Dare to Ask: White guys a liability on basketball
By Phillip Milano
The Florida Times-Union
I started at guard in high school and got offered a scholarship. Now when I
play basketball at a gym and there are mostly black players, I can't get the
ball passed to me because I am white. Why is that?
John, Jacksonville, N.C.
You suck. The only time you get the ball is when you're open, because most of
you guys can shoot.
Chris, 17, Matteson, Ill.
If I had a guy who could consistently drop threes and help the team, I
wouldn't care if he was green.
Timand, black, Miami
White guys are a liability on the court. You have to try and showcase your
Jason, 23, black, Chicago
A lot of black men come from backgrounds that have imbued them with a
deep-seated hatred of white men.
C., 41, white, Wyoming
In America ... people of color have been left behind to earn everything and
then receive a perk later from it. The basketball court is many times the only
guaranteed controlled space for a black man, and therefore he will only respect
you there if you earn it as he had to.
Sharell, 21, black, Summit Argo, Ill.
Let's slowly (but with excellent outside range) walk through the stereotypes
as described by Reuben May, a Texas A&M sociologist who studied boys high school
basketball and wrote "Living through the Hoop: High School Basketball, Race, and
the American Dream." They are: Black players are faster, white dudes don't
elevate, blacks are more athletic and whites play a team-aspect game while
blacks are all about taking it right to you.
Ingrained perceptions about those stereotypes -- especially the latter ones
-- mean it can be a bummer on-court for a white guy trying to fit in with a
bunch of black players, said May, currently a fellow at Harvard.
"It's a cultural thing," said May, who is black. "They can be preoccupied
with showmanship and reluctant to share the ball, and so there is less fluid
In their defense, they often grow up hearing a lot about one-on-one NBA
"matchups," and also may feel that because they're black, they must own the
court, he said.
Here's what white-guy John needs to do:
"If he gets the ball and passes it, he's suggesting he wants to just be part
of a whole. But if he gets it and says 'I'm going to take this guy,' he'll be
more accepted. Impose yourself on the context. He needs to be like them and not
be a team player. As a guard, he was likely appreciated for managing the ball
well and taking good shots. That crap doesn't fly in pickup. Can you outdo the
guy guarding you?"
If he can, preconceptions about his abilities will melt.
"He'll be accepted," May said. "Now, they might still incorporate some
stereotype into their talk, like 'Yeah that's my white friend, but he can
And the showy guys (black or white) who make it to college teams and the NBA?
They quickly add team play to their show -- or they won't get minutes, May
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Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
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