Getting High

This lovely new piece from ESPN’s Page 2 examines the origins of the modern-day high five and its surprising roots in sports history. The most surprising revelation perhaps is that the celebratory hand slap is dated so recently: the late 1970s. But many other revelations abound as the writer weaves us through the genealogy of the now-ubiquitous gesture – a path that winds through the dugout of the Los Angeles Dodgers, West Hollywood’s gay scene, the ’77-’78 Louisville basketball team, and one unfortunate practical joke.

The best line naturally comes right at the end, from the five’s purported inventor, and underscores the cultural impact of this one simple hand motion:

“You think about the feeling you get when you give someone the high five. I had that feeling before everybody else.”

-Glenn Burke, former Los Angeles Dodger, first openly gay MLB player, and possible inventor of the high five

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NBA Receives “A” for Diversity. Not Bullshit: A Counterpoint

In response to Kerem’s last post, NBA Receives “A” for Diversity. Bullshit., I pose the necessary counterpoint: NBA Receives “A” for Diversity. Not Bullshit: A Counterpoint.

“Better than the other major leagues does not mean the job is done.

Asked why there have been no other female referees hired since 1997, Palmer once joked, “I guess I set the bar pretty high.”

We really could set it a lot higher.”

I get it. You think there should be more women (and people of color) within the NBA.

While I acknowledge that this issue is clearly twofold – one of gender and one of race – let me focus on the former, especially since your lens is the harshest when it comes to the lack of females in the NBA.

But why should there be more females in the NBA? Why is it so wrong that they are relatively absent? Your thesis hinges on gender equality being a moral ideal, that women simply should be in the NBA. But several other huge truths are missing from this perspective.

PART I: Hardly Any Field Has a Proportionate Number of Females

One female ref. Zero sexy refs.

One female referee. Zero female coaches.

In theory, doesn’t that just seem so wrong? Shouldn’t our country have a professional league that matches the demographics of its population? Shouldn’t our country have an anything that resembles its population?

But really, what does?

You will find gross statistic anomalies in the demographics of nearly any career field. 89 out of 541 members (16%) of Congress are women. 41 members are black (8%). 8 members are Asian or Pacific Islander (.01%). And just for fun, just one (out of 541!) member identifies as an Atheist (.002%). (God bless you, Pete Stark.) Sorry to depress you, but these numbers trend similarly across an expanse of career fields. Christian white males disproportionately dominate positions of power.

This lack of ladies thing isn’t an NBA issue. This isn’t a sports issue. This is a nationwide issue that is so much bigger than there being one female ref in a male-dominated sport.

Your displeasure with the gender gap in the NBA takes place within the larger cultural vacuum of the gender gap in the United States, and if I could posit one thing: it seems like you are just disappointed with the whole thing.  And you’re projecting that disappointment onto the lowly sports organization that you dearly love.

But if there’s any career field whose gender inequity you should be criticizing, please don’t let it be professional basketball…

PART II: Why Aren’t There Any Female Coaches in a Male Sport?

Zero female NBA players.

Perhaps necessarily so, I introduce this painfully obvious statistic. The genetic differences between men and women have been chronicled for years. Simply put, males are athletically superior to females. There are reasons why men’s and women’s sports leagues exist distinctly from one another. Those reasons have nothing to do with politics, sexism, bias, or discrimination – it’s all and only about competition.

Sports (if I can ever really define it) is no more than a set of rules created to define the winner and loser of an athletic competition. It’s not a culture. It’s not an art. It’s not a philosophy. As much as I want it to be all of these things, it’s, at heart, an athletic competition – a gateway for people to achieve a sense of victory using their physical capabilities.

Once physical capabilities are added as a variable into any field of work, the number of females significantly decreases. Construction workers, cops, firefighters, auto mechanics, lumberjacks, soldiers. I don’t need statistics to tell you that males comprise at least 75% of these professions, and probably a lot more. With words like policemen, firemen, foreman, garbageman, and handyman lacking non-awkward female equivalents, it’s not wrong to attribute this linguistic phenomenon to the dearth of lady electricians and garbage collectors.

