Anyone see The Blind Side recently? You know, the movie about Michael Oher overcoming a dreadful youth experience en route to becoming an NFL starter? While the story is nothing short of incredible, it's sad how predictable many of these inspiring "athlete beats the odds" stories have become.
However, for one of our beloved Houston Rockets, there's an entirely different obstacle standing in the way. Yes, it has to do with race, but no, it's not in the same way that you might think.
This afternoon, Mark Schwartz of ESPN's Outside the Lines did a report on the lack of white Americans succeeding in the NBA. We always hear about the miniscule number of black Americans in Major League Baseball, but are rarely confronted with the same predicament in basketball. It's an interesting report, one that I was hesitant to accept. But once you start to think about it, how little else white Americans impact pro basketball on the court than from directly at the rim or behind the three-point line, you realize how rare a breed guys like Larry Bird or Jerry West were. Perhaps today's game would turn them into average players, or perhaps they were just that good.
Though only 24 games into the 2009-2010 season, it's clear that Chase Budinger is striving to become more than just a role player. When is the last time we saw a white American wing player with the athletic ability of Ginger McNasty's (I'm permanently borrowing Hardwood Paroxysm's nickname for Chase, by the way)? Offensively, Budinger has as much ability as anyone on the court. Matt already posted this analysis of Budinger from Empty the Bench, but I'd like to show it to you again:
Making his first NBA start in his first NBA season, the Rockets’ 6-7 second-round pick, acquired in a draft-day deal with these Pistons, was phenomenal. Yes, he’s got a stroke on his jumper that’s sweeter than a baked sweet potato drizzled in butter and brown sugar, but this kid looks to be much more than your standard, run-of-the-mill spot-up shooter from three-point land who contributes little else. He scored, but he also rebounded, ran the floor, dove to the floor to scramble for loose balls, rebounded, passed, flashed surprising athleticism. He played defense! In other words, he fit in just fine with this hard-nosed Rockets team that’s once again doing things few predicted they could.
Eric Piatkowski. Jon Barry. My boy, Steven Michael Novak. Each of these players are suitable offensive options from three-point land, but could not create much for themselves, and could not defend well. While we expect Chase to become a solid offensive option, it's the defensive end that, according to common knowledge and to the OTL report, has plagued the white American in the NBA.
Chase has been decent defensively, but he will never be able to guard the best player on an opposing team. He'll improve with time, but he's not the natural tenacious defender that you expect from a top scoring option. Is it because Budinger is white? Possibly, but Chase is not your ordinary white American - the athleticism is there. For him, defense is a mental thing. The more he dedicates himself to it, the better he will get.
If anything, you should be excited to witness the slow rumblings of the revolution of the white American basketball player. Now, white Americans reading this, go find your children, sit them in front of the television tonight, and let them watch Budinger go to work.
Maybe they'll pick up a basketball in the morning.