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At the end of yesterday's Zach thread HowlingFanTods brought up an interesting point which has been brought up plenty of times before but seldom rationally discussed.  Normally I stay away from such things but I'm curious what people think.

Here's HFT's comment:

Sorry to toss the grenade but I wonder how much all this has to do with race.  Portland is one of the whitest cities I've ever been in, it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that race plays a factor.

I mean obviously there are popular black players on the Blazers, but there's a big difference between the level of comfort a very white fan base has with someone like Roy or Drexler versus someone like Zbo or Sheed.

In saying this, I'm not saying that people who want zbo gone are racists.   Just that I can't help but notice how some players get a lot of rope, some players don't, and that difference is more noticeable in less integrated cities (Portland, San Antonio, Salt Lake, Boston and so on) versus the more integrated cities like Chicago and New York.

For the record, I want KP to make a move too, since I really want LMA at the 4, and I think Zbo's trade value is pretty close to as high as it's gonna get.

Here was my response:

It's not a grenade.  It's a legitimate question and issue.  I think it's fair to say that guys like Roy and Duncan get a lot of rope because, black or white, they exhibit such obviously quality behavior that they merit it.  In other words they prove to the fans through their words and actions, "You can trust me, believe in me, and point me out to your kids."  Fans love that and thus they get a substantial amount of favoritism in the court of public opinion.

The question is legitimate, however, whether Duncan and Roy have to work a little harder at earning that than a caucasian player would.  Or put another way whether Zach's rope ran out a little sooner than Keith Van Horn's would have.

I also feel pretty comfortable saying, however, that if a white player had exhibited the same style of play (or lapses therein) and same bungled off-court issues his welcome would have worn just as thin by now.  If there is a margin of race-based favoritism I believe Zach has well exceeded it anyway, rendering the question somewhat moot in this particular case.  

By the way, I'll bet you Keith Van Horn would have been despised here for the on-court game he brought even without any off-court stuff.

Who knows what lies in the worst parts of any of us, but I'm as certain as I can be that the things I dislike about Zach (defense, not getting back, inability to gracefully handle publicity matters or keep himself out of embarrassing situations) have relatively little to do with him being African-American.  Likewise the things I like about him (astonishing low-post game, consistent scoring, grit in coming back from microfracture) have little to do with race either.

I certainly wouldn't deny that race is an issue in Portland. It's an issue everywhere.  Maybe it's more so in PDX than in some places.  On the other hand I'm pretty sure I've seen racism played as a trump card in forums to explain away legitimate criticisms and I bristle at that--not just because it's probably untrue but because such a use really cheapens the meaning of a word ("racism") that shouldn't be cheapened.  It's too important to be used as a throw-away dismissal to win a relatively non-important discussion with nameless, faceless people.

I'm not too interested in talking about whether Portland is better or worse in this area than other cities.  How do you really prove, or even discuss, such a thing?  It's feelings, anecdotal evidence, or wild speculation--especially in this sports blog context--and none of that is sufficient.  However I am interested in whether you think race factors into how we view NBA basketball players (including Zach) and if so, in what ways and to what effect?

This is obviously a touchy subject so be certain your comments are within the boundaries of civility.  Specifically do not talk about another poster and do not throw blanket accusations of racism over the entire community.  Make your point about race and basketball (or sports) and listen to others as well.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)