We’re lucky that words like baseballmen and hockeymen haven’t caught on, but it’s not hard to imagine a world where those designations would be commonplace. The difference in physical strength between the male and the female body has impacted the greater part of our humanity – from our days as hunter-gatherers, to the present day legislation of Title IX and the WNBA. Women and men are separated at birth, by our bodies alone, and we make every effort to meet again. Sex jokes aside, the reality is that – despite our best efforts – it is impossible to regain that equity on the football field and basketball court, where such cruel determiners like height and 40 times seal our fates.

Practice?

As far as the scarcity of female referees, coaches, and general managers – I would explain this by simply referring to the lack of female NBA players. When you haven’t played the game, it’s increasingly more challenging to call the game, coach the game, and know the game. I tend to think of “NBA Basketball Player” as an entry-level position, one that breeds familiarity and understanding to excel at the top-level jobs.

It’s easy to look at the number of males coaches in the WNBA – 6 out of 12 teams are coached by a male – and think that kind of equality should translate to the NBA. However, even former WNBA President Val Ackerman concedes that coaches are hired based on merit, much of which comes from pro experience:

“It has always been to get the best people for the job. I think more people with NBA backgrounds are being considered than in the early years. Before, teams were looking for coaches with women’s basketball backgrounds. That led you to college. Now teams are looking for pro backgrounds and it has been a positive to have the infusion of experience from the NBA.”

NBA coaching experience, of course, stems directly from NBA playing experience…

If you’re going to pick any career field to criticize for gender discrimination (and there are a ton), professional basketball should be at the bottom of your list. If anything, this sport is doing something others rarely do – hire based on quality alone.

On the Clock

The NBA Draft starts now.

There are more than enough mock drafts, draft news, and rumors to go around elsewhere online. Our writers tonight will be busy watching, not writing. Our blog being short on hype, we are fortunate that ESPN has done most of the work for us, with this classy little montage:

The Once and Future King

LeBron James Leads Stunning Comeback As Heat Beat Mavs in 7
LeBron James Delivers Legendary Performance To Claim First NBA Title
LeBron James Silences Critics With Game 6 And 7 Heroics

“What should I do? Should I be who you want me to be?”

Those were the last words out of LeBron James’s mouth as his immortal 1:30 Nike commercial came to a close.

The questions hung, as if the answers were somewhere lost in the airwaves, waiting to be broadcast. The questions resounded in our subconscious, our message boards, our sports radio dials. “What should I do?” He looked us all in the eye, and begged us to answer his eternal question. “Should I be who you want me to be?” The screen would fade to black, with white text: “Just Do It.”

We all had the answer. All of us, except LeBron, it seemed. Every person has a question in life – one that can only be answered by he alone. This was LeBron’s. That’s why it seemed so maddening that he would ask the whole world – in earnest or in jest. But that’s why we kept watching.

“What should I do?”

The irony of the ‘Chosen One”s legacy is that it seems as though he’s never really chosen it for himself. He’s always let other forces do the choosing. Even “The Decision” seemed less like a choice than a calculated process of elimination – the output of a formula put through the filters of his inner circle. His actions on and off court often seem constricted by considerations that are far from personal – considerations of legacy, of how others will view him. If the greatest player in the game today is also the most un-liberated, what does that say about him? What does that mean for this league? What happens if and when he does become liberated?

“Should I be who you want me to be?”

LeBron’s constant state of being on the verge of both greatness and failure has pushed the intrigue of the NBA to rarely charted territory. And now, as all of us stand on the brink of this season, LeBron seems ready for an answer.

(This article was inspired by this wonderful work of Adrian Wojnarowski, who in this piece takes a look at the world LeBron has built, and the world we’ve built for him.)

Oak

Actual ESPN headline: “Ex-NBAer Oakley sues over ‘gang-style’ beating.

“The complaint contends the officers wrestled Oakley to the ground and punched and handcuffed him, and that he was taken to the hospital with injuries to his neck, back, head and wrist, “all or some of which may be permanent and disabling.”

To which I present to you the following:

(Double technical!)

and