Hardwood and Hollywood

Sonny Says … Prince is the GOAT

In today’s edition of Sonny Says, I’ll weigh in on Prince vs. Michael Jackson, NBA Super Teams, and I’ll examine whether Breaking Bad should be blamed for the U.S.’s drug crisis.

Mary – “Prince or Michael Jackson?” 

This is an interesting question for me to answer because I was still almost a decade away from being alive when both Prince and Michael Jackson were at the peak of their musical powers/at their most relevant in terms of being noticeable and high profile public figures. The Michael Jackson I grew up with was white (a total 180 from the early 80’s), facing multiple child sexual abuse accusations, and was, for the most part, a total recluse living at the Neverland Ranch. The Prince I grew up with was nameless for a good portion of the 90’s (I remember being confused by this), he was the halftime act one and only Super Bowl my Chicago Bears have been apart of in my lifetime, and was, for the most part, a total recluse living at Paisley Park.

I felt it was necessary to provide this backstory because that meant the only fair opinion I could form of each artist was based solely on the music they produced during their peaks. Although they both continued to make music into the 90’s and 00’s, I mostly knew them for their work in the 80’s, which is when the “Prince or Michael Jackson” debate was surely bigger than any music debate we’re having today. In a way, I feel like my total lack of first-hand familiarity with how either of these two were perceived in the 80’s puts me at a disadvantage. On the other hand, this allowed me to use their music as the sole deciding factor in who I preferred.

With all of that said, my choice is Prince, and the gap between the two in my mind is actually rather large.

Obviously, any debate that is concerned with the superior greatness of one of two individuals is largely based on personal preference. Just because I think Purple Rain is a much better album than Thriller doesn’t mean everyone else does, nor does it mean that I’m necessarily correct because there isn’t any way to prove correctness unless we look at things like album sales and awards won, and neither of those things really matter that much to me or influence my opinion. With that said, I do prefer Purple Rain, and I also believe Prince’s entire discography is superior to MJ’s. Again, neither of those prove anything. If anyone wanted to make a do their best to prove that Prince tops Michael Jackson, they could lean on the fact that Prince was a more skilled musician (I learned in researching this topic that Prince played 27 different instruments on his debut album), that his career was longer than Michael Jackson’s, and that Prince would have indisputably whooped Michael Jackson’s ass in a one-on-one basketball game.

It seems like, for reasons that I’m not quite sure of, Michael Jackson has actually held up much better among people my age than Prince has. This could just be because the parents of people my age generally preferred MJ in the 80’s and my parents (my Mom especially) was a huge Prince fan. I suspect this could also be because Prince was one of a handful of musicians who put up a real fight to prevent their music from being illegally streamed. Meanwhile, Michael Jackson has had his own YouTube channel for 8 years and it is filled with music videos and live performances. In the past, if you wanted to listen to Prince, you need to spend the money to do so or hope you occasionally catch a song of his on the radio, and you’re likely to hear “Billie Jean” on the radio ten times before you hear any Prince song. As of February 9th, 2017 though, all of Prince’s music can be found on Spotify, and within the last few days a verified Prince channel on YouTube has been created.

Regardless, when Michael Jackson died there was a much larger reaction and outpouring of love from my peers than when Prince died. After Prince’s death I played his music exclusively for the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I’ll always remember June 25th, 2009 not as the day that The King of Pop died, but as the day my Cleveland Cavaliers traded for Shaquille O’Neal, a move I believed assured LeBron James his first NBA Title.

What I realized when I was answering this question is that this isn’t the only against-the-grain Pop Culture opinion I have. I’ve openly claimed I believe that LeBron James is a better basketball player than Michael Jordan. I prefer Moe’s over Chipotle, Burger King’s fries over McDonald’s fries, the NBA Playoffs over March Madness, a 16-team College Football Playoff over whatever garbage the NCAA has tried before, and Creed over every other movie in the Rocky series. Add Prince (my choice as music’s GOAT) over Michael Jackson to that list.

Annie – “With drugs like heroin becoming an epidemic in our country, do you think series like Breaking Bad are downplaying the negativity of drug usage? Does Hollywood help or harm or have no affect on what people will do, in regards to drugs?” 

