Twelve years have passed since an American-born Caucasian player started in the NBA All-Star Game. An entire generation — more realistically, two — of NBA talent has come and gone without a Great White Hoop being voted by the fans to be a starter in pro basketball’s midseason showcase. And no player fitting that demographic profile deserved to be one.
The question is: Who was the last white American to start the NBA All-Star Game?
Then, the two most immediate answers are 1) “I don’t know” and 2) “Steve Nash — oh, that’s right, he’s Canadian.”
When Sunday’s All-Star game tips off in Phoenix, the five starters representing the Eastern Conference will be Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson. The Western Conference will start Yao Ming, Tim Duncan, Amar'e Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. That is, nine African-Americans and one international player (Yao, who is from China).
And that makeup, dividing the league into African-American, international and Caucasian-American players, is about par for the course since 1998. Sunday’s All-Star Game will be the 11th straight (no All-Star Game was held in 1999) in which seven to nine of the starters were African-American and one to three starters were international.
The last white American to start the All-Star Game? When I quizzed a friend of mine, a former NBA assistant coach who is himself Caucasian, the first response was, “Chris Mullin?”
Think of the whitest NBA player you can.
“Oh! John Stockton.”
“I don’t think the typical fan differentiates between African-American players, white American players and international players,” says Dr. Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. “They see for the most part white players and black players. When they look at Tony Parker, they don’t differentiate between African-American (which he is not) or French-African (which he is).”
The point of this story is not to draw conclusions. Nor is it to be divisive. It is not to ascribe a value judgment as to the dwindling influence of white Americans on the NBA hardwood; not to lament, as so many have, the fact that Bird is gone and he ain’t comin’ back; not to take glory in the fact that the game is now played above the rim, or that the damage the Dream Team of 1992 wreaked on feckless foreigners in Barcelona was actually the catalyst for the internationals' invasion of the NBA.
No, to all of the above.
The point of the story is simply to draw attention. To hold up the NBA as a mirror to the American ideals of opportunity and diversity and to illustrate how the league itself reflects the fluid tapestry of the American demographic. Because if you believe that America has no interest in this phenomenon, then maybe you were not watching television on Inauguration Day.
Here’s a question: Who is the greatest Caucasian player born and raised on U.S. soil currently on an NBA roster? Go ahead, I’ll wait.
To narrow the field, I can tell you that 11 white players regularly start in the NBA (for the sake of clarity, from here on the term “white” will strictly denote American-born white players, while we acknowledge that three of the past four NBA Most Valuable Player awards were won by Caucasians who just happened to be from Germany [Dirk Nowitzki] or Canada [Steve Nash], whom we will call international players). Eleven starters of a possible 150 (five starters on each of the 30 teams), or 7.75 percent, are white.
Within that group of 11, one player leads in both points per game (16.2) and rebounds per game (11.8). In fact, he has accumulated more double-doubles this season (39) than anyone else in the NBA besides Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic. Howard, who just set a record for the most All-Star votes an individual player has ever received.
That player? David Lee of the New York Knicks.
Matt Bonner, who is second in the NBA in 3-point percentage at .490, starts for the San Antonio Spurs. And Luke Walton, whose father was one of two white players to win the MVP award in the past 35 years, starts for the team with the NBA’s best record, the Los Angeles Lakers. Troy Murphy of the Indiana Pacers, the only team that regularly starts two white players (Mike Dunleavy is the other), averages a double-double, too (12.6 points, 11.4 rebounds).
Meanwhile, 15 international players finished in the top 10 in balloting at their positions and four (all from the Western Conference) will suit up at U.S. Airways Arena on Sunday. Just 16-plus years since the Dream Team — whose 12-man roster was 33 percent white, ravaged the Barcelona Olympics competition — the mindset among both fans and coaches is that, all in all, international players trump white players.
Would you disagree?
Even if you were to break it down ethnically, white international players are superior to Wonder Bread whites. Would you rather have a starting five of Nash, Andre Kirilenko, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki and Zydrunas Ilgauskas or would you prefer a starting five of five American white players who, back in college, more than likely were profiled in Sports Illustrated (J.J. Redick, Adam Morrison, Wally Szczerbiak, Kevin Love and Kyle Korver ... to name a few)?
For the record, the last time a white player even appeared in an NBA All-Star Game was in 2004. I’ll give you a moment to guess his identity as well. Give up? It was Sacramento Kings center Brad Miller, whose 10 minutes of playing time were the least anyone had that afternoon in Los Angeles.
PBT: San Antonio raced out to a 25-point lead at home, pushed back on Memphis’ big third-quarter run, shut down Zach Randolph and cruised to a 105-83 win.
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