Are Stereotypes Okay in Basketball?

July 29, 2015 § 1 Comment

Lakers at Wizards 12/3/14

John Wall v. Jeremy Lin

Stereotyping happens all the time in basketball, in a much less censored manner than in virtually any other venue. We all can relate, no matter what race, gender, height, or age we are. Tall guys are pigeonholed into playing center. Girls are treated in a patronizing manner when playing against boys. White guys are shooters until proven otherwise; black guys are athletic freaks until proven otherwise.

Stereotyping is often perceived as an injustice in society (especially negative stereotypes), because it is, undoubtedly, hurtful. There is no denying its presence and effects in the game of basketball either — stereotyping is what turns off many teens who are not tall, black, and athletic from playing basketball.

I have friends whose experiences playing the sport have been so hurtful that they harbor permanent resentment anytime you mention the sport to them at all.

I do believe stereotyping is extremely hurtful, especially when we don’t acknowledge it. Stephen A. Smith and Rob Parker dismissed Jeremy Lin’s concerns about race, when he said, “Everyone looks at me and says, ‘I’m not going to let that Asian kid embarrass me. I’m going to go at him.'” Lin’s concerns — though valid — were sidestepped and the conversation instead changed to how Lin being Asian actually benefited him by getting him on Sports Illustrated and earning millions of dollars.

I think it’s important to acknowledge truth in stereotyping, that it exists, and that it is hurtful. I think that we should be cognizant of it when playing the game. However, I also strongly believe that stereotyping has a place in basketball, just as it has a place in society. Stereotyping should be used when it gives your team a statistical advantage. 

If you have to choose between a 6’0, 175 lb white kid and a 6’0, 175 lb black kid to join your team, having never seen either player before, you should choose the black kid. It is the better decision statistically.

When you “man up” against the opposite team, let the black kid guard the black kid, and let the Asian kid guard the Asian kid. It’s the smart decision, if you haven’t seen them play before.

Now, stereotyping is largely a byproduct of basketball being a very hierarchical sport. The hierarchical nature produces an opportunity — on the court, everyone is out to prove themselves.

There is no distinction like that of slaying Goliath. Under all our charming smiles, warm hugs, and cheeky quips, we all have a cold-blooded side that comes to life when we face a condescending opponent who takes us lightly.

Embarrassing him is not enough — we want to shame his ancestors and entire lineage.

Smearing his name is not enough — we want to do him so dirty he becomes sterile.

Eradicating his hope is not enough — we want to make him our marionette, rag-dolling his toasted limbs at every glimmer of hope, to the screaming adulation of onlookers.

What a feeling. The distinction of proving one wrong, no matter how fleeting, is what drives many (including NBA players) to continue to play the game. When you’re stereotyped against, play to prove one wrong.

Basketball is one of the few places where stereotyping still has a home, and there’s not really a better alternative. World Elo scores for basketball players? Maybe in the future.

Finally, I’ll say this one more time: only apply stereotypes when they are statistically advantageous to your chances of winning.

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