The NBA's Great International Hope

With the league lockout under way, there is great uncertainty about this season. Should African-American players be worried about more than their salaries?

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Dirk Nowitzki (Getty Images)

Outsiders might reasonably assume that there is enough money in professional sports to be shared amicably among players and owners. But as both the NFL and the NBA have proved this year with their respective lockouts, there's never enough cash. To quote Patrick Ewing when he was president of the NBA Players Union, "Sure, we make a lot of money, but we spend a lot, too."

A more ridiculous argument for trickle-down economics has never been made, but the owners aren't exempt from the absurdity. They expressed the same sentiments then and still do -- they're just more artfully veiled through nebulous statements of profitability and balance sheets.

For those wondering how thorough the NBA lockout, which began last Friday, is, one need only look at the snapshots of suggestively clad cheerleaders and retired superstars that have replaced images of current players on the league's websites. In accordance with the collective bargaining agreement -- or, in this case, in accordance with the lack of one -- NBA.com and its 30 individual subsites were forced to purge all images of current players.

Nobody knows when the labor dispute will be resolved and pictures of players will resurface on the league's websites. But when it happens, there will be fewer African-American faces. Slowly but surely, the league is investing more and more resources overseas to develop talent to populate its websites and rosters.

The numbers have been steadily increasing since the 1990s, and it's a calculated business decision on the part of Commissioner David Stern to globalize the game and entice not only a growing international audience but also a larger white audience here in the States.

It's no secret that there are people, including league insiders, who share the belief that the game is too black, on and off the court. Whereas Major League Baseball has a glaring absence of African-American players, the NBA, conversely, has too many in the eyes of some. This, along with a desire to increase market size and revenue, has been a catalyst to infuse the league with "others."

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It's not a nefarious plot to rid the game of black players. However, it's definitely a trend that's picking up speed and that will dramatically change the complexion and style of the game more and more in years to come. But Stern isn't stupid. He fully embraces the black superstars of the game, past and present.

Since becoming the head honcho in the mid-'80s, when the NBA was in a shambles, Stern has witnessed the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James spawn the massive popularity that his league currently enjoys. However, there was also this unassuming white guy named Larry Bird who wreaked havoc on the hardwood for years and who played a huge part in the restoration of the league.

This is the same guy who several years back said that the league needs white superstars because of its white fan base and who has also been questioned about his racial preference regarding drafting as the current president of the Indiana Pacers. But as a player during the 1980s and early '90s, Bird gave the league a semblance of counterbalance. The crafty superstar from small-town Indiana was the textbook example of the "great white hope."

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