Jemele Hill Part 3: 24 is better than 23 (interview from 4/27/2007)

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Importing interviews from the original TSF wordpress site to the current version.

I have to personally apologize for the delay of part three. I simply have no excuse so I won’t cowardly use one. This conversation is more of a precusor for an interview DWil and I conducted with Scoop Jax that will be posted Monday entitled Vantage Point.

Read the first part one of Jemele’s interview again and notice that Jemele was the first to alert the sports world regarding Don Imus’ now infamous comments. We also discuss her knighting 24 as a better player than 23. That column sparked a mini controversy that she backs up her very eloquently here. Jemele is simply a journalistic force–not in a couple of years–but right now. Open your perspective to change and I assure you, it will be duly noted. She will be a voice of dissent in a white male dominated field that desperately needs adaptation. She’s not a female kicker, but a strong armed quarterback with the keys to an entire gender.

Could you handle the scrutiny?

Michael Tillery: You’ve recently wrote a piece about Kobe Bryant and received some backlash from some of your ESPN colleagues–namely Bill Simmons…

Jemele Hill: …I don’t consider that a backlash. I think people made too much of that. He disagreed with me. I disagree with some of the stuff he writes all the time. We actually are pretty good friends. I know people thought he called me out, but he didn’t call me out (Jemele laughs).

MT: Ok, explain what you trying to say when you stated that Kobe is better than Michael Jordan.

JH: I basically was trying to boil it down to their games. I think people kinda misunderstood–maybe I shouldn’t say they misunderstood–maybe I just didn’t write it well enough. What I was trying to say is that if you really look at their games, I think it’s no question that Kobe is on Michael’s level or even exceeds his level. I think there are some factors that Kobe has to deal with that Michael didn’t–mainly adulation. I think people definitely had it in their mind that they didn’t want to give Kobe MVP last year for personal reasons. Michael Jordan never would have had to face something like that. Again, if you ask NBA players they will tell you that in the last two to three years, Kobe Bryant has been the best player in the NBA. That being said, you have to consider that his off-court issues have had a great deal with how he’s perceived on the court. In terms of Mike and Kobe’s games, there is just not that much difference. There just really isn’t. They both have unstoppable fade away shots. Kobe is a better long range shooter than Michael–earlier in his career. Mike did leave the game as a much better long range shooter than when he entered the league. Kobe has had that element in his game for a while. I certainly think that defensively that Kobe is just as good as Jordan. I think it would be difficult for Kobe to win Defensive Player of the Year awards like Mike did–I fully concede that. Kobe is just as good as a defender and somewhat you have to give Kobe more credit for being a first team All NBA defender in an age that almost every single rule is geared for teams to have success on offense. Kobe still manages to be a first teamer. I’ll fully admit that his defense this year hasn’t been as sound as it has been in past years, but that really is a testament to his huge role in the Laker’s offense. His defense has to suffer as a result. He’s all the player Michael Jordan was, and no he’s not going to have the scoring average because of the years he played with Shaquille O’Neal. Everything during those times went through Shaq. I received many emails about Kobe’s career scoring average–he was not supposed to score as much with Shaq. If he’s averaging 38 pts. a game playing with Shaq, something is wrong.

MT: What would you say that when Mike played it was more of a Frankie Beverly league as opposed to Kobe playing in a Neo league?

JH: (Jemele laughs) I don’t disagree with that. It’s funny, I was watching a broadcast of a recent Suns/Spurs game. I love Charles Barkley. I think he’s a fabulous announcer. That guy could be in the Hall of Fame just for announcing because he’s so honest as well as dead on. One thing he said that people need to deal and agree with. He said that right now, there is more talent in basketball then ever before on all levels. There is an incredible amount of talent. Players are much more advanced physically than ever before with sound games. That’s why you have Kevin Durant winning POY as a freshman. By the time a player of Durant’s stature gets to college, he’s played in so many games it’s almost like he’s a pro. From AAU, holiday tournaments and international games on the high school level, players now are so exposed to the greatness of the game that it truly shows. Players past worked very hard on developing total games. Now players work on specific areas like being a great three point shooter or a great dunker. They don’t develop the same. Guys back in the day were hungrier to develop their games because credibility as a player mattered the most. Today that is not the case, making the most money matters most. Getting shoe deals or on ESPN; those type of silly things. Players today need to work harder.

MT: What would you tell the 11-12 year old female that aspires to be a journalist like Jemele Hill?

JH: The main thing I would tell her is that you have to be as prepared or more prepared than your male counterparts. That is just a fact. As a woman your sports knowledge is going to be routinely tested. You have to definitely know what you are talking about. You also have to believe in yourself. As you travel along the road to success, there are going to be many people that try to knock you down and discredit you. You have to believe strongly in what you do–that you have something relevant to contribute. I have to stress being prepared. There are so many people that want to write sports, but just aren’t sure of how to make it happen. You make it happen by being more prepared than the person next to you. I had so many internships and was mentored by many people. Believe in yourself and prepare on a Peyton Manning type level.

MT: Recently, the University of Washington hired Tia Jackson. The hiring was significant because UW became the first school from a major conference to have three Black coaches (Willingham, Romar, Jackson). Could you comment?

JH: Wow. That’s amazing. Washington should be proud of themselves for producing such a rare trifecta. We know what the numbers say in terms of Black college football coaches, but most people are unaware how few Black women are head coaches in college basketball. There are very few Black women coaching at the major conference level. Of the 64 teams in the women’s tournament, only four were coached by Black women. Nationwide, less than eight percent of Black women are head coaches, even though 40 percent of the athletes are Black. So Tia Jackson’s hiring was significant on a lot of levels.

