Race and Ethnic Relations
February 15, 2012
What Happened to the White-American NBA Basketball Player?
The famous “white men can’t jump” stereotype is most often played off as a joke, but could that stereotype have a factor on why the National Basketball Association (NBA) has the lowest percentage of white players ever recorded in its history? According to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines”, African American players make up almost three quarters of the league, causing some to argue that maybe white players are just not as good as black players. In the same “Outside the Lines” report, former Notre Dame point guard Kyle Mcalarney thinks the reason why his dream of making it to the NBA has not happened yet is because he is white. Mcalarney says in the report: “I think if you call someone up who had never seen me play and they looked at my stat sheet and it said I was point guard and everything, I think they’d sign me, if they didn’t know my color.”Some accuse the NBA of being racist, while others say that the stereotype belongs to a group of other ways in which white American basketball players have been dominated and oppressed the past decade.
However, the argument that the NBA is racist does have some validity. For example, the last white player to make an NBA all-star team was center Brad Miller in 2004, and the last to start one was John Stockton in 1997 (Outside the Lines). College level basketball has also seen its percentage of white players shrink, but not nearly as noticeably as the NBA. The NCAA displayed five white players at the start of the National Championship game in 2010, the most since 1998 when six white players started. It is rare to see five white players on the court at one time in the NBA, never mind starting a game. Again according to “Outside the Lines”, between the 2005 and 2009 draft, there were 195 African American players selected; 80 international players and 25 white players. Former NBA all-star Mark Price suggests that the change in the shot clock (the amount of time a team gets to shoot on offense) going from 35 to 24 seconds, and thus making the game much faster, demands more athletic, quicker and explosive players. He says that the white American basketball player has to overcome that obstacle by meeting the sport’s demands. Price’s last statement answers it all, white American players just need to overcome the stigmas that they receive from society.
Another stereotype that is attached to the white American basketball player is that white players can’t defend. This stereotype supports and maintains the form of oppression that white players endure. From 1997-2009, a dozen All-Defensive teams have been picked in the NBA, a total of 123 players with only one of them being a white American. Also according Wayne Embry, an NBA executive, when the league implemented the zone defense in 2001, one reason in doing it, was to address the perception that many white American players are poor defenders. In response to Embry’s suggestion, NBA Executive Vice President, Stu Jackson said “…never once heard race mentioned in discussions about the zone defense…the objective is to find players with game regardless of what country they come from or what race.”Whether or not this was true does not make the stereotype go away, white American players still must just deal with them.
Adversity comes in many ways; one of those ways that any type of player must overcome, is verbal adversity, in most cases there will always be someone telling you that “you can’t”. In an article done by Jason King of Yahoo Sports, Duke’s Jon Scheyer reflects on a game where the opposing coach was yelling to his players “get the white kid!” The most interesting part of this whole topic is that basketball is one of the few places where a white person has the most chance to be ridiculed for their skin compared to the numerous amounts of places where being white helps you.
In a book titled “Social Issues in Sport” by Ronald Woods, Woods suggests that African Americans simply dominate sports that require more agility and explosiveness. He explains that basketball and football are the two sports that especially require those attributes, and in effect demand from the black player. They usually end up playing the most grueling positions, like forward in basketball, and running back and wide receiver in the NFL. While the white American dominates sports like tennis, golf, hockey, and soccer perhaps the real reason why the white American is fading from the NBA is because of the league expanding more and attracting more European players.
“Outside the Lines” ESPN. June 2010.
Jason King. “Duke, Butler defy racial stereotypes”, Yahoo! Sports. April 5, 2010.
Ronald B. Woods. “Social Issues in Sport” second edition. Human Kinetics; Champaign, IL. 2010.