There has been a monumental paradigm shift occurring in the sport of basketball over several decades. I believe it has reached its summit, or at least I hope we’re close. Few have spoken up while many have stayed silent, possibly out of fear that they may be ostracized, fired, or worse, as is par for the course when one talks about diversity or makes a funny joke about AIDS. However, I believe most people are not even aware of what I am about to present, but it’s been right underneath their thin noses the whole time. The climate of the NBA has shifted so dramatically that it’s hardly recognizable from its roots. Just recently Oscar Robertson was asked about political activism in today’s sport, to which he responded, “where are the white athletes while this is happening?” My response to Oscar is, what white athletes?
A Tidy Introduction
Basketball has been my favorite sport since I was old enough to seriously appreciate and play it. I remember growing up in the 2000’s, watching guys such as Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett (my state’s basketball hero), LeBron James and many others perform acrobatics and put on shows never seen before. These men were absolutely dazzling crowds and viewers at home with their overt displays of athleticism. As my Dear Reader knows, hindsight is 20-20, and I did not realize in the heat of the moment that I was watching the decline of diversity and equity in the game of basketball, and I was blind to the rising tide.
A man named Richard Lapchick has done some brilliant work on exposing the deep-rooted racism looming over the heads of the white players attempting to make a living for themselves in the National Basketball Association.
This fine young chap is director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES). The good folks at TIDES have been gracious enough to dedicate their lives to ensuring that the Industries of Sport are adequately moral. On their homepage, they proclaim “federal affirmative action policies suggest the workplace should reflect the percentages of various groups in the population.” This is relevant now more than ever because as Lapchick reported in 2011, a mere 17 percent of the league was white, the lowest report since 1990. Just how significantly small this percentage is, I will discuss in detail below.
For the better part of two decades, I have been watching a league that was hiding some serious skeletons in their closet. Particularly white skeletons.
“And if you just had a couple of white guys in there, you might get them [the fans, not the guys] a little excited. But it is a black man’s game, and it will be forever. I mean, the greatest athletes in the world are African-American.” – Larry Bird, 2004
My thanks go out to Larry. I know it’s dangerous and a bit scary to stick one’s neck out and speak about the plight of the white basketball player, so I applaud his guts. Quite the set of huevos on that guy, unlike his former teammate, Kevin McHale, who dared show his face at a Trump rally in Duluth, MN. Anyway, I am following in Larry’s footsteps and if we only had more courage from the owners and media to discuss the real racism taking place, not this Sterling piffle, then perhaps we could shed some light on the issue. We need to welcome civilized discourse about the monkey on the back of white players because on the opening day of the 2016-17 season, eight teams did not employ a white man, and 10 teams only had one. By October of 2016, there were only 43 white American players. We cannot let this prejudice continue to fester. Bird warned us over 14 years ago!
It’s time to get into the weeds. Let us use the statistics from last season since the saintly folks at TIDES have not yet provided a Racial & Gender Report Card for the 2017-18 season. I’m sure they’re slaving away over it.
As of 2017, the American Census Bureau estimated that 60.7 percent of the population is white alone, 18.1 percent is Hispanic or Latino, 13.4 percent is Black or African-American alone, 5.8 percent is Asian, 1.3 percent is American Indian, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders round out the bottom of the distribution at .2 percent.
At this point, it should be quite obvious to my Dear Reader why there is a need to discuss diversity in the NBA. We can see even before applying the math that Black Supremacy is rearing its ugly head once again. However, we should apply some simple calculations to the potential ~450 players in the NBA so we can figure out exactly what a more equitable distribution amongst the races would resemble.
- White people are about 61 percent of the population, which means there should be approximately 273 white players in the league, above three times what we have now. I’m afraid the issue is systemic, and there’s nothing more difficult than removing deeply rooted racism from an entire institution.
- Hispanic or Latinos, weighing in at about 18 percent of the population, should have 81 players on rosters, yet they only had 22 in 2016-17. I bet Adam Silver voted for Trump. Build that wall, bigot.
- Let’s address the elephant in the room. African-American or Black people make up only 13.4 percent of the population but shockingly hold 74.4 percent of the roster spots in the NBA. Something nefarious may be to blame. All things being equal (and just), there would be approximately 60 African-American players in the NBA, yet there was 335 last year, 558 percent of what it should be. At this point, the odds are almost insurmountable.
