If nothing else, Michael Beasley has always made us laugh.
He's like a lost puppy who just can't seem to grasp the concept of housebreaking. Everyone safely assumes that a lot of athletes smoke weed and screw around in their spare time, but Beasley has breathed a whole new life into the stereotype. It's kind of impressive, in a way.
He's the guy who got busted for weed at the NBA's rookie symposium, for God's sake—smoking weed at the place where they warn you about smoking weed. Like having unprotected sex 15 minutes after you leave a sex-ed lecture, but even better because on the scale of Dangerous Behaviors That We All Need To Be Lectured About, marijuana's pretty harmless. So we laugh.
We laughed when David Kahn explained away Beasley's misadventures in South Beach, saying "He's a very young and immature kid who smoked too much marijuana and has told me that he's not smoking anymore." When he got caught with 16 grams of marijuana almost exactly a year later, we laughed again. Of course "B-Easy" wasn't going to change.
When he collapsed on the floor and was apparently hospitalized in China this summer after an asthma attack in a smoke-clouded arena, I couldn't help it. "This is Michael Beasley we're talking about. Do you know how much smoke inhalation it takes to give Michael Beasley an asthma attack?"
When it was announced that Beasley was going to play in a pickup game in New York City, people on Twitter predicted that somehow it would end in a fistfight. And then it did.
Later this summer, when just about every other superstar in the NBA was hosting charity games, Beasley wanted to stage one of his own. And so he did, and it became a disorganized mess. After the game, when he talked to the media, he told a reporter that the NBA lockout is "retarded".
When ... When ... The stories go on forever. And nobody even get worked up about poor choice of words with that last one, because man, what a perfect adjective for a pothead to choose.
All of it's just context to the latest controversy—his lawsuit against his former agent, Joel Bell, where he alleges that Bell and his former AAU coach, Curtis Malone, provided him and his family with benefits throughout his teenage years, with the implicit understanding that Beasley would hire Bell to represent him when he turns pro. If the other stories were funny-stupid, then this is where Beasley's story takes on a different dimension.
Suddenly he's graduated from the NBA's sideshow to a centerpiece in the ongoing conversation about morality in amateur athletics. The world of amateur hoops is rife with predators offering short-term capital in exchange for long-term debt, and here we have a former All-American and current NBA starter laying the whole thing transparent like we've never quite seen before.
A quick synopsis of the allegations:
- It all began when an AAU coach told Beasley's mother that if he joined his team, DC Assault, she wouldn't have to pay any fees, and if she wanted to travel to games, all her expenses and lodging would be paid for. That's against the rules.
- Later, his mother was arrested for driving on a suspended license, she sought out the AAU coach to help, and he ultimately introduced her to the agent, who handed over $2,500 and offered to help her through the legal process. That's really against the rules—not just the NCAA's rules, but federal law.
- Around the same time, as his mother struggled with her own issues, Beasley was living with his AAU coach. As the lawsuit reads, "Beasley essentially lived with Malone from the time he was fourteen to the time he was eighteen years old. He regarded Malone's step-son and daughters as his siblings that time. Beasley was from a poor household, and the comparatively upscale home of Malone offered him comfort that the modest and spare dwelling of his own lacked."
- This while "Malone and Bell continued to provide money to Ms. Smith [his mother] in an effort to ensure a foothold over her to secure dispositive influence over Beasley in their conspiratorial effort to make sure that Beasley would sign a player-agent agreement."
- When Beasley committed to Kansas State, he joined a former DC Assault coach (Dalonte Hill) who was just hired and a $360,000 raise from his former job as a college assistant, ostensibly to procure a commitment Beasley.
- When Beasley left for Kansas State, his mother went with him, and had her moving expenses, rent, and car payments paid for throughout her stay at K-State.
- When Beasley turned pro after a dominant freshman year, there was heated exchange between Bell and his mother, where the agent explained all he'd done for her over the years. So ultimately Beasley signed with Bell, apparently fulfilling his side of the (unspoken) bargain.
