I must admit that this headline is my first attempt at a click-bait style title. Not really my bag. I just like to lay it out there and have a sensible rap session about whatever’s on the table to discuss. These days journalists and bloggers have twisted the game up so bad that you have to say the most outlandish things just to get anyone to pay the slightest bit of attention to the submission.
The title of this article is my attempt at playing up the outdated stereotype that black players are the more athletic while the white players are more cerebral. Of course this is foolishness based off of racial generalizations, but the generalizations are based in a bit of truth. The problem is that most people based the blanket statement on race and race alone when it’s more about the physical make up of the individual player. This year’s NBA MVP race proves this point to me more than any other topic that I’ve encountered in recent memory.
The 2017 NBA MVP race is nearing a head but there’s no clear cut favorite up to this point. Lebron James and the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard have been strong candidates this entire season, but the main two names that continuously come up are OKC’s Russell Westbrook and Houston’s James Harden. These two players have differing styles that bring my point home.
Westbrook is an explosive athlete who drives to the hole with no damns given. He has been criticized for being “out of control” in many occasions. I’ve even said that during his early years he played “dumb” like he didn’t know or cared about what was standing in front of him. He just knew that he was gonna go. Harden on the other hand is much less athletic than Russ. He’s not a high flyer or speedster, but he has learned how to manipulate the flow of the game so that it moves at his pace.
Back in the days, especially after the integration of the major professional sports leagues, the white players were considered nonathletic but smart while the black players were considered great athletes but unable to think on a critical level. These days it should be apparent that it’s really more about a person that knows they’re physically gifted verses those that know their physical deficiencies.
Athletes that are simply more talented tend to ignore the fundamentals of their respective sport because it just comes to them easily. I like to say that they just come out of their mamas that way. Then you have the players that are more talented than the normal Joe and Jane, but when it comes to competing at the highest level they just don’t have that “quick twitch” that the superior athletes have. Those are the ones that spend countless hours perfecting their crafts so that they can find the little advantages that will keep them competitive or even give them a good shot at winning.
I’d like to name a few examples from both sides of the argument from different sports. The Houston Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney is that freak athlete who ran in the high 4.4’s in his 40 yard dash even though he weighs over 260 lbs. This young man gets off the line of scrimmage faster than most opposing offensive lineman can come out of their stances. His strength is apparent in the way he sets the edge against much bigger men when he’s defending against the run, but his lack of refined pass rush moves have caused him to have low sack numbers in many analysts’ opinions. Once he develops those techniques he’s going to be an extremely dangerous man.
Steve Largent wasn’t the fastest wide receiver in the NFL, but he retired as the all-tine leader in the major statistical categories because he knew how to get separation by running precise routes and use defensive backs’ momentum against them.
Benard Hopkins was never known to have the quickest or heaviest hands, but he ruled boxing’s middleweight division for a decade because very few people in boxing history was better at the tactical side of ring generalship. He made a career out of making younger more athletic fighters look foolish.
On the other hand, Adrien Broner has that wow factor at times. He’s a former four division champ and the reason he remains a former champ is because he refuses to take the science of boxing seriously. He seems content with losing to hungrier, more focused, less talented fighters.
Atlanta Braves legend Greg Maddux was known as the professor because he could school any bad-ass with a bat on any given night. He didn’t blow batters with velocity, but could could place that ball where he wanted which was exactly where the batters couldn’t hit it.
Tom Chambers, Rex Chapman, and Birdman Andersen were all very athletic NBA players who happened to be white, but neither was on Kevin McHale’s level when it came to basketball footwork. Neither one of them could pull a Bill Laimbeer and psych out an entire Portland Trailblazers roster in the NBA finals.
The late Tony Gwynn didn’t have the body of a Greek or African god, but he perfected the art hitting the baseball. Gwynn is universally recognized in the baseball world as one of history’s greatest hitters.
I remember reading where former NBA star Nick Van Exel said that his friend Steve Francis only relied on his athleticism and never learned how to play basketball. He went on to say that once Steve experienced a few injuries he no longer had the explosiveness that was his trademark which caused his NBA career to come to a premature close.
Some athletes learn how to combine the physical and mental aspects of the game and go on to become the Michael Jordan’s, Larry Bird’s, Serena Williams’, JJ Watts, Muhammad Ali’s, Derek Jeter’s, Jerry Rice’s, Willie Mays’, John Stockton’s ,Steve Nash’s and Floyd Mayweather’s of the world.
So to close this thing out, even though I’m not the biggest supporter of Harden’s style of play, I have to give him all of the props in the world for being in the position he’s in. He’s developed a style of play that highlights what he does well, and compensates for where he lacks. He’s proven, though far from the first to do so, that being a crafty cerebral player isn’t exclusive to white athletes. There are only a few games left in the 2017 regular season so lets see if he can prove to the voters that he deserves the MVP over his former more athletic teammate Westbrook.