Timberwolves lineup draws attention to issues of race

The Minnesota Timberwolves kicked off their 2012-2013 season with a 92-80 win over the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 2. Fans cheering them on from the Target Center or living room couches may have noticed something distinctive about the Wolves’ starting lineup: The players were almost all white.

In a recent article for the Star Tribune, writers Jerry Zgoda and Dennis Brackin reported that only five of the 15 players on the Timberwolves’ roster this season are black, which is a significantly lower number than those found on the rosters of the rest of the NBA teams. Incidentally, this statistic is due to this season’s addition of several new players, including Jose Barea, Chase Budinger and Andrei Kirilenko. Because Kevin Love and Rickey Rubio – two of the Timberwolves’ star players – are injured and remain out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, this new lineup looks to be relatively permanent. The Timberwolves’ copious trading over the off-season appears to be well founded: Even in the team’s opening game, the players had a great rapport and executed many impressive and controlled two-person plays.

Then what of the move by the Timberwolves’ management that created such a white-heavy team in a league that has long been dominated by black players? Despite the assertions in the Star Tribune article implying that their motivations were less than honorable, the results of their recruiting are more likely coincidental than strategic; each of the recruited players was chosen because he would give the team something that would help them achieve collective success.

Therefore, while the number of white players on the Timberwolves this season is statistically significant, whether the number actually

matters is less clear. Ultimately, the players’ skill and the team’s success are what truly hold import, which Timberwolves guard Brandon Roy implied in an interview in the aforementioned Star Tribune article.

“I never really had to feel like I’m the only black guy out here,” said Roy in the interview with Zgoda and Brackin. “I’ve played on teams that maybe had all black guys and the feeling is just the same when I’m out there on the floor playing with [white teammates].”

Another quote from Roy gave an air of finality to the controversy:

“It’s just basketball,” Roy said.

Roy’s quote speaks to the progress made toward racial equality in this country. Though racial equality is still pursued today, it has proven more attainable in part through the systematic integration of the NBA, which began in the early 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement.

The fact that many people have not noticed this change in the Timberwolves’ lineup – including Timberwolves players themselves –

also shows that skin color is a non-issue in the NBA. The assertion that the Timberwolves have in fact taken a step back in regards to

such progress is also made less compelling by quotes like Roy’s; these players value each other on the court for their skill alone.

Furthermore, the Timberwolves cannot be accused of lacking diversity. Although the team has one of the NBA’s most white-dominant starting lineups, it is also one of the NBA’s most ethnically diverse. Two starters are international players, and that number could become three once Rubio’s injured knee has healed and he is back on the court. All in all, the Timberwolves have five international players on their roster.

Although I do not think of myself as a huge sports fan, the Star Tribune report grabbed my attention. As much as we may not want to admit it, race continues to be an issue in all aspects of American life – even a ubiquitous endeavor like watching sports.