So that raises other questions almost never discussed in public: What happened to the NBA's white American stars? Why are there so many more foreign white stars? Does this disparate impact amount to evidence of discrimination against whites in American basketball before they can reach the professional level?
We can quantify the shortfall of white American players relative to white foreigners by looking at the list of the 50 best active players in terms of cumulative career achievement as measured by Win Shares on Basketball-Reference.com.
There are nine white players out of the top 50, eight of whom grew up abroad: #3 is Nowitzki, #8 Steve Nash, #14 Pau Gasol, #22 Peja Stojakovic, #25 Manu Ginobili, #36 Andrei Kirilenko, #37 Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and #47 Hedo Turkoglu.
Only one American white is in the top 50: Â #28, Brad Miller, a 35-year-old center. Â He's the last white American to play in two NBA All Star games, back in 2003 and 2004. Like Larry Bird, Miller grew up in a small town in Indiana.
Why are there so few white American players?Read the whole thing there.
A few comments on the NBA Finals:
With 30 teams in the league, it's hard for any one player to win a championship. The random odds of winning are 1/30th for each year of your career and nobody's career lasts 30 years.
Obviously, a star is supposed to make it a lot likelier for his team to win, but how much likelier?Â Jason Kidd just won his first title after 17 years as a starter. He's second all time on the assists list behind John Stockton and third all time on the steals list behind Stockton and Michael Jordan. He's really good. Nowitzki just won his first title after 13 years in the league. He's really good, too.
So, the Kidd/Nowitzki average so far in their impressive careers is one title every fifteen years, or that a Hall of Famer will double the odds per year of a team winning the title over an average player.
This is an extremely small sample size, but it sounds kind of right. At hitting a baseball, Babe Ruth was 2.06 times as good as the average player over his entire career, Ted Williams 1.90 times, and Barry Bonds 1.81. In other words, it's really, really hard in baseball to be twice as good as the average player: only Babe Ruth has done it. Does being twice as good equate to twice as likely to win it all? Eh, now that I think about it, probably not. But I don't know whether it's more or less likely. Ruth didn't win a ton of World Series until he got a sidekick named Lou Gehrig, who was the 4th best hitter ever. Williams/Bonds only made it to two WS and didn't win either.
In basketball, I haven't found a statistic that quite matches up to OPS+ in baseball. I suspect it's easier in the NBA to be twice as good as the average as in the MLB, but it's still really hard. Team sizes are smaller in basketball than in baseball: 5 versus 9, and players go head to head sometimes as in Hakeem Olajuwon v. David Robinson and Patrick Ewing in the mid-90s Finals. The dominant player usually winds up the Finals MVP. Michael Jordan, for example, went to six Finals, won six, and won six Finals MVP awards.
So, the Finals MVP award is a big deal. The only guy who ever won it on a losing team was Jerry West of the Lakers in 1969 versus Bill Russell's last Celtics team.
But West's career shows how unusually great MJ was. West went to, I believe, ten Finals, and the Lakers won one (1972). He was 0-7 versus the mighty Boston Celtics and 1-2 v. a wonderfully balanced New York Knicks.
Yet, West was extremely good. He scored huge numbers of points, dished out lots of assists, and stole the ball frequently. He even regularly blocked shots from behind — a memorable skill because the stripped shooter would continue with his jump shot routine as in a pantomime as a shocked look spread over his face as he realized that West was heading for a layup at the other end. He was smart — as GM of the Lakers he landed Shaq and a 17-year-old Kobe in the same offseason. And West was intensely competitive, Â a ferociously driven bastard, like Jordan. His admirers are happy and a bit surprised that he's lived into his 70s without self-combusting.
Yet, he won a grand title of one championship in 14 years, most of those years with Elgin Baylor on his team, some of those years with Wilt Chamberlain, a few of those years with Elgin and Wilt.
So, I'm not terribly shocked that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh only managed to lose a quite close Finals in their first year together. West, Baylor, and Chamberlain couldn't win in two years together. West finally won when the knee surgery-slowed Baylor retired in the fall of 1971, letting the Lakers turn into a running team.
So, I'm not hugely surprised that in their first year together, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh merely lost a very close Finals, winding up only the 2nd best out of 30 teams.
LeBron has been famous for so long that a lot of people are kind of sick of him by now, but by the standards of NBA stars he seems like an okay guy. These days, everybody loves old dead guys with gaudy statistics but not many rings, like Wilt and Ted Williams. Maybe LeBron doesn't match up to Michael Jordan as a ruthless winner, but he's a lot more of a team player than Wilt or Ted.