FanDuel - WFBC

June 09, 2004

"Old White Guy Makes Racially Insensitive Remark" : (thanks jugwine) Larry Bird wants more white guys in basketball because that's who are watching sports in America: White dudes. But Bird qualifies his statement with, "But it is a black man's game, and it will be forever. I mean, the greatest athletes in the world are African-American." Also, Bird felt it the white man wasn't good enough to guard him...

posted by jerseygirl to basketball at 01:46 PM - 50 comments

You know, if Larry Bird were black, he'd be just another executive making a comment.

posted by yerfatma at 01:49 PM on June 09

I haven't read the entire interview, but I agree with the two points you highlighted: white players are good for the marketing of the game, and basketball is dominated by black players. It's not politically correct to say those things, but "those things" are the truth. I'll take uncomfortable truth over politically correct untruth any and every day.

posted by dusted at 02:25 PM on June 09

The timing of this story is interesting for me. Luke Walton played a great game last night, and I found myself wondering why he was such a fan favorite before last night's performance. The LA fans were yelling "Luuuuuuuuke" long before he did anything. I think a big reason is because he's a white guy. Mark Madsen got the same treatment.

posted by dusted at 02:40 PM on June 09

white players are good for the marketing of the game Tell that to Michael Jordan and, for that matter, Tiger Woods. I would argue that they are the two most marketable players in all of pro sports. Extraordinary players are good for the marketing of the game regardless of race. As for Bird's remarks, I'd like to see them in context rather than quoted in an article. As long as he doesn't try to do some kind of Affirmative Basketball Action in his role as the president of baseball operations of the Pacers, though, I don't think it's a big deal. (Also, I don't know if I should be flattered or terrified)

posted by Jugwine at 02:53 PM on June 09

On Walton --- I think a big reason is because he's a white guy. I think his Dad's popularity helps a bit. Even before he was an NBA player he had a recognizable NBA name.

posted by 86 at 02:58 PM on June 09

Dusted: I'm not saying that you are off base or even wrong, but I think being the son of Bill Walton is contributing to his popularity in L.A.

posted by NoMich at 02:58 PM on June 09

Jinx! You owe me a Coke!

posted by NoMich at 02:59 PM on June 09

On Walton, Madsen, and other white guys: The fan always cheers for the underdog, which a talented white player has become in the NBA. Or, maybe I'm off base and it's really because Luke has his dad, and Madsen has mad dance skillz.

posted by rebeuthl at 03:59 PM on June 09

"Quatro! Quatro! Quatro!" -- Mad Dog 4ever!

posted by filthyboy at 04:00 PM on June 09

It seems to me that there are plenty of good white guys in the NBA. It just so happens that most of them aren't from the US (Nowitzki, Nash, Peja etc.). Maybe what Bird meant to say is that there needs to be more white Americans in the NBA to appeal to white Americans. If that's true (which I don't think it is), that would a sad statement about white America.

posted by aupa_athletic at 04:04 PM on June 09

the greatest athletes in the world are African-American That really bothers me. As a white guy who plays a lot of ball, count me as unimpressed with the athletic ability of the average black guy. My impression, there are many more black guys playing basketball than white guys. Go play pick-up ball sometime; the majority of the guys are black. It's no different than the Dominican Republic. Are Dominicans the greatest athletes in the world, is that what explains their success in MLB? No, what explains their success is every Domincan kid plays hours of baseball. It's that simple. The guys who are playing a sport all the time are the best at it.

posted by Mike McD at 04:07 PM on June 09

like canucks and le ockey.

posted by garfield at 04:24 PM on June 09

Bird is just being candid. I would wager that he has spent more time around black guys than all of us combined, so why not just say what you feel? And unless Carmelo, Magic and LeBron were offended, I don't see how anyone else possibly could be.

posted by usfbull at 04:34 PM on June 09

"the greatest athletes in the world are African-American". I agree with Mike McD that that statement is myopic. I wonder what athletes like Ronaldo, Jarome Iginla, Thierry Henry, Yao Ming, several Kenyan marathoners among many many others, would have to say about the idea that the greatest athletes in the world are African-American.

posted by aupa_athletic at 04:41 PM on June 09

I think the underdog thing is a big factor with Luke. At college games the fans always flip out when the 12th man on the team (or any of the walk-ons) steps out onto the court. Everybody likes an underdog. And on a team that that lousy with all-stars, you don't get to cheer for the underdog very often. How often do LAs fans actually get to cheer for someone they like?

posted by eckeric at 05:56 PM on June 09

It's all cosmetics, baby!

