The first time I watched one grown woman throw a drink at another adult woman over Twitter comments on Basketball Wives I was perplexed. I wondered what on Earth could be so prized and lauded about being the spouse (or aspiring spouse/girlfriend/baby mother) of a baller that could cause such competitive and frenzied behavior.
Then in steps a New York Magazine fashion article to show me the way.
Vanessa Grigoriadisa’s article, “The Belles of B-Ball: How NBA Players’ Wives Vie for Fashion Dominance,” shined some insight on why so many women are willing to put up with such garbage for a baller husband. If you end up with a dud, you get a lifetime of headaches and heartaches until Shaunie O’Neil takes some pity on you and you end up on Vh1’s Basketball Wives, but if you choose well – it’s an unparalleled Cinderella fantasy many find hard to give up.
The players have long been the stars, the peacocks, and always will be, but the wives are new American royalty, enjoying the rise in NBA salaries, like $15 million payouts per year for multiple years. And, as is often the case, the wives’ recent focus on fashion comes in tandem with a new interest in increasing their public profiles. “Ten or fifteen years ago, you couldn’t name the wife of an NBA player,” says Larry Platt, author of Only the Strong Survive: The Odyssey of Allen Iverson.
Rita Ewing, the ex-wife of New York Knick Patrick Ewing, explains:
“There’s absolutely a shift in perception of the wives,” she says. “Anytime there’s more money, there’s more power. These players are getting paid so much more than the players in my day, so they’re bigger names, and bigger celebrities—and anyone who is involved with them is as well.”
The more revealing part of the story, though, is that of Los Angeles Laker wife, Vanessa Bryant, spouse of all-star and NBA champ, Kobe Bryant. Described as the league’s “ice queen” with a sphinxlike nature, there’s an eerie detachment – an indifference even – in how Bryant speaks. After 13 years in the game, she’s over it, even though she’s still squarely in the middle of it.
Mrs. Bryant notes:
“I certainly would not want to be married to somebody that can’t win championships. If you’re sacrificing time away from my family and myself for the benefit of winning championships, then winning a championship should happen every single year.”
Bryant caught a lot of heat for this statement, even though it was hardly the most tone deaf thing in the interview. In a statement to TMZ, Bryant clarified:
“I’m sad to hear that comments in my New York Magazine interview are being misconstrued and taken out of context,” she said. “I have and will continue to support my husband’s dreams. … I have been with Kobe for 13 years. I accepted his marriage proposal PRIOR to him winning any of his 5 championships with his teammates. … For anyone to think otherwise is wrong. It is not about being married to a ‘winner’ it is about our sacrifice as a family.”
In the article Bryant says she and her baller husband are “working on things.” Last year she filed for divorce, but it appeares the two have reconciled. Still, it’s easy to speculate that their life has been about a negotiation (or war) between love and money for years. From that long ago press conference after her husband was accused of rape, to the cheating allegations that still pop up today, you can’t help but wonder how much that desire to work things out is rooted in what’s best for her children and her love of the life – and not-so-much love towards her husband.
After all, Vanessa has been with Kobe since she was 17-years-old. Even if divorcing would grant her half of the community property, she’s probably never been on her own and never managed her own finances. Moreover, she’s possibly never paid a bill, rented an apartment on her own or gone through most of the things we learn as independent adults while away in college or in our 20s.
While you were filling out your first lease paperwork and applying for your first loans, she was a basketball wife, watching from the sidelines like a well-kept porcelain doll squeezed into a T-shirt that says “Fashionable MFer.”
Money, shoes, clothes, and Kobe is all she knows.
Even the gifts from her husband, as the NY Mag piece notes, are epic:
As the sun shines on her diamond bangles, a Christmas present, as well as a diamond ring that’s a whopping 25 carats overall, a Valentine’s Day present—“Everyone my jeweler talked to was afraid of tension-setting it for me, but he finally found someone who wasn’t worried about cracking the stone,” she says.
And from her approach to dealing with a child’s allergies:
My youngest daughter has allergies to olive trees. We had twelve olive trees on this property, and after we took her to an allergist, I had them excavated.”
To her “prestige” position as a Laker wife, which followed an explanation as to why she has no “beef” with former Laker wife Khloe Kardashian:
“I’ve been with Kobe since I was 17, so I’ve seen plenty of players, and plenty of wives, come and go. It wouldn’t benefit me whatsoever to have an issue with any of them, whether they were a girlfriend, or a wife, a person-of-a-month, or … you know. And I think that’s why the Lakers as an organization give me the access that I have, that other wives don’t have.” She talks about the tunnel on the way to the locker room that she stands in to give Kobe a kiss after games, the one that cameras always pan to. “If you notice, I am the only one allowed in that tunnel,” says Bryant.
Everything about Vanessa Bryant sounds cold, but when you consider that this is her life and has been her life for so long that she knows no other life, it makes sense.
While her problems and wants may sound insensitive or even petty to people who have to hump it to work every day and worry about their kid’s school losing funding, these are what your problems would be if you were married to a famous multimillionaire with an occasionally wandering penis.
It reminds me of conversations I’ve had recently with my mother who has been married for 40 years and no longer remembers much from her early 20s when she struggled to make ends meet as a school teacher. She has this way of acting as if things “just happen” instead of the reality that my father or someone else who loves her makes things happen.
When my sister worries about finding a new home for her family my mother wonders aloud why my sister can’t move to the neighborhood where she and our father live. As if home loans are easy to come by. As if myself or either of my sisters are in our parents’ tax bracket (we’re woefully not). Most people don’t have the luxury of their biggest problem being, “Your father left crumbs on the counter and it’s the end of the world.” Where you shout about the need for new carpet in the way people bemoan their lack of health insurance.
You can be sympathetic for a while. But eventually you start shouting, “You don’t have real problems!” and you hurt your mother’s feelings.
I’m sure you could tell Vanessa Bryant she doesn’t have real problems, but in that fight to be the only one standing in a tunnel no one but her and a few other b-ball wives care about, she’ll just call you a hater.