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How I Came to Love White NBA Players…

September 5, 2009

Its  not really a conscious thing.  I’m not going to the TV and turning on a basketball game to choose which white player I like.  Its not even that I like that many caucasian players.  But somehow, someway, my top 3 NBA players of all time happen to be white.

Lets trace this back to the beginning.  My first experience as a kid with some semblance of what the NBA was and some confidence in my ability to navigate the game, read the stats, and critique the play was in the fall of 1988. The Lakers were the local team and their first round draft pick was the Serbian 19-year old Vlade Divac.  He was like a child coming into a new surrounding.  He didn’t speak the language, wasn’t use to the physicality, and was carrying the weight of an entire continent as he attempted to become the first successful star to translate his game.  He was already an icon in his native Yugoslavia (his wedding in the early 90s was broadcast live on Yugoslavian television).  Under the wing of Magic Johnson he flourished into a player that was exciting, fun, and easy to cheer for.  He was a good guy.  He was as skilled a center as there was in the league.  All of this was enough to make me a fan but when I met him in the summer of 1999 and just talked to him for a few brief minutes, that was it.  He was going to be my first favorite NBA player.

I followed his career through his trials and tribulations with the Lakers.  I endured the verbal jabs at him when he was traded for Kobe.  I watched him fade into obscurity in Charlotte and was disheartened as I couldn’t see any of his regular season games.  In 1998, however, he returned with thunder a he signed a six-year contract with the retooled Sacramento Kings.  I was a Vlade fan first, then a Kings fan 2nd.

That same year, the Kings drafted a point guard out of the University of Florida named Jason Williams (J-Will).  His original nickname of White Chocolate (which did not stick due to obvious racial stereotypes) was easily the most accurate nickname of the time.  People who were used to n0-flash white point guards like John Stockton were in for a treat.  J-Will was flashy and fun and dangerous all rolled into one.  When he came down the court, heads were on a swivel because no one knew when or where he was going to throw the ball.  Was it behind the back to a back door cutting Chris Webber or a cross-court pass that was to hot to handle and ended up with the fan in the 5th row?  No one knew and that made it more exciting.  Kings basketball was an event, entertaining, what sports illustrated called “The Greatest Show on Court”.  Vlade was my favorite.  J-Will was my second.

After three amazingly fun years in Sacramento, the Kings sent J-Will packing to the lowly Vancuver Grizzlies for Mike Bibby.  Bibby was the safer player.  Probably a more playoff-type point guard.  The Kings went on to any great years including multiple trips to the conference finals with him and I was still a fan.  However, my loyalties were split and, thanks to the NBA League pass, I was able to follow both Vlade and J-Will.

Vlade played out his contract with the Kings and Divac is one of four players in NBA history to record 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocked shots, along with Kareem Abdul-JabbarKevin Garnett and Hakeem Olajuwon.  More than that, he was named NBA’s citizen of the year multiple times and runs the Divac Children’s foundation which helps refugeed children in his native Serbia.  His jersey was retired by the Kings earlier this season and I was lucky enough to be in attendance with my brother and two of my good friends.  He will always remain as my favorite player of all time.

In 1999 J-Will was headed to Vancouver.  He still had the flash, but now he was the leader expected to put butts in the seats for a failing vancouver franchise and help to turn their losing program around.  Before he played his first  game, the Grizzlies traded their franchise player Shareef-Abdur Rahim to the Atlanta Hawks for number four overall draft pick Pau Gasol from Barcelona, Spain (he happened to be white).  This young, unproven player was now dubbed the future of the franchise and he and J-Will were given the job of getting the Grizzlies to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Once again, with thanks to the NBA League Pass, I was able to watch every game these two played together.  Enjoying their maturity as individuals and as teammates.  After two seasons and a franchise move from Vancouver to Memphis, the Grizzlies had made the playoffs and would for three consecutive years,the only playoff years that franchise has ever know (and possibly will ever know).  Pau became an all-star, J-Will became a leader.  They played four seasons together and combined for dozens of highlight-reel alley-oops.

As stated before, this was the Grizzlies so you could sense that the success would not have a very long shelf life.  After the 2004-2005 season, J-Will was traded to the Miami Heat.  This presented a large problem for me because I had no interest in cheering for the Heat especially since they had acquired my least favorite player in NBA history, Shaq.  But thank God for TIVO.  I was able to record the games and only watch the parts where J-Will was playing.  That year the Heat won the NBA title and Williams was a key to their Miami’s success.  He played one more year before reitiring due to knee problems.  However, after signing with the Orlando Magic, he’s baaack.

Gasol stayed in Memphis for two more years, now clearly my favorite player to watch in the NBA.  In their most successful season, every Grizzlies possession went through Gasol.  He averaged 20 points , 10 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2 blocks while shooting 54% from the field.  In their infinite wisdom, the grizzlies decided that they should trade himto the Lakers for Kwame Brown and some change (actually, I think that Kwame is considered change as well, but I digress).  SInce that trade the Lakers have been to the NBA finals twice, winning one championship, and the Grizzlies have seats reserved every year for the lottery.

The loss of Gasol from Memphis is definitely my gain.  On top of that, my players that I cheer for have come full circle.  This season, just like the early 90’s, I can’t wait to cheer for a 7-foot, white center from Europe to lead my local Los Angeles Lakers to another successful and, more importantly, enjoyable season.  If you are watching the NBA finals this year and you see it hyped as Kobe vs. Vince or Kobe vs. Dwight II, take solace in knowing that in my mind it will be Pau vs. J-WIll for the championship.

Have a good night and drive home safely.

twitter.com/adayonsports

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 11, 2009 9:18 pm

    dog, and i mean dawug, thanks for keeping it real. sometimes white doods can do a thang or two. love da blog keep the hitz rollin! peace

  2. spiceboy permalink
    September 11, 2009 9:21 pm

    i’ve always been a vlade fan. several years ago i saw this car with a license plate frame that said “no vlade, no victory, know vlade, know victory.” truer words have never been spoken.

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