Race is always a delicate topic, but it can get particularly uncomfortable when you’re talking about it in relation to the NBA. Bringing up the fact that the most high-profile basketball league in the world is largely comprised of black players is okay. By the same token, acknowledging that there are fewer white, Asian and Latino players is also generally accepted. People have eyes. They know what’s what.
Where folks tend to run into problems, though, is when they try to understand why this is the case. When you try to analyze why there is such a racial disparity in basketball, you inevitably run into very awkward (and potentially racist) territory. And so, because of the complexity that we typically associate with this issue, most people simply opt to avoid it.
This year’s Minnesota Timberwolves are impossible to avoid.
Be it by coincidence or by design, Minnesota’s 2012-13 roster features only five black players. Yes, on a 15-man roster – there are a total of five black players. Last year, black players made up 78 percent of the NBA. When two-thirds of a team is white in a league where nearly four-fifths of the players are black, you are going to have people taking notice.
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And that’s exactly what happened in Minnesota.
According to the Star Tribune, black leaders are now questioning why the Timberwolves’ roster looks so radically different than every other roster in the league.
"How did we get a roster that resembles the 1955 Lakers?" asked Tyrone Terrell, chairman of St. Paul's African American leadership council (via the Star Tribune). "I think everything is a strategy. Nothing happens by happenstance."
What is the strategy that Terrell is referring to? Marketing to a predominantly white audience, apparently.
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When the Tribune approached David Kahn about this accusation, his response was short and sweet.
While it is admittedly impossible to say for certain what Kahn’s motivations are, the idea of a team -- in this day and age -- choosing its players on a basis of race (as opposed to their skills) seems far-fetched. Plenty of franchises in the NBA have predominantly white fan bases – to date, nobody had altered the racial makeup of their team because of it.
That said, it is impossible to look what Minnesota has done over the past year and not scratch your head. The demographics shift is puzzling. Could it be coincidental that this team shipped out all its black players and replaced them with white ones? Sure. But that would be one hell of a coincidence.
The Timberwolves will be fun to watch for a lot of reasons this year (when Kevin Love returns), and this is definitely one of those reasons. If this team is either really good or really bad, expect to hear this topic revisited quite frequently.
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