MT: Who is your favorite athlete of all time?

JH: Tough question, very tough question.

MT: I ask because I want to give readers a true sense of who you are.

JH: That’s usually the question to ask. It’s a great question. Muhammad Ali. To some degree Hank Aaron, but I have to go with Ali. The reason is the obvious. He made the most unpopular decision of all time. I don’t know why he did it. I’ve read enough about him to know that he didn’t really know what he was doing, but he had the guts to do it anyway. He took a stand on the Vietnam War. I can’t see any other athlete in history taking that stand. It was very courageous. I guess I’m old school. I definitely believe that Black athletes have a larger responsibility than just selling you shoes. I get so upset at Tiger Woods, but that’s a conversation for another day. Until the Black community gets to a position of total strength, we all have an obligation to give something back. I really get upset when I hear athletes saying that they aren’t here to be a politician. It’s probably the reason why I’ve remained angry at Jordan half of my life because there’s something to say about how you go about your craft. How you are a role model by showing instead of telling. There’s also something to be said for athletes speaking up and speaking out. I was very happy to see Black athletes in the NBA do so much for the Katrina effort. That was outstanding. I wish we all would take a community approach on things. Ali almost sacrificed his career and I’m so proud of him for doing so. We may not have even know if he was The Greatest because he might not have boxed again. I can definitely appreciate him for his moment in time.

MT: Can Candace Parker become the greatest female athlete of all time?

JH: I think so. I have this debate with a friend. I don’t think she’s as good as Chamique Holdsclaw. She’s definitely more athletic. She can handle the ball. Chamique was a presence! At the time, I said I don’t even know if Chamique is better than Sheryl Swoopes. You have to be a presence on the floor. Candace is young. She has to understand that she has to take over games when it’s needed. She’s just a redshirt sophmore, so she has a few more years. I’m not going to address that question yet. That should be addressed after she finishes her career at Tennessee. You said greatest athlete not greatest basketball player right?

MT: I said greatest athlete.

JH: At one time I thought Serena Williams might give that a run–and she still might. Her and her sister go through these moods when they get bored. I think they could have gone through a period of straight domination. They got a little bored and a little distracted. It seems like when they want to turn it on and make up their mind, they can dominate. It shows what kind of athletes they really are.

MT: Their father raised them to challenge themselves. I don’t think they are really challenged–even though they lose matches. They don’t look across the court and see someone imposing unless it’s their sister. I think that’s where their respective challenges lie.

JH: You’re right. There really isn’t any intimidating athletic player in women’s tennis. They are the intimidators–whether they win or not. Serena from a physical perspective is incredibly cut and built. She’s one of the most physically dominate women athletes ever. It was amazing to see her come back against Justine Henin at the Sony Ericsson. The Williams sisters have amazing will. If they both said to themselves the last ten years that they are going to dominate tennis, they could have totally done it.

MT: I really didn’t see a major admonishment of the fan that yelled racial slurs at Serena earlier in that tournament. Serena admirably took it upon herself to squash what really could have been a volatile situation, but there should have been more of an outcry about that one fan. He’s the cup that was thrown in Detroit (Pistons/Pacers brawl at the Palace).

JH: Great analogy.

MT: Black athletes are held to a higher scrutiny level than what should be advertised.

JH: The impossible part is that there’s this sense among the mainstream media that if anybody exhibits racism against a Black athlete than we should see it coming and accept it. That’s it and that’s just the way it is. I think it’s that lack of sensitivity that can be alarming. Even after that happened to Serena, that seemed to be the general attitude. “Oh there are people out there like that, so they just have to deal with it” is what’s said routinely. The issue is not Serena dealing with it. The issue is that it shouldn’t exist. People forget that. They also just don’t understand. The mainstream has never been put in that position. That’s why they are the mainstream. They don’t understand playing a sport that you love and having to deal with someone calling you out of your name when you are trying to concentrate on the athletic moment. That doesn’t register because it doesn’t happen to them. Ron Artest is reprehensible–let me make that clear–but at the same time, if someone throws a drink at you in a bar, you are not going to react calmly and rationally.

MT: Nope!

JH: Odds are you are probably going to fight! To say that they should be above all that is irresponsible. They are still human. It’s interesting you brought up the Palace because when the Pistons were playing Chicago a few weeks back, a fan hit Tyrus Thomas in the face with a lip balm–while he was leaving through the tunnel after he and Rip Hamilton got into it. He didn’t react–and I’m not saying he should have–but at the same time we need people to understand that that behavior is not OK.

MT: It’s not OK.

JH: David Stern should have said something to the Pistons or they should have at least found the fan and held them somehow accountable. I agree that part of athletics is somehow overlooked. People think that Black athletes are supposed to take whatever treatment and continue on. I’m not sure that people necessarily put themselves in the athletes shoes to see why that’s not right or why it’s not right to see why it’s not right.

MT: I said it on Chuck D’s Air America Radio show that sports is slowly but surely becoming the Roman Coliseum.

JH: That’s unfortunate, because people see the athletes as performers and not people.

MT: Thanks Jemele. I wanted to get every drip drop out of you because you are the only Black female columnist and that makes you special. America needs to get to know you better through your perspective, so I wanted this to be an all encompassing interview. Hopefully through this interview America will get a better grasp of who Jemele Hill really is.

JH: Thank you Michael, keep in touch!

*Click here for Interview With Jemele Hill: The KevDog Special*

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