- There should be ~26 Asian players in the league.
- American Indians should hold about 6 roster spots.
- Last but certainly not least, I would never want to insinuate such a thing and I really mean not least when I say it, there should be about one Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander in the NBA.
- The “other” group, or people not admitting their race, would make up the last ~3 players with the remainder of .5 percent.
White people have been repressed and unable to get a fair shake from the higher-ups in the NBA for decades. At what cost? How many of these poor white men have wasted away in the slums because they couldn’t crack the league to make a living wage, and solely for the color of their skin, to boot? The NBA has blood on their hands. So much for the free market!
Inequality in Dollars
My Dear Reader is now aware of the body count, so let us discuss the dollar count and monetary repercussions of such conduct. My thanks go out to Forbes for publishing an alarming article exposing the lack of parity amongst the highest-paid basketball players, specifically when it comes to endorsement deals. Here we have a clear representation of the free market being anything but free. I guess it’s better to watch our professional athletes buy $2 million bathtubs instead of a reasonable apocalypse bunker. This issue is so ingrained into the system that even our tech, food, drink, media, auto, clothing, insurance, and airline industries are disproportionately backing a certain race while almost completely excluding others. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, as my Dear Reader is undoubtedly aware.
The list of the highest-paid basketball players through endorsements is as follows.
LeBron James – $52 million
Stephen Curry – $42 million
Kevin Durant – $33 million
James Harden – $20 million
Russell Westbrook – $19 million
Kyrie Irving – $14 million
Damian Lillard – $14 million
Dwyane Wade – $14 million
Giannis Antetokounmpo – $13 million
Klay Thompson – $13 million
Notice a pattern? That’s nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in endorsements this year alone. Not much to add about this, other than every single top-endorsed basketball player is black, depending on the interpretation of Klay Thompson’s genealogy. His mom, hubba hubba. Anyway, of the $234 million here, 60.7 percent or approximately $142 million should be afforded to players who are white alone, yet zero is. Let us now turn our attention to the top-27 NBA salaries for the 2017-18 season. If my Dear Reader notices the overlap between this list and the one above, know they are independent sources, so the athlete is making both of these incomes.
Stephen Curry – $34.7 million out of five years for $201.2 million
LeBron James – $33.3 million out of three years for $99.9 million
Paul Millsap – $30.8 million out of two years for $61 million
Gordon Hayward – $29.7 million out of four years for $127.8 million
Blake Griffin – $29.5 million out of five years for $171.2 million
Kyle Lowry – $28.7 million out of three years for $100 million
Mike Conley – $28.5 million out of five years for $152.6 million
Russell Westbrook – $28.5 million out of three years for $85.6 million
James Harden – $28.3 million out of four years for $118 million
DeMar DeRozan – $27.7 million out of five years for $139 million
The list obviously goes through 27 players but contains only three players who are white alone, and Gordon Hayward is the sole white soul in the top 24. Chandler Parsons is tied for 25th and J.J. Redick is 27th. Of the entire list, a total of $640.2 million was paid out to the 24 black players while their contracts total $2.8 billion and average 4.1 years in duration. Compare this to the $75.8 million paid out to the three whites this year with contracts adding up to only $245.2 million for an average of three years.
This means white players pulled in only 10.6 percent of the highest salaries in the NBA this year, about a 573 percent drop from what they should have made. Moreover, 10.6 percent is barely half of their total representation in the NBA as it sat at 19.1 percent for 2016-17. So, not only do white players hold roster spots at an unforgivable rate, they are not even paid adequately in relation to their already-low representation in the NBA. Moreover, their shorter contracts are a telling sign of the team managerial ranks trying to keep the stay of these white players as transient as possible. They want these players in and out of their establishments.
Style of Play
The modern NBA scarcely resembles the peach basket lifestyle that created the foundation for the game in its current state. I think it’s an absolute shame the way the game has devolved into a fusion of tomfoolery, skullduggery, and buffoonery. A man who understands the history of this sport should feel the need to shield his eyes when the game comes on, yet the ratings are better than ever. Late capitalism has us so discombobulated and detached from our lives that we don’t notice our tenacious consumption of media, even when it’s explicitly racist.
