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Diversity Quotient

Is the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Roster “Too White”?


Russians Andrei Kirilenko (left) and Alexey Shved are newcomers to the Wolves, but instead of thinking of them as diverse assets to the team, some would like you to look at them and see nothing but two more white boys. Personally, all I see are two guys with above-average hair.

The Sunday morning sports section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune featured a report about the state of the Minnesota Timberwolves roster. It didn’t suggest the team make a trade, nor did it cite the team’s failure to land a marquee shooting guard in the offseason, and it didn’t once mention Ricky Rubio’s rehabilitation from a torn ACL last March. Sure, those might seem like pertinent storylines, but this article was following something else: the whiteness of Minnesota’s NBA team.

The article stated that the current incarnation of the Timberwolves’ franchise is the NBA’s “whitest” since the Celtics of the 1980s. Only 33% of Minnesota’s roster is black, which pales (PUN!) in comparison to 78%, which was the percentage of African-American athletes in the NBA in 2011-12.[i]

While those figures are interesting on a purely superficial level, and fair game for light-hearted wise cracks, no one actually thinks there’s something racist going on in the Wolves’ front offices, right? Rick Adelman, who makes most of the personnel decisions these days, is entering his 22nd season as an NBA head coach; you think if he had an issue with black players, it would’ve surfaced by now. Team president David Kahn, also part of the Wolves’ brain trust, is in the last year of his contract, and needs desperately to produce a winner this season in order to continue his employment. Can anyone possibly believe a man in his business, and in his position, would jeopardize his future over race?

Apparently, some people do. The authors of newspaper story, Jerry Zgoda and Dennis Brackin, interviewed two Twin Cities “black leaders” (their words, not mine) on the subject. Here is part of what they had to say:

“I think, personally, that it was calculated. Is this an attempt to get fans back in the stands? Minnesota, after all, is a pretty white state…” (The white-dominated roster is a) “nullification of diversity and a reversal of history.” – Ron Edwards, Minneapolis civil rights advocate

“How did we get a roster that resembles the 1955 Lakers? I think everything is a strategy. Nothing happens by happenstance.” – Tyrone Terrell, President, St. Paul African-American Leadership Council

Oy, vey.

Apparently, those of us who took diversity to mean “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements… The inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization” were all wrong, according to Edwards and Terrell. Diversity is a black and white topic – so a roster featuring two Russians (Alexey Shved, Andrei Kirilenko), a Puerto Rican (J.J. Barea), a Spaniard (Ricky Rubio) and a dude from Montenegro (Nikoa Pekovic) – as well as five American-born black players – doesn’t qualify as being ‘diverse’.

Kevin Love,  a white superstar, is a rarity in the NBA. If he were black, would we be having this discussion?

Not only are those quotes ignorant of the meaning of the word ‘diversity’, they’re also ignorant of Minnesota basketball history, as well as insulting towards the people of this state. The Wolves were never more popular than they were in 2003-04, when they advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals. The nucleus of that team? Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell – all black dudes, and none of us backwoods hillbillies cared, because they were good.

I’m not saying racism doesn’t exist, nor am I saying that civil rights advocates and African-American leadership groups aren’t important – but I am saying that these two gentlemen are ignorant of reality. Ignorance offends me just as much as racism itself – and their assumption that I, as a Minnesotan, would be more likely to root for a white basketball team just because I am white is a racist thing to assume.

Know what I want to root for? A winner – just like everybody else in Minnesota! Know who the guys on the roster want to play with? Other guys who can play! And as far as the diversity thing is concerned – let’s say someone hears Nikola Pekovic is from Montenegro, gets curious, looks it up on the internet, and accidentally learns a thing or two about Balkan politics, the dissolution of Soviet Union and the rich basketball history of that country. What more can you hope for from diversity besides that?

As Dante Cunningham was quoted as saying near the end of the article:

“There’s just as many athletic white guys on this team as there are black guys who are athletic. It’s no big deal. We’re here to play ball, so regardless of whether we’re white or black or yellow or purple, we’re going to go out and play.”

Veteran newcomer Brandon Roy had this to say:

“It’s just basketball. I never really had to feel like I’m the only black guy out here. 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 these guys.”

If the players on floor don’t seem to mind the racial element, and are committed to each other and providing us a winner, why should we, the fans, care what they look like? Fact is, most of us don’t. We just want a playoff basketball team, no matter how it appears.


BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!


[i] That terrible “pale” pun was also the basis of the article’s headline. It was an embarrassment for the paper, as well as one of my favorite writers, Jerry Zgoda. You can read it for yourself here: http://m.startribune.com/?id=176071391

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