January 2, 2012

The Olajuwon Shortage

Why was I wrong? 

More than 30 years ago, in the fall of 1981, I first heard about a freshman basketball player at the U. of Houston, Akeem Abdul-Olajuwon, a center generously said to be a seven footer who would post big numbers one night, then nothing much the next night: hardly unexpected for a kid who had only been playing basketball at all for about three years. 

He was the first African basketball player I could remember, and my thinking at the time was that he wouldn't be the last. After all, American-born blacks were pretty good at basketball and there were a lot more where they came from in Africa, so Olajuwon would likely be only the first of a long line of African-born stars.

This wasn't an unusual concept at the time -- for example, a Rice U. professor in Houston named Max Apple wrote a 1994 movie starring Kevin Bacon, The Air Up There, about a scout looking for the next big thing in Africa.

Olajuwon continued to improve and Houston went to the NCAA Final Four all three years he was there. The Houston Rockets picked him over Michael Jordan (and Sam Bowie) as the first choice in the NBA draft. He posted some spectacular numbers (the only player ever to have over 200 blocks and 200 steals in one season, I believe) , then started to fade on offense, then, after changing his first name to Hakeem to signify his renewed Muslim faith, he made a resurgence. He led Houston to two NBA championships ('94 and '95) during Jordan's weird minor league baseball sabbatical, winning a season MVP award and two NBA Finals MVP awards, which might be the higher honor. A most satisfying career. Olajuwon is widely admired as an unquestioned Hall of Famer. In his retirement, he has become a well-known businessman in Houston. 

In early 2010, there were said to be 25 African basketball players in the NBA, which is about 1 out of 14. If true, that's quite a few, but looking at the Wikipedia page, it looks more like there 25 in history.

The odd thing, though, is that Olajuwon, the pathfinder, remains, by a significant distance, the best black African basketball player ever. (The only born-in-Africa player since him to win MVP awards is Steve Nash, who is white.) That's what I wouldn't have expected in 1981. If you had told me then that he would be an NBA superstar, I would have guessed that somebody even better would have come along from Africa since then.

But, that hasn't really happened.

How come? Here are some speculations:

First, Olajuwon was really, really good. And he kept perfecting new moves up into his 30s. So, the first being the best was just a fluke.

Second, basketball may have changed a little since his time, away from being a game for big galoots from wherever toward players who are more sophisticated basketball players. Most sports have become more technical, with more tutoring used early in life. 

Third, Africans tend to be quite short due to poor nutrition and poor health. 

Fourth, AIDS, although the West African countries weren't hit as catastrophically.

Fifth, soccer is just a steamroller in Africa (as in most of the world), so even big galoots aren't playing basketball.

Sixth, maybe there are differences between African-Americans and Africans that weren't apparent in 1981.

Also, African stars in the NBA tend to be from the upper classes in Africa: Olajuwon's father was a big businessman, Dikembe Mutombo's father graduated from the Sorbonne, and Luol Deng's father was a Sudanese cabinet officer and diplomat in Sudan and Deng mostly grew up in London. 

94 comments:

Anonymous said...

Basketball needs hoops and most African nations don't have infrastructure for hoops.

APH said...

Steve you need to read Bill Simmons take on Olajuwon - starts on page 548: http://books.google.com/books?id=2zRCU-RakZ0C&lpg=PA459&dq=The%20Book%20of%20Basketball%20olajuwon&pg=PA547#v=snippet&q=hakeem%20olajuwon&f=false

APH said...

I guess Google Books omits certain key pages in Simmons book, but basically he argues that Olajuwon's foundation - training as a soccer player/goalie - gave him amazing footwork, then he grew taller and picked up a basketball as a teenager after already having developed the skills of an agile soccer player... I can't find the whole excerpt on Olajuwon online, but I remember reading it, and it was spot on...

Anonymous said...

Africa has high birth rates


One they figure out stuff they will take Over the world

Steve Sailer said...

Simmons mentions other advantages like NBA superstar Moses Malone hanging out in Houston all summer shooting hoops with Olajuwon when he was in college.

Anonymous said...

What's the fascination with Olajuwon. In '86 Bird, McHale, Walton and Parish demolished the twin towers from Houston. The show Bird put on in game six is stuff of legend. By the 95 season the NBA had added another six teams. Expansion will always waterdown league talent and raise numbers above reasonable proportions. Look at Gretzky's best years in the 80s, the league sucked because of expansion. Ditto the NBA in the 90s.

Anonymous said...

Quote of the Year:

Ben N Indiana said...

What we DON'T see is black flight escaping White racism. There is no underground railroad terminating in Zimbabwe.

January 2, 2012 9:32 PM

bjdubbs said...

I don't think it's a fluke the first was the best. Arthur Ashe was the first and best black male tennis player. Akeem Olajuwon got on a plane, went to Houston, and paid for his own cab to his tryout. Nobody invited him and nobody was looking for him, but he was there because he loved basketball. There's a huge difference between that and some kid picked out of his class, handed a basketball, and shipped to Spain to play in a professional league because he happens to be 6-9, like Bismack Biyombo.

Anonymous said...

First commenter is right as far as basketball is almost non-existent in (sub saharan) Africa; certainly not mainstream. So no hoops, no pick up games, no balls even. And soccer skills may provide some primary foundation, but it's a totally different game. Also I would assume the indigenous NBA guys would be more hardass about defending their lunch these days.
Gilbert Pinfold

RandyB said...

In Nigeria, Olajuwon had played soccer. It could be that salaries for soccer players in Europe have caught up to American basketball salaries.

Anonymous said...

"Fifth, soccer is just a steamroller in Africa (as in most of the world), so even big galoots aren't playing basketball."

Yes, but other sports, such as cricket and rugby, have seen an upsurge in black African athletes in the past twenty years.

Black African (not just South Africa) national teams in cricket and rugby are now fairly competitive internationally (though they are still minnows, with the exception of South Africa) whereas they weren't 20 years ago. A few black African rugby stars are now playing in England and France similar to black soccer stars from Africa, etc.

Soccer still takes the lion's share but it isn't a monopoly. This is something invisible to most Americans because they don't pay attention to non-American sports.

Basketball's strong areas of growth have been in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Not in Africa. Olajuwon was a fluke.

Camlost said...

#7 - Africans can't afford basketballs, rims and basketball shoes that fit.

There's a hilariously touching old video of Olajuwon crying tears of joy at coming to the US and being able to finally get size 18 shoes, instead of having to cram himself into painful shoes sized 14-17.

Nike makes ZERO money in Africa, so they're not about to sponsor teenage African basketball players with shoes... and African families would be way too practical to spend their hard-earned money on overpriced sneakers, unlike African-Americans.

BTW, Olajuwon was initially spotted in Africa by boosters from both NC State and Houston. They were the ones who called their contacts back in the US, urging them to investigate the phenom they had seen playing in some dusky Nigerian gym. Olajuwon would not have remained a secret for long, he would have popped up somewhere else. NC State only lost intest when they gave away their