The twist comes at the end, though. As the lawsuit reads, "In or around September 2008, Beasley learned, through a third party, that Malone and Bell had been making payments to his mother without his knowledge or consent for years. He felt betrayed by the men in whom he had placed his trust and immediately terminate the Agent Contract and Merchandising Agreement with Bell and dramatically shifted his relationship with Malone at the same time."
And that's where this dark, troubling tale of exploitation begins to ring hollow.
For instance: He felt betrayed when he found out that his agent had been taking care of his mother? He didn't think it was suspicious when his mother moved to Kansas State with him and had a new car and house when she got there? And this "betrayal" just happens to crystallize after Bell had negotiated the parameters of a shoe deal for him, but before he signed it and would've paid Bell a hefty commission?
In fact, Beasley's lawsuit is a counter-suit. His former agent filed a lawsuit earlier this year seeking unpaid wages for the contracts he negotiated, but never got paid for. Maybe he was exploited, but he received real service, too. The claims in the lawsuit sound sensational, and from a broad perspective, context leaves Beasley looking a lot less sympathetic here. You want to talk about betrayal?
Beasley's the boy crying wolf after wolves saved his life.
This is where the story gets personal for me. Beasley's two years younger than me and we're from the same area, so I've silently rooted for him to succeed since he was a star in high school. Then when he was a star in college, when he was a rookie in Miami, and then last season, after he'd been cast off by the new-look Heat and left to toil in T'wolves obscurity.
Plenty of writers will see the Beasley saga as a morality play in real life. A fascinating glimpse at the grayed morality of the hoops underworld. A tale of greed run amok on both sides, rupturing relationships for good. Or maybe it's an excuse to launch into a sermon on the the NBA's age limit or the enduring futility of college hoops' attempts at feigning amateurism. It's all of those things if you want it to be, but for me it just sucks.
Growing up, I was more of a football fan until about the fifth grade, when I subconsciously started to love basketball more. Football was still great, but basketball spoke to me in a way that nothing else in life ever has. I grew up in the D.C. area just like Beasley, but instead of P.G. County, I was in the upper left hand corner of the city, surrounded by wealthy white people busy taking over the world. About as divorced from Beasley's reality as anyone. But basketball spoke to me because I wasn't blind.
I love the game because it's like a kaleidoscope. Of vivid personalities, highlights, and stories that render a world so weird and dissonant that it's almost a perfect microcosm of reality. If you took a kaleidoscope to the D.C. area, for instance, you'd see a city dominated by the scenes of minorities who comprise an overwhelming majority, and then a smattering of powerful white people tucked away in one corner, huddled together pretending they run the world.
Looking at the demographics in basketball—the people who play it and run it at the community levels, and the men who run it from on high in the NCAA and NBA—it's hard not to see some parallels here. That's why basketball sometimes feels like more than just a sport.
And why Michael Beasley's story mostly just makes me sad.
If you want to say he was taken advantage of by "predators" like Curtis Malone and that agent, that's fine, and it makes for a neatly compartmentalized talking point if you're looking to rail against the NCAA, the NBA, AAU, or everything in between.
But look at the hoops ecosystem as a whole, and the world of big time basketball is hard to distinguish from the poverty-stricken landscapes that produce the lion's share of big time basketball players. Those landscapes are full of predators, many of whom have nothing to do with basketball.
So in the end, it's not hard to see why kids and their parents turn to "street agents" and AAU coaches as leaders. It'd be crazy not to. If you were dirt poor and surrounded by wrong turns in every direction, you'd probably let someone guide you. If you were a single-mother with four kids to raise, you'd take the cash they offer. If you were Michael Beasley, you'd embrace the stability of Curtis and Monica Malone's house. You'd call their son, Nolan Smith, your step-brother. And it would all be a million times better than a hundred other alternatives.
This is why "amateurism and NCAA politics have no place in this conversation. Because a lot of these kids are poor and vulnerable to horrible judgment in an unforgiving environment where the fork in the road arrives around the same time as puberty. Pretending that any young, poor, basketball star should choose the "hard right" over the "easy wrong" is a fucking joke. Try asking a 14 year-old to choose "perpetual chaos and dysfunction" over "clothes and food and a bed".
Maybe Curtis Malone had ulterior motives, but he's also the coach and father figure who provided a stable foundation to return to as Beasley got kicked out of high school after high school.
