I was listening to the Kojo Nnamdi Show today, and part of the discussion centered on African American sports preferences. An old head like Gerald Early loves baseball like it was his second wife. But for a guy like me? I'm down with baseball when the Tigers are doing work. I keep up with them enough to have been happy that Alan Trammel, Lance Parrish, and Kirk Gibson were brought back into the fold, but I don't live and breathe baseball.
I live and breathe basketball. When I'm not thinking about writing, or researching, or writing? I'm thinking about a crossover. A jumpshot. A behind the back look off bounce pass on the break. And truth be told? I can't play. I play well enough to hold my own, but I can count the number of times I've been in the zone during a pickup game on one hand with two fingers lopped off. And I'm not alone. Starting with my generation I think, blacks have turned their backs on baseball.
One of the guys on Nnamdi's show made "the bling" argument. Black kids are transfixed by the dream of getting paid. Of getting on ESPN Sportscenter. Of being in the slam dunk contest.
I don't buy this. I called in for the better part of a half hour trying to smack some sense in them fools. NO one chooses basketball because of the promise of loot. After you CHOOSE basketball, and get good at it, you might try harder because you think you can make loot later down the line...but you don't pick up a rock at 6 and make a decision like that.
For me what looms large are three things: the first is the dearth of urban baseball diamonds. When cities started getting their budgets hamstrung, the first thing they cut was parks and rec. It's easier finding a Sharper Image within Detroit's borders than it is finding a nice serviceable baseball diamond. If you don't already have a group of baseball hardheads who are willing to dive through broken glass to snag grounders, nobody's going to pick up the game when the fields suck. The second? Getting 6 people to play three on three, 10 people to play five on five is easy.
Try getting 18 to play a pickup game of baseball. Who just happen to have gloves on them. Ain't happening. You can't find those types of numbers in the city anymore. Hell, how many times have we heard stories about pros practicing by themselves imagining themselves as Jordan, or Dr. J? Magic used to play one on NONE imagining he was Julius Erving taking the last shot. Do that with a baseball why don't you?
The third? The lack of a serviceable Little League infrastructure that can expose people to the nuances of the game. The reason why Detroit, Flint and Saginaw produce ballers left and right is because a dedicated basketball infrastructure exists that identifies and trains talent. It wasn't uncommon to see Isiah, Derrick Coleman, Chris Webber, all playing ball at Saint Cecilia during the summers.
Nowhere in this model does "bling" play a role. Kids don't make decisions on what to play based on potential income. And the thing is, if we were talking about white kids, I don't think anyone would make that type of argument. If the bling model held fast, then wouldn't white kids be moving away from the game too? Sheesh.
For me, Jelani Cobb, and Avery Tooley, not a damn week goes by when something doesn't happen and we're like "damn. I wish Wiley was here."
I think I'ma add a new category. Call it Wiley.