“All-American” Basketball League? All White?

Last week a former wrestling promoter named Don “Moose” Lewis announced his intention to start up a new basketball league called the “All-American Basketball Alliance,” or AABA. In this league only U.S. born players of Caucasian parents would be allowed to play and coach. The proposal was for teams in 12 cities across the southeast, with its headquarters in Atlanta (See here and here )
News of this proposal first appeared last week in the Augusta Chronicle in which Lewis was interviewed. Since then the story has received little attention from news outlets, especially “major” outlets like CNN. Of those who have covered the story, many say that people like Lewis are ridiculous and/or silly, even to the point where one has assumed it must be a hoax? Perhaps it was, but if so, why would Lewis choose this topic? Is he trying to spark a conversation on the issue?

During his interview with the Chronicle, Lewis made the following comment as to whether he thought such a league would be racist:

There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing. I don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like.

This comment underscores the point that even when racists engage in overtly racist acts, they refuse to call it racist (Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists). However, I’m interested not so much in Lewis’ comments or the league itself (which probably won’t see the light of day) but the response to the issues Lewis has raised, especially by white Americans. I have yet to see a more developed critique of this line of thinking, such as that from Charles Barkley (from here):

It’s just blatantly racist if you look at the code words used. I don’t take it seriously, but it just lets you know there’s blatant racism out there. It lets you know, as a black man, there are people out there who don’t like you.

Barkley’s reference to “code words” is right on point. The title of the proposed league is a good place to start, and something that one still hears every now and again; i.e., that “American” is synonymous with “white.” Second, Lewis talks about starting such a league because people yearn for “fundamentals” basketball and an alternative to “street” ball, which he argues has taken over the NBA. The notion that black players don’t play with “fundamentals,” while insinuating that white players do, is rooted in the white racial frame that whites are inherently rational and blacks are incapable of “civilized” activity. This frame of thinking continues with the proposed league limiting the amount of tattoos players have. Considering that tattoos have become almost blasé in today’s society, only those worn by African Americans get criticized. Finally, Lewis made reference to unique examples like the recent incident involving Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittendon bringing guns into the team locker room as emblematic of why he feels a need for a new league. This is a classic ecological fallacy in which an exception is used to categorize the entire group.

My concern is our inability to acknowledge just how much support there is out there for Lewis’ opinions, if not for such a league. Perhaps if this was indeed a hoax, the dialogue could be revealing. The white racial frame places a filter over our eyes that affects the way we see things. For example, it is common to hear comments of how a black player is naturally gifted while focusing on the “fundamentals” of a good white player, and how he’s intelligent. Meanwhile, this frame affects our discourse, such as using animal imagery when describing players’ performances, including phrases like “beast on the boards” or calling linemen’s hands “paws” when they knock down balls at the line of scrimmage…do you hear such terminology used for white players?

A Harris Interactive poll taken last year found that pro basketball has declined considerably in popularity . Is this due to white racism? The percentage of black players has actually remained steady over the years (though the NBA has increased its number of international players significantly), so is it something more specific than color of the players on the court?


  1. No1KState

    White people don’t have guns?

    White people aren’t athletic?

    White people in the minority? Even when they’re no longer the majority, they’ll be the plurality.

    White people can’t play as well as black people?

    Fundamentals aren’t as profitable as “street” ball?

    I watched the NBA. The good players, the ones that get playing time, have to be fundamentally sound. Box out on rebounds. Get down low to defend.

    NFL players, black and white, are always working on fundamentals. The best way to block a defensive lineman. Defense backs work on keepinmg their hips open until the receiver has committed to a route.

    So obviously, Moose is missing some facts.

    So, the NBA has fallen in popularity? Just 4% of those polled consider it their favorite sport? Were only white people polled or something, cause even if all 4% were black, that’s less than the black general population. However you look it at, it’s gone down in popularity with black people, too.

    There could be many reasons for that. For instance, NFL shows at least 4 games a week on free antenna TV. The NBA only shows one or two games on free TV. Most NBA games are on cable. Most college games are also on cable, and with the “one (year) and done” players, it’s just not what it used to be. For instance, my mom will only watch games with players she knows. In order for her to have come to know a player, she had to have watched them play in college . . . and remember! These one-year college players don’t play NCAAB long enough to build a fanbase before they’re sent to the netherworlds of the NBA bench. There’s some problem right there.

    And lets be honest. I don’t know if it’s because there’re too many teams now, but the talent level, the level of play, ain’t what it used to be. I hear that in the 80s (before I cared), most teams had multiple future hall of famers playing together. Today, a team is lucky to have two star players, and NY don’t have one! And since the best college-age players are riding the bench in the NBA, the level of play in college has gone down, too.

    The truth is that if Moose is really concerned that maybe white players aren’t being given the same opportunities as black players, they’re other ways to address that besides starting some all-American league. We don’t need to discuss code words quite yet. Just the fact that people of color, no matter where they were born, aren’t considered American is racist. Also, a study has shown that even if a person has no anti-other group bias, their pro-same group bias is enough to result in racism. So we really need to think about how we define racism.

