The double whammy of the George Zimmerman verdict and the release of Fruitvale (I ain’t calling it by the new name, Fruitvale Station, because that’s filmmakers bending to Hollywood studio pressure. Forget that! The movie was conceived as Fruitvale, it was still named Frutivale at Sundance last year — I will call it Fruitvale) has once again shone light on the degree to which black men are discriminated against in America.
And so I began to think about how basketball, or more specifically, the basketball court, represents the bizarro world America.
Bizarro world, if you are unfamiliar (meaning you’re not a geek), refers to an alternate universe set inside DC Comics’ universe. In Bizarro world, everything is flipped turned upside down.
So basketball in America, at all levels, from the NBA on down to high school squads, is flipped from normal America, for that is the place where black privilege exists, and whites and, to a worse degree, Asians are racially profiled.
“If Larry Bird was white, he’d just be another player,” said Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas in the late 80s.
“If Jeremy Lin was black, he wouldn’t be getting any attention,” said Floyd Mayweather last year.
Rodman, Zeke, and Mayweather were all wrong, though to varying degrees (Mayweather could at least make a case, whereas Thomas and Rodman must have been on crack if they truly believed that Bird was only special because of his skin color). And the disdain the three displayed was borderline disgusting.
White players have always had to work harder to earn respect in the NBA. Dirk Nowitzki was dismissed as soft by many players all the way up until 2011, when he whupped LeBron James in a head to head showdown for the heavyweight championship of the world. Nevermind that Dirk has lit up Kevin Garnett in a 2002 playoff series or that he’s led a team to 50 plus wins for 11 seasons, he’s white, so he was soft!
Nash’s two MVPs are routinely picked apart, with many claiming he only won them because he was white, even though he transformed a 30 win team to a 60 win team in one offseason, and even though the year after, he still won 50+ despite losing his second and third best teammate from the year prior. Nash is also in the elite 90-50-40 club four times, two more than anyone else in the history of basketball. But yet, his MVP candidacy remains a joke to many…because he’s white.
This isn’t all in the L, on TV. This happens in life too. My life, specifically.
Last year, in New York, every time I played as the only Asian on the court — meaning everyone else on the court was black or white — I was assumed to be the worst player. Whenever I was one of two options on a three on one fast break, I already knew I wasn’t going to get the pass — unless, the other option is also a Chinese guy. At which point the black or white guy leading the break would probably not pass take it all the way.
My homie Marvin and I, we have two favorite basketball memories. The first is the time we and a few other Asian high school friends completely destroyed a team of black, white, and Mexican guys. Believe me when I say this: we’re proud because we could hear the snickers under their breath before the game that night — they thought they were on route for an easy win not because who they were, but because who we were.
Our second favorite memory is from Riverside intramural basketball league. We and a group of Asian friends played a black team, and yes, just like the first scenario, our opponents didn’t take us seriously to start the game. They were goofing around. We kept our mouthes shut and just balled.
They did beat us, but the game was close. And sometime in the second half, when they stopped snickering and played harder defense, I remember thinking to myself “I think we might have earned these guys’ respect.”
We did. After the game, they approached us to shake our hands and say “hey good playing, y’all.”
There’s a pecking order in skin-color-profiling in basketball. It’s blacks > whites > Mexicans > Asians.
Marvin, myself, Jeremy Lin a few years ago, and every other Chinese male out there who loves basketball — we’ve all felt it. We know that feeling.
Basketball. Bizarro America.