A couple weeks ago Mrs S, Miss S and I were at my first preseason NBA game. In my 20 plus years of buying at least a partial NBA ticket package, in Oakland California and here, I’d honestly never been to a preseason game. Personally I think they should give those ticket away for free to worthy causes, charging fans for those games. NFL is worse BTW, they charge full price. I can live with baseball, it’s more about sitting in the sun, seeing MLB players up close in small parks and best of all, texting pictures of yourself holding a beer, in short sleeves, green grass in the background to all your friends back in snowbound MN. That’s the real value of spring league baseball.
The family attended the game because the opponent was Maccabi Haifa, a team from the Israeli professional basketball league. The announced crowd was 13,000, but about 11,000 seemed to have lost their way to arena so the family and I were able to move down from my Eagle Nest seats to 5 rows back from the floor. Nice. Sitting up close like that I made the following remark, in a kinda snide way to Mrs S, “Never wudda thought that a team from Israel would have more black players on the floor than an NBA team”.
This morning the Star Tribune, there was an article by Jerry Zgoda and Dennis Brakin about this very subject, titled PALE in Comparison, they talk about this Wolves team which at the moment is the “whitest” team in the NBA since Boston Celtics of the 1980′s. And the implications in article are, it’s not just chance.
Zgoda and Brakin who seem to want to channel Woodward and Bernstein as they attempt to dig up a hidden story are asking the question “what’s the real reason the Wolves are shedding all their black Players”. In the article they quote two African American leaders in the Twin Cities and asked them if they’d noticed that blizzard at the Target Center this season. From the article:
Twin Cities black leaders have noticed, suggesting the franchise strategically rolled back the calendar decades in a league that has long been the forefront of diversity of among America’s professional sports leagues. “How did we get a roster that resembles the 1955 Lakers?’ asked Tyrone Terrell, chairman of St. Paul’s African American leadership council. “I think everything is a strategy. Nothing happens by happenstance.”
The article goes on;
That strategy, Terrell and others in the black community believe, is to sell tickets to the Wolves’ fan base, which is overwhelmingly white.
Frankly this article has my liberal head spinning out of control. As a guy who has vigorously defended Affirmative Action, and sincerely believes that this country racism is still one of our biggest issues, I’m taken a bit aback by this article. At best this is an example of reporters trying to create a story where there isn’t one, at worst it’s implying some reverse racism.
I’m also a little surprised by some of the commenters who see a conspiracy to make the team white to sell more tickets. Is there really no room for the following strategy: WIN BASKETBALL GAMES.
Let’s all take a step back from this ugly cliff we’re standing on here try to think in facts:
FACT: The Timberwolves made a lot of moves this offseason, exactly 1/2 of the roster is new to the team this year. They shed 8 players over the season and through the summer, Wayne Ellington was traded for Dante Cunnigham, both players African American, just an FYI. Wes Johnson, who I really liked BTW was traded to Phoenix in a three way deal. Sad to see it but it was a salary cap decision. I don’t think race was involved I think they wanted to free up some cap room for a bigger name player to come here to improve the club. Three guys were lost to free agency, Beasley, Randolph and Tollivor, all black. Two guys were waived, Millicic and Webster. One white one black.. I’m only keeping track to see if there’s a trend
In addition column, 7 players were added, 5 white, 2 black. Ah hah! There it is. Lets keep analyzing people.
FACT: There’s no really nice way to say this, the Timberwolves stink. Like really stink. At times over the last few years they have been the worst team in the NBA. They haven’t made the playoffs since the Garnet days, 9 years ago. In the last three seasons they’ve lost 75% of their games. Last year was a little better, the arrival Ricky Rubio and continued improvement of Kevin Love added a few more wins than usual, but both players went down with injuries in the last half of the season and it was back to the losing tradition.
Clearly big changes were, and still are, in order for this team. Bringing in Rick Adleman as Head Coach is certainly a huge improvement over where we were. He’s not black, but we have had two black coaches in the teams history, out of 10. But what about all those African America players we got rid off and replaced with white players?
Fact: There are black players in the NBA who are not great. There are some white players in the NBA who are better than some black players. In my annual Basketball Fantasy Draft Preparations I use a top secret formulary to rank every player in the NBA on performance and thus fantasy value but I’d have to go check race because I don’t have a check box on my list for that.
And neither do the Timberwolves. “but you don’t know what all those white guys in the Wolves office talk about when deal off all the black players”. Ok, I don’t and as the article points out, the front office is all white, they say recognize the opportunity and claim to be working on diversity in management, as the ENTIRE league is. Work to be done. But what about the team on the floor? I do know this about the NBA and the Wolves; it’s a business. It’s a business that wants butts in the seats, eyes on the screens and lots of jerseys and hats on fans. And in sports the #1 attraction to fill your stadium is WINS. If you win on the court, you win in revenue and attendance. The rest is commentary.