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 06:27 PM on June 09

Also - of course 'white guys' are watching the sports. 'White guys' comprise the bulk of the US population. I'm not white though. I'm definitely more pink than white. Hey, if we're going to be colour stupid, let's be accurate.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 06:29 PM on June 09

How often do LAs fans actually get to cheer for someone they like? Ha ha. There's a little bit of truth to that. I loved cheering for Madsen because he would run like he stole something every.single.possession.

posted by dusted at 06:35 PM on June 09

It's not that white guys are "who are watching sports in America". It's not that white guys are the truest, the bravest, the most clued-in sports fans out there. It's that white guys got the money. Get it? They got the money.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 09:09 PM on June 09

I'm not sure what you are saying, lil_brown_bat, but it is most definitely white guys who are watching sports in America.

posted by dusted at 11:07 PM on June 09

(following last two comments) ... and it costs a lot of money to watch sports these days, so the two things are connected. I just hope Larry doesn't say the same lame thing that Parcells and many others have said after controversial remarks, "I'm sorry if I offended anyone." Don't say "if". The fact that what was said got blown back in the face of Parcells shows that it offended someone. To say "if" shows arrogance and ignorance.

posted by msacheson at 11:23 PM on June 09

Does anyone think this was a "racially insensitive remark"??

posted by dales15 at 11:42 PM on June 09

I'm watching sports, AND I'm white. Where's my money?

posted by Samsonov14 at 03:13 AM on June 10

The point, dusted, is that (as idjits like the Mad Dog will never understand) it ain't about butts in seats. Butts in seats is not what makes NFL/MLB/NBA big business. It's the buying of the logo gear, and the buying of the gear sold by the people who buy the ads. What Bird said probably does make some economic sense, if you went and did the numbers, and that may be what drives the decisions in sports. But call it what it is. If being a truer fan of a sport or team means buying the logo hat jacket t-shirt underwear hip waders soft-side cooler water bottle and special limited edition BMW, then I'm sure that white men are the most influential sports fans in the world. I don't know, however, that it automatically follows that you need to get more white men on the basketball court, or that doing so would bring white men thronging to the stadiums, I mean coffers, of the NBA. But if that sort of simplistic pavlovian reasoning applies to sports fans across the board -- see someone like me on the court/field/track/whatever, be a big ol' fan -- then wouldn't doing things Bird's way imply that you want pro basketball to be by white men, for white men? It does provoke thought, it does.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 05:43 AM on June 10

It's the buying of the logo gear You're absolutely right, but you've got the wrong product: it's the old white guys who buy the commercial time. I would wager (hah!) the NFL makes more off the first half of the Superbowl than it does on annual merch sales. Two different strata of white guys. Especially given that it's not old guys I see rocking the $300 retro jerseys.

posted by yerfatma at 06:06 AM on June 10

Here is a question. The combined population of Russia, Germany, and Serbia is ~238 million. The population of the United States is ~280 million. Since the US is the basketball capital of the world, why hasn't it produced white players equal to Dirk, Peja, and Kirilinko?

posted by Mike McD at 09:21 AM on June 10

McD: do you mean for all time, or just in the last couple of years?

posted by NoMich at 09:38 AM on June 10

Just in the active NBA.

posted by Mike McD at 09:47 AM on June 10

Yeah, don't forget that white Americans don't relate to Europeans as white players--they're as foreign as Yao Ming. And as Bill Simmons pointed out yesterday, there weren't any white guys who could defend Bird at the time, so his feeling insulted was justified.