    Now, I don’t know where he’d get enough people with enough money and enough power to pull this off, even if they don’t play on TV. These would have to be people who were okay with openly admitting their racism. Even in the South, whites know better than that. Joe Wilson wouldn’t come out as openly racist. Even assuming Limbaugh will jump on board, you’re talking about getting owners, GMs, coaches and players who’re all white and willing to admit they’re openly racist. To make money, you’d have to get enough fans to openly admit they’re racist.

    And assuming he can find those people, and he probably can, what 12 cites are they going to play in? Atlanta ain’t one. Charlotte may have been a possibility, but they just elected a black Dem mayor who was raised by a a single mother and campaigned on “change.” So I don’t see that happening. Most big arenas anywhere are publically owned.

    The only I see him pulling this off is if they go underground. I just can’t imagine the NAACP, the Rainbow Coalition, the Action Network, the Black Panthers, the New Black Panthers, La Raza, and others, including maybe even a few white anti-racist groups, wouldn’t picket and disrupt any attempt to use the playground courts in Paris, Texas.

    Now, the country should take this seriously as an indication that we’re not quite postracial yet, even if Chris Matthews forgot the president in black. There’s still a lot of work to do. You know what? This is actually a great opportunity to talk about the language of race. If Moose claims not be racist because he doesn’t “hate” anyone of color, doesn’t that start poking holes in this notion that racism necessarily means “hate.” It doesn’t.

    The way I see it, this AABL would fail because not enough people would willingly admit to racism, even if they privately discussed it. And if Moose is willing to make this public, then there’s no question about the level of racism whites display privately. But we gotta find a way to move the conversation from the “crazy” Mooses to the acceptable SCOTUS justices, the presidents who nominate them, US Senators who approve them, and the people who vote the senators and presidents into office. Right?

    Now that I’ve dealt with this issue seriously, I’m glad I did. I had some epiphanies I wasn’t expecting, and I feel good about that. I may look into this some more.

    That said, I gotta admit, I’m kinda looking forward to the spectacle. From day one, this league will be circus. They’re gonna have to place their teams in Iowa and Utah and other places with minimal minority population. So upfront, the US will have to grapple with the fact that racism isn’t just a Southern “thang.”

    In the end, it will be a colossal failure. If it gets off the ground and manages a season, so many people will lose so much money, it will be Goldman Sachs-lite. And perhaps it will put display how entrenched racism is in this country, from linguistics and use of language to hedge funds and government contracts. If this does get off the ground and we start looking into who’s providing the funding and how they got the money in the first place, a lot will be there to sift through and explore. So yeah, instead of ignoring this as a hoax, US should take it seriously as a mirror image of itself.

    And I’m sorry, but just as surely as I can hear the crumbling of the AABL, you should hear my snickering. Cause this thing ain’t got a chance, but attempt is gonna be a sight to see!

    • John D. Foster Author

      Well said, No1KState. I’m not quite sure if Lewis’ “in the minority” comment was in reference to the NBA (which is true) or in the country as a whole (which of course isn’t). If that was what he intended, it wouldn’t surprise me since a lot of whites tend to overestimate the number of nonwhites in U.S. society.

        • John D. Foster Author

          I think it has to do with a deep-seated fear of nonwhites, esp. blacks, rooted in the wrf. Fear of them “taking over” so to speak. I’m not a psychologist, but it’s likely something most whites aren’t even aware of…deeply embedded within their consciousness. We see some of this with the hypebole used by Glen Beck and other white conservatives in reference to Obama, e.g. calling him a communist and comparing him to Mao or Stalin.

  2. distance88

    Sigh. More hackneyed diatribe from an “I know you are but what am I”-style racist (Mr. Lewis). Although I have to admit, the phrase ‘people of white’ did make me chuckle–it’s too bad this guy coined the term.

    As a sports fan, it pains me to hear words like ‘gutsy’, ‘intelligent’, and ‘fundamentally sound’ exclusively describing white athletes, while the qualifications and talent of blacks are constantly devalued in the so-called “cerebral” aspects of sports (head coach, football quarterback, team management, etc). There is absolutely no evidence to be found anywhere in the current sports landscape to support Mr. Lewis’ assertions.

    There’s also the issue of how off-the-court indiscretions are extremely magnified for black athletes when compared to white athletes.

    On a lesser note, the animal analogies that describe athletic prowess don’t really bother me (depending on the context)–I don’t consider humans the most graceful or agile creatures in the animal kingdom, so it may be apt to compare extreme athletic ability in people to more graceful beings–Michael Phelps is often described as having ‘flippers for feet’ and a huge ‘wingspan’.

  3. John D. Foster Author

    By the way, did anyone see Colbert’s program last night, specifically his “Sport Report?” He discussed Lewis’ proposed league and took some shots at him…pretty funny. He said Lewis could replace the nets with Klan hoods.

  4. Rosalind

    I think Joe has mentioned a few times in his research and can cite specific studies where whites overestimate the number of people of color in the United States. It works in tandem with the irrational fear that people of color are “taking over,” “invading,” and are a “flood” of “aliens”(especially Latinos and Asians).


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