June 09, 2004

Bird on a Wire

The following exchange took place during a recently taped ESPN special, between announcer Jim Gray and Larry Bird, as Magic Johnson, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony looked on. It’s like the “If Larry Bird were black” controversy all over again- except, you know, not controversial:

Gray: "Does the NBA lack enough white superstars in your opinion?"

Bird: "Well, I think so ... I think it's good for a fan base because as we all know the majority of the fans are white America. And if you just had a couple of white guys in there, you might get them a little excited."

So maybe it was the wrong thing to say on television. But there is undoubtedly some level of truth to what he said, and all he was doing was answering Gray’s question honestly. You don’t think David Stern feels exactly the same way? If the question is, “would it be easier for the league to sell an American-born white superstar or two to their predominantly rich and white season ticket base,” the answer is “of course they would.” Because right now, as I discussed last summer, there isn’t a single such player among, probably, the 75 best players in the league.

The Bird comments may have been ill-advised, but let’s not go comparing Bird to Jimmy the Greek, Al Campanis, and Rush Limbaugh, all right? And besides, when it comes to being a white NBA superstar, no one knows the subject better than Larry Bird.

So let’s get this straight: Bird makes these comments on an ESPN broadcast. The comments are then reported- by ESPN- and the subject is the lead story on ESPN.com for nearly the entire day. They even go so far as to convene a chat session with Bill Simmons and Ralph Wiley, while all the while reminding everyone to please watch the show on ESPN Thursday night. Can you say “pseudo-event,” boys and girls?

Posted by Stephen Silver at June 9, 2004 10:29 PM
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