In today’s Los Angeles Times, I’ve got an op ed on the Jefferson Bible — back in the news, thanks to a new edition from the Smithsonian, and more relevant than ever, thanks to the Republican presidential primary. I could say a lot more about the history of the Jefferson Bible, and somewhere down the line I will. For now, though, I’ll write about something else — another recent story in the Times, this near-crazy column about Lakers reserve Josh McRoberts.
The column comes from Bill Plaschke, a Fire Joe Morgan favorite who’s made a career out of getting things wrong. In fact, I single this instance out only because it reveals a lot about how the media continues to mythologize “Indiana basketball.”
Plaschke starts with a promising topic — how a prep and college star handles being a role player in the pros. There are some good details, too, like the fact that McRoberts moved to L.A. so quickly that he’s been taking an airport shuttle to games. Where the column goes off the rails, though, is when it addresses McRoberts’s Indiana roots. It doesn’t help that Plaschke relies on one of those lazy, column-by-number structures that FJM loved to hate. McRoberts is Josh McRambis, he’s Josh McFly, and, now, he’s “Josh McHoosier”:
He grew up swallowing wood chips that landed in his mouth from his splintered driveway backboard. His other childhood gym was a goal hammered to the side of his grandmother’s barn. He was the nation’s top-ranked player as a senior at an Indianapolis-area high school where, during the recent NBA lockout, he served as an assistant coach. And, oh yeah, he can’t stand to watch the movie Hoosiers anymore because, basically, he lived it. With his Indiana twang, he even sounds like it. “Where I came from, all I’ve been through, that’s made me who I am,” he says. “Hoosiers is about right.”
This is absolute nonsense. That “Indianapolis-area high school”? It’s Carmel High School in Carmel, Indiana, easily the richest city in the richest county in the state. The 4,600-student high school boasts a national reputation for college prep. The city just built a fancy concert hall known as The Palladium. Carmel isn’t famous for its hardscrabble Hoosier-ness. It’s famous for its roundabouts.
Now there’s nothing wrong with this. But McRoberts talking about the goal on his grandmother’s barn — and let’s note that his dad played basketball at Butler and his mom teaches at a Carmel school — makes as much sense as me talking about the rusted-out combine on my grandfather’s farm. Does it exist? Yes. Does it mean I deserve a Walker Evans portrait? Hardly.
It’s interesting that McRoberts can no longer watch Hoosiers. I heard the same thing from several high schoolers in Milan, Indiana, when I did a story on the town’s basketball legacy. In both cases, it seems like the natural, reasonable reaction of people who’ve seen the same lazy story line projected on them way too many times. If it’s basketball and it’s Indiana, then it must be Hoosiers — underdogs, outhouses, twangy accents. Honestly, I don’t even blame McRoberts for mentioning his grandmother’s barn. I’d bet you a pile of wood chips Plaschke was gunning for details of just that sort.