Amidst all the hagiography surrounding the death of Red Auerbach these past couple days, there's one fact that no matter how much it's said (and it hasn't been said very much) really seems to be underplayed.
We all know the story of how Branch Rickey broke the baseball color barrier by hiring Jackie Robinson. There's been at least two movies made about it that I can think of off the top of my head, and I bet you'd be hard-pressed ot find a high-school history book that doesn't mention it.
But Red did so much more than that. Red hired the first black basektball player, fielded the first-ever all-black starting five, and hired the first black head coach. On top of that, he did this all in Boston, a town which hasn't exactly had the best history in terms of race relations. Baseball currently is about 17% black (the figure drops to 8% if you're only counting American-born) while basketball is roughly 77% black.
So why is it that a sport which has only a tiny fraction of black players still celebrates at every turn the breaking of their color barrier, while a sport that is overwhelmingly populated by black players makes almost no mention of when and where their color barrier was broken?
I've been pondering this quite a bit lately, but I can't seem to figure it out. Could it be that baseball is still "America's game" and as such, it's a bigger deal? Or could it be due to the fact that basketball has come to be seen as a "black" sport, so breaking the color barrier there doesn't seem as momentous?
What do you think?