He's the ugliest mother——in the NBA.
Obviously, Bird's hero status in a black man's game rankles Spike. Referring to the uproar Isiah Thomas caused in 1987 when he said, "If [Bird] was black, he'd be just another good [player]," Spike says: "Look, I know what Isiah was talking about. Larry Bird has been positioned as the great white hope. Larry Bird can play, but the way the media has souped him up is unbelievable. The announcer is always going, 'Larry Bird can't jump the highest, but he makes up for it with his blue-collar work ethic.' And blacks are always described as 'gifted' and 'natural.' I think that's unfair to both parties."
There may be only one black athlete Spike doesn't like: "Neon" Deion Sanders. "Here's another young brother who got some money and will have it spent before he knows he had it," Spike says. Of course, Sanders once said that if he ever saw Spike, he would punch him "inside out." Spike smiles. "All he's got to do is spray me with some of that Jheri-curl juice and I'm done for." Jheri-curls, blue and green contact lenses, hair straightening, lip and nose thinning, these are things Spike does not approve of for blacks. That means Sanders is not nearly black enough. Nor schooled enough. "A lot of these athletes today, they might not even be able to tell you who Jackie Robinson or Curt Flood was," Spike says. "If it weren't for Jackie Robinson, these guys wouldn't have made much money. If it weren't for Curt Flood, sacrificing his career for free agency, these .250 hitters wouldn't be making $1.5 million. These guys are lumps. They don't think anybody ever came before them."
Of course, when it comes to black owners in mainstream sports, almost nobody has come before them. The way Spike sees it, blacks dominate sports now the way blacks dominated the cotton industry in the South. "Until there are black owners, nothing will change," he says. "Black athletes will have no say."
If that sounds controversial, wait until you get a load of Jungle Fever, an interracial love story that was inspired by New York's 1989 Bensonhurst racial killing and which will be released in June. The film promises to be a shocker. But that raises the question, How much of Spike's work is done for art's sake and how much for shock's sake? Spike once said that if he ever made a film that wasn't controversial, he would freak. "I'm an instigator," he says. But what burns him up so?
Another day, another ticket stub. This time it's Georgetown-Seton Hall at New Jersey's Meadowlands Arena. Georgetown coach Thompson, Spike's main man, hooked him up with seats, maybe because he and Spike have so much in common. They've been labeled reverse racists, accused of working with blacks almost exclusively. When gang members were blowing each other away over pairs of Air Jordans, Spike's and Thompson's Nike ads were accused of creating a need strong enough to cause murder. Jesse Jackson's Operation P.U.S.H. even started a boycott of Nike, ostensibly over the company's dearth of minority employees and the absence of blacks on its board of directors.
It didn't help that Spike had written a scene in Do the Right Thing in which Buggin' Out, a black radical, is walking down the block when Clifton, a white yuppie in a Celtics T-shirt, accidentally bumps into him and steps on his foot, leaving a big black smudge on one of Buggin' Out's new, unlaced white Air Jordans. Buggin' Out runs after Clifton.