posted by Justin Slotman at 09:59 AM on June 10

The best players play in the pros. It's that simple. Now, what is the percentage of black players in the NBA, compared the percentage of black citizens of the U.S.? I don't have exact numbers, but I would assume it's a huge difference. Black players dominate professional basketball, therefore, it is a black man's game. There just happen to be some pretty good white players, too. Anyway, all this PC crap pisses me off...I can understand Bird's comment that he didn't appreciate having a white player guarding him, because he would rather have a more athletic black man on him. I mean, with some exceptions, black men in the NBA are more athletic then the white men. How many white dudes have you seen in the annual dunk contests? I know my boy David Lee at UF won a contest in HS, and I think Rex Chapman was in one in the early 90s, but that's all that comes to mind. I'm about as white as they come, and I don't see anything wrong with what Bird said. A lot of people get shocked when good white players show up in the NBA. Jason Williams in Memphis has the nickname "White Chocolate", because he plays like a black man. This isn't any new stuff here, folks...these thoughts have been going on for decades, and will likely continue on.

posted by bcb2k2 at 10:01 AM on June 10

Besides, the only one I'm mad is Jim Gray, for setting Bird up like this in the interview.

posted by bcb2k2 at 10:07 AM on June 10

...I'm mad at is Jim Gray...d'oh!

posted by bcb2k2 at 10:07 AM on June 10

OK, in reference to my dunk contest point above, I obviously forgot a big one...Brent Barry. Apologize...

posted by bcb2k2 at 10:31 AM on June 10

Chris Anderson's hair competed in this year's.

posted by Ufez Jones at 10:50 AM on June 10

gspm poined out that we have athletic white ball players in Canada.

posted by smithers at 10:53 AM on June 10

he also *pointed* it out.....just sayin' is all....

posted by smithers at 10:54 AM on June 10

by the way, neither white nor black equals "athletic" and "athletic" most definitely does not equal "good defender" in basketball -- it is but a component ("toughness" is far more important in the mix) and while Bird may not have explicitly played the Great White Hope race card as a player, are you telling me he never at least used it as internal motivation??

posted by smithers at 11:03 AM on June 10

yeah smithers, i was thinking dunks + white guys = whathisname. saves me digging it up, cheers.

posted by gspm at 11:08 AM on June 10

and while Bird may not have explicitly played the Great White Hope race card as a player, are you telling me he never at least used it as internal motivation?? I won't speculate as to his motivations, but I know I met several people that were fans of Bird (and remain so today) for similiar reasons.

posted by Ufez Jones at 11:15 AM on June 10

Maybe what Bird should have said was, "Men's basketball is a black man's game." No numbers, but the WNBA seems to have a higher percentage of non-African-Americans...but then, it's got a different demographic altogether. The white girls are also mostly homegrown, not imports, although the imports tend to be high profile (LJ, Ticha Penicheiro, Large Marge, Kamila Vodichkova, etc.). Of course, that sort of makes sense, because if they weren't exceptional, why would you bother to import them? You really could write quite the book about it: the growing association of athleticism with black players in the NBA, simultaneous with the growth of the notion that athleticism and being female aren't mutually exclusive. Seems to me that men's and women's hoops both went through a culture change in roughly the same years; it would be a ton of fun to trace the two, not that I'm saying that there's necessarily a connection...but it's almost as if you've got a contrast between a rise of consciousness and a degeneration of same. So who's gonna offer me a book deal?

posted by lil_brown_bat at 11:26 AM on June 10

It seems to me that there are plenty of good white guys in the NBA. It just so happens that most of them aren't from the US (Nowitzki, Nash, Peja etc.). Maybe what Bird meant to say is that there needs to be more white Americans in the NBA to appeal to white Americans. If that's true (which I don't think it is), that would a sad statement about white America. I believe Bird did make the distinction between white Americans and White Europeans. As for the comments, I did not find them offensive. Bird was not assiging value to white or black players. In other words, he did not state that somehow either white players or black players are inherently better because of their race. He was stating a fact, there are a lot more black players in the NBA than white American players. The value judgment was that somehow the lack of white player may hurt the league by turning off white fans or failng to provide young white players with role models (this is pretty foolish because a baller is a baller regardless of race). Perhaps Bird is recalling the 1970s when the NBA lost a number of white fans because the league became predominately black. I'm sure that that won't happen again (less racism, the popularity of black NBA players, overall popularity of the game), but historically Birdís fears are not unfounded. I think he is wrong, but I donít believe that he was being racist. If Bird had suggested that white players are inferior to black players or that the lack of white players has hurt the overall quality of play in the NBA that would be racist, but Bird did not say that.

