When you perused mock drafts in the days leading up to last month's NBA Draft, it was amusingly predictable to see where prognosticators had Tyler Hansbrough winding up. He was going to go to Utah or Indiana, with few other teams popping up. It seemed like an outgrowth of the same mindset that only allows NBA analysts to compare white players to other white players and black players to black players, as if skin color were part of their skill set.
Hansbrough did end up in Indiana, which gives them six white American-born players on their roster. That number jumps out at you in a league where only 10 percent of the players fit that criteria. Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star decided to confront the issue head-on in Wednesday's edition of the paper.
Is Pacers president Larry Bird specifically trying to build a team dominated by white players?
It's an uncomfortable question to ask in these politically correct days, but how do you ignore a roster that includes Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy, Josh McRoberts, Travis Diener, Jeff Foster and now, first-round pick Tyler Hansbrough?
It is hard to ignore the Pacers roster, unless you're having a conversation about teams with a chance to contend for the title in 2009-2010. The problem isn't that those players are white, it's that they aren't very good. That's a criticism that you can level at the franchise's black players as well, so the better question isn't whether or not Bird is trying to build a team dominated by white players but whether or not Bird is trying to build a team that can actually win more games than they lose over the course of a season?
That's not to say that race plays no role in roster decisions. Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle, in response to Kravitz, writes that "owners or general managers with a racial issue aren't in the NBA" which seems overly hopeful for the real world. In a league where the majority of the ticket buyers are white, and especially on a team that suffered a great deal of fallout after the infamous brawl in Detroit, it's naive to think that the question of what the team looks like never crosses the mind of basketball executives.
That's a perception, though, one that isn't much backed up in reality when you realize that Hansbrough is the only white player drafted since that shameful episode. Part of the perception is undoubtedly created by the fact that Bird has the reins of the organization. When the most notable white player of the last 30 years drafts a Hansbrough, it catches a lot more attention than Isiah Thomas drafting David Lee. That doesn't mean he drafted him simply because they have the same skin tone, and not all of the aforementioned players were brought to Indiana on Bird's watch.
No, the only real common thread in Indiana of late has been disappointing performances by players of all shapes, sizes, races, religions and political affiliations. Changing their procedures to avoid those outcomes is what the Pacers need to differently, everything else is just window dressing.