Open Mic: Why the NBA Will Always Be Plagued by Race
I try not to look at the NBA through the prism of race, but every time I see a hater column about why the college game is so much purer, or why no one gives a damn, I smell the "thug" comments underneath.
You can look at the YouTube comments of some NBA videos and the ugly side of people comes out. The racial issue is probably not the main reason for the NBA's decline in mainstream popularity, but it's at least a contributing factor.
Larry Bird himself admitted that the NBA would be better off if it had more white superstars, but even he admits that African Americans are the best athletes. While LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony seem to think it's not that big a deal, there's no doubt that mainstream American sports fans don't accept basketball the way they accept football or baseball.
And, certainly the idea that big, black men are the stars in the spotlight couldn't have hurt right?
If you look back at the last decade of champions, here are the white American players who have played on the winning teams: Brent Barry, Mark Madsen, Steve Kerr, Jason Williams. Let's just say that the NBA wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to get these guys on national TV.
The league hasn't had a great white American star since John Stockton, and his style of play made Tim Duncan look like Dr. J. You'd have to go back to Chris Mullin to find a white star that people identified with.
The '80s and early '90s had plenty of white players who mixed their mark with the best of black players—it was the perfect American sport at that time. Now, white players seem to be reduced to role playing, like Kyle Korver or Luke Walton.
Why did people get so excited about Steve Nash when the league handed him two MVP awards? It isn't to say he didn't deserve them--in each year you could make a solid case the trophy was his, but the fact that a white athlete was again making his mark on the league was a big deal.
Ditto Dirk Nowitzki's run, although his delightful German sneer made him perfectly hateable to everyone.
I don't think the problem is race, but the simmering resentment towards the massive contracts black players get up top, an amplification of professional affirmative action.
When these athletes proceed to underperform, the scorn is much larger than it would be on a white athlete, because he's worked hard to get where he is at without any help outside of your family, friends, and mentors. When a black athlete underperforms, he's not doing enough, despite all he's been given financially. It's a lose-lose situation.
How do we get away from race? Michael Jordan maintained his mainstream popularity by abhorring the race card early on and playing just like everyone else. His work ethic, not his race, defined who he was. It made him be the greatest he could be. Not genetics, not raw talent, but work!
It's something that only a few athletes seem to be capable of for 82 games plus playoffs now, an ethic that is severely lacking in the generation we're seeing now. Only a few players play with that drive right now, and that drive made us watch the games more than anything.
There's way too much ref-whining and horrible 1-on-5 offensive possessions that provides for some ugly basketball! That sense of entitlement needs to go away in order for America to truly appreciate basketball again.
We tuned in when Dwayne Wade took Miami to a title by putting the team on his back from Game Three of the Finals onward. We saw Detroit, a team full of black players and a No. 2 pick who couldn't pierce his ears, come together and stun the Lakers nation.
So, we're not neutral spectators, as long as the work shows and the game is played right.
If the NBA really wants to make this Final a success one (as well as future ones), they need to stop marketing just the stars of any race, and start marketing games and teams.
Individuals are only part of the puzzle. Like Boston says, Ubuuntu is what the key is. Let the game be the centerpiece and the stars be the background.
Hopefully, the teams can play the way they've played the past few months, and it'll be just like the old Celtics-Lakers duels.
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