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Whitlock: The NBA and Nike ‘Whooped That Trick,’ Ja Morant

Ja Morant is a test case: What comes first, the identity dysphoria or mental health crisis in need of counseling?

For me, the answer is easy. Morant, like a lot of athletes in the last 30 years, entered the professional ranks suffering obvious identity dysphoria. Counseling won’t fix what’s wrong with Ja Morant, the young NBA star embroiled in controversy.

ESPN reported Monday that Morant has entered a counseling program in Florida and that there’s no timetable for his return to the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies shut down their star guard after he livestreamed himself inside a Denver strip club while playing with a handgun. His two-day sexcapade at Shotgun Willie’s racked up a $50,000 tab and featured surveillance images of Morant, a stripper, and chicken wings submerged in a champagne room covered in cash.

The livestream occurred days after the Washington Post published a story detailing a trio of run-ins involving Morant, including a dispute with mall security, a postgame incident with Indiana Pacers officials, and a scrap with a 17-year-old Memphis boy.

Ja Morant, as the kids say, “is about that life,” or at least he wants people to think he is.

What kind of counseling transforms a 23-year-old millionaire who fancies himself as the next Tupac Shakur? A few weeks of counseling can’t undo the cultural transformation Nike and the NBA inspired. All the basketball eyes on Ja Morant need to look in the mirror.

Nike and the NBA in particular and professional sports in general cultivated Morant’s identity dysphoria. In the aftermath of the historic success of the Air Jordan brand, the entire sports world has spent the last three decades pursuing street credibility and promoting racial idolatry.

It’s a perversion of the legacies of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Nike pimped Air Jordans to drug dealers and rappers, using them as tastemakers for “cool” footwear the way cigarette companies used Hollywood stars to sell tobacco smoke. When Tiger Woods hit the PGA Tour, Nike packaged the self-described Cablinasian as golf’s Jackie Robinson.

Nike partnered the sports world with gangsta rap music and so-called racial justice.

Ja Morant’s mental meltdown is no mystery. He’s following the Nike blueprint. He’s doing exactly what he’s been programmed to do. He’s chasing street credibility and the skin-color identity popular culture has glamorized.

“Whoop That Trick” is the theme song played at FedExForum during Grizzlies games. It’s a song by the rapper Al Kapone. It’s from the 2005 movie “Hustle & Flow.” It’s a song about a pimp threatening to beat a prostitute. Here’s a smidgen of the lyrics:

You f***in’ with a street nigga
From the gutta pimp tight slash drug dealer
Born and raised in the M, Memphis, Tennessee
Before it’s said and done you
Bitches gon’ remember me

Ja Morant reflects the culture promoted within sports. You go to any NFL or NBA game or practice, and gangsta rap music is piped into the stadium and practice facilities. The same is true at most college venues.

Ja Morant doesn’t need counseling. Professional sports need counseling. Nike needs counseling.

Someone needs to fly half the NFL and most of the NBA to the Florida counseling facility working on Morant. Someone ought to prepare a room for Colin Kaepernick, stat. Ja Morant is Kaepernick with black biological parents. Different color parents, same identity crisis.

Black male athletes are hyper-focused on hairstyles, hair color, tattoos, and fashion. Like teenage girls, they’re obsessed with how they look. Devoid of genuine purpose and detached from a biblical identity, they’re bare-chested, tatted-up Instagram models with buns, dreads, cornrows, and Afros. They organize racial justice gestures and leverage white guilt to burnish personal brands they use to peddle overpriced merchandise to people who can’t afford it.

Ja Morant can’t handle the stress. Can you blame him? The career success and fame that were supposed to bring him joy and contentment have pushed him to a level of phoniness and immorality that would break any man with a conscience.

Sports need an exorcism. They’re possessed. Games and leagues that used to maintain a loose affiliation with biblical values now reject those same values en masse and celebrate debauchery, Marxism, and racial idolatry. The pictures of Morant inside Shotgun Willie’s are consistent with the NBA’s identity. He’s shirtless, tatted, lost in lust, flush with cash, and wearing a hairstyle meant for a little girl.

Morant reflects the culture that made him rich, not the parents who brought him into this world and nurtured him.

Counseling won’t fix that. It will take a spiritual revival to save American sports.