Pandering To Race In The NBA

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The NBA has yet another racial controversy on it hands with the announcement that Atlanta Hawks principal owner Bruce Levenson had sent a racially insensitive email to Hawks team officials. The email referred to the demographics of team’s season ticket holders and how white fans were possibly alienated by an overwhelmingly black presence at the games. His remarks were clinical in  its stereotypical assumptions of how black Hawks fans were hurting his business.

What the email represents  is the fine line the NBA has navigated for years – completely capturing the black  sports consumer market while constantly trying to secure a stronger foothold  with other racial groups. Ethnicity and sports are intertwined yet we try to ignore it at all costs. Soccer and Lacrosse have  their demographic. Football and Basketball has theirs and the sports are marketed accordingly.

Racial pandering in order to increase ticket sales and merchandising revenue is not new to professional sports. The Brooklyn Dodgers’ decision to bring Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues was as much a financial consideration as a moral one. Negro League teams based in New York, The Black Yankees and the Cubans, had great attendance figures prior to 1947. Robinson’s addition set the Dodgers on a meteoric financial trajectory as a franchise, becoming for many non whites the baseball team to follow. It’s important to remember the Dodgers sought out a black player generally at first and settled upon Robinson as its choice. Similarly, the Los Angeles Dodgers were struggling to attract Latino fans in the late 1970’s. The search for a Mexican star ended up with Fernando Valenzuela taking Los Angeles by storm in 1981.

Boxing has long pandered itself to ethnic sympathies. Who can could forget “Irish” Mickey Ward or the mythical “Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa?