclusions.

MT: I have never heard anybody talk about stop snitching when it comes to the mob or Italians either.

TB: Thank you!

MT: The main point I was trying to make about my boys and I speaking to someone and all the sudden the mics get closer was that if we are in there a lot more, history is impacted. The day after a game our quotes are all over the world in stories and I’m good with that despite not getting the credit.

Think about the big moments in sports past and present that would have been looked at with a totally different eye if more Black (the ones who care about more than gossip and stroking America’s insecurities) faces were allowed to have an impact. There’s no doubt in my mind history would be viewed differently.

TB: No doubt. Without question. Case in point, I look at a guy like Isiah (Thomas). To me, Isiah is still paying the price for that comment he made about Larry Bird (if Bird were Black he ”would be just another good guy” instead of being portrayed as the league’s best player)back in ’87.

That was a comment that a million and one Black people have made over and over and over again. What he said about Larry Bird was not at all controversial amongst Black people. Not everybody may agree with it, but that was not a controversial statement to say Larry Bird was overrated because he was White.

But, in that time when the sports media was overwhelmingly White and they were able to make that such a significant issue that it still dogs him to this day. A lot of animosity surrounding Isiah goes back to that moment in time. As you’re saying, had their been a larger Black media presence that issue would have been discussed and thought about a lot differently. You are exactly right.

MT: We add educational value to the game. Why would you want to ask the same stupid ass questions and wonder why you get the same both teams played hard stupid ass answers? This is not about the dough. This is about history. When it’s all said and done, we did our part but we are not done yet. It’s not just about Black voices either, don’t get it twisted. Readers know exactly what I mean.

TB: Again, I totally agree. When I wrote Young, Black, Rich and Famous, I wanted to make the kind of conversation you and I are talking about part of the public record. So, when you talked about basketball going forward, you couldn’t just talk about it from that old school approach because there is another voice in the debate. Not that everything I say is right or wrong, but people can agree or disagree…I don’t care. The point I tried to make is my perspective of basketball was common around me as I grew up watching the sport. I’ve been watching basketball for over 35 years now and the way the sport has been spoken about is not the only way to talk about it. There’s other ways you just don’t get. You can’t get it if you don’t have the knowledge of the culture and experience.

MT: You read my mind because I wanted to segue into your books (click each book cover for purchase info). Could you give me a brief synopsis of each starting with Notorious Ph.D?

TB: The Notorious Phd’s Guide to the Super Fly ’70s was about making the connection from culture in the 70’s to contemporary culture. Blaxploitation films. I was trying to bridge the gap between my childhood and my adulthood. It was a personal thing. It also applied to a lot of other people as well. When you are talking about Dwight Howard breaking the shot clock, that’s one thing, but you need to know Chocolate Thunder was breaking backboards regularily back in the day.

A lot of people don’t know that, so you don’t have that connection. That did not originate with Dwight. I saw it as a way to bridge the gap. When you listen to Jay-Z:

Or Snoop:

Or T.I.:

Or Rick Ross:

Or whatever, but there is a history of where those images came from. It’s like a cultural warehouse.

Think back to the heyday of David Thompson:

Dr. J:


You know, Muhammad Ali in his prime:

That’s my life. Everything I grew up with has been recycled in a different cultural form. It’s deeper than what you see right now.

MT: You spoke of it earlier, but get a little deeper on Young, Black, Rich and Famous.

TB: Getting my perspective…a Black street perspective about ball. I call it a Hip Hop history. The history of the NBA from 1979 forward is a history very different than how the NBA has been told previously.

MT: The New H.N.I.C.

That’s self explanatory. The book came out in 2002. Everything I said in that book came true. People were hatin’ on me at the time because I had the nerve to say the death of civil rights and the reign of hip hop. What I was saying is the Civil Rights era is past. Leaders, thoughts and what have you represented a different generation. We saw that last year when Jesse Jackson was hatin‘ on Barack Obama. That’s what i was talking about. There was a generational split between older and younger Blacks. How they were brought up. The differences between ourselves and our parents and grandparents. At time, to me, Hip Hop was the thing that linked everything together. No one was willing to say, what I was willing to say in that book. This is what I’ve always thought and what I say. I’m not trying to be pc. My energy is from the street. The homeless, the drug dealers, pimps, thugs. Those people speak through me. I wanted to bring a Hip Hop edge to the court writing a book to where you wanted to dominate the opponent…capturing all that in writing. You see a lot of people on TV that don’t know what they are talking about. They have a lot of jibberish they kick in but I’m coming from a different place. I grew up in the culture.

MT: Just for clarification, can we have a total mind of who we are now if we don’t know where we came from?

TB: It’s impossible. We have to have that historical background. At the end of the day, none of this stuff is new. It might be in a different package…”those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it”. Malcolm told us a long time ago that “Of all of our studies history is best-suited to reward all research”. To me, it all started with Malcolm, so I always go back there.

We don’t know our history, we are in trouble.

Descriptions of the rest of his books and the rest of this interview to be posted tomorrow.

One Response to “The Dr. Todd Boyd Interview: History, Pop Culture, Race and Sports Part II”

  1. michelle says:

    Good stuff!