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A ready-made reality show, the Lost Angeles Lakers have, over the years, consistently delivered their share of off-the-court, sensational headlines. From Wilt Chamberlain’s purported 20,000 sexual conquests, to Magic Johnson’s marital infidelity and HIV infection, to Kobe Bryant’s Colorado rape trial and public squabbles with Shaquille O’Neal, the team has often proven a wellspring for tabloids, cranking out the kind of acrimony and unseemly material that today’s television producers kill for.
Shaunie O’Neal—Shaq’s outspoken ex—tapped into much of that sexual drama on VH1’s Basketball Wives, the show she produced that promised to give a female perspective on the pressures faced by those married to the NBA’s notoriously philandering superstars. Alas, what might have been a sobering examination of gender disparity, class ascension and fame quickly devolved into a Jerry Springer-esque affair in which hostilities between cast members trumped all else. Because America seems to have an endless appetite for a good catfight (see also: Mob Wives, Russian Dolls, and Jersey Shore), Wives became an instant hit.
“I never imagined it would be a group of ladies fighting and arguing that way that they do. That was never part of the plan,” O’Neal told Fox News recently.
But there’s no arguing with blockbuster ratings, or with reality TV’s penchant for self-replication. So, it’s no surprise that a new real housewives of the NBA franchise has been prepped for launch. What is surprising is that it took producers Nick Emmerson (Football Wives), Alex Demaynenko (Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew), Jennifer O’Connell (Real Housewives of New York City) Sean Rankine (I Want to Work for Diddy) this long to set a spin-off in Los Angeles, the epicenter of basketball-related drama.
Though Ms. O’Neal receives a production credit for the new show, her misgivings have been utterly ignored. Basketball Wives LA is, first and foremost, a show about fighting and arguing, and its short-tempered, backstabbing cast has been assembled for just that purpose. As with its forerunner, the NBA stars receive scant screen time in this drama, the bulk of the action takes place far away from the Staples Center. Instead, we follow their significant others as they drift around town—from shoe shopping on Rodeo Drive, to afternoon drinks at Venice Beach’s Hotel Erwin, to, yes, the inevitable acting class.
“I just know how women can be,” Imani Showalter, the former fiancé to Milwaukee Bucks forward Stephen Jackson, tells the camera during the premiere episode. “You have women from all walks of life with the common bond of these guys. That doesn’t mean we’re all the same and we’re all going to get along.”
No it does not. In fact, the biggest questions of the premiere episode are: when will the first fight break out and who will be involved?
Will the fur fly between Kimsha Artest (wife of Lakers forward Ron Artest) and Malaysia Pargo, (wife of Chicago Bulls guard Janeero Pargo)? Kimsha is from Queens and has no patience with what she calls the “bourg-ee,” botoxed women of LA. Malaysia is straight outta Compton, but now pushes a line of designer jewelry for kids. Within seconds of their introduction on the neon-light drenched roof deck of Pink Taco, it’s clear that these two have the makings for a classic east coast/west coast rivalry.
Other contenders include Tanya Williams (estranged wife of former Nets superstar Jayson Williams), and Jackie Christie (wife of journeyman forward Doug Christie). A self-described motivational speaker, Tanya’s pretentious rambling gets under Jackie’s not so thick skin from the get-go. “I wanted to take my left hand and slam it down her throat,” Jackie says after listening to Tanya’s unsolicited advice on coping with her mother’s cancer. Malaysia concurs with a ladylike flourish. “Tanya was just talking and talking. Like, I wanted to push her out of her seat and put some tape over her mouth and hogtie her to the chair… OK, that’s too far.”
Then there’s Draya Michele, a comely model and aspiring actress who may well have done the dirty with at least one of the basketball husbands dealt with here. Just to make sure, Gloria Govan, (veteran of the Miami cast and fiancé to Lakers forward Matt Barnes), does some due diligence.
“Before you start befriending people, is there anybody that you know you’re like, ‘P.S. by the way, I might have been with your dude in the past?’” Gloria asks.
“I mean, no, not really, I kind of got a list of all the names, and I mean my list of my people is not that gigantic,” Draya responds unconvincingly.
That assurance is, we are supposed to believe, good enough for Gloria, who promptly extends an invitation that only a reality TV producer could concoct. “All the girls are going paintballing,” Gloria says in a matter of fact tone, “so you should come.”
Without revealing the identity of those involved in the requisite fisticuffs, suffice it to say that the preposterous premiere of Basketball Wives LA inexorably leads to just such a climax. In the real world, of course, no sane person would choose to remain a member of such a nasty, violent social circle, but whoever said that reality TV had anything to do with reality? The bigger problem for this version of Basketball Wives is that you have the inescapable feeling that, whatever may transpire among this new cast, you’ve seen this movie before.
Basketball Wives LA airs Monday, Aug. 29, on VH1 at 8 p.m. EST.
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