Are the Minnesota Timberwolves "too white" for the NBA?

A racially charged article by the Minneapolis Star Tribune is raising eyebrows this week for suggesting the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves team is not black enough.

The story, titled “Timberwolves: Pale in comparison to the rest of the NBA,” was written by Jerry Zgoda and Dennis Brackin, and points out the Wolves have only five black players on a 15-man team, or a 33 percent ratio.

Overall in 2011, the National Basketball Association featured American-born black players making up 78 percent of roster spots.

The paper calls this year’s Minnesota roster “the league’s whitest since the Boston Celtics teams of the 1980s.”

Local black leaders in the Twin Cities have noticed, according to the Star Tribune, “suggesting the franchise strategically has rolled back the calendar by decades in a league that long has been at the forefront of diversity among America’s professional sports leagues.”

“How did we get a roster that resembles the 1955 Lakers?” Tyrone Terrell, chairman of St. Paul’s African-American leadership council, told the paper. “I think everything is a strategy. Nothing happens by happenstance.”

Ron Edwards, a civil-rights advocate in Minneapolis, said he found it “somewhat disturbing” to see only one black player, Wes Johnson, on the floor as he watched a game last winter. He told the paper his sentiments grew stronger as he watched the Timberwolves roster grow even more white this offseason.

“It raises some real questions to me about what’s really intended,” Edwards said. “I think, personally, that it was calculated. Is this an attempt to get fans back in the stands? Minnesota, after all, is a pretty white state.”

He added it was a “nullification of diversity and a reversal of history.”

But David Kahn, president of basketball operations for the Wolves is crying foul, calling the suggestion of pandering to a white fan base “patently false.”

Tuesday night, comedian Conan O’Brien clowned about the team’s predominantly white players on his late-night TBS show, joking that “the owner claims it’s not a ploy to win fans – it’s a ploy to lose games.”

Brandon Roy, a three-time All-Star and Minnesota’s only expected black starter, told the paper he never noticed any racial distinction until a friend mentioned it this summer after he signed as a free agent with the team.

“It’s just basketball,” Roy said. “I never really had to feel like I’m the only black guy out here. I’ve played on teams that maybe had all black guys and the feeling is just the same when I’m out there on the floor playing with these guys.

“The only problem we have is in the weight room, arguing over what music we’re going to listen to.”

The racial makeup of the NBA has changed dramatically over the past half-century. In 1957, 93 percent of its players were white.

The paper notes the number of blacks rose in the 1960s, even though many believed there was an unspoken quota system among league owners that former Celtics great Bill Russell, the NBA’s first black head coach, once described as “you’re allowed to play two blacks at home, three on the road and five when you’re behind.”

The Star Tribune is coming under some heavy fire from its own readers for its article, as many claim it’s racist to suggest the team is either too white.

A reader with a handle of “edweasel” blasted the authors of the news report, saying, “They didn’t have a problem selling tickets when they only had three white guys and made it to the Western Conference finals in ’04. Same owner, same white fans. This isn’t the first time you’ve whined about the number of white guys on the team. Sounds like you’re trying to make a name for yourself by stirring up some controversy, because you definitely aren’t making a name for yourself with the quality of your writing.”

“With all of the talent and interesting story lines that this team has to offer, you choose to write about their race?” said “nexus612.” “Thanks for taking us back about 50 years. Like so many other basketball fans in this state, I cannot wait to see these guys take the floor.”

And David Tengbom said, “The Wolves, for the first time in years, have gone out and acquired excellent players that should help them reach the playoffs. For African-American leaders to play the ‘race’ card is ridiculous and unfortunate!”

Businesss Insider magazine has taken a look at the “white conspiracy” theory, and says there are a few problems.

“First of all, the T-Wolves sold 90.4% of their tickets last year, which ranked 14th in the league,” reports Tony Manfred of Business Insider. “Only two other non-playoff teams ranked in the top 15. And they did it with a majority black roster (8 out of 15 players). So they didn’t have an attendance problem at all.

“In addition, it’s clear that the T-Wolves think there is a market inefficiency when it comes to international players. Five players on their roster are from other countries, which is double the league average (~2.5 in 2011-12). Since international players come from predominantly European countries, developing a team with an international focus is inherently going to shift the racial makeup of your roster.

“It’s not a race conspiracy, it’s a calculated move to identify under-the-radar players that the rest of the league isn’t looking at.”

Sports is not the only venue where “not black enough” has been a theme in recent years.

In 2003, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, felt that names for hurricanes were too “lily white,” and she sought to have better representation for names reflecting African-Americans and other ethnic groups.

“All racial groups should be represented,” Lee said, according to the Hill. She hoped federal weather officials “would try to be inclusive of African-American names.”

A sampling of popular names that could be used include Keisha, Jamal and Deshawn, according to the paper.

“You know nobody’s very excited when a hurricane’s heading their way, and yet here she is demanding that hurricanes be named after black people,” said radio host Rush Limbaugh at the time.

“You know it used to be that hurricanes were named only after women because they were destructive and unpredictable. And that’s the reason. The feminists grew upset about that, demanded that hurricanes be named after men, and so now, the civil rights leaders are demanding black names for hurricanes.”

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