This urban, schoolyard-style league is a disgrace wherein the only value a player brings is his ability to classlessly dance upon the competition. This video is a “highlight” tape of game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, in which LeBron James tallied 51 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. Notice in the linked video how many times Kevin Love passes to LeBron before James inevitably puts up a shot. Perhaps my Dear Reader can remember watching a time in the NBA that championed ball movement, I cannot.
Clips like these are a dime a dozen. I could post thousands of them because this is now the league norm. What happened to skill? What happened to sharpening the knife and becoming a master craftsman? All I see here is barbarity and wild, untamed athleticism being exploited. I want to see expertise. I want to see thousands of hours of practice on display, yet all I’m given for my troubles of turning on the TV are hot-shot trick plays that any athlete can perform. Let me offer a clip that may illustrate my point.
Here we see a brilliant display of footwork, patience, and competence. The better athletes soar by him as he outwits the defenders and puts in a fundamental layup (worth the same amount of points as a dunk, I might add). Chris Kaman here is showing the folks at home how a game can be won through determination and proficiency, and there is no need for showboating to put two, possibly three points on the board. Kaman playing under the rim, scoring at will while jumping no higher than the depth of a phonebook, is a blatant rejection of the Rucker Park-style gameplay that has corroded the league.
This is a man who has overcome the most abysmal of odds and succeeded at the highest level. He looked bigotry in the face, realizing that infiltrating the ranks of the NBA as a minority is obviously the most difficult thing to achieve for any male currently living in this country, and held his chin high. Chris would not let his spirits be dampened by the systemic intolerance that surrounded, trying to pull him down by his above-the-knee shorts. He stands as a beacon of hope for the young, oppressed white athlete who may feel as if his melanin-deficient back is against the wall. Kaman’s legacy is one of perseverance and he is a testament to the triumph of the will, to one’s spirit. White athletes making their way in the world of basketball today will see Kaman’s pale apparition and use his story as inspiration to put their head down and go to work. As this letter draws to a close, I’d like to offer a postscript to those who consider themselves empathetic souls.
It is difficult to fully appreciate the scope and breadth of this issue while one is living inside of it. Growing up in the 2000’s I was ignorant of the NBA’s history and all I knew was the league as it stood at that time. I lived a facile life of unawareness and accepted that the players employed popped into the league through a vacuum. This was certainly not the case.
The problem we have ahead of us is not going to be easy to solve. Moreover, most people are completely oblivious to this problem and will likely reject my thesis immediately upon impact. An issue such as racism, especially of the institutional flavor, is one that becomes woven into the fabric of our society if left unchallenged. It becomes the norm. Almost everybody is blind to the overwhelming majority oppressing the group of lesser numbers and it’s nearly impossible to wake up to this because it’s all we know.
My Dear Reader will likely see this article shrouded in a cloud of vitriol. The mob will be dismissing me and this cause with outright hostility. This is because they are not yet ready to accept the premise stated here today. Perhaps they will never accept it, but it is only a matter of time until this phenomenon reaches the zeitgeist and the revolution begins. Do not be dismayed by the negativity this article garners, for those who are dismissive are simply ignorant or unwilling to let their ideological presuppositions die. My Dear Reader knows, sometimes we must burn off our deadwood. This is the burden of knowledge.
One has to expel himself from the cave as Plato taught us millennia ago. Only when we have stepped outside of the system in which we have been encapsulated can we see the system for exactly what it is. We are approaching a problem that has been growing at a terrifying clip, and it’s only been seriously documented since 1990. I am grateful for the pioneering work Lapchick et al. have provided for us because, for the better part of three decades, we’ve stood by with our hands in our pockets. However, they cannot do all of the work to make a change, we need to stand up and face the problem head-on.
As I stated before, Late Capitalism has forced us to idly walk through our lives, consuming every product from every ad, spending our last dollar on superfluity and mindlessly locking our eyes on every single basketball game we are told to watch. I say we need to reject the current regime and stand up to systemic racism. I say we must abandon the shadows on the wall, vacate the cave, and see the world for what it truly is. Ignorance is bliss only for those who aren’t suffering, but we owe it to white basketball players everywhere to wake from our stupor and finally achieve equity.
If my Dear Reader finds himself in the camp of empathy, I hope he sees to it that change does come, for even if I am imprisoned and shackled for the truth I expose now, the movement forward cannot cease. As Socrates said, I must stop. It is time for us to go – me to my death, you to your lives. Which of us goes to the better fate, only god knows.