This kind of question is unusually difficult to answer in comparison to the questions I normally receive because there really isn’t any way to prove the impact, or lack thereof, of any pop culture medium on any one aspect of society as a whole, and an uneducated opinion on a matter like this is even more irrelevant than my opinions on Prince or basketball or professional wrestling. However, if one were to look at a particular set of statistics, they could definitely use those figures to make a case for Breaking Bad playing a role in the growing drug problem in the United States. For example:

Breaking Bad premiered on AMC in 2008 and concluded in 2013. An MSN article that was posted less than one week ago stated that per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the estimated number of meth users in the United States has rose from 314,000 in 2008 to 569,000 in 2014, a figure that is closing in on the number of Heroin users in the United States. Speaking of which, according to a 2015 Time.com article, the number of Heroin users or individuals with a heroin-dependence in the United States had increased 150 percent from 2007 to 2013.

So what does this tell us? Well, nothing conclusively. But one could easily make a case that Breaking Bad downplayed the negativity of drug usage, leading to a surge in the number of drug users during the period in which the show aired. I personally feel like the wording of that assertion may be too harsh and too critical of Breaking Bad, so rather than saying that Breaking Bad downplayed the negativity of or even “glamorized” meth use, I would lean towards saying “Breaking Bad normalized the manufacturing, selling and use of crystal meth.”

But here’s where things get tricky. If we connect the dots between Breaking Bad and the use of crystal meth or other hard drugs in the United States, couldn’t we find more pop culture/societal connections too? Let’s see if this one works:

The Sopranos premiered on HBO in 1999 and concluded in spectacular fashion in 2007. In 2007, Mad Men premiered on AMC. In each of these two shows, both of which are set in the Northeast United States in two very different time periods, two of the most powerful and prominent anti-hero characters in television history (Tony Soprano and Don Draper) are frequently shown being unfaithful to their wives. Meanwhile, from 2000 to 2010 the divorce rates in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire all increased.

So let me ask this question: would it be fair to put the lion’s share of the blame The Sopranos or Mad Men for the glamorization and normalization of infidelity, which just so happens to be the second leading cause of divorce? Or is it just a coincidence that these six Northeastern states all saw rises in divorce in the years when these two New York/New Jersey based shows were most relevant?

Breaking Bad wasn’t a television show about crystal meth, just like The Sopranos and Mad Men weren’t shows about infidelity. As Walter White once explained, he wasn’t in the meth business. Breaking Bad was a show about the empire business, and more specifically, Walter White’s empire. The greatest threats to Walt’s empire weren’t law enforcement, but instead rival distributors (i.e. Gus Fring, Tuco, Uncle Jack and the Neo-Nazi’s), which eliminates the argument that the real-life “good guys” were portrayed as villains. The use of meth was secondary on the show, and the effects of it were never romanticized. Breaking Bad was about a gritty and depressing (and masterfully produced, perfectly written and impeccably acted) look at a world very few people actually know about.

So if anyone is going to point the finger of blame at Breaking Bad for the rise of meth usage, I would first consider all of what I’ve said and tread lightly.

Brad – “What’s up with this new Super Team era? Good or bad for the NBA?”
Tyler – “Being the big LeBron fan that you are, what are your thoughts when he said he’s never been on a Super Team?” 

Here we have two questions that are looking at the same topic (the NBA Super Team) so instead of giving two shorter answers I’ll combine the two questions and give one larger answer … a Super Answer if you will.

So let’s begin with something that I don’t understand: I’m one of only a half-dozen or so people who I know personally that annually has access to NBA League Pass. That means that on any given night I’m capable of watching any single NBA game I please, and just about every night during the NBA season I utilize this purchase. I will have issues with watching a mid-January game between the Utah Jazz and Charlotte Hornets, two small market teams, both of whom lack something resembling a “superstar.” Yet still, I could identify five different things about that particular match-up that I find interesting that I doubt the casual fan would.

The casual fan would likely be much more interested in watching two or three games a week (if that) that involve the more attractive teams of the league — i.e. the Warriors, Cavaliers, Rockets, Celtics, Thunder, etc. And this is fine and understandable and to some degree I get it, but most of the criticisms about the Super Team era I hear are generally coming from the casual fan. So what I wonder is this: Why is the formation of multiple Super Teams such a problem for the casual fan when the casual fan never concerns themselves with watching teams that aren’t coined “Super Teams” or teams that don’t have two or more “Superstars”?  Were those same people complaining because Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton (five Hall of Famers) were all on the 1986 Celtics? Is having too much talent on an NBA roster really a bad thing for fans, especially the fans who aren’t even subscribing to NBA League Pass so they can watch the Phoenix Suns visit the Milwaukee Bucks on a random Tuesday night?

