April 11, 2008

The NBA and Race - Bilas Too Smart for Radio

Thanks to the Baltimore Sun's new blog The Life of Kings for bringing this to my attention.

So recently Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald invited Jay Bilas to come on to his radio show to talk about college basketball. Bilas, the only Dookie we tolerate, was an attorney before he returned to television as a basketball analyst.

LeBatard wanted to talk about Tyler Hansbrough. His line of questioning included whether NBA GMs were leery of taking a white player since it has been so long since the NBA had a dominant white player. Bilas' reply, which I believe whole-heartedly, is that he had never heard an NBA GM mention race with regard to identifying talent. LeBatard prodded further, implying that "athleticism" is a code word used to describe black athletes, but not white athletes. Bilas replied with a few examples of black players who excelled in college but were not deemed athletic enough for the NBA.

Defeated by Bilas refusal to blowhard with him, LeBatard tried to switch the focus to a discussion of why NBA GMs seem to prefer white Europeans over white Americans. It was at that point that Bilas decided he'd had enough. "No offense, but this is stupid." "With all due respect, this is stupid." He said you can't shift the question from race in general and then discount white Europeans. Dan LeBatard replied "You can't say 'No offense' and then 'this is stupid!'". Bilas agreed with him, saying "Ok, take offense. This is stupid." He hung up soon thereafter.

I think there is a place for a discussion about race, and the cultural memes associated with our two most prolific races in sports, whites and blacks, when it comes to the NBA, but I don't think LeBatard was having the correct discussion. On an episode of Boondocks that aired last night, Riley was recruited by his black attorney neighbor to play basketball for his children's rec league after the neighbor saw Riley playing against his grandfather in the driveway. Riley had fantastic dribbling moves, and enough skills for an And 1 competition. When he got on the court with teammates, he could dribble everyone on the other team out of their shoes, but he didn't know how to pass and finish. Once he learned some other skills, he still was more concerned with how much attention he was getting rather than whether his team was winning. In a dream Riley had earlier in the episode, he was playing in the All-Star game against current players. The announcers focused on how Riley could "stack more paper" than the other players, and "f*** more hoes." This culminated in an especially hilarious interview with Shaq, where Shaq admitted that Riley could stack more paper than him, f*** more hoes than him, and generally outplay him.

The point is that the NBA is more conducive to individualized basketball, and the NBA is the level of basketball that pays the most money. For children who grow up in lower-income neighborhoods without an obvious escape route, professional sports have always provided an avenue. On the ranches of Texas or in the coal towns of Pennsylvania, it might be football or baseball. On the streets of Detroit and Baltimore, it's basketball. Obviously, ranches and mining towns are predominantly white, whereas the cores of some industrial cities are predominantly black.

**Note that Riley on the Boondocks is not actually poor at all, which is used in the show as a comedic tool frequently. He and his brother Huey live in a suburban, mostly white, neighborhood. When Riley tries to rename streets with names like "Flowering Blossom Way" to things like "Hustlers Row" for extra cred, the neighbors are a bit confused.

Bilas was right. LeBatard was being stupid if he really thought that the race of the player in the NBA is limiting in any way. NBA GMs simply look for the skill set that achieves results in the NBA. The slashing guard skill set is predominantly learned in our cities. The big man with an outside shot skill set is predominantly learned in Europe. The big rebounder/shot blocker skill set is predominantly learned in college. Race isn't the distinguishing factor. It's all about skill set.

Unfortunately there isn't really a place in the NBA for an undersized guard with a coached-since-kindergarten understanding of fundamental basketball, a lot of hustle, and a decent three-point shot.

8 Responses:

Brien said...

I agree with you 100%, but it brings up an issue I've always found interesting.

Pretty much everyone agrees that the predominance of black players in the NBA is due to the fact that a large percentage of the best basketball players in the world are black. In other words, GMs judge players based entirely on merit.

A parallel situation exists with coaches in many sports (particularly the NFL and NCAA Football) where the coaches are predominantly white.

My question is why it's so easy to believe that a pure meritocracy leads to a black-dominated NBA and so hard to believe that white-dominated coaching ranks could possibly be do to anything but racism?

This is probably a better topic for an entire post, but I don't feel like expanding on the ideas right now.

P.S. I love Boondocks.

"ben" said...

"You can't say 'No offense' and then 'this is stupid!'". Bilas agreed with him, saying "Ok, take offense. This is stupid." He hung up soon thereafter.

That is hilarious. Michigan has washed its hands of Bilas after he proved to have a mad love affair with Amaker, thereby attempting to criticize Michigan for firing Amaker and taking unwarranted and mean shots at Beilein.

J-Red said...

I forgot about your avatar Brien. Obviously you do love Boondocks.

There's more at play in the coaching discussion than meritocracy though. In college football, where coaches spend time in recruit's living rooms, there's a fear (probably unfounded) that some families don't want a black man in the living room. An extreme illustration of this example would be a gay football coach.

Ben: That would be interesting if Michigan basketball was as relevant as, say, Drake...or Minnesota.

Nice job in the Frozen Four btw. Is collegiate hockey goaltending always this bad? North Dakota's let some cheapies in too.

"ben" said...

Sauer was awful in 2006 and a stud in 2007.

As I saw someone post yesterday during the game:

"Billy Sauer! I haven't seen you since 2006."

He just simply wet himself and got pulled. The freshman Hogan who hardly played this year did pretty well.

Michigan got jelly legs again in OT, just like in the first period. It's embarrassing.

I don't know what happened with the Sioux. Another choke job, I guess.

As for Michigan's fight with Bilas, I'm sorry it didn't hold your interest.

J-Red said...

It's interesting, but I think there's more of a Bilas and Amaker are friends component than a race component.

"ben" said...

Uh, duh.

"ben" said...

I guess I wasn't clear in my first post.

1) Bilas was funny, LeBatard was stupid.

2) Unrelated to the actual topic at hand, but in reference to Maryland's tolerance of the Dookie Bilas, Michigan has its own beef with Bilas.

Dean said...

LeBatard, Paige, Bayless... obviously ESPN is biased towards making its worst on-air talent a collection of white print-media hacks.

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