June 26, 2009

Clippers cursed by Indians?

Columnist Bill Simmons advises no. 1 draft pick Blake Griffin about his new team, the Los Angeles Clippers:

Open letter to Blake GriffinI studied the Clippers' mess for three days, put everything on paper and tried to figure out a common thread. Blaming Moses Malone was too easy. Why would Moses curse the Clippers? The man could barely speak. Blaming Bill Walton ignored three seasons of misfortune that came before him. Blake, this went deeper than one person. This was karmic. This was creepy. This was like … they'd been hexed. Like they had built an arena on a sacred burial ground or something.

And that's when I realized what happened. In a way, they did mess with a sacred burial ground. They messed with the Indians. And you don't mess with the Indians. Ever.

Allow me to explain.

When the NBA awarded Buffalo an expansion franchise starting in the 1970-71 season, the team named itself the "Braves" to recognize Buffalo's Native American history. That's when the trouble began, Blake. For Native Americans, there was no more important animal than the buffalo. They depended on it for survival. They wore its fur as clothes. They revered the "white buffalo"--a rare type of buffalo, almost as though it was albino--and considered it to be sacred. By linking the word "Buffalo" with "Braves," a commonly known term to describe Native American warriors, the team's owners were basically announcing, "We are embracing the Indians and representing them in an honorable way."

For God's sake, look at their first logo. It's an Indian headdress on top of a basketball face; instead of facial features, we see a blue buffalo. In their second season, they changed the logo to a fancy "B" with a feather sticking out of it. The message remained clear: We are embracing the Native Americans.

Starting to get worried, Blake? You should be. Everything went swimmingly for the first six seasons in Buffalo. Led by North Carolina star Bob McAdoo (who won three scoring titles and an MVP award), the Braves put themselves on the map with playoff battles against two future champs (the Celtics in '74 and '76) and a really good Bullets team in '75. Everything turned in the summer of 1976, the same summer we celebrated our country's 200th Independence Day. (Yes, a country we stole from the Native Americans. I'm going to say this was a bad omen.) Twenty days before the Bicentennial, on June 14, Buffalo owner Paul Snyder announced he was selling the Braves to a group that planned to move them to Hollywood, Fla.

Only one problem: Nobody wanted the Braves to move. The other NBA owners hated the thought of accruing extra travel costs flying down to Florida just because Snyder sold out. The town of Buffalo was furious and immediately blocked the move with a restraining order and a $10 million lawsuit. And since the league was merging with the ABA that same month, this was an additional headache the league didn't need.

The sale fell through. But not before two things happened. First, McAdoo turned off the locals by saying about a potential Florida move, "It doesn't make any difference to me, as long as I can play and get paid for it." Thanks for the support, Mac! Second, there was a karmic shift against the franchise; from that moment forward, everything started to go wrong. And why?

Because Paul Snyder messed with the Indians!!!

How many times have we seen a horror movie or a Western in which someone desecrated sacred Indian territory in some way? Does it ever turn out well for them? Ever? Hell, even the Amityville Horror house was built over a sacred burial ground. That's why I believe in this curse over the other media-manufactured ones: In this case, we have ample evidence that, no, it's not a great idea to mess with Native Americans from a karmic standpoint. And Paul Snyder did.
The solution Simmons proposes to Griffin:Again, I would start running right now. But if you choose to stay, I have an idea: Trek into the desert like Jim Morrison did in "The Doors," bring Gordon with you, drop some acid and try to connect with a Native American shaman. Or you could fly to Buffalo with Baron and Gordon, find some sacred ground and make some atonements. Maybe you could even bring a white buffalo with you. Just make sure you do something. This is bigger than you. And us.

Good luck breaking the Curse of the Sacred Buffalo.
Comment:  It was mainly the Plains Indians who hunted buffalo, not all Indians. And I don't think they literally considered the buffalo "sacred." I don't think they've ever protested using a buffalo as a sports team name or product name.

Simmons was doing okay until the final paragraph, when he mixes a mishmash of stereotypes: shaman, dropping acid, sacred ground, white buffalo. He's probably clueless about the hundreds of different Indian cultures across the country. I'm pretty sure the Seneca who lived in the Buffalo area didn't worship the "sacred buffalo."

Until that point, Simmons was trying to be respectful toward Indians. He's obviously joking about Indian burial grounds and curses. But he probably shouldn't take this approach, even in jest.

What are people going to think? "He's joking about Indian burial grounds and curses this time, but Indian burial grounds often are cursed, right? Why would people talk about them if there wasn't some truth to the stories? Where there's smoke, there's fire."

At a minimum, they'll think: "Buffalo Braves...warriors with bows and arrows...chiefs in headdresses (as on the logo)...sacred buffalo. He's probably joking about the burial grounds, but isn't it interesting that there were chiefs and braves living in tipis and hunting buffalo in Buffalo? Those Plains Indians sure got around."

In other words, he's reinforcing the stereotypes even as he joshes about them. It's the same problem we see with Plains chiefs and tipis in other settings. Even if they're historically and culturally accurate, they reinforce the idea that all tribes had headdress-wearing chiefs who lived in tipis.

Simmons's satire obscures the difference between Plains Indians and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Indians to the point of invisibility. To him, all Indians are the same. That's the real problem here.

For more on the subject, see Team Names and Mascots and The Basic Indian Stereotypes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

yeah e yeah e!