Blog

Who Killed The White American NBA Player?

For years the Endangered Species Act has been protecting animals in America from becoming extinct at the hands of man.  But one species seems to have avoided being placed on the list despite an incredibly rapid descent: the White American NBA player.  In keeping with my new obsession (NBA playoffs have replaced American Idol seamlessly), I will be focusing on some NBA issues in my blog.
The American-born white NBA player.  Natural predators include: confident and realsitic perception that other economic opportunites are available, as well as cultural stimulae indicating that basketball is a black person's sport.
The American-born white NBA player. Natural predators include: confident and realsitic perception that other economic opportunites are available, as well as cultural stimulae indicating that basketball is a black person's sport.

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. 

"There's only two of us on the court ref!"
"There's only two of us on the court ref!"

The question is why?  Well – some possible theories:

RACE

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.  

DUKE UNIVERSITY

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). 

I know we're on different teams, but we can agree that this dude will not need this ball after college.
I know we're on different teams, but we can agree that this dude will not need this ball after college.

REVERSE EVOLUTION

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.  

CULTURAL

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.

Cocaine (and weed and crystal meth) is a hell of a drug
Cocaine (and weed and crystal meth) is a hell of a drug

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:

1989

Larry Bird, John Stockton, Chris Mullin, Tom Chambers, Kevin McHale (6th man – Mark Price)

2009

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.

Glimpse into the future: The 2032 Congressional Black Caucus and 20-time defending champs in the Congressional Hoops League
Glimpse into the future: The 2032 Congressional Black Caucus and 20-time defending champs in the Congressional Hoops League
Blog

Sell Out

Bon Scott said “It’s A Long Way To The Top” – Then he died and his band made it to the top with another singer.

Last night I lost in the Final Four of Caroline’s March Madness to the incredibly sharp and very deserving champ Myq Kaplan.  I think what gave me trouble sleeping last night was not the fact that I lost, but the fact that I felt like a complete nervous fu-king hack in my performance.  I wish I could give a more upbeat recap (Rich Vos crushed some idiot woman in the front who started talking during my set and did not shut up until Vos verbally undressed her for 15 minutes, Ryan Reiss had strong sets and Myq Kaplan beat him with a very strong set in the finals), but I am preoccupied.

See the jokes I did last night are some of my tried and true and they always work.  But last night they did not work as well for several reasons.  One is that I was nervous.  Give me a mic and some strangers and I can do very well.  Give me a mic, some strangers and add the word competition or contest and I freeze.  

Probably for many comics, including myself, these competitions present the same opportunity that the lottery presents – an unrealistic hope that success will change, or accelerate a change in, one’s life, when all it amounts to is lost time and money for all but the winner.  I have been on television twice and it has yielded jack sh*t.  So when there is a chance to get paid work from a club and some modicum of exposure/respect it ramps up the importance, even if it is something you have done a thousand times.  But the desire to “make it” or “get a break”, no matter how small the break may be just adds a layer of nervousness for me – like how Tommy in the film Tommy Boy describes how he fu-ks up a potential deal. 

Sort of what I do when comedy becomes a competition.
Sort of what I do when comedy becomes a competition.

Competitions are like the good cop to the bringer show’s bad cop.  See clubs will tell you it’s a business, etc., but there are comics getting work and comics not getting work that could easily switch places.  The problem for these places is once you are in, you understandably won’t go back to being out – so bumping an established regular will only lose the club a comic.  However, if you string along young comics, without telling them that years of bringers will not yield anything that years in the backs or basements of pubs won’t (more a lie of omission than commission), they will keep coming back (case in point – me).  So if you make the mistake of bumping up too many of these comics all you get is more comics who will refuse to fund “new talent nights.”  So I now reconcile my lack of courage by saying that I need to do them because I need a good tape of some new jokes – which can be true, but does not really justify whoring myself out.

But worse than choking last night was the fact that my tougher, more personal jokes I saved for the finals (in the event that I made it) because I needed the crowd to like me first (gentler jokes in the first set) before I could get into that.    This is what I am most ashamed of from last night.  I tried to be Jay Leno and tell jokes that everyone would like instead of telling the jokes that mean the most to me and can evoke the best performance from me, for fear that I would not get everyone chuckling.  

I was reminded after the show last night of a show that I did last Friday.  The crowd was about 150 and the median age was about 48.  A comic named Sean Patton got up last on the show.  He did a set that was very funny, but what I appreciated even more was that his set had a very subtle “this is what I do, so fu-k you if it’s not your cup of tea”  kind of vibe because his topics and style were surely not going to make everyone in the stuffy room happy.  But his performance had no change from what it was at Rodeo Bar two days earlier in front of younger, drunker people.   He was not trying to be a different product for different audiences.  He knows what kind of comic he is (at least he certainly appears to) and did not abandon it.

 My best stuff is the stuff that 75% of the room likes and 25% of the room is slightly offended by (those stats are provided by my imagination) – and I am not talking about some sort of Lisa Lampanelli parade of racial slurs – I am talking about the calling of people on their bullsh*t sort of humor or exposing horrible things from my past to get a laugh.  But instead of being me as a comic, something that has taken me a few years to figure out (and still am figuring out) I told my safe set.  So I lost and could not even leave with my pride.  It is as if the comedy gods tell me to develop my own style and be true to it, but all the opportunities that come up with a hint of potential success tempt me to go lite in the hopes of getting a leg up in the business.  Here is what I would have done differently last night if I could have it over again:

  • Told the woman in the front row to shut the fu-k up.  Not as clever as Vos’ stuff, but would have felt good.
  • Told my Kobe (“Great Comedic Timing”), Diamond Maker and My Private 9/11 jokes (first 2 available on iTunes, third available on rooftop comedy). 

Simple changes, but would have made a huge difference – not in the result, but in my pride in my performance.  But this is a moot point because I sh*t the bed in competition.  I’m surprised I didn’t revert back to calling myself the love child of The Rock and Adam Sandler while having a conversation between Robert DeNiro and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Sorry if this seems too much like a mope fest.  The chance to perform comedy at a great venue and not be required to bring people is an opportunity I am thankful for.  And special thanks to my friends who showed up last night.  The comedy system as it is set up puts as much a strain on the friends of relatives of comics as it does the comics (the ones who show up regularly at least).  There is a balance between supporting your friends and risk hearing the same jokes over and over again versus the comic’s dilemma of trying to perfect the jokes they have while trying to perform new ones so your friends do not get bored and stop coming to the show.   One thing the bringers have shown me is who amongst my friends really supports my dream and comedy and who doesn’t.   As Batman said at the end of The Dark Knight – “sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” Well, if there is a silver lining to taking comedy bait for all of these years it is that I can see and appreciate who amongst my people who have shown some faith in my comedy.

I think I just wish comedy was just about comedy.  Like some sort of warped John Lennon song imagine there was no YouTube, No Bringers, No Contests – just comedy.  Or maybe I just have to be more disciplined and principled with my comedy.   Checking my next few shows on my calendar are a bringer, another competition (serious reconsideration) and a couple of auditions – to quote Lloyd Bridges from Airplane, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to find principles.”

Looks like I picked the wrong week to find cajones.