Should the NBA assist white players with affirmative action?

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Recently, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” ran a segment about the declining number of white American players in the NBA. Apparently the league is currently 71.8 percent African-American, 18.3 percent international and 9.9 percent white American and there’s a problem. To underscore the “whiteout” of the NBA, “Outside the Lines” chose to follow the trials and tribulations of Kyle McAlarney, a former standout point guard from Notre Dame whose dream is to play in the NBA. According to McAlarney, his race is keeping him out of the league.

Never mind that he stands only 5’11 or that he was invited to play summer league with the Los Angeles Clippers by Mike Dunleavy, a former white NBA player who is the team’s general manager and coach. Currently, McAlarney plays in the NBA’s developmental league. Not once is his arrest for marijuana possession as a sophomore mentioned. Yet he is the posterchild for the white American quest to play in the NBA. Dunleavy – whose 6’9 son, Mike Dunleavy, Jr., currently plays for the Indiana Pacers — didn’t pass on McAlarney because he’s white; he passed on him because he’s not good enough to play in the NBA.

Does the NBA need white players so badly that it is to ignore standards and let them in even when they are clearly not qualified? Is this not the same criticism that is often leveled at affirmative action programs and its beneficiaries – that they are not qualified to do the job but only get a pass because they are a desirable minority? The fact that affirmative action is meant to ensure that a qualified person will not be denied an opportunity because of race, gender and other factors is generally ignored.

According to Wayne Embry, a senior advisor with the Toronto Raptors, the league implemented the zone defense to help white American players and not to advance the game, a charge that Stu Jackson, executive vice president of basketball operations, denies. Jackson, through a statement to “Outside the Lines” maintained that the NBA’s objective is “to find players with game regardless of what country they come from or what race.”

So why is it a problem when the “players with game” are overwhelmingly African-American? Look at all the other sports that are predominantly white American. Golf, tennis, baseball, hockey, you name it, it’s probably predominantly white in this country. Whenever similar reports are done in regards to African-American players, the timbre is more around access to the game and not ability to play the game. Yet the ability to play the game is ignored here.

White Americans have accessibility to basketball. No one is keeping them off the courts. Nor is anyone keeping them out of college. Former NBA player turned NBA analyst Jalen Rose was an epic fail during the follow-up alongside Jon Barry, a former white NBA player who does believe that the departure from fundamentals has prevented other white players from entering the league. Barry seemed particularly aggrieved. Rose didn’t help matters by emphasizing the cliché that African-American players largely come from impoverished backgrounds and hinge all their dreams on making it in entertainment or sports. Given that players such as the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah, the son of French tennis great Yannick Noah, and the Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford, whose dad is former NBA player Tito Horford, are becoming less and less rare in the game, that argument is outdated.

What is true, however, is that in African-American culture, the ability to play basketball is highly valued. Haven’t we all heard that first lady Michelle Obama’s brother Craig Robinson only co-signed President Obama after testing his mettle on the court? Both Robinson and Obama are Ivy League men but, yet, the game of basketball holds an allure that trumps all of that. In many ways, it’s the equalizer of African-American men especially, bringing them together across class lines. In the end, African-Americans excel in the NBA because they are better.

A great white American player has never had any problems getting into the NBA. Historically, the same hasn’t been true for black players. Shame on ESPN for advancing this racial agenda. In this proclaimed post-racial America, the only thing keeping Kyle McAlarney and other players like him out of the NBA is their lack of game.