NPR Interview: Celtics, Race, and the Fakers

TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox, and this is NEWS & NOTES. In this week's sports bloggers segments, it's all about the NBA and basketball. With all the big trades, it's as good as it gets in the West right now. Also, have African-Americans found a new love for the Boston Celtics?

For those topics, we turn to our Sports Roundtable. Gregg Lee is the online sports editor for The Boston Globe, Justin Grant with Alpha Sports blog, and dwil writes for the blog Sports On My Mind. Fellows, nice to have you back.

Mr. GREGG LEE (Online Sports Editor, The Boston Globe): Yeah, hello.

dwil (Blogger, Sports On My Mind): How's it going?

Mr. JUSTIN GRANT (Alpha Sports Blog): Hey.

COX: It's going great. Let's talk about the big, big trades. The Lakers, of course, acquiring the seven-foot Pau Gasol from the languishing Memphis Grizzlies. The Phoenix Suns turned around and sent Shawn Marion to Miami in exchange for the diesel, Shaq O'Neal. The Dallas Mavericks turned around and picked up all-star point guard Jason Kidd from the Nets. And yesterday, the San Antonio Spurs got Kurt Thomas from Seattle, and today, the 21st is the deadline. So it may be more things still happening.

First to - well, let me not say what I think. dwil, which one of these trades that I've mentioned so far is the biggest one, in your view?

dwil: I think this trade for Gasol is the biggest one. There's a trade that people forgot, too, and that's Kyle Korver to the Utah Jazz.

COX: Right.

dwil: And that's my second-favorite trade, but Gasol is definitely the biggest trade. You see what the Lakers are doing right now without Andrew Bynum. Should he come back healthy, the Lakers are the favorite to come out of the Western Conference and go to the finals.

COX: So Justin, did you see the Lakers-Suns game last night?

Mr. GRANT: I only happened to catch some of the highlights on ESPN. Obviously, I'm over here on the East Coast, so that's a little bit past my bedtime.

COX: I was going to say, they have television on the East Coast.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRANT: I like - more than just the trade of Gasol to the Lakers, I like the way Kobe Bryant's playing. He scored like 40 points last night.

COX: Yes, he did.

Mr. GRANT: And I was taking a look at the stats sheet. He's doing it without putting up a whole lot of attempts. He's being real efficient in getting his points, getting his teammates involved. Kobe's really evolved as a player, and I think that this Gasol deal is allowing us to see that. And when Andrew Bynum comes back, we'll really see, you know, what this team is made of. But I really feel as if that trade is going to pay more dividends next season.

The big question mark of the Lakers is going to be how does Andrew Bynum come back from such a catastrophic injury at a young age? Well, that's a big question mark.

COX: Yes, it is.

Mr. GRANT: Is he even going to be ready? How is his conditioning going to be as they head into the playoffs? So you know, even if the Lakers go deep this year into the playoffs, which I feel they will, I think that trade is really going to pay dividends down the line.

COX: So let me ask you, Gregg Lee in Boston, I'm assuming that you probably think, and the fans in the New England area probably think, that while these trades - Gasol, Shaq, Kidd - they're big, they pale in comparison to the acquisition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the Boston Celtics.

Mr. LEE: Well, you know, that's - you know, the Celtics, you know, those acquisitions were at the beginning of the season, so they developed chemistry early in the year, whereas, you know, in the West, it's all reactionary with, you know, the Gasol trade, you know, starting off the chain reaction of the trades.

You know, the one trade we looked at is Jason Kidd going to the Dallas Mavericks. And you know, it's going to take some time for chemistry to develop - same thing with the Lakers when they get Bynum back and Gasol and Kobe playing all together in that triangle.

So, you know, the Celtics, you know, they have a little bit more chemistry, although they've only played for, you know, 40-some-odd games, 40-50 games, they have a little bit more chemistry than the teams who were just acquiring these players in (unintelligible) trade.

And you know, I saw Jason Kidd last night, and you know, it's going to take some time. You know, he's a point guard. You are the quarterback of that offense, and if you don't have the flow or, you know, know where your players are best-suited to make shots, then it's going to take some time to get together.

COX: Well, it certainly has been interesting to watch all the trades, but talking about Boston, let me say this. My producer, Roy Hearst(ph) and I had not an argument but a spirited discussion about whether we should even bring this next topic to the table, because we weren't sure that it was appropriate. And we bandied it back and forth and back and forth, and in the end we decided we do want to discuss it, and I'm glad that you're on this week, Gregg Lee, because we're talking about the Celtics and black folks and whether black people are traditionally, or have become fans of the Celtics.

