Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Alvin Award

After Larry Bird retired from basketball in 1992, I loudly declared to anyone who would listen, "The NBA will never name another white man its Most Valuable Player."

And boy was I wrong.

Since that time, the award has gone to a white player three times: twice to Steve Nash and once to Dirk Nowitzki.

But since the Larry Bird Era I've kept a mental note of who is the best white basketball player at any given time. It's obviously a bit more controversial than naming the best player generally, partly because there are no commentators or pundits to give us their opinions and change our minds. Throughout the years the "Alvin Award," (as a friend once called it after I let him in on my little secret) has gone to people like Craig Ehlo, Mark Price, John Stockton,  and Kevin Love (who wouldn't be too surprising if he were selected as the league's MVP in the next year or two).

I've noted elsewhere that I can't talk about basketball without talking about race and this may make many readers uncomfortable. But not the players themselves, I'm sure. Dennis Rodman once said that if Larry Bird was black, he'd be just another good ball player. It was a hot topic at the time, but I think I understand what he was trying (and failed) to say.

Larry Bird was a great basketball player but so were half a dozen other guys. Black guys. Despite making up only 20% or so of the general population, blacks clearly dominate the NBA. So clearly numerically dominant are blacks in basketball that it is noteworthy when the best player is white. Or at least that's what Rodman was probably trying to say. The average basketball fan is not color blind; we all notice a player's race.

But of course now we have plenty of players who don't simply have Caucasian ancestry but who are the product of a white and a black parent. Blake Griffin and Jason Kidd  come to mind. The immediately biracial (as opposed to antebellum biracial) individual is common enough today so as to almost render the Alvin Award moot.

Although I'd like to see the NBA institute the award, maybe based on fan votes, I would be turned off if it eventually turned into an over-commercialized televised awards program with celebrities opening the envelope between commercial breaks carefully timed to carry viewers to  the climax of the program.

The American public is just not ready for that yet.

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