posted by Bag Man at 04:19 PM on June 10

Maybe what Bird meant to say is that there needs to be more white Americans in the NBA to appeal to white Americans. If that's true (which I don't think it is), that would a sad statement about white America. Everything Bird said, in my opinion, couldn't be truer. I'm betting that if the NHL had more black players black viewership would rise. Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters were welcome additions to all white sports. Remember when no black quarterback had won a super bowl until Doug Williams did for the Red Skins? Suddenly black kids had a role model in a position previously held only by whites. Many people enjoy watching others they can relate to. That's not racist, and it's certainly not "sad". It's human nature.

posted by justgary at 08:35 PM on June 10

As a white guy I would definitely take special pleasure in watching a white dude bust Kobe's ass.

posted by Mike McD at 10:35 PM on June 10

As a white guy I would definitely take special pleasure in seeing Mike McD rephrase that last comment. :)

posted by dusted at 10:42 PM on June 10

... on the basketball court.

posted by Mike McD at 11:32 PM on June 10

...whew.

posted by dusted at 12:04 AM on June 11

Remember when no black quarterback had won a super bowl until Doug Williams did for the Red Skins? Suddenly black kids had a role model in a position previously held only by whites. The situations aren't parallel. Doug Williams was the first of his kind: there hadn't been any other black quarterbacks, and there were no others at the time. In contrast, while whites are in the minority in the NBA, they're not absent absent, and there have been plenty of great white basketball players. Also, remember that not everybody's definition of "like me" is based on color. Back to the WNBA, it seems that kids of all races look up to players of all races. Who do you want to play like when you grow up? Sue Bird! Tamika Catchings! Swin Cash! Lauren Jackson! I don't think the little girls see colors as much as they see women who remember being little girls shooting hoops -- something that a lot of NBA players may have forgotten.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 08:53 AM on June 11

I am Tiger Woods.

posted by worldcup2002 at 11:23 AM on June 11

The situations aren't parallel. Sure, there are differences. It's not perfect, but it's quite true. If you were a black kid growing up in the 80s you didn't see black quarterbacks. It's hard to imagine being a quarter back when all you see is white quarterbacks. It's hard to imagine being a black coach if all you see is white coaches. Sure, there were white players in the NBA. There had been white star players before bird. But during birds' era there was no one like him. Magic himself said bird was the only white player mentioned in black circles. When I was a young kid and played basketball every day on the play grounds I was often the only white player on the court. That could be pretty intimidating for a kid, but bird was my hero. He was who I looked up to. Not because I was racist, or didn't like black players, but bird was more like me; someone I could relate to. Saying that there were 'other' white players is like saying a corvette wasn't the only american car in the race, there was also a ford pinto. Also, remember that not everybody's definition of "like me" is based on color. Didn't say everyone, and I'm not saying people even realize this concept. I certainly never thought to myself "I'm white so I have to like bird". Again, it's human nature. Add black players to the NHL and see if black viewership goes up. I don't think the little girls see colors as much as they see women who remember being little girls shooting hoops. You yourself commented on the WNBA being more racially diverse than the NBA. Make it an all black league and see what happens to ratings and attendence. Make it an all white league and see how many black people attend/watch the games.

posted by justgary at 05:01 PM on June 11

Gary - seeing in colour isn't human nature, we don't just gravitate to sameness as if its imprinted in our DNA. In fact, I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that not only isn't it a natural reaction - its a politically socialized American reaction. Sheesh. Everything is tempered by race down there. Human nature - That's so friggin myopic I don't know where to start.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 08:39 PM on June 12

You're not logged in. Please log in or register.