By Jason Whitlock
Special to Page 2

Okay, we've heard from everybody. It's official now. The hatred of Team USA basketball had absolutely nothing to do with the collective blackness of the 12 players who comprised the team. If you don't believe me, just ask all the sports writers and radio talk-show hosts who went out of their way to point out that race played no part in America rooting against its own team, and that I'm sick with Johnnie Cochran disease.

Lamar Odom and Stephon Marbury
AP
So, how did you really feel about the Olympic hoops team?

Denial is a racist's best friend.

"Hey, one of my favorite athletes is black. I can't be prejudiced. I rooted for the 4x100 relay team."

Based on the response to my USA Basketball column last week, the rock I threw -- the one that claimed the over-the-top hatred and criticism of Team USA was partially a product of America's collective bigotry -- bounced off a lot of dogs' butts. There was just too much barking for no one to have been hit. I've never heard so much whining in my life.

Sports writers across the country were fighting each other over the opportunity to go on TV or radio for the privilege of calling me an idiot, and to assure the masses that their hatred of Iverson, LeBron, Duncan, Melo and Boozer is appropriate, understandable and non-racist. America simply hates the two-man game preferred by the NBA. America simply hates tatts and cornrows. America simply hates the fact that Iverson doesn't like to practice. America hates an underachiever.

The overall blackness of the team was just a mere coincidence, something no one even noticed until my column ran on Page 2. That the teams shellacking Team USA over in Greece looked a lot like good old American white boys was just another coincidence in America's utter joy at Team USA's struggles.

The reaction to my column was just as silly and just as unsophisticated and just as bigoted as the criticism of Team USA that inspired me to write it in the first place. We're so defensive in this country, especially when it pertains to racial issues. No one likes to admit his or her bigotry.

Look, we're all racist on some level.

All of us. Black, white, red, yellow, brown, whatever. We're all racist, including me. Anybody who has ever had the misfortune of being in the same room with me when Tiger Woods is playing golf knows I'm infected with the germ of racism. Why do I root so passionately for Tiger in a sport that I cared nothing about until Tiger arrived on the course in the mid-1990s?

Because Tiger looks like a brother. He looks like someone I might bump into at my family reunion, and I enjoy watching him excel in a sport in which Whitlocks aren't supposed to excel.

I guess my critics will tell us next that race played no part in Larry Bird's popularity, and the rivalry between Magic and Larry. My critics also all called B.S. on Bird when he said earlier this year that the NBA would be more popular if the league had more white stars.

We deal with our racism in three ways: 1.) Some of us revel in it and look for ways to celebrate and exploit it; 2.) Some of us deny its existence; and 3.) Some of us acknowledge it and try to combat it on a daily basis.

Allen Iverson
A.I. certainly felt the country's wrath.

No. 3 is the proper, healthy, mature approach. Larry Bird isn't a bad person because he'd like to see more people who look like him play in the NBA. (I'd love to see more guys who look like me date supermodels.) What would be bad is if Bird let that desire supercede doing what's best for the Indiana Pacers, the team he runs. Unfortunately, too many of us have been taught to deny our racism -- believing that if we deny it, it will eventually disappear. It won't. People have been seeing colors and making decisions based on what they see since Eve gave Adam an apple. Denial causes all kinds of problems.

America went wild beating up an all-black, underachieving basketball team. For about three weeks, you could say almost any mean-spirited thing you wanted to about Iverson and Marbury and Co. They damn near became honorary members of al Qaeda.

You heard it. I've received thousands of e-mails from sports fans -- white and black -- who heard exactly what was being said about Team USA. My original column wasn't about one stupid caller to my radio show. It was about the collective tone of the conversation being held about Team USA. The players were called unpatriotic, lazy and stupid.

Rather than sincere analysis of why the team was failing, we all settled for what was easy and, as members of the media, what would drive ratings. Team USA became a vehicle for middle America to make a larger point about race. "Team USA" was a code word, no different than when a broadcaster calls a black player "athletic" and a white player "heady." Team USA represented the black hip-hop culture -- a culture, incidentally, that in my opinion deserves criticism for its many negative influences.

I'm no fan of Allen Iverson, a wannabe Tupac Shakur, the talented rapper who died prematurely because he refused to let go of his own stupidity.

People wrote me long e-mails explaining why they were uncomfortable with Team USA. A lot of what was said made good sense. Hell, I agreed with most of it. My original column acknowledged that. It's just that we went too far with the hatred. The players deserved our support. They were wearing our colors. Given the situation, they were doing the best that they could.

Like it or not, we created our selfish, undisciplined style of play. We reward the NBA, no-fundamentals style of play. We celebrate the NBA style of play every winter night on "SportsCenter." Look in the stands and identify who's cheering for (and paying for) Iverson, Marbury, LeBron and Co.

It's immoral to hate what you create. And it's hypocritical and dishonest to deny a key element that's driving the hatred.

Jason Whitlock is a columnist for the Kansas City Star and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of "The Sports Reporters." He also hosts an afternoon radio show, "The Doghouse," on Kansas City's 61 Sports KCSP. He can be reached at ballstate68@aol.com.




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