I really enjoyed a recent exchange between former NBA player Paul Shirley author of the newly published, Can I Keep My Jersey?: 11 Teams, 5 Countries, and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond, and author/humorist Neal Pollock in Slate. I think I might have to get that book. Here's an example, this exerpt is from Shirley:
My attempt to succeed in the world of basketball could be compared to the efforts of a 1970s-era black man in the world of bond-trading. White people are not supposed to be good at basketball. I've been reminded of that assumption hundreds of times in my career. The attitude most often displayed by black basketball players I've faced was very similar to the one you espoused at the end of your last turn, Neal: Your people have everything else. Just let us have this. From age 12 on, my one goal was to be a really good basketball player. I didn't care about much else. Of course, I did other things—stupendously hokey things. You're right: It was a Walton-esque existence. I was in 4-H, I was a Boy Scout, I finished fifth in the Kansas State Spelling Bee. I even got a National Merit Scholarship. I'm probably the whitest person with whom you'll ever publicly exchange e-mails. But none of those activities/pastimes/sexual obstacles ever brought me as much happiness as basketball did. As I got better, I found myself to be a minority on the court more and more often. And as the members of my race were whittled away, I quickly realized that I wasn't particularly welcome. When I was on defense, the other team would give the ball to whomever I was guarding and yell, "Take it to him. He can't guard you." They did that not because I am from a middle-class home, or because I grew up on a quasi-farm, but because I am white. So, forgive me if I feel that I have a special kinship with the Brent Barrys of the world.
Here's Pollock's reply:
I graduated from college in 1992. Lord Jesus, I'm old. Since then, I've lived in four neighborhoods in four different cities. One of those neighborhoods was predominantly black, one was predominantly white, one was predominantly Mexican, and the other one housed immigrants from about 60 different countries. Admittedly, each spot had its own special annoying qualities, but all of them were dirty, noisy, and dangerous. The family of man in all iterations behaves wretchedly when the median neighborhood income is low. Then again, I grew up among rich people, and they sucked, too. Yes, one of the reasons I watch television is to root for the success of people who look like me. That's why I enjoy sitcoms featuring Jewish characters. I wish there were more of those. But despite my decades of real-life exposure to the worst of what humanity has to offer, I still like to see people from other walks of life succeed. I recognize that there are superficial, even profound, differences among human cultures. But I can't help it; I was educated during the golden age of "cultural diversity," and my rooting interests are spread across all lines. When I watch basketball, I root for Nash and Amare because they're on my team. When I watch baseball, I root for Rafael Furcal and Russell Martin because they're on my team. When I watch football, I root for whoever's on my fantasy team.