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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Why O'Neal Is Wrong

Scoop Jackson today asks, "Why Can't O'Neal Ask Questions?" in reference to the imbroglio over Jermaine O'Neal's recent suggestion there was a racist motivation behind the proposed NBA age limit.

Here's why, Scoop: people don't like it when unsubstantiated charges of racism are thrown around. If David Stern really is a closet racist, it's amazing he's been able to force himself to smile through the NBA Draft for the last twenty years.

Correlation does not equal causation. Just because most teenage NBA entries are black doesn't mean the league is considering an age limit specifically because it wants to keep young black men from getting rich. Anyone who has heard Stern's take on this knows that he's concerned about the ones who enter the draft on bad advice and end up undrafted, not in college, and having their lives seriously screwed up. I think the Leon Smith case and others have affected Stern's thinking on this a lot.

I happen to disagree with Stern and to believe that the rare, exceptional talent like a LeBron James shouldn't be punished for the foolishness of more marginal prospects. But injecting race into the conversation only serves as a distraction from the real issue and even risks discrediting all opponents of an age limit.

And for the record, O'Neal did more than "ask questions." As I quoted the other day, O'Neal said, "As a black guy, you kind of think [race is] the reason why it's coming up." It's reasonable to demand O'Neal provide some sort of evidence of racist motivation behind the proposal since otherwise we would just be letting him get away with impugning league officials in a very ugly way.

So either give real evidence of racism, or don't mention it again. There are plenty of ways to argue the merits of rejecting an age limit.