Monday, October 30, 2006

R.I.P. Red Auerbach

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?

1 comment:

Lars said...

My guess is that it has a lot to do with basketball being a "black" sport. Toward the end of last college season, there was talk about the (return) of the "great white player" with Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick. If basketball "becomes" white again, I wonder if this would change.

The thing is, wouldn't a black sport, if such thing were real, be more inclined to mark its own history?

I wonder if it has something to do with television. I don't know, but if baseball was something that was televised more than basketball, then maybe seeing blacks on TV (which, from what I can tell, wasn't too common back in the late 40s and 50s) made Jackie Robinson much more noticable than.... than who? I don't even know the first black pro player.

Black or white or something else, I'm stating here that UNC wins the NCAA championship this year.