It is hard to believe that 17 years ago four white players and a played on the original Dream Team (Larry Bird, John Stockton, Chris Mullin and the Ringo Star of the Dream Team – Christian Laettner). Earlier than that were legends like Pete Marivich and Jerry West who were studs. And in the 1980s and 1990s you had guys like Tom Chambers and Dan Majerle who were all stars and as athletic as any black basketball player. Now the only white Americans who get near an all star game are Jack Nicholson and the referees.
The question is why? Well – some possible theories:
Race can be eliminated right away. Three of the last five MVPs have been white. Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash are elite level talents and are white. But they are German and Canadian, respectively.
No single institution may be more responsible for flooding the NBA market with overrated white talent. They are like a tech stock after the bubble burst. Jay Bilas, Chris Collins, Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, JJ Reddick, and Josh McRoberts are just some of the guys who have been great at the college level and then been astounding failures in the NBA (Fool me once shame on you, fool me 14 times – shame on me). But Duke is only one school and there are plenty of other white players who do not play for the most hated team in college sports. (We will address Mike Dunleavey Jr. later who as it turns out is the exception that proves the rule).
Dolph Schayes was a Jewish basketball player (probably included in the leaflet Ted receives on “Famous Jewish Athletes” in Airplane!) in the 1950s and 1960s who dominated the league and is a Hall of Famer (but not a doctor). His son, Danny Schayes was a mediocre back up center (and not a doctor, but now is a financial investor). Rumor has it Danny’s son David just got cut from his Hebrew School team, but may become a doctor. So as success has opened new opportunities for the sons and grandsons of old white people, their skills/desire have lessened with each generation.
This I think is the answer. Our sports are becoming very compartmentalized based on our assumptions on race. I had an Irish bartender tell me last night while laughing that white guys shouldn’t play basketball. He did not mean anything malicious by it (but still sort of a dumb comment), but his perception was that white guys were something weird and unfamiliar in the NBA (it did not help that he was looking at Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who looks like a meth addict who also happens to have a ridiculous vertical leap.
But all of our sports have become self-fulfilling racial prophecies. Latinos are King in baseball, whites are right there with them and those are the players most marketed (despite a recent black MVP in the National League) so not coincidentally there is a relatively minuscule number of black players in the MLB. NBA commercialsnow resemble a Chinese Restaurant in Harlem – one Chinese guy (Yao Ming), a bunch of black guys with tattoos (almost everyone) and a few Europeans who wandered in from some hostel. Hockey is for – they still play hockey? I think that is for Russians and Canadians. The point is that the marketing of the sports may have influenced the people who play. Just look at the Top 5 American born players from 1989 and 2009:
Larry Bird, John Stockton, Chris Mullin, Tom Chambers, Kevin McHale (6th man – Mark Price)
Mike Dunleavey Jr. (looked like a typical Duke Dookie, but has developed into a quality NBA player), Troy Murphy, Kyle Korver, Kirk Hinrich, Chris Kaman (David Lee off the bench)
In this match up the score would be 145-82 in favor of 1989. How is this possible? Well for many years basketball has become associated with the inner city, probably because it has been able to deliver so many people out of struggles and poverty (albeit a microscopic percentage, but enough of a Horatio Alger style tale for communities to believe in) that it has become a game for foreigners and for inner city youth to excel at. White Americans, perhaps, no longer have the same hunger on a mass scale (except for the poor ones who may harbor gun-clinging resentment towards things like affirmative action,which would make the NBA unappealing to them because of all the black people and the fact that they themselves might be viewed as affirmative action sports cases) and have given up on basketball as a serious choice because of all the cultural bias (is it a coincidence that the decline of white American basketball players accelerated after the release of White Men Can’t Jump?).
If this is what has happened then the reverse could be beginning now. If Obama serves two terms and someone like Corey Booker, the Mayor of Newark, is president after him then perhaps black men that would be looking to go to the NBA will go into politics and vice versa for white American men. That would be a very tall Congress.