My 9-year-old son’s favorite player is Ja Morant.
I need to explain this further, so you really get it. The person writing this article, the one who contributed to giving my son life, grew up a Los Angeles Lakers fan, played for the Los Angeles Lakers, and won an NBA Championship in 2000. Yet, my son is a Memphis Grizzlies fan.
As I walked past my son on the steps a few weeks ago to plant myself on the couch and watch the NBA playoffs, I asked him, “Hey, you coming to watch the game?”
He looked at me with confusion and said, “Why? The Grizzlies are out. I don’t care anymore.”
I’m trying to explain to you. My 9-year-old son’s favorite player is Ja Morant.
Over the last few days since Morant’s latest incident flashing a gun on his own Instagram page, the go-to questions from “supporters” have been, “Well, is he licensed to carry?” “Was he in a state with open carry laws?”
Truthfully, we may never get this information. But to this, I say, tomato, to-MA-to. Semantics. This is bigger than Morant exercising his gun rights as an American citizen. This is bigger than another young Black man making an immature mistake, trying to find his way as a young Black multi-millionaire with the world in the palm of his hands. My 9-year-old son’s favorite player is Ja Morant.
According to 2022 FBI statistics on the nation’s 50 largest cities, Memphis ranked 3rd in homicide rate (45.9%) per 100,000 population trailing only Baltimore (57.8%) and Detroit (48.9%). According to PropertyClub, in 2022, the most dangerous city in America was Memphis, Tennessee, boasting a crime rate 237% higher than the national average.
Memphis had 7,913 crimes per 100,000 people, with an exceptionally high violent crime rate. In 2022, there were 15,318 incidents of violent crime, including 289 counts of murder, 2,134 counts of robbery, and 12,484 incidents of assault.
My son wants to go to Memphis. He doesn’t care about the barbecue. He doesn’t care about the Blues or Beale Street. He wants to see the Memphis Grizzlies live. My 9-year-old son’s favorite player is Ja Morant.
Sometimes I think it is extremely irresponsible to single out Ja Morant. It’s so much easier to pin the blame on America’s obsession with guns and gun culture.
The United States is the only nation where civilian guns outnumber people. The U.S. is one of only three countries in the world where bearing (or keeping) arms is a constitutional right (Guatemala and Mexico are the other two), yet the ownership rate of the other two is almost a tenth of the United States.
If that is not an easy enough scapegoat for Ja Morant, he — and we — could maybe blame it on hip-hop culture and the prevalence of firearms for street credibility.
There was a time when hip-hop culture told the story of violence, guns, and poverty in America — similar to a reporter on the outside looking in, giving America a real glimpse into the issues of Black inner-city America.
Over the years, this has evolved into a plethora of hip-hop artists no longer reporting on the issues of Black America, but being a part of the issue, glamorizing their role and how they partake in the madness.
The NBA is hip-hop, and hip-hop is the NBA. If you don’t believe me, then watch the playoffs and let me know one time a playoff game goes by where there isn’t at least one hip-hop artist courtside. So yeah, let’s blame hip-hop. I need something to tell my son. My 9-year-old son’s favorite player is Ja Morant.
Anyone halfway conscious, halfway “woke,” understands that it’s more complicated than that. Ja Morant grew up in Sumter, South Carolina. He is a product of a two-family household. Not that coming from a two-family household guarantees anything, but what it does say is you have a better chance at surviving.
It pains me to point the finger at a Black man very involved in his son’s life. Ja Morant’s father, Tee Morant, can be seen at a number of games, front row, engaged, loud, enjoying life, wearing dark shades, ripped up skinny jeans, chopping it up with rappers, entertainers, and the who’s who in the NBA audience.
I wonder if I’m out of line for saying he’s enjoying this ride a little much. I can’t give Tee Morant, who appears to be such an involved father, a pass here with so much on the line for one of the most sensational talents in the NBA. Maybe for Tee Morant, it’s time to take off the shades, put on some Dad jeans, and focus on what is probably the most glaring weakness in Ja Morant’s game: his decision-making.
And I’m not talking between the lines. I’m talking about the game of life. Maybe he needs a Furious Styles (Lawrence Fishburne’s character in “Boyz n the Hood”) type of talking to before this all goes very wrong.
If not, the most exciting point guard and floor general in the NBA today may want to understand that his days in the greatest basketball league on Earth are numbered. The NBA is a brand, and no matter what the gun laws are, no matter what your registration for your weapon looks like, the league WILL protect itself and its image. There will always be another Ja Morant. It is almost certain that a heavy suspension is coming from the NBA.
In the end, I can’t help but think about the many young Black boys that look up to Ja Morant, the highest-flying, electric point guard we’ve seen since Derrick Rose.
What are our young Black boys who want to wear #12, who want to grow locks in their hair, and who want to now do the griddy after an exciting play going to think now?
It’s not just about Ja Morant. I think back to the character Nino Brown of the movie “New Jack City,” portrayed by Wesley Snipes, when he explained to the courtroom who wanted to make him the only fall guy, “This sh*t is bigger than Nino Brown.”
It sure was. And this is even bigger than the Memphis Grizzlies’ star franchise player.
My 9-year-old son’s favorite player is Ja Morant.
John Celestand is the program director of the Knight x LMA BloomLab, a $3.2 million initiative that supports the advancement and sustainability of local Black-owned news publications. He is a former freelance sports broadcaster and writer who covered the NBA and college basketball for multiple networks such as ESPN Regional Television, SNY, and Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia. John was a member of the 2000 Los Angeles Lakers NBA Championship Team playing alongside the late great Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. He currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife and son.