Now by way of a little history, we know that the Celtics were - they're the winningest team in the history of basketball, and we knew that they had the baddest white players ever - Cousy, Larry Bird, John Havlicek. They had Bill Walton. They had McHale. They had Danny Ainge going from the '60s through the '80s. And we know that Boston has had a history of racial intolerance, going back to the '70s and bussing, et cetera, et cetera. We also know that Magic and Bird hated each other for a while before they finally settled into a respectful friendship.

But with the trade of Garnett and - not the trade, but the acquisition of, well, there was a trade. Garnett and now with Allen and with Pierce, and they got a whole black team rolling in Boston now. Are black people embracing the Celtics?

Mr. GRANT: Well, I could probably speak a little bit about that because growing up as a kid in the South in New Orleans, I didn't the Celtics at all. I mean, just, it just, I didn't like them. But it's a different time, it's a different NBA than it was 20 years ago. It was a different Boston than it was, say, you know, 10, 20 years ago.

And I see, you know, see black people supporting the Celtics now. I see black kids wearing Celtic jerseys and seeing Garnett jerseys around, Paul Pierce. So it's a different time now than when - between the hated Celtics/Lakers rivalry when people always assume it was black against white, Lakers with all their stars and Celtics with their stars. So I think it's a different era now.

COX: Well, you know what, Justin, ironically the Celtics were the first NBA franchise to draft a black player. His name was Chuck Cooper. That was in 1950. They were the first to put an all black starting lineup on the floor. Also, Bill Russell was the first black coach with the Celtics. So do you think that maybe they got a bad wrap from black people earlier on?

Mr. GRANT: Well, I'm not sure if they got a bad wrap. I know that as a kid growing up in the 1980s I was taught by my uncle, my dad, to hate the Boston Celtics. And it's so far ingrained for me here in New York that that's not gonna change. But really we, it really goes to show how we've evolved, I think, as a nation within the last 20 years or so.

Look, a black man might become President of the United States. Twenty years ago, Jesse Jackson was running and he had no chance. So I really feel like perhaps this speaks to a bigger story here, just the way we've evolved as a nation. But also the Celtics have a black coach in Doc Rivers. I believe they had a black coach in the '80s with Casey Jones.

COX: Casey Jones, yeah.

Mr. GRANT: Yeah, so you know, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, we've really gone past the whole black/white thing. The NBA is not really black/white as it was in the '80s. We have a lot more players from Europe. We have players coming in from Asia. So we really evolved and I think it speaks to the evolution of us as a nation as well as a league.

COX: Well, you have a black governor too, don't you, in Massachusetts now?

Mr. GRANT: And you have a black governor in Massachusetts in Deval Patrick.

COX: Well, D, let me bring dwil in, because dwil, you're in Vermont, right?

dwil: Yes.

COX: So you know, what's your take on the Celtics? What are the - I'm assuming that people in Vermont, they do follow basketball in Vermont, don't they?

dwil: Yes they do. And there are quite a few Celtics fans up here. I'm not from Vermont by any stretch. At the same time, there are a lot of private Celtics fans in the '60s, there's a lot of pride to see Boston field, put on court an all black team. Satch Sanders was also a coach for a minute in Boston. So privately a lot of black people in the '60s were very happy to see an all black team. What they couldn't stand is that the white players were often elevated above everyone except for Bill Russell.

So there was a hatred that evolved. I just saw this morning, Rick Buford was on ESPN talking about the NBA, and the thought that there was still an image problem with the NBA. I don't believe we've evolved that much. Because he talked at length about the difference between people like Kobe Bryant and his image versus Steve Nash. When actually they're both champions, they both have the same type of attitudes.

So people, yes, they, it's okay to like Boston now. At the same time, I think until the Bird/McHale era it always has been okay. That '80s era was polarizing. So - and that was the West Coast/East Coast Bird/Magic type of thing.

COX: Appreciate having you on. Gregg Lee, the online sports editor for the Boston Globe, dwil writing for the blog, Sports On My Mind, and Justin Grant, Alphasports blog. Everybody, thank you very much. I'll talk to you in a couple of weeks.


Collin said...

This seems kind of Wack. The eighties were a great time for the C's and a great time for the Lakers.

Why didn't they focus on the fact that we may have a return of the greatest rivalry of all time. The Lakers may play the Celtics in the Finals this year.

Would there be anything cooler? You couldn't pull me away from my T.V. for a second.

I have dealt with a crap ass Celtics team for the past 16 or so years. A team where there has been no hope. At no time over the last six years have I given the thought of race in basketball anything more than a passing thought.

Lame interview focusing on an issue that won't matter in five or ten more years.

Two thumbs down!

Lex said...

Good points

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