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Black, white and shades of grey
Bill Harris laments that comments such as Larry Bird's still are being made
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

Upon hearing Larry Bird's opinion that the NBA needs more white superstars and basketball is "a black man's game and will be forever," one is reminded how just about everything in the United States is about race.

Not that there aren't racial issues in Canada. But when you live north of the border, race isn't the first thing that pops into people's heads every time an issue is raised.

Canada has its own peculiarities. One could argue that while everything in the States is about race, everything in Canada is about region. The only time Ontario, Quebec, the East and the West pause from bad-mouthing each other is when someone plants a loonie under the ice somewhere.

So we're not throwing stones, or loonies, at our neighbours to the south. However, there are significant cultural differences between the two countries.

ROUND-TABLE

Bird made his comments during an ESPN round-table discussion, where he was joined by Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. We feel silly pointing this out, but for the benefit of our younger readers, Bird -- a legendary player with the Boston Celtics -- is white.

When asked if the NBA needs more white superstars, Bird responded, "Well, I think so. (It's) good for a fan base, because, as we all know, the majority of fans are white America. If you just had a couple of white guys in there, you might get them a little excited. The greatest athletes in the world are African-American."

Bird said that when a white player was assigned to guard him, he found it "insulting and disrespectful."

It'll be interesting to see how much of a wave that last comment creates. In our politically correct world, people are far more free to insult their own race than to insult other races. The real trouble starts with the cross-referencing.

For example, there was a stir a few years ago when Wally Szczerbiak of the Minnesota Timberwolves claimed he heard the Raptors' Vince Carter say during a game, "You better get this white boy off me or I'm going to score 40." While Carter admitted he had been doing some trash-talking, he strongly denied he used the term "white."

Anyway, Bird's broader suggestion is that white people have limited interest in watching black people, and by extension, the opposite must be true, too. Again, Canada is not immune, but it's not necessarily a white-black thing here. For instance, we're sure you've heard people argue that the NHL's Canadian fan base has trouble embracing all the Europeans who have flooded the game on this continent.

Since the Raptors joined the NBA in 1995, yours truly has sensed stiff resistance to basketball from certain segments of Canadian society. To be honest, most of the resistance is based not in anti-black sentiment but in anti-American sentiment.

WIGGLE ROOM

There are some who feel a young Canadian who plays basketball is a virtual traitor because he isn't playing hockey. We like to believe our society welcomes diversity, but we don't leave a lot of wiggle room when it comes to sticks and pucks. Love it or leave, we seem to say.

I haven't heard many people argue that if the Raptors had a white superstar, they would be more popular.

However, I have heard many people argue that if the Raptors had a Canadian superstar, they would be more popular. Why is the first argument wrong, while the second argument is okay?

NO CLEAR ANSWERS

There are no clear answers to these questions. Obviously, athletics are supposed to be about competition among the best, without racial or national quotas.

One would hope that if the games are great, fans will want to watch, whether the participants are white, or black, or Canadian, or American, or European.

That's the goal, anyway. Apparently we're a long way from getting there.









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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