People who like to argue for inherent differences between the races (i.e., people who can be referred to with the shorthand of “racists”) love to point to sports as undeniable proof of fundamental differences between white and black people. This is important to racists because, if they can prove that blacks are fundamentally and inherently different at basketball, they can then argue that they are fundamentally different in other areas more dear to the racist heart. Such as intelligence.
For instance, take the above photo. You may recognize them as the team currently on its way to the NCAA championship as of this writing, and you may recognize their coach as the man who is worse than Hitler. Anyway, note that the team is 25% white and 75% black. A team like this recruits from the entire country for their “one and done” system, of course. This is more lopsided even than the NCAA’s official statistics from a few years ago, stating that African-Americans make up 57.2% of Division 1 men’s basketball players, whereas whites make up 29.4%. (Keep in mind that many Division 1 schools are far less competitive than UK and compared to them, practically field guys right off the street.) However, blacks make up 13% of the population of America. “Outsized representation” doesn’t even begin to describe it. At the college level, African-Americans are just destroying their white competition in general.
So that’s all she wrote, correct? It’s a slam dunk, if you can forgive the pun. Whites and blacks are fundamentally different.
Well, here’s the thing. I haven’t mentioned pro ball yet.
This… starts to get a bit more complicated.
African-Americans still make a plurality, sure, including our oft-injured friend Mr. Rose there at the bottom. But they represent just 50% of the current Chicago Bulls roster, a team that made the playoffs. White boys make up the other 50%. What gives? Maybe the Bulls have yet another racist owner?
Things start to make more sense if you look at the white guys’ last names. Two of them have names clearly from Europe. This is an increasing trend in the NBA — their official site notes how Europe is by far the biggest international pipeline for the NBA. Those guys are just as melanin-challenged as I am. And while I’m no geography major, I’m fairly sure that Eastern Europe is a long way from subsaharan Africa. And their absence from the NCAA rosters makes sense, as they go through an entirely different path to the NBA.
The reason for the racial composition for basketball is simple. People play what they played in their youth, and many young Europeans sure as shit love basketball (even if soccer is forever #1 overall). If you want to know the future of a sport in X country, look to see what their youths and high schoolers are playing.
Here in NYC, street ball remains a big pastime, reflecting the importance it has in the black community. Baseball, on the other hand, has fallen out of favor with black youths, being played instead these days by two major constituencies of young people: poor whites, especially in the South, who (uniquely among American sports) often skip college entirely and go straight into the minors, as baseball players have for untold generations; and Hispanics, especially from the Caribbean. It’s no wonder that the typical MLB lineup reflects this — and the incredible ethnic diversity among Carribean Hispanics shreds to mincemeat any racist, essentialist explanation. Youth and school hockey, on the other hand, remains played primarily by whites from America, Canada, Europe and Russia, and therefore your average NHL club looks about as racially diverse as a Republican convention. The elite of soccer, of course, follow no easy trends as they represent just about the entire planet. And so forth.
In other words, it’s cultural after all.
I’m not saying that genes do not play a role in athletics, and I’m not saying that clusters of certain traits do not exist — Kenyans of a specific lineage basically own long-distance running. But that doesn’t say anything about runners from Nigeria or Botswana. And the most elite basketball players of the NCAA have great genes for that sport (it’s good to be tall no matter what your skin color), but more importantly, they spent their entire youths practicing their craft and preparing them for this moment. The latter is far more important in predicting success in their sports career. How many possible LeBrons are instead wasting their youth on the couch playing Halo?