View Full Version : The Euro Invasion
06-29-2002, 02:22 PM
Basketball is evolving. The importation of highly talented players from Europe and around the world with different skill strenghts and different styles of play has the potential to rejuenate the NBA. This is the way organisms evolve--taking in new elements and melding them with the old, resulting in an organism with different attributes.
Listening to the draft the other night, however, several of the comments that Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley made about the drafting of Europeans being a 'wake-up call' for Amercian basketball players had an odd ring to me.
Their comments often had the feel of a warning..that the importing of talent from around the world was somehow a negative thing, particularly for young African-American ballplayers. Somehow this perspective had an oddly racist ring to it.
So it really wasn't that surprising to see a 'journalist' like the NYTimes' Rhoden take things a step further and suggest that the importation of such talent was in fact racially motivated.
The DMN's Blackistone, while not the most original sportswriter around, at least didn't go so far as to suggest that NBA teams' search for talent was racially motivated, but instead that American basketball players would do well to adapt to the prevailing trend. For once, at least, I have to tip my hat to him.
(Articles to follow)
06-29-2002, 02:25 PM
Trend Should Also Be a Warning
By WILLIAM C. RHODEN/NYTimes (bleck, bleck, bleck)
I'm all for progress and evolution, but this talk about a European explosion in the N.B.A. and that Europe has supplanted the United States as the hotbed of pro basketball is specious at best and devious in its darkest inferences.
The European influence may be on the rise but not because players in the United States can't hit an outside shot. There seems to be a taste for a new flavor.
This season, sportswriters heralded the success of the Mavericks and Kings as models of the rise of European basketball.Fifteen of the 17 foreign-born players drafted on Wednesday are from Europe.
All of a sudden critics say that young, elite players in the United States — the majority of whom are black — can't hit the outside shot. Suddenly our kids are not fundamentally sound. This is silly.
If our secondary education system in the inner city was as efficient in producing students as it was in producing athletes, we would be the world leader in education.
But there's another agenda here that could lead to a fairly drastic change in the N.B.A.'s current racial balance. This season, Jerry Reynolds, the director of player personnel for the Kings, heralded the rise of European players. He talked about the lack of fundamental skills of young players in this country and derided the myth of the street edge of the inner-city player. Who was tougher, he asked, than a kid who comes over here from a war-torn Eastern European country?
Reynolds grew up in French Lick, Ind., Larry Bird's hometown. I'd like to see him spend a few years in the Bedford-Stuyvesants of the world, negotiating the perils of the inner city — gangs, drugs, police — while playing basketball full time and trying to be a diligent student.
Outside shooting is not what made us rave about Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu. We liked the way they balled. They played a style that was a departure from what we've come to expect from Europeans. More than that, we liked their body language — no fear, no intimidation. They played the game associated with urban U.S.A.
Once upon a time, the greatest compliment you could pay — or thought you could pay — to a European player was that he played "like a brother." I'm not making this up. This extended to white players as well. Case in point, Jason Williams, a k a White Chocolate.
Sportswriters made a big deal of Williams because he was incongruent, a young white kid who embraced a style associated with the inner city: flashy, slicing, bold. That was the source of his value.
More than one sportswriter praised Dirk Nowitzki and Turkoglu, saying they played as if they had grown up in the so-called 'hood. What they did was grow up studying the masters of this particular industry.
The deeper truth is that the basketball developmental system in the United States is flawed, but not because of players who don't pick-and-roll. It produces players — and parents — with blinders on. They can go to their left, change directions on a dime, but they can't see the forest for the trees. In this case, the tree is the N.B.A., the forest is globalization.
The draft was not a quirk. The landscape of the league is changing and the young athletes ignore it — and history — at their peril. Before the Kentucky Derby, we touted the fact that it was the 100th anniversary of the last African-American jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. His name was Jimmy Winkfield.
The question not asked was why Winkfield was the last. Black jockeys, trainers and grooms were the cornerstone of racing beginning with quarter-horse racing in the late 17th century and extending through the thoroughbred racing boom of the 1800's.
Suddenly the black jockeys and trainers were gone. Not because they got too big or stopped liking horses. They were chased out as the industry expanded and the position of jockeys became exalted. Large segments of the talent pool left in the exodus from the South because of violence against blacks. Racetrack owners stopped hiring them as apprentices, fellow riders ganged up on them and many were simply not re-licensed.
There are similar stories in baseball and professional football. Kenny Smith, an analyst for Turner Broadcasting, called this draft a wake-up call for players in the United States. I call it a hint to the wise. Something deeper and more complex than "poor fundamentals" is at play here and young N.B.A. players had better check it out. If they don't, in a couple of decades we'll be talking about Michael Jordan the way we talk about Jimmy Winkfield.
