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Let’s Trade Kobe… For Prince:

If Michael Moore’s new film Sicko rattles you about medical care in general, it should also disturb you in specific about differences in economic class. In this case, the difference in medical care for America’s affluent versus the rest of us.

There may be some consolation for that “rest of us” in the fact that money does not buy happiness; at least as far as Kobe Bryant is concerned. With all his money and all our forgiveness for his arrogance and then his continued arrogance and our continued forgiveness, he’s still not certain Los Angeles has shown him the deference he deserves.

So let’s make him happy. Let’s trade Kobe. But in return, let’s get somebody Los Angeles already enjoys and can get some use out of. Let’s trade Kobe for the artist known as Prince.

At first glance this may sound like apples for oranges. But take a closer look. Both men are accomplished performers who put on a great show. But when Kobe is done playing one-man offense, you don’t feel that good. Especially as the brightly colored wagons of the playoffs move over the hill, leaving the Lakers in the sawdust. You don’t even want to watch the highlights at 11 p.m. After a Prince show you can hardly wait to get to your car and hear more Prince, especially the songs you just saw him play in concert.

So Prince wins on the “feel good” factor. Then there’s that sense of team. Prince always has a great band, and everybody gets to shine. Sure, he’s out front but he always acknowledges his players and what they bring to the game. Kobe… let’s not go there.

But here’s what locks it: These two react in vastly different ways when they start feeling like chattel. In the mid-90s Prince would appear with the word “slave” written on his face to highlight a dispute concerning ownership of his recording masters. All the while he continued making and performing his often fiercely individualistic (read: a few CD’s tanked) music. Kobe, feeling that the Laker team would never properly reflect in his image, began pouting about it on radio and sulked in front of complete strangers with video cameras. Prince settled his recording issues; Kobe is still yanking our chain, his chain, everybody’s chain.

I wasn’t certain there was enough parity between these two until I read the LA Times coverage of the Prince shows at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. This column has written previously about the exclusionary nature of the Staples Center and many of the “public” events held there. But munching sushi in $85 seats at a hockey game is nothing compared to Prince’s asking price of $3,121 a pair for tickets to a limited series of shows at the Roosevelt. Limited, mostly, to the ability of our city’s wealthy to make the scene.

I will forgive Prince his “Phat Wallet Tour 2007” through the Roosevelt if he quickly returns to playing in venues where the rest of us can see him. Although it’s clear that those fans that did shell out for the hotel shows were convinced they got value. One woman quoted in the Times felt it was all worth it because “we were with the stars and all that… right there behind P. Diddy and Suge Knight…” I guess by “stars” she meant “marksmen,” although she’ll never know exactly how much artillery was positioned next to her fantastic seats.

If the sharp divide between the haves and have-nots in America is going to become more and more pronounced, then maybe it falls to those between the owners and the consumers – in this case, the performers – to paint some patina of dignity over their part in widening the schism. At the end of the day, both Kobe and Prince need the support of fans to know that their super talents are being put to good use.

Prince, in making sure that we all heard about the steep prices at Roosevelt gigs, showed the same “Let them eat cake!” humanity that Kobe displayed when he bought off his wife with a big diamond ring. If we’re going to have painful disparities in economic class rubbed in our faces, let’s at least get some music out of the deal. I don’t know if Prince can guard, and he’s short. But when he plays his butt off, the whole band is behind him.

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