He gets the ball on the wing, drives the lane, stops, pops, and scores! Yes! It’s good! What beautiful ball control! An amazing shot by…insert basketball player name here. Now is the player you envisioned black? The NBA has suffered an identity crisis in recent years, from being a league carried by the likes of Magic, Bird, and MJ, to embracing the hip hop era, to now trying to clean up its image. Race has played a huge factor in viewership, image, and the thought of quality play.

The NBA has become a dominantly black league, more so than any of three biggest professional sports in the United States. I think that fact has hurt viewership in white America, and I believe that is the main reason why the league created a dress code for its players in 2005. Endorsers and white America do not want see millionaires dressed in long white tees with platinum chains down to their belly button. “If I have to dress up to go to work everyday they should to,” became the attitude amongst a lot of fans. Yet the only one at fault here is the NBA. The NBA embraced the hip hop generation, with its young and black “don’t care” attitude.

The NBA definitely suffers from the same crisis that baseball suffers from. Granted, its a crises of a different color, but its still the same issue. Whereas baseball is losing the black athlete, basketball is losing the white athlete (we touch on the issue of race in baseball in this article). Who was the last great white athlete in the NBA? Kevin Love gets love, but he may not be the one. In the 90’s and 80’s you had John Stockton, Mark Price, Larry Legend, and the list could go on. Now basketball tries its best to instate a great white hype/hope to save the league. Remember Jimmer Fredette, Adam Morrison, and J.J. Redick? Don’t feel bad if you don’t. Not a lot of people do. Why? They did not live up to the hype.

So why is the NBA losing the white athlete? Most young white athletes will say they chose other sports because they felt they could never be fast enough, jump high enough, or achieve the same level of basketball skill as their black counterparts. The stereotypical “great” basketball player is a tall black athlete, and it is this perception that turns young white athletes away from the game. When you have access to so many other sports, why would white athletes attempt basketball?

For being the most international sport out of the big three, for some reason white America never latched on to any non-American white player. For a while, the NBA tried to push Steve Nash (Canadian) down our throats. He won the MVP twice, but that just wasn’t enough. He was not American born and bred, so white America didn’t swallow. Why no love for the non-American white player, though? Simple. They are not Americans, so white America does not consider them the “right” kind of white.

I can talk all day about generalizations, stereotypes, and perceptions about the NBA, but let’s look at some hard statistics:

  Non-Hispanic White Non-Hispanic Black Non-Hispanic Asian Hispanic
Detroit 12.00% 81.00% 1.00% 4.00%
Houston 44.00% 24.00% 6.00% 29.00%
Chicago 31.00% 32.00% 5.00% 28.00%
LA 29.00% 10.00% 11.00% 49.00%
NYC 44.00% 26.00% 10.00% 26.00%
NBA 20.00% 76.00% 1.00% 3.00%

The chart shows that every city except LA has a huge black community. If you’ve been keeping up with our discussion on race in sports (baseball article here and football article here) then you will see that this is the first chart where we have two cities that are predominantly black. Every city except Detroit has a huge Hispanic community, which explains where the international influence comes from. Every year, the NBA celebrates Hispanic heritage month, and now you see why: currently, 18% of the NBA consists of foreign born players. Foreign born, not the “right” kind of white for white America.

The last identity issue of race the NBA suffers from is the thought that black athletes lack fundamentals. I admit that the NBA did go through a period when all the players could do was either dunk or shoot a three pointer. Lately, the NBA has gotten back to the fundamentals of the game and you see more triple threat positions. Every summer we hear of players working with Hakeem “The Dream” for better post up moves. The level of play has gotten better, and that stigma should disappear over time.

None of this answers the important question of: how do we get the white viewer back? Well, for starters you have to get a white star. Maybe another Hick from French Lick. Not only that, but the NBA needs to do a better job of promoting in the suburbs.

Lastly if white athletes could play against and with more black athletes the fears or perceived disadvantages will disappear.  On this one I need help being a black man all I can do is ask and suggest solutions, but if you are white and don’t watch the NBA let me know why? And how the NBA could win you back, or make you a new viewer?