In the NBA’s general manager survey, the three leaders for “Which player does the most with the least?” are what you might consider white. Though Luis Scola may not be “white” by some metrics, I’m not sure a league that deems a fellow Argentine’s move “the Eurostep” cares to parse that. Put it this way: The NBA is four-fifths black and the top three vote getters are not of that group. Kevin Love leads the pack and Steve Nash makes the list out of habitual obligation.
In 2010-2011, four of the five leading vote getters were not black. In 2009-2010, six of the seven leading vote getters were not black. In 08-09, it was four of six. The names change, but the pattern remains: A disproportionate amount of Caucasian players get cited as wringing their potential for all it’s worth.
The question itself is a bit vague. Most with the least? Weren’t Steve Nash and Kevin Love fathered into comfortable existences by professional athletes? What about Dwyane Wade muddling through his mother’s crack and heroin addictions on Chicago’s South Side? He seems to have optimized his life pretty well.
I hazard that, “most with the least” pertains to athleticism. In theory, these GMs could choose plenty of over-achieving, mediocre black athletes in a four-fifths black league. But it’s assumed that “athleticism” is black, almost by definition–in part because this athletic league is four-fifths black. I don’t think I’m stepping out of bounds in saying as much, not when there’s a classic sports movie titled, “White Man Can’t Jump.”
In 2006, after a long college night, a friend slurred, “Magic Johnson is Luke Walton with ‘black guy athleticism!’” It remains the dumbest statement I’ve ever heard, even with the circumstances considered. Magic Johnson was a basketball genius whose skills could not be replicated by giving a bench player some imaginary blackness elixir. Magic was also a mediocre leaper who walked like a hunched duck when he dribbled.
There is that dumb notion, though, the notion of black talent as some kind of sorcery, “magic” if you will. Since white players are thought to lack this supernatural quality, they must be transcending their limitations somehow. By grit and by gumption, guile and “basketball IQ.” Whatever they’re doing, it’s not what Chris Paul does to be a top player at under six-feet tall. It’s not what Al Jefferson does to be lead-foot effective. It’s not what Kevin Durant does to be magnificent while leaping lower than a young Troy Murphy. And Kevin Love’s 35 inch vertical? He probably just outsmarted gravity for a second.
Something feels wrong about this. Hey white player, your talent is actually wisdom. Hey black player, your wisdom is actually talent. I am not sure how to correct these stereotypes, but can we at least acknowledge their power?
I am often told by readers, “Race isn’t a factor in how (some particular athlete) is perceived!” Nash doesn’t receive any more favorable media coverage, LeBron isn’t afforded any more undue hatred, it’s a peachy world where nobody sees color or ascribes certain attributes to the hue. Dude, if race was not a major factor in how people get perceived, race would not exist. The neighborhood to my left is nearly exclusively black. The neighborhoods to my right are overwhelmingly white. If race can dictate where people live their lives, it can certainly influence how players are viewed.