Token Efforts?

NBA: In League With White Players?

More recently, Orlando coach Doc Rivers has advanced the notion that today, "If you win, it doesn't matter what color the players are. If you've got a bad product—well, then, white fans want to see their own." And Richard Lapchick of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society notes the abundance of white players in markets, like Utah's, with few minorities. (The Jazz are among the whitest current teams, with five white players.)

But if the rise of the multinational, corporate juggernaut that is the current NBA suggests anything, it is that given the opportunity—and relentless marketing—the whole world will want to be like Mike. In the post-Jordan era, it's just not credible to assert the persistence of quotas—besides, if a little diversity is being consciously or unconsciously stirred into the mix (19 of the NBA's white players are foreigners), what's not to like?

Charles Farrell insists that there is subtle, but still troubling, racial thinking at work today. Farrell notes how coaches "always talk about intangibles" for the guys at the end of the bench— indeed, Kings GM Petrie mentions "professional attitude" foremost when listing deep-bench players' attributes. Team leaders may be sincere about their overt disinterest in race. But somehow, says Farrell, "If you're an African American athlete, your contribution can't be in intangibles." Three years ago Craig Hodges, who played on two championship Chicago Bulls teams, sued the NBA, saying he had been pushed out of the league at age 32 because he was perceived to be a troublemaker. Too often, he says, black athletes are seen as, say, aggressive, whites as hard-working.

Pine barons: Nets Evan Eschmeyer and Gheorghe Muresan
photo: Pete Kuhns
Pine barons: Nets Evan Eschmeyer and Gheorghe Muresan

And that is largely because of the overwhelmingly white structure of NBA management, says Hodges. After all these years, there are only five African American coaches and a handful of blacks in decision-making jobs in front offices. It's enough for one to call for affirmative action—"the right kind," as Hodges puts it.

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