Here's The Real Reason The NBA Is Losing Fans
No one wants to acknowledge why
the NBA is losing popularity. Buzz Bissinger on why white fans have
trouble getting excited about African-American athletes.
My editor thinks I should write something about professional
basketball. The timing is certainly right—the National Basketball
Association’s All-Star extravaganza starts today in Los Angeles,
culminating in the All-Star game on Sunday night.
The problem is, I don’t really know what to say about the NBA other than I almost never watch it anymore.
I am not a basketball junkie and I have no desire to be one. There are maybe three players I would pay to watch. The first is LeBron James of the Miami Heat, because whatever you think, and I think a lot less after his free-agency melodrama
despite writing a book with him, he is the best athlete in the world
today. The second is Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, and the
third is Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The game is in trouble and I don’t think there is much dispute about
that. Attendance was down last year and is slightly down so far this
season. Although basketball is supposed to be a team game, it has become
more one-on-one in the NBA than a boxing match. The style has changed
and it is a definite turnoff.
But a major problem with the NBA, one that is virtually never spoken
about honestly, is the issue of race. I have no hard-core evidence. But
based on my past experience in writing about sports, I know that
whites ascribe very different characteristics to black athletes than
they do white ones. I also make a habit of asking every white sports
fan I know whether they watch the NBA. In virtually every instance,
they say they once watched the game but no longer do. When I ask them
if it has anything to do with the racial composition, they do their
best to look indignant. But my guess is they felt very differently
about the game when Larry Bird and John Stockton were playing.
Based on various statistics, the percentage of African-American
players in the NBA has remained relatively constant over the past
decade, fluctuating between 72 and 75 percent. The number of
foreign-born players has increased exponentially to about 18 percent.
The number of white American players, meanwhile, has decreased from 24.3
percent in the 1980-81 season to roughly 10 percent now.
The one white American player today who comes the closest to being a
star is Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He is averaging 21
points a game and 15 rebounds. He is on the West roster in the All-Star
Game. Do you know anyone who would pay to see Love play?
It boils down to this: Are whites losing interest in a game in which
the number of white American players not only continues to dwindle, but
no longer features a superstar?
The National Football League is majority African American. Since the
game is predicated on brute strength that is impossible to fake, there
is rarely any grumbling that African-American athletes are not trying
hard enough. And the marquee position—quarterback—is still the domain of
whites. The greatest superstars of the game—Peyton Manning, Tom Brady,
and now Aaron Rodgers—are all white, and it gives white fans a greater
sense of identification. The stigma of the African-American
quarterback—that he will never have the intelligence to read defenses
and make instant adjustments no matter how quick his release or how far
he throws—still very much exists. Which is why Donovan McNabb, the
greatest quarterback in Philadelphia Eagles history, is inexplicably loathed
by thousands of fans for what they perceived as poor judgment and
inconsistency--despite leading the Eagles to one Super Bowl and five
conference championships in 11 years.
Major League Baseball is only 9 percent African American. The number
of Latino players from Central America is skyrocketing, but there are
white stars at every position. Once again, the identification factor.
I don’t think talking about any of this makes me a racist. I believe
it makes me a realist. White fans want white superstars, or in the case
of the NBA, at least one white American superstar. Unless the ghosts
of Bird and John Havlicek and Jerry West return to the floor, that
isn’t going to happen. And since it isn’t going to happen, the NBA will
continue to struggle with an identity crisis that no one wants to
Nor is there any way to change the reality since black players are
better, stronger, faster, and have more basketball intelligence than any
of their white counterparts. If anything, the percentage of white
American players will continue to fall. The league is not going to move
to the absurdity of a quota system. So maybe the best thing for whites
to do, including myself, is accept the fact there will be no white
hope, drop the work-ethic fallacy, and revel in a game that is embedded
more than ever with beauty and grace and strength and acrobatics.
Edited by SamoneLenior - Apr 28 2014 at 3:48pm