Opinion: Columnists

Gregory Kane: Nothing says NBA must be all-black

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By the time this column runs on June 17, the National Basketball Association championship series will be almost over.

So what better time to reflect on what might have been the oddest NBA story of the 2012-2013 season: the Minnesota Timberwolves having the whitest team in the league.

During the season, the Timberwolves' 15-man roster had 10 white players, an anomaly in a league where, according to a story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "American-born black players constituted 78 percent of roster spots last season (2011-2012) and have been at least 75 percent since 1991-1992."

The predominantly white Timberwolves roster didn't sit well with some blacks, who've come to expect some kind of entitlement to a predominantly black NBA.

Tyrone Terrell, the chairman of the African American leadership council in St. Paul, Minn., is one of those that doesn't think the Timberwolves' roster passes the smell test.

"How did we get a roster that resembles the 1955 Lakers?" Terrell asked. "I think everything is a strategy. Nothing happens by happenstance."

The strategy, Terrell believes, is for Timberwolves management to cobble together a white roster to appeal to white Timberwolves fans. David Kahn, president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves, denied the accusation.

Instead, Kahn said, Timberwolves talent scouts scoured the globe, not just America's black communities, and looked for the best basketball talent out there. The result?

That predominantly white, 2012-2013 Timberwolves roster.

Yes, basketball is now an international sport, not just an American sport. And there are players of all races more than capable of playing the sport. The Tyrone Terrells of the world had better get used to that idea.

I don't know where Terrell was in 2002, when the world basketball championships were played. But an American team - predominantly black, apparently the way Terrell prefers them - lost to teams from Argentina, Montenegro, Serbia and Spain to finish in only sixth place.

Those teams had some very talented white guys handing our American guys their heads, thank you very much, Mr. Terrell.

In 2004, we sent another one of Terrell's favorite American teams - the predominantly black ones - to the Olympics in Athens, Greece. The results were only a little better.

Our guys managed a bronze medal, which they might have been lucky to get. The Italian team - all white guys - got the silver. Another bunch of white guys from Argentina won the gold.

During the Olympic tournament, the Americans took a 92-73 drubbing from Puerto Rico. They also lost to Argentina and Lithuania, another team brimming with white guys.

All this should send a clear message to Terrell: There are white guys that can play basketball, and they might be coming to an American NBA team near you.

Just what inspired this sense of entitlement blacks like Terrell feel about a predominantly black NBA? We'll have to go back to March 19, 1966 for the answer.

The scene was Cole Field House in the University of Maryland College Park campus. The occasion was the NCAA men's basketball championship game.

The contestants were the University of Kentucky - with nary a black player on the squad, much less one in he starting lineup - and the team from what was then Texas Western College, now the University of Texas at El Paso.

Texas Western head coach Don Haskins made what was considered a bold move in 1966: he started five black players. They beat Kentucky to win the NCAA title.

Since then, there's been a feeling among some black Americans that basketball is "our" sport. It wasn't long after that black players became the majority on most NBA rosters, and in the league.

The NBA became so black that, today, guys like Terrell feel that a black NBA is the natural order of things. It isn't. And Terrell had better get used to that idea.

GREGORY KANE, Washington Examiner Columnist is Pulitzer nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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