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Cat Barber and the Politics of Image

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony "Cat" Barber stepped foot on NC State’s campus as a member of Mark Gottfried’s second full recruiting class in the Fall of 2013. Throughout his recruitment and into his college career there was an apropos comparison to controversial NBA legend Allen Iverson. Barber and Iverson grew up in the same area, are the two highest scoring players in their district and both happen to be undersized, score first point guards. Oh and they both happen to be African-American males with multiple tattoos and braids who played at predominantly white institutions in two of the premier basketball conferences in the nation.

Recently one of our own, along with N&O’s J.P. Giglio, referenced an NBA Draft Express analysis of Cat Barber’s that bemoaned his body language and criticized his coachability. As both authors pointed out, there is little-to-no evidence that Cat Barber isn’t coachable or has a poor attitude. SMH, can't believe, mane. A simple overview search of Cat Barber’s career at NC State shows 0 suspensions, 0 techs, 0 off-the-court incidents and 0 instances of public criticism from his coaches or teammates. This begs the question: where did this Draft Express analysis come from and why is it so troubling at its core?

Allen Iverson was a controversial player because his swagger, attitude, and general appearance challenged the expected norms of an NBA superstar in the late 90’s & early 2000s. Iverson wore his heart, and his culture, on his sleeve and this tended to rub media members and NBA authorities the wrong way. Most notable was his "Practice!?" rant that will live in infamy but folks tend to forget that he was the catalyst for NBA Commissioner David Stern’s rule making "professional" post-game attire mandatory. While most would hail this as an achievement for the "image" of the NBA, others saw this as a subtle jab to urban culture, much of which is centered on hip-hop/rap and the inner-city African-American experience. This is much of the basis for how some perceive Cat Barber.

Although they are comparable, when one watches Cat Barber on the court you don’t see the same swagger & attitude of A.I. but you do see a general appearance that may set off some red flags for those who have watched or covered players like Iverson over time. If you follow Cat on social media (SN: I make it a habit not to follow kids, cause you’ll always find something to be disappointed in) he’s been easily recognized by his signature "100" emoji, his unbridled love for rap culture and its vernacular as well as his "Honest" exclamation, all of which reference back to the culture of his youth as well as his favorite musical artists, like Future. We also recall the 2014-2015 season in which Cat lost a close friend of his to gun violence and how the realities of where Cat Barber (and Allen Iverson) grew up came to the forefront of our minds. The point is that young people like Cat Barber, in this generation, will always openly highlight their culture through their appearance and social media. Young people who are like Cat Barber will often have unexplained, tragic events affect them in their youth. And young people like Cat Barber will often have to experience prejudice and biased interpretations based on who they are, how they look and where they come from.

I am not accusing the author of the analysis at Draft Express of having any sort of bias or prejudice. I know nothing about the man and maybe his sources on this particular preview go deeper than the public quotes of Mark Gottfried or the public examples of Cat showing 0 signs of being uncoachable. Yet you can’t help but wonder if a person who is trying to fill out one of multiple player reviews may have acted fast and loose with the facts based on what he perceives. And the sad part…in the world of high stakes professional athletics...a mistaken, problematic perception of who Cat Barber is can become a reality that could cost him millions of dollars.