The Case of the U.S. Basketball Team vs. Racism

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To hear the media tell it, the U.S. Senior Men’s Basketball team is a bunch of whiners. They are a loosely assembled gaggle of ruffians, tattooed hoodlums, street ballers with heliocentric principles. They dunk not as a matter of function but to outwardly boast their superior skill. Their crossover and weaving footwork speaks of individual supremacy rather than practiced ingenuity. LeBron James is a capable player who can’t shoot. Kobe Bryant is a self-made, self-destructive former champion who has given up on the Team Concept to feverishly chase individual accomplishments.

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Meanwhile, the Spanish National team is a symbol of the Euro game: polished shooting, selfless team play, methodical play-making.

There’s a basketball team in Brooklyn I’d like to sell to you for a low price too.

After watching the U.S. Redeem Team dispatch of the field quickly in Pool Play and then win a hard-fought Gold medal game, I felt both relieved and vindicated. As a fan of world sports and diverse cultures, I had grown tired of the script assigned to black males in the leading role. Either they were poor sportsmen/excellent showmen or superior talents with no work ethic. It surfaces every time there is a basketball Draft day, during every broadcast and major sporting event.

Because grace and style are essential elements of basketball, pundits have separated them from how utilitarian style adaptations can be. Kobe Bryant’s fading jumpshot out of bounds is a wild shot for anyone else human. For Rudy Fernandez of Spain, a dribbling, untimed three during the medal game (made during an improbable streak for him) was an uncharacteristic make. In any other game or scenario, it would have been cause to remove him from the game. If Lebron/Kobe/Dwyane shoot the same jumper, there is music in it. The NBA rhythm is a soul machine that allowed the international game to evolve to the extent that it has. But the rhythmic lullaby founded in the Black American basketball game gets the same treatment as street art among classicists.

“It’s disorganized,” they say.

“It’s unruly and without purpose”

Wrong again. Although the NBA game has strayed from pass-heavy purity, it has often made up for that with feats of athleticism that transcend the collective. In other words, that style nucleus IS the NBA game but that’s what made it get better. Although the original Dream Team was filled with better passers, rebounders and defenders, the Redeem Team has players who have made their style integral to the winning form. John Stockton’s heir in Utah colors is Deron Williams, who may never become Stockton in his efficiency but whose skills complement the modern game more. Aside from the obvious changes in shorts length and dribble moves, Deron’s face is the world’s face. With the so-called minority population exploding all over the world, basketball is the sport of the working class as much as soccer is. And in 2020, there will be more basketball players of different races than ever before.

Which brings us back to the marvel of the Spain v. U.S. game. The Spanish team’s immature racist poses showed their utter lack of respect for other world citizens. They wrote off the pictures as “goofing” but Jason Kidd made a remark about the true implications of insulting the home country of the Olympics.

From Adrian Wojnarowski/Yahoo Sports:

“We would’ve been already thrown out of the Olympics,” he told Yahoo! Sports. “At least, we wouldn’t have been able to come back to the U.S. …There would be suspensions.”

And for his European peers, well, Kidd suggested, “They won’t do anything to them. It’s a double standard.”

Kidd made this statement without expressing bitterness or envy, but examined more closely it underscored the depth of his dismay. American players get railed for their lack of fellowship, attention to monetary advantage and uncouth behavior. The privileged legion of Spain basketball has no such problem. Pau and Marc Gasol, both NBA players, both the sons of doctors, readily shrug off their misbehavior. Boys will be boys, right? Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, has been on media watch since his scrape with state troopers in Colorado. Instead of being ungrateful, Anthony was immediately contrite and used these games to repent for his moral failings.

And this is not to say black players are sincere victims all the time or that the Spanish team doesn’t have its own sense of honor and integrity. The goal is to create competition on the largest stage, to address the broadest share of dedicated fans with quality play. Someone should inform the media of this united purpose when they largely dismiss the U.S. efforts before the games have even begun. Commercialism and individuality have affected basketball but they have not enveloped it. The Redeem Team took a stance for U.S. athleticism as it took a stance for diversity in the same game.

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