I’ll be honest, I still don’t know what qualifies a team to receive “Super Team” status. When Steve Nash and Dwight Howard joined Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol in Los Angeles we called that squad a Super Team, and they barely snuck into the Playoffs. Were Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley the leaders of a true Super Team in Houston in the late 90’s if they never even made an NBA Finals together? How about when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett joined Joe Johnson and Deron Williams in Brooklyn for a season?

What level of past success allows a team to be called a Super Team? Does their success in the present mean anything? Why isn’t every team that wins an NBA Title considered a Super Team if teams that don’t sniff the NBA Finals are?

You see what I mean? This stuff is really unclear. Here’s another good example, and one that touches on/answers Tyler’s question in particular: LeBron James has been on a Super Team, but I’m not sure he was ever on one before he won an NBA Title.

One day before LeBron James made his Decision, an article was published on Bleacher Report that was titled “If Wade-Bosh Deal Is Confirmed, Superteam in South Beach Realistic.” But at this point in time, did that trio have the credentials to be considered a Super Team? LeBron James was the best basketball player in the world and the two-time reigning MVP, but he hadn’t made an NBA Finals visit in three seasons. Dwyane Wade was a former Finals MVP and one of the five best players in the league, but in the previous three seasons his teams had won an average 35 games each year. Chris Bosh was a multiple time All-Star too, but his Raptors teams were winning only 46 percent of their games over the previous five seasons when he was their go-to-guy.

I don’t know, maybe my interpretation of what a Super Team is is just different than others. I believe that the Miami Heat’s four straight NBA Finals appearances and their two Championships are their best case to be considered a Super Team. Others would tell you it’s more indicative of the number of All-Stars or MVP’s or Hall of Famers on the roster, and I suppose that isn’t incorrect, but then we’re just left with a bunch of “Failed Super Teams” that we agree shouldn’t have been considered Super Teams in the first place.

One thing that bothers me (not a great deal, just a little bit), is that there is a negative connotation attached to Super Teams that is fan created and driven. Fans forget that the Celtics of the 60’s won because they had more Hall of Famers than everyone else, and the same could be said of the Celtics and Lakers of the 80’s. Michael Jordan didn’t win his titles alone either … Scottie Pippen is considered one of the greatest perimeter defenders ever and averaged 20 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals per game during the Bulls title run in the 90’s, and the Bulls acquired Dennis Rodman (two-time All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year) before their second three-peat.

But today if three All-Stars decide to play together, well holy shit, Super Teams are going to be the death of the NBA as we know it. Child please. What I want to know is why fans feel they have the right to decide that basketball players should actively pursue and angle for situations where they aren’t putting themselves in an advantageous professional and personal situation? Why are teams looked at as if they’re taking the easy way out when they work to acquire multiple great players? Should they willingly put themselves at a competitive disadvantage? And why has it been determined that if a team with multiple All-Stars or All-NBA players wins a title it somehow cheapens or minimizes their success? It appears that a whole lot of people have forgotten how titles were won in the past.

So with all of that said, I’ll go back to Brad’s question: “What’s up with this new Super Team era? Good or bad for the NBA?” Well up until this Summer, there were two teams in the league considered to be Super Teams … the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. These two teams have played in the last three NBA Finals, and those three Finals series have been the higher rated and watched by more fans than any series since the 1990’s. Meanwhile, NBA League Pass continues to see gains in annual number of subscribers. It looks to me like both the diehard and casual NBA fans are happy.

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Sonny Giuliano

Contributor at Hardwood and Hollywood
I'm a wanna-be NBA historian, the pride of Elba, New York and the greatest racket sport player you'll ever meet. I write about the NBA, NFL, WWE and other relevant pop culture topics as well. My parents taught me never to talk to strangers, but if you ever want to engage in a friendly sports debate, you can follow or harass me on Twitter @SonnyCG.

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