The Indiana Pacers aren't making any moves in free agency right now, but they are in the media spotlight. Bob Kravitz raised quite a fuss yesterday when he published an article titled "Are Pacers too White?" in the Indianapolis Star.
The article itself is somewhat oxymoronic in that Kravitz first rationalizes how increasing the percentage of white players in the NBA is not immoral and would be good for its fan base, but then he comes to the more politically correct conclusion that race isn't as relevant as talent.
However, Kravitz does deserve credit for publicly broaching a touchy topic that fans have been whispering about since the Pacers drafted Tyler Hansbrough in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft. With the pick the Pacers approach a 50 percent white American roster, depending on free agents. This is an obvious anomaly in a league where about 90 percent of the players are African American or foreign-born.
The primary question raised by the article is whether or not Larry Bird is specifically targeting white players. Kravitz and Bird both claim that he is not, and the instant media analysis from ESPN in shows like "First and 10", "Around the Horn", and "Pardon the Interruption" all quickly came to the same conclusion. After all, eight of Bird's 10 draft picks have been black players.
Whether or not race has any bearing on it, it is obvious that the Pacers are hamstrung by their recent troubling and embarrassing behavior. After the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills, they simply cannot afford to risk a draft pick on any player with character issues regardless of his talent.
Skin-color could be a determining factor just as easily (and with equally varying degrees of accuracy) by judging a player on his number of tattoos. But even with no racial motives attributed to the Pacers' decision makers, the roster has nevertheless noticeably deviated from the norm.
The ESPN pundits also agreed with Larry Bird that having more white stars in the NBA would benefit the league. The majority of NBA fans are white Americans, and Skip Bayless noted on "First and 10" that having a white superstar would increase NBA popularity by giving that section of the fan base something to identify with.
However, the conclusion that Bob Kravitz comes to in his article may not be realistic. Kravitz states "In the end, it's not about black and white, but the bottom line is printed in black and white. Wins and losses. And nothing else matters." But there has only been one American born white NBA All-Star since 2000, and Brad Miller has never been considered anywhere close to being an NBA superstar or even an elite player.
If over-consideration of character concerns leads to racial-profiling, even if it is purely incidental, is that good for the team? I asked one Pacers fan, Kevin Lantry of Indianapolis, IN for his opinion:
"I think that Bird is just picking guys with his type of work ethic. Ok, seven—Shawne Williams was worthless. Of course, it also helps that we don't have to worry about Hansbrough shooting up a strip club either."