NBA All-Star Weekend in LA and Black Panther, A Tale of Two Economies

Watching the opening segment for the NBA All-Star game on Sunday it was evident whether by default or acquiescence to a cultural tidal wave, the NBA has gone black. It was quite something to see the NBA’s coming out party so consumed by Black pop culture. This was a particularly exhilarating weekend to be in Los Angeles, as All-Star weekend collided with the opening of Black Panther and the less visible Pan African Film Festival, all tucked into the month celebrating Black history. It was a great weekend to be Black in LA, for many.

We hustled at our restaurant to serve loads of fried chicken and shrimp and grits to cool Afrocentric crowds, some dressed in authentic African garb attending the film festival or seeing Black Panther at the Baldwin Hills Cinemark. Images played on the TV screen above our kitchen of pop culture as it was unfolding downtown at Staples.  There were huge crowds, endless parties, countless celebrities and no doubt lots of money flowing into the local economy. The NBA hosted numerous events of its own. Hotels and restaurants were “bought out” and there was no shortage of ancillary celebrations in downtown LA and Hollywood.

The media had plenty to chew on with all of the Black pop culture royalty in attendance. There was talk of this 100M dollar player or that one getting into the entertainment business, all while Black Panther roared into the record books during its opening weekend. Black Power!

Recently I happened to catch an interview of a black celebrity who, when asked to name their favorite dining spots in LA, chose a few places popular with the Eater LA crowd, or north of the 10 freeway. Nothing wrong with that on the surface, this person can afford a good meal and has the right to decide where they spend their dollars. The fact that their show is about Black folks and as a result a significant portion of its audience reflects the same has no bearing on personal preference for disposing of income. Or should cultural identification matter, at least to some degree?

I watched the TV at the restaurant while images from All-Star weekend’s festivities played out over the scene in Baldwin Hills. It was impossible to ignore the fact that Black folks have accomplished a level of enormous influence and buying power. I could not help but be reminded of something that has been glaring at me since we opened Post & Beam now in its seventh year , actually my observation of this goes back to the late 70’s early 80’s, as I’ve been in the restaurant business that long. The fight against segregation was powered by the courageous warriors for Civil Rights , a battle that needed to happen. That said, an unintended consequence has been the destabilization of business in the Black community, the effect still reverberating 60 years later. Just as wealth attainment was happening for those of us who are beneficiaries of the civil rights movement, it’s no secret a lot of us left these communities behind. As a result Black owned businesses that for years survived and often prospered have lost out on the new wealth and closed up shop. Those managing to hang on are now feeling the ominous threat of gentrification.

We were busy this weekend at Post & Beam due to the once a year greatly underrated Pan African Film Festival coinciding with Black Panther. As far as any economic benefit from NBA All-Star weekend, there was none. Though geographically our neighborhood in the Crenshaw District is closer to Downtown, we lost out to events at uber-cool places like Tao, Beauty & Essex and the new Dream hotel in Hollywood.

Lately I’ve noticed an uptick in social media posts targeting the black consumer urging African Americans to “Buy Black” by shopping at Black owned stores and dining at Black owned restaurants. To some this may seem exclusionary but isn’t it more about protecting culture by supporting it, before it goes away? The success of Black Panther arrives at a time we see the influence of Black pop culture everywhere. It was evident this weekend in LA. So it couldn’t have been more obvious, witnessing the power of Black cultural marketed by the NBA, contrasted against a community that is a birthplace of this phenomenon, being  left completely out of the cash flow created by it. The parties, buyouts, bottle service tabs, dinners, breakfasts and lunches that generated millions for the local economy, barely if at all touched the Black business community in LA. Now the dollars earned by Black entertainers, pop stars and Athlete’s predominantly are spent at places like Nobu, Mozza and SoHo House.

Just last week a friend visiting from Chicago and I went to Nobu Malibu. The place packed at lunch, we were the only Black folks there, until Kanye showed up with his group. While we had a great time, my friend and I also thoroughly enjoyed a Soul Bowl at Jackfruit Café as well as Jerk Chicken patties and the holistic market at Simply Wholesome in South L.A. the next day.  That’s all I’m saying.

It’s encouraging to see the level of consciousness emerging among some high profile athletes such as LeBron James and film makers like Ryan Coogler.  Hopefully, their collective wealth, visibility and resulting influence builds into a tangible force contributing to the preservation of Black neighborhoods, its citizens and businesses that deserve not to be forgotten in the new economy.

“Or should cultural identification matter, at least to some degree?