The White Devil in Basketball

Daniel McGowinCorrespondent IMarch 22, 2009

CHAPEL HILL, NC - MARCH 08:  Tyler Hansbrough #50 of the North Carolina Tar Heels thanks fans as his head coach Roy Williams(L) and father, Gene (R), watch on before the start of their game against the Duke Blue Devils on senior night at the Dean E. Smith Center on March 8, 2009 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Jeff Passan might have written the previously unwritable.  He invoked race when discussing basketball, only he noted that the it is the white kid that is being picked on.  And the thing is…he is correct.

My NCAA basketball tournament memory goes back to Kentucky vs. Duke in 1992.  Laettner’s shot at the buzzer is burned into my memory and that is really the first time that I recognized the NCAA tournament (even though my memories of college and pro football, as well as baseball, go back much further).  And, I remember hating Laettner for some reason.

Jump ahead a few years to another Duke player (and now Orlando Magic guard) J.J. Redick.  Maybe it is a Duke thing, but there seemed to be a lot of hate for Redick and his arrogance. Furthermore, another whitey, Adam Morrison, was also hated and it seemed to be more for his “enthusiasm” than his scoring.

And then recently it has been Tyler Hansbrough.  Yet another ACC guy, Psycho T is hated for his hustle play and, well, playing for North Carolina.

These players do have something in common—they are white.  And this is not to state that only white players are hated; there is plenty of hate for some black players—Stephon Marbury for his antics and Kobe Bryant because he is better than you…just to name a few. 

But there does seem to be a pattern of hate thrown at many white players in basketball.  And not that I have any scientific proof or anything, but I think I know why—because they are different.

Think of the quarterback position in football.  This is a position that is dominated by white players.  Yet, more recently, there has been a growing number of black quarterbacks, thus disrupting the traditional norm of the white leader of a football team. 

Although it is not necessarily hatred that is thrown at players like Donovan McNabb or Vince Young or David Garrard or Michael Vick (well, Vick gets hatred, but that is because of other factors), there is often heavier criticism and stereotypes cast upon those players. 

The stereotype is that these types of quarterbacks are not true “pocket passers” and should play in other positions (even though some black quarterbacks are pure pocket passers that do not scramble well—see Byron Leftwich). 

The point is that black quarterbacks are seen as different and therefore out of place.  The same type of argument can be made for white basketball players.

It would be an understatement to claim that basketball's numbers (in terms of players) are dominated by African-American players, at least at the NBA level.  While there are certainly many white players playing basketball, the rarity of top-level talent among white players makes them the anomaly. 

Therefore, white players stand out and can be seen as “out of place.”  Comments about Steve Nash having a “black man’s game” and other comparisons of white players playing like their black counterparts only reinforce such othering.

Even when there is a positive story about a white player, there tends to be questions regarding his skills.  Ben Woodside of North Dakota State put on a show against the Kansas Jayhawks on Friday. 

Despite his solid performance, there are many comments on message boards that question his ability to play against better competition (read black players) or note that he is overrated (I believe Sherron Collins of Kansas would disagree).  White players are either overrated (Woodside, or for some Hansbrough) or they have a black game (Nash).

Or they are thugs.  Remember ol’ White Chocolate Jason Williams, whose nickname invokes that “black man’s game” mentality (granted, he had embraced it himself).  Or more recently—and back to Passan’s article—Eric Devendorf.  He is labeled “thuggish” because of his tattoos and his brash demeanor. 

But Devendorf seems to differ from Williams, at least according to Passan, in that he enjoys being at school and seems to just being playing the game.  And isn’t that what fans want—a player with enthusiasm who gets into the game and shows emotion? 

Certainly, Syracuse fans love Devendorf, but fans of other teams cannot stand him.  But really, up until the Big East tourney, did the country even know who this white boy even was? 

I believe Dan Patrick made that point when discussing the most disliked players in (college) basketball—Devendorf’s tournament exposure probably led to him being hated. 

Ironically, four of the top five most disliked players on the Dan Patrick poll question were white players (the only non-white was Hasheem Thabeet).

What this all points to is the fact that white players are considered to be out of place on a basketball court. 

There is a certain “style” of basketball that is played (i.e., the black man’s game) and white players are not typically associated with that style.  If they are, then they are playing like they are black or they are “thugs.” 

If they do not play that way, then they are overrated.  Look at the so-called European style of basketball (which is also applied to players from South America).  It is considered to be soft or “fundamental,” with a lot of flopping.

Yet it is mainly the white players that this is applied to, as you do not hear the same labels used for players like Tony Parker, Nene, or Thabo Sefalosha (at least I do not hear that).

Certainly there is plenty of racism and stereotypes hurled at black basketball players.  Comments such as “street balling” and “playground basketball” hint at notions that black players cannot play “controlled” or fundamental basketball with set plays.

But there also seems to be a certain set of racial stereotypes leveled against white players. 

White players are perceived as not having the same skills as their counterparts, and if they do, then they have an identity constructed for them—one that is not “white.”

Rush Limbaugh was correct when he noted that there was a desire for a black quarterback to succeed.  Although he was going after his favorite target (the “drive-by” media), his point carries over to basketball’s desire for a white player to re-emerge and succeed like the old days. 

However, instead of white hopes, it seems that basketball is filled with white devils.

Re-publish of article that first appeared on the blog site Uncle Popov's Drunken Sports Rant.