And you know, maybe he didn't have ulterior motives.
Maybe this is how the game is played. Against a backdrop where everything costs money and nobody has any, the agent that's ready to help doesn't look quite so evil, regardless of what he wants in return. Maybe the wolves are who kept Beasley from getting slaughtered.
For those people and places where "basketball is life", life happens in three-dimensions. Not all AAU coaches follow the rules and no handout comes for free, but those handouts and coaches still save people like Beasley. It's not so much a deal with the devil as embracing the lesser of myriad evils. And if it were someone else blowing the whistle on all this, that's where the conversation would end. It's not particularly rare to see situations like this, and easy to see why it happens.
But since it's Beasley bringing it to the forefront, entirely for the sake of winning a lawsuit, it's all harder to stomach. This story's not about the complexity of the hoops underworld, but the sad simplicity of a guy who can't stop lighting his dignity on fire.
Among the best teenage basketball players in the world, the odds of making it to the NBA aren't necessarily the same as playing the lottery, but it's still essentially a crapshoot. Back when players went pro straight from high school, for every Kevin Garnett there was a Korleone Young. For every LeBron, a Ndudi Ebi. For every Tyson Chandler, there's a DeAngelo Collins.
So which side of the coin would Michael Beasley have fallen on? Where do you draft a 6'8 tweener with average athleticism who got himself kicked out of five high schools? If he struggled to stay on track as a no. 2 pick shoehorned into the starting lineup with an entire franchise dedicated to watching his every move, how would he have fared as an afterthought second round pick at the end of the bench?
Anyone who claims Beasley's a victim of a broken system conveniently forgets that were it not for the system we have—AAU basketball, college hoops, the NBA age limit—Beasley's career would have ended in disaster before he ever cashed a check from Adidas or the NBA. Those systems and traditions have their own problems, but if you're looking for someone to personify what's wrong, Beasley's not your guy.
No, the truest thing anyone's ever written about Michael Beasley came in an ESPN Magazine piece about all the basketball stars that made it out of his hometown. It's just a scene.
...Durant and Beasley are the gods every baller in PG aspires to be. As they played in that August charity game in the Seat Pleasant Activity Center, the overflow crowd of kids just wanted to be near them.
After the game, the younger generation followed the stars into the parking lot for a touch or a final hug. Before long, Durant disappeared as quietly as he had arrived. Beasley, though, milked his exit from the driver’s seat of his new Bentley. Finally, he pulled off down the street, bass thumping.
There he is, side by side with Kevin Durant. Two superstars from the same neighborhood, who grew up surrounded by the same people, and left to find success and make their neighborhood proud.
They're different, though. Opposite sides of the same coin. And now a few years later, Kevin Durant's spent practically the entire summer putting his city on the map without asking for anything in return.
"B-Easy" has been largely invisible by comparison. Until this week, anyway, when he made national headlines betraying a man who's helped scores of other D.C. teens make it out of the neighborhood throughout his career. A man who welcomed Beasley into his home and treated him like a son.
It took a while reading his lawsuit on Wednesday night before I realized why it made me so sad as a basketball fan, but then it all sorta came together: This is just who Michael Beasley is. It's only a matter of time before he becomes Allen Iverson without ever becoming Allen Iverson.
The truest thing we can say about Michael Beasley now is that basketball is like life. Rife with vivid characters highlights and stories and yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever, man. The most basic truth about life is that there are some people who just don't get it, who just won't make it.
Basketball's a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds, but more than anything else, Beasley's a reminder that the kaleidoscope is still a distortion—it takes a complex world and makes it all look pretty. Basketball isn't really like life, and it's not a portal to a side of society well outside the cocoon of my Georgetown childhood. It's a portal to half that society.
As fans, we end up focusing on guys like Durant and their inspiring success stories, because the ones who don't get it usually don't make it far enough for us to learn their name. But we know Michael Beasley, and as he slowly sabotages an otherwise promising career, we're watching it happen. We're seeing the other side of the coin that basketball usually lets us ignore. The people who just can't let themselves win. The part of life that doesn't make sense.
So B-Easy is hilarious, yeah.
But damn if he's not heartbreaking at the same time.