After a walk on the wild side, can Ja Morant find the straight and narrow path?

OPINION: NBA stars like Morant have the ability to inspire those who were raised in tough conditions. He can remind them that numerous individuals have overcome bad hands by making smart plays. Or he can keep making bad decisions. Only time will tell.

Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies looks on during the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center on February 23, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

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Without looking at Ja Morant’s background, I figure he falls into one of two categories. 

Either he hails from a neighborhood faced with tough socioeconomic conditions, where those who fall prey are stereotypically awash in guns and violence. Or he rarely faced real drama (if ever), but he’s drawn to the lifestyle, attracted to the imagery dramatized onscreen and glorified in music. 

But Morant’s background really doesn’t matter. 

At 23 years old, he’s an NBA superstar, a face of the league who recently signed a five-year deal worth $193 million. Last week, Powerade announced a new partnership with Morant, who already has an endorsement deal with Nike. There’s no excuse for genuine thug life at his income bracket and Q rating. 

Morant should satisfy any attraction to that world like the rest of us, via remote control. 

I’ve enjoyed the “Power” franchise with Ghost, Tommy and Kanan, much as I liked Omar, Marlo and Avon Barksdale in “The Wire.” Denzel Washington in “American Gangster” and Forest Whitaker in “Godfather of Harlem” offer compelling entertainment options based on real people, which I’m here for. And when the soundtracks are heavy on gangsta rap, my head bops if the beat is tight.

But such fiction is all too real for too many Black men, often under the belief they have no other choice. Viable options are considered boring and corny, if not totally unreachable. It leaves a path that often leads to cops and coroners. Morant can make that his reality, too, by continuing to act up.

After the past week, I imagine the light came on and he’s wide awake. 

He must finally realize that thuggish behavior is bad for his reputation, which cratered Wednesday after a troubling story in the Washington Post. His reputation sunk further Saturday after an Instagram video showed him apparently brandishing a gun at a strip club. The Memphis Grizzles have suspended him indefinitely and the NBA can issue a 50-game ban if it finds he traveled with the weapon on the team plane.

“I take full responsibility for my actions [Saturday] night,” Morant said in a statement. “I’m sorry to my family, teammates, coaches, fans, partners, the city of Memphis and the entire Grizzlies organization for letting you down. I’m going to take some time away to get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being.”

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant looks to the bench during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Friday, March 3, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Maybe he’ll straighten up and fly right, which is the hope and prayer for all our young men who veer toward being reckless and lawless. 

Whether he’s been keeping it real or perpetrating a fraud, Morant is perfectly situated to make a healthier choice. He’s in a prime position to overcome the traps and obstacles that put swaths of Black men in the school-to-prison pipeline. Sports has provided a short escape route, a road to influence, connections and generational wealth that most youngsters can only dream about.

Unfortunately, some of them can’t envision happy endings. 

Less than one-tenth of one percent will reach the NBA or NFL. Attending college is beyond reach for many, either due to a lack of will, lack of skill or lack of finances. They see low wages and doldrums as their ceiling if playing by the rules — which is barely living compared to captivating images in the media 24/7.

Stars like Morant have the ability to inspire those who were raised in tough conditions. He can remind them that numerous individuals have overcome bad hands by making smart plays. He has the platform to encourage discipline and delayed gratification, a guaranteed two books with nothing else, like the big and little joker.

Or, he can act like guns and violence are the way out. Way to use the spotlight.

I have disagreed with many social takes from NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley over the years, including his “I am not a role model” campaign 30 years ago. Like it or not, we’re ALL role models, whether famous athletes, anonymous factory workers or wanna-be writers. The question is: What are we modeling?

Lately, Morant has been a terrific example of how NOT to conduct yourself, as a pro athlete or a non-athlete. He’s not the first in that category — see Javaris Crittenton, Rae Carruth, etc. — and he won’t be the last. Some bad role models stand out in college, like players associated with the Crimson Tide men’s basketball team.

The Bible says the poor will always be among us. The same is true of poor decision-makers. Our task — mine, yours and Morant’s — is to make the best decisions possible and hopefully stimulate others to follow suit. When each one reaches one and teaches one, our knucklehead quotient is bound to dip.

I’m trusting that Morant will come around before it costs him everything

Whatever his past holds, it shouldn’t constrain his present or what’s ahead.

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at

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