As the NBA season tips off this week, there are plenty of questions to be answered. Can LeBron James and the Miami Heat repeat as champions? Will the revamped Lakers rise again in the West? Will the Milwaukee Bucks actually enjoy a winning season? And why aren't there more black guys on the Minnesota Timberwolves?
Actually, no one would be asking that last question were it not for an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (written by two non-sports reporters) this week quoting self-appointed African-American "Community Leaders" accusing the team of stockpiling white players to appeal to its white fan base:
Tyrone Terrell--chairman of the Saint Paul African American Leadership Council--is quoted as saying "How did we get a roster that resembles the 1955 Lakers?"--a reference to the early days of the NBA, when the number of black players was limited by an "unspoken quota" among franchise owners. I find it interesting that Terrell chose the '55 Lakers (who played in Minneapolis, where there actually are lakes--as opposed to Los Angeles) because that roster featured Clyde Lovellette, Vern Mikkelsen, Slater Martin and George Mikan--four members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. But their talent doesn't matter to folks like Terrell.
Timberwolves officials point out that they tried to sign a number of African American free agents over the off-season--but those players chose other franchises--leaving them to sign Andrei Kirilenko, Chase Budinger, Alexy Shved and former Badger Greg Stiemsma. Leaving them with five blacks on a roster of 15 players.
What is not included in the article--and is never addressed when this topic comes up--is: How many black players are "enough"? Should the entire roster be African Americans? Would that guarantee and NBA Championship? Would "Community Leaders" like Terrell be satisfied with the NBA average of 75% African Americans? Is half the roster a "fair" number? Or should the team accurately reflect the population as a whole? Meaning the T-Wolves will have to actually cut two of their black players to get to the 13% "quota" and they would have to sign a couple of Hispanic players and an Asian guy. (Or more accurately, they would have to sign 8 female players as well--but we won't go there this time around).
Ironically, with players from Russia, Montenegro, Spain and Puerto Rico--along with black and white Americans--the Timberwolves will be one of the most multi-cultural teams in the NBA this season. Of course, if all you care about is the color of their skin, you won't be able to tell that when watching the games.