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David Coleman

David Coleman

Posted: May 7, 2010 12:19 PM

Do We Need Affirmative Action Admissions at NBA Games?

What's Your Reaction:

I am an African American male. I played basketball on playgrounds as a youngster. I like basketball and, I believe, I would enjoy attending a world class professional basketball game.

But I have been watching NBA playoff games on TV and I am puzzled why there are almost no African American fans in the audience. Where, I wonder, are other middle class African Americans like me who could save up to purchase a ticket?

There are a couple of exceptions about my observations. The televisions cameras occasionally show an African American fan in the audience. But those dark complected fans are frequently identified as the mother/father of one of the players. So, with 12 players on each team, the potential African American attendance ceiling appears to be around 24 with appropriate subtractions from that total for players who (like President Obama) were raised by a single mom or are mixed race (like President Obama again, a growing basketball demographic). I doubt that with a parental relationship to a player earning six or seven figure salaries, the mom or dad had to purchase a ticket.

A second exception: These observations need more nuance at Lakers playoff games at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. There, the genetically (as opposed to the cosmetically) tanned faces are usually entertainment industry celebrities (Denzel, Quincy, et. al) who - I believe--obtain tickets from agents and Hollywood studios.

But, without a son playing and with no Hollywood agent to curry my favor, I am left to wonder: where are the African Americans who simply purchase their own tickets?

When the games are played in America's heartland cities (Oklahoma City, Denver, Salt Lake City, Orlando and Cleveland, to name a few), I see many cheering fans that fit the mold of being well coiffed, blonde women sitting with sweater clad husbands who look as if they own automobile dealerships or several suburban fast food franchises. Other fans dress in business casual sports coats with open collared dress shirts, as if they walked over from work at a nearby corporate office and had dinner near the downtown stadium (that bears the name of a famous American business powerhouse like Quicken Loans or Energy Solutions Arena). Maybe there was an application process with legacy points and they were the only basketball fans who scored high enough to gain admission?

In Red State cities like Salt Lake and Oklahoma City, where a virtually all black team is being cheered on, I wonder how the scene matches Dr. King's dream: that there would come a time when 18,000 well heeled white Americans would stand and cheer wildly for their own city's team of African Americans (supplemented by a handful of Caucasians, which given the influx of players from the former Soviet Union, may make that identification geographically and racially precise.)

But when the games are played in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas, where are the African American paying ticket holders?

Maybe I am being unfair to professional basketball. I like baseball too and watch the games on television. Baseball is a slow game, so while batters spit and tug at their batting gloves after each pitch of a three hour game, I scan the televised picture of the seats behind the dugout or home plate. I look for African American faces in the crowd at Fenway Park. Of course I know that is a quixotic quest given the uneasy relationship of African Americans to the Red Sox, the last club in baseball to integrate its roster.

At the new Yankee Stadium with its thousand dollar seat prices, I have spotted former Yankee Hall of Fame players of color seated as a "consultant" to, or guest of, a team executive. I doubt the seat was paid for by the player. (And on Opening Day there may be a quick glimpse of New York's African American governor, David Patterson. But, the results of his latest political corruption investigation confirm my suspicion that he didn't buy a ticket either.)

Of course statistics have recently been compiled that show 10.2% of major league baseball players are African Americans (as opposed to persons of African descent born in the Caribbean or Latin America). So, the dearth of African Americans at baseball games is not as hard to understand. But what explains the imbalance at NBA basketball games where less than ten percent of the players are not African Americans.

I suppose there is an avenue of investigation I could pursue that might shed light on where these missing fans of color might be. I should check out a NHL playoff game.

If the Penguins face off against the Canucks in a future playoff game, perhaps I might tune in and see thousands of excited black fans from Pittsburg or Vancouver in a cheering frenzy behind the rink's plexiglass enclosures. Then I will know that Dr. King's dream of an integrated society has arrived and that what I am observing in the television crowd shots at NBA playoff games is nothing more than a statistical anomaly.