White LA Lakers Noticeable, Not a Problem

The Lakers stand out with five American-born white players -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

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Josh McRoberts (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Just as we can't help noticing that more than 80 percent of NBA players are black, it's impossible to be oblivious when a team can put five white players on the court. Especially white American-born players, who are outnumbered in the league by Europeans.

ESPN's J.A. Adande pointed out the obvious about the Los Angeles Lakers Lakers in a column that drew 900 comments and counting.

It figures that the topics of skin color and the NBA would attract such attention. As the late tennis great Arthur Ashe said in the 1989 NBC News special Black Athletes -- Fact and Fiction, the issue of race in sports is "a sociological red button."

But it's not a big deal to the players in the Lakers locker room. "We joke about it," said guard Steve Blake, who, along with Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy, could create an all-USA whiteout for the Lakers. "It's all fun and games."

It's no laughing matter to folks who lament the lack of white NBA players, or white halfbacks, receivers and defensive backs in the NFL. Although an operation like Caste Football is highly suspect, promoting a belief system that appears to be downright racist, the premise that many white athletes are steered away from certain sports and certain positions has some merit.

The subject is both fascinating and frightening to many. In 1997 Sports Illustrated published an in-depth piece entitled "What Ever Happened to the White Athlete?" Two years later, author Jon Entine wrote Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It.

Skin color -- inside and outside sports -- influences our subconscious thinking. It's evident in a study of NBA officiating over 13 seasons, and it's evident in numerous studies on housing and employment. But there's a huge difference between acknowledging that players come in different colors and determining the treatment of those players -- or making prejudgments about those players -- based on color.

"It's fun," McRoberts told Adande, "because I'm not much of a shooter, and everybody runs at you like you're going to just stand out there and shoot 3s." Turns out that the dunk-happy McRoberts might have the Lakers' highest vertical leap.

Who said white boys can't jump?

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