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The Racist Element of Natural Ability/Physically Gifted

The Sports CriticContributor IMarch 11, 2011

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10:  A detail of a basketball hoop and net is seen after the UNLV Rebels defeated the Air Force Falcons 69-53 in a quarterfinal game of the Conoco Mountain West Conference Basketball tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center March 10, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Lately, there has been talk of LeBron James and Wilt Chamberlain in the same breath—but not in a positive way. The conversation says the players are blessed with physical gifts and naturaI ability that they are not developing to true potential. All of their success is owed not to hard work, but rather hitting the genetic lottery. Why this perspective lives is because the two players don't annually walk away with the NBA title. 

The sports commentary surrounding the NBA is particularly bad and mean-spirited. There is a lack of analysis and insight to help educate the sports fan. Instead, we are subjected to the bias viewpoints of the commentators and can only see the games through their eyes.

The fact is only one team can win the title each year and it is a hard thing to do. Consider this, since 1980, just four teams have won 27 of the 31 available titles (Lakers 10, Bulls 6, Spurs 4, Celtics 4, Pistons 3 ). If Jordan does not retire after the Bulls initial three-year reign, then we are probably adding Hakeem Olajuwon's name to the list of players to never win a title despite Hall of Fame credentials.

I want to talk about this phenomenon of the "Gifted" athlete who has "natural ability". Earlier today, I read an online article by a respected journalist that said LeBron James has never been under any pressure to perform. No pressure to perform? Are you kidding me? No player in the NBA is judged by what he does at the end of the season more than LeBron James. He is the only player expected to win a title, the pressure is not on Nash, Dirk, Carmelo, Howard or anyone else in the league. It is only on LeBron and always has been. LeBron has performed well, he is the biggest draw in the game and has been for years, he is the player everyone comes to see and he took an average team and won 60-plus games in back-to-back seasons.

All of this talk regarding LeBron and Wilt and LeBron as somehow being lacking, is just default language for commentators when discussing African-American athletes. It is a mindset that says basically, he is black, and therefore he should be able to play basketball, but, he lacks all of the positive things whites have, and therefore he will not be successful.  So, LeBron's accomplishments are discounted in these conversations. His success is owed to genetics and natural ability. It's all gifts from God.

First of all, there is no such thing as natural ability in sports (the next time you hear a commentator say it, consider it an indictment of the athlete he/she is referring to). It is mostly an unfair critique of African-American athletes that all to often goes unchecked in the media.

LeBron does not have any unique abilities due to genetics. He is not the only player of his size in the NBA. He has two arms, legs and hands just like everyone else in the league. LeBron is just better at basketball than most everyone else because he has obviously put in the time needed to be successful. His accomplishments are a product of maximizing and blending his skills to create the package we know as LeBron James. He had choices, he could have become a back-to-the-basket player, he could have become a power forward. Instead, he defied categorization and became a solid all-around player whose career stats rank on par with Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson.