Race and race relations remain too-sensitive topics in America, and
so basketball great Larry Bird has come under predictable fire for
suggesting the NBA would benefit from having more white superstars.
``Well, I think so,'' he told interviewer Jim Gray on ESPN. ``I
think it's good for the fan base because, as we all know, the
majority of the fans are white America.''(Gasp!) The outrage!
It may be impossible to fathom for the easily offended who claim
to be utterly colorblind, naively contending race should never matter
in any context, but Bird's comments were neither racist nor even
The NBA would be better off with more racial balance. Put
commissioner David Stern under hypnosis, administer truth serum, and
he'd agree. He'd be stupid not to desire another Larry Bird, or to
wish for a white LeBron James.
Please understand - that door swings both ways.
This isn't a we-need-more-whites issue.
This is a balance-is-good argument.
This is a reminder that diversity is not a one-way street.
For example, the NHL benefits because an increasing number of
prominent players of color, such as Calgary's Jarome Iginla, at last
have begun to broaden the appeal of a sport once as milky white as
Tiger Woods has been a boon to the PGA Tour in part because he
grew the demographic appeal of that once-lily-white sport.
Same thing, reversed, in pro basketball.
A virtually all-black NBA is bad for precisely the same reason a
virtually all-white NHL is. It feels, and looks, exclusionary.
If it is OK to suggest more blacks now follow golf because of Woods
- and it is - then why is it not also OK to propose that more white
superstars might broaden the NBA's appeal?
A particular team's fans don't care much about racial makeup;
they just want to win. But the national perception of a sport, which
affects almighty TV ratings, is the issue here, and you're kidding
yourself if you don't think a few white superstars would be good for
NBA business. That's common sense.
Not to say the league should have minority-hiring quotas. The
best players should play, period. Diversity, though, should be a goal
in sports as in society.
Few would argue the NBA benefits from the inclusion of great
foreign players such as Yao Ming, or that the league will benefit
from increased Hispanic presence as well. So why deny - in an effort
to appear pointlessly colorblind - that another Larry Bird or two
wouldn't also help?