Thursday, January 26, 2012

Minnesota Timberwolves Deny Love Max Extension: Racism?

An all-star last year, the 23 year-old power forward, Kevin Love, has again improved. His offseason was apparently productive as he dropped a large amount of weight and increased his per game scoring average from 20.2 to 25.3 while leading the league in minutes a game. In fact, he has considerably improved every season he's been in the NBA, and he's a hard worker off the court, well spoken, and one of the best young stars. The likely western all-star starter, Blake Griffin, has regressed from his rookie year and his numbers pale in comparison to his young power forward counterpart. No other player in the NBA, actually, can be compared since he has the rare combination of three-point shooting prowess with over five attempts a game at a conversion of over 40% and elite rebounding collecting 13 per contest. The only similar player in the league's history is Troy Murphy, who never scored at the rate Love is. Having already had the first 30 point, 30 rebound game since Moses Malone, Love could become the first player to average 25 points and 13 rebounds since Moses himself in 1981-82.

So why didn't Kevin Love earn a max extension from his team? He's set to receive the maximum amount of money per year, but he didn't get the full five years. A new rule in the NBA says that each team gets a "designated player," for whom a five year extension can be granted after the rookie contract, but a team can have just one designated player at a time.Only the home team can offer this, helping out small-market clubs. If a young, hard-working power forward who's averaging 25-13 can't get the max deal, then who would?

Earlier, Russell Westbrook received a five year deal with his team Oklahoma City. There's no denying he has talent and could considerably improve his game, but it's hard to argue that Love isn't having the better season. Westbrook is a point guard without a reliable outside shot who relies on his athleticism, while Love is a phenomenal rebounder who's turned himself into a great outside shooter. Who will age better? There's no logical reason to assume the Thunder point guard will be the better player going forward when he hasn't shown it.

Westbrook takes more shots a game than Love, but he averages both less points per game and less on a per minute basis. He's always had problems with his shooting percentages, and even when he's bricking he'll hoist up shots. Love's scoring more because his shooting percentages are once again much better. These two western conference stars are inextricably linked as they both played together at UCLA, and their contracts hint at something the media feels uneasy discussing.

Kevin Love is a white American basketball player, and as such he's had to deal with people assuming he can't play. Said to be a bust out of college by many because the league was too athletic for him, he had a stellar rookie season with outstanding rebounding and great offensive potential. Fans regularly make jokes about white American ballplayers, and some like Scalabrine are a confused merging of disrespect for white players and glee whenever he makes a positive play like he's a dog who's learned fancy tricks, an oddity. There's no denying racial assumptions exist in basketball. Kevin did everything he could to better himself as a ball player, and maybe because of what he looks like management didn't see him as their designated player, the face of the franchise.

Minnesota is probably saving their max extension for Rubio, and as an international player he's faced with a different set of prejudices. With the success of foreign stars in winning championships from Dirk Nowitzki to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and the MVPs given to Dirk and Nash, white foreign players are allowed to be superstars. In fact, the different culture may help these players develop because they're not as obsessed as race as we are. In places like Lithuania and Serbia with few Africans no one assumes how good someone is based on skin color; you just pick up the ball and prove yourself. There's no self-selection with the young athletes with regards to race.

Maybe Minnesota really does believe they need to save the 5 year max for Rubio or another lottery star. Love, however, is doing everything a designated player should do, averaging 25-13 a game. It's unclear why they chose to do this, including a fourth year option where Love can decide if he wants to leave or not. But you have to consider how they perceive Kevin Love's value and if any of that is tied to his skin color.

1 comment:

  1. Race became a sports differentiator years ago when America was trying to integrate. The U.S. used sports as a way to accept Afro-Americans. This continues to this day. One recent example is that the NFL combine numbers for Andrew Luck are the same as Cam Newton. If you read Cam's combine write-up, it says he is freakishly athletic. On a personal note, my son was cut from his 8th grade school basketball team but he continued playing YMCA ball, He dropped 26 points on a team to beat them & I asked who those crappy opposing players where. He said the ones guarding him were starters on the 8th grade team that went 0-13. The coach was black and kept black players. My son was sent packing. True story.