06-29-2002, 02:27 PM
Race in NBA is a talker
Running overseas for talent can be viewed as color commentary
Blackistone/Dallas Morning News
On the eve of this year's Kentucky Derby, a small group of observers commemorated something unseen in the Run for the Roses in 100 years. They recalled that in 1902 a man named Jimmy Winkfield rode a colt named Alan-a-Dale first across the finish line.
Winkfield was the last black jockey to win the Derby. More startling: Only two black jockeys have ridden in the Derby since then, the last being Lone Star Park veteran Marlon St. Julien just two springs ago.
Black jockeys once dominated horse racing, sort of like black basketball players today dominate the NBA. Fourteen of the 15 jockeys in the inaugural Derby were black. Of the first 28 Derbys, Winkfield was the 15th black winner.
As horse racing grew in popularity, so did pay, which increased competition for mounts from white jockeys. Anti-gambling campaigns shut down countless tracks, reducing riding opportunities even further. Then came the influence of the Ku Klux Klan on what was at the time a sport heavily concentrated in the Klan's territory, the South.
The black jockey was gone.
The story popped to mind the other day after seeing the results of the 2002 NBA draft. The story of the black jockey is, I think, a cautionary tale for black youngsters, their parents and those who have their ear, who believe so strongly that a pro basketball career is there for them to assume.
It may seem absurd to wonder whether the black pro basketball player can become like the black jockey, or Jewish or Italian boxer, virtually a museum piece. After all, the NBA is predominantly black. Major college basketball is predominantly black. The only high school kids we hear about turning pro are black.
But the other day, a record number of international players, most born in Europe, were selected in the draft – 17 in all.
"This is a wake-up call," said TNT basketball analyst and former NBA standout Kenny Smith.
Just two Junes ago, NBA teams picked 14 foreigners.
To hear most NBA executives and coaches explain the trend, it is due in part to their search for more athletic big men. They find fewer within these shores, they say. Some NBA bosses also add that players overseas are more malleable than their American counterparts.
Whatever the reason, the truth is this: the employment of foreigners in the NBA is going up; someone else's is going down.
As Mavericks assistant Donnie Nelson, who has been at the helm of this drive to cull talent overseas, put it: "We're redefining what a successful basketball player is. Right now, the job description lends itself more to the international players. We're going to have a period in which guys ingrained in the one-on-one will have to learn the new game."
Guess who those guys are?
This development also comes on the heels of changes in the college ranks, which long has served as a sort of NBA development league. Slowly over the years, college officials have raised the bar for who can qualify for an athletic scholarship. As a result, the percentage of black college athletes, as tracked by organizations such as the Center for Sport in Society at Northeastern University, has slipped in recent years. Black high school kids are more likely to come from school systems and environments that stand as great challenges to learning.
This is not, however, bad news. There is nothing unethical or immoral going on here as black jockeys faced when the jockey licensing body refused to certify them. The NBA ought to be open to all. Meritocracy should rule.
But all those black teenaged boys who think they'll make it in the pros – 66 percent, according to a late '90s survey by Northeastern's Center for Sport, or twice the proportion of white teen boys – need to, as they say today, recognize. So, too, do their parents, who the Northeastern survey showed were four times as likely as white parents to think their kids will become pro athletes.
The guys those kids and their parents idolize are a select few who, while still predominant, are becoming fewer. They all won't be able to make it, and making it already is a rarity.
That will, no doubt, be hard for many of them to believe after watching black underclassmen and high school seniors in fine suits walk to the podium to accept David Stern's handshake guaranteeing them millions of dollars. But I bet Jimmy Winkfield couldn't have been convinced way back when that his lot would become an endangered species, either.
06-29-2002, 07:23 PM
Blackistone carries no credibility. He is a bigger racist than anyone he writes about. His articles are worth little more than bird cage filler...and even that should insult the bird.
06-30-2002, 12:33 PM
<< Once upon a time, the greatest compliment you could pay — or thought you could pay — to a European player was that he played "like a brother." I'm not making this up. This extended to white players as well. Case in point, Jason Williams, a k a White Chocolate.
Sportswriters made a big deal of Williams because he was incongruent, a young white kid who embraced a style associated with the inner city: flashy, slicing, bold. That was the source of his value. >>
Of course, this statement is the source of the entire problem.
Jason Williams is the ultimate example of the NBA as "Style Over Substance". Who cares if you lose by 10 if you get your highlite on Sportscenter? ESPN shows Jason Williams' behind the back pass but not his seven turnovers. Memphis traded a superior player for Williams solely because he was flashy and could sell tickets.
Jason Williams, a white basketball player, is the best example for everything that is wrong with the NBA.
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