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Bringing Up Bebe Week 3: On Halting Progress and Empathy

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World events conspire to relegate happiness to the bench, even as Bebe comes alive for the Raptors.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Before last Friday’s game against the Miami Heat, Lucas Nogueira held court with some reporters (and me) to discuss international basketball. Bebe was certain that Brazil had the third most players in the NBA — after America and Canada — but some among us were certain it was France. There was a debate, one in which Nogueira rhymed off a bunch of names identifying who was in and out of the league right now, but I’m not quite sure we got to a definitive answer.

Bebe was obviously proud of Brazil for having made such an impact on the NBA — he cited Anderson Varejao as the country’s most popular player — but he also provided some insight into the machinations of basketball politics in his home country. Namely: if you aren’t down with the national team every chance you get, the people may turn against you. No less than Oscar Schmidt, international points leader and basketball God, has apparently led this particular charge. And as a result, a player like Nene, famous and skilled, is persona non grata in Brazil’s sporting circles because of a reluctance to play (through injury and, in Nene’s case, cancer recovery) in the NBA off-season. Bebe pointed out he too has gotten some flack — owing to his own injuries — and as such is no great fan of Schmidt and his rhetoric. It remains a surprise to me that anyone could hate on Bebe.

While the context here is just the world of sports, it’s easy to see how the cult of personality, or perspective-less nationalism, or a lack of empathy, can twist sentiments and burn bridges and convince people that good things are bad, or vice versa. Did stoking these particular fires help anything or anybody? Is Brazil basketball better off?

I humbly submit some answers: no, it did not and is not.

Happy

If any of these thoughts have been in Bebe’s head for the rest of the week, it has not be evident. Since Jonas Valanciunas went down with injury and missed games on Sunday and Wednesday night, Nogueira’s number has been called. The results have been smile-inducing. In two games, he’s averaged 8.5 points and six rebounds, to go with 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. Bebe is also, rather comically, shooting a perfect 100 percent from the field.

Last night, there were numerous plays you could point to suggesting Nogueira was ready to be the Raptors’ go-to centre of the bench. There was his easy rapport with Kyle Lowry on the pick-and-roll, the plethora of alley-oop finishes, the block on human nuclear bomb Russell Westbrook, his overall presence at and above the rim, the confidence found in his passing around the perimeter. Bebe was active and largely playing within himself — he put more on the table than he took away and helped the team win. He finished the game plus-30 in his 29 minutes, which, I mean, wow.

And baseline here, there’s Bebe’s positivity. After the Kings game on Sunday, a game frittered away by the Raptors, Nogueira remained upbeat and smiling. (He even called guarding DeMarcus Cousins a “blessed opportunity.”) He didn’t like to lose, of course, but Bebe was happy to play and pleased that he could help. “I don’t like to play in a loss, you can’t control that, but I’m happy with myself.” Good on you, Bebe.

Not Happy

But at times like these it is difficult to feel entirely happy.

As Torontonians, we probably should have seen the outcome of the U.S. election coming — dismaying as it is to read the final result. In a much, much smaller-scale way, we saw a similar rise of anger here, voiced by a dummy populist in Rob Ford, and directed towards the goal of rolling the city back into some perceived golden age.

To every municipal gain made in the years before, there was suddenly a loud voice saying it should revert to the way it was. Toronto endured four years of, at best, total stasis, yoked as it was to the aimless lurching of a clueless mayor who quickly bumped up against reality but insisted on wasting everybody’s time. Folks, you cannot rollback this particular clock. Progress only works one way. And when Ford was finally removed from office, what was his lasting legacy? Who were the people, through the implementation of policy and good governance, that he actually, tangibly helped? Are the people of “Ford Nation” better off today?

I again humbly submit some answers: Nothing good, nobody and no.

And now we see this play out writ extremely large in America, with stakes that are immeasurably higher and a wave of anger, fear and resentment surging forward with a power many would have thought unthinkable in 2016. And what will the eventual outcome be here after four years of President Donald Trump?

If I may make a despairing guess: many people — minorities, women, gay people, immigrants, the “other” — will suffer. The degree to which that suffering will be unleashed has yet to be determined, which is a scary thing to contemplate right now. Moreover, the problems of society, the very issues Trump supporters profess to be so angry about, will not be truly solved in four years — they may, in fact, get worse. We’ve seen this before in Toronto and elsewhere in the world.

There is no real golden age to which we can hope to return. We can only go forward. And everyone — minus the racists, misogynists, homophobes, xenophobes, and people filled with hate — must be included on the journey.

Level of High Level

High Level Result: 8 out of 10 (in Raptors world) and 1 out of 10 (in reality). It’s been a sad, emotional week that has been only very modestly leavened by the thought of one basketball player getting a chance to play well for my favourite team.