White fans want to buy white players jerseys. In the 80′s and 90′s there was the Larry Bird phenomenon. The 80′s Celtics vs. the 80′s Lakers. Bird vs. Magic. Black vs. White. Spike Lee, in Do The Right Thing gave this a nod about three different ways, finally with the argument between a black customer and the white pizza parlor owner over who’s better, Bird or Magic. It gets ugly. While I’d like to think we’ve moved past that, I’m willing to acknowledge that individual fans may make choices like this, but no way a front office is going to choose to keep, say Luke Ridnour if say, George Hill, the Pacers talented Point Guard were to become available. Not sure of they’d keep Rubio if Hill came available. But really it would be the same discussion if Steve Nash were interested in coming to Minnesota. Wins = Revenue. Revenue is the great equalizer.
When I look at the trades or cuts the Wolves made this offseason, not one of them has a hint of some ulterior racist motive, based in the criteria of “good for the team”. A few examples:
- Michael Beasley, Be-Eazy was the 2nd pick in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Miami Heat. Superstar? Na, inconsistent at best. 30 points one night, 8 the next. Defense? Not in the contract. Last year mostly 8 pt games. Rather 11 if you look at his average. Mike’s contract expired and the Wolves decided not to renew. He’s fine, he signed a multi-year deal in Phoenix, good luck to him, and kinda don’t let the door hit you the rear on the way out. No race card here.
- Wes Johnson, This is one I kinda regret but this was about business. Wes was traded to Phoenix two years ago to free up salary cap for a bigger name impact player. Some of that went to Rubio. Wes vs. Rubio, I take Rubio, and that’s in hindsight. At the time I wasn’t a fan of lil’Ricky but I’ve changed my mind.
- Anthony Randolph came over as part of the back story on last seasons huge Denver Knicks deal that sent ‘Mello to New York. Randolph is another high draft pick that didn’t pan out in the NBA and when he came here.. he got pushed out by the rise of Nikola Pecovic, who arguably was the most improved player on the Wolves roster last year. Randolph is in Denver now playing backup to JaVale McGee and his ex T-Wolves buddy and Greek standout Kosta Koufus. (Standout being relative) He’ll be lucky to see 5 minutes a night. BTW, there were two casualties of the Pecovic Improvement Plan, Darko Milicic, another 2nd overall pick that didn’t pan out. Given the choice between Randolph and Milicic I’d take neither.
- Martel Webster is a bit player in the NBA. Sorry, it is what it is. He’s probably happy to be drawing a paycheck playing basketball at this point, as are many of the other deals, trades and moves involving the bottom 1/3 of any NBA team don’t really matter, none of those guys see enough playing time impact anything.
The conspiracy line of thinking would indicate that wolves fans would rather see white players than black players on their team. I can’t fathom where this comes from.
The 2003-2004 season was without a doubt the most successful season in Timberwolves history. The Wolves went 58-24, winning the Midwest Division under the old alignment. After a few years of first round exits in the playoffs the team beat the Denver Nuggets in the first round, a very capable Sacramento Kings in the second round and found themselves up against the Kobe and Shaq and LA Lakers for the Western Conference championship and a trip to the NBA finals. That season the Target Center was the tough sports ticket in this town. Why? ‘Cause the Wolves won, they were good, and they were fun to watch. And incidentally, since this seems to matter now, there were exactly three white players on the roster.
The face of professional basketball is changing, for 20 years the NBA has been expanding their fan base, actively soliciting interest in Europe. Talent scouts, eager to fine the very players on the planet are discovering players outside of the traditional NCAA feeder league. Teams want to win and they want to put the very best players they can on the floor. In a few years I predict the NBA will be like the English Premier League in Soccer. The top flight league in it’s sport in the world, and will be full of very talented international players.
Putting players on the floor in the NBA is art form that balances salaries, supply and demand, budgets and playing time. This argument would also imply that a team of mostly white players is going to be bad, bad on purpose because better players, infer black players are going to be kept off the team to appeal to white fans. That smacks of reverse racism to me.
For the Timberwolves, the current roster is the best they could cobble together, and by chance it happens to be pretty white in comparison to the rest of the league, it’s also pretty white compared to previous editions of the Wolves. But I do not for the life of me believe this has anything to do with race, not in this instance.
This is two reporters looking to stir up a controversy where there is none. Next year, if the Wolves don’t make the playoffs and lose 70% of their games again, there will be more changes. And if the best players available are black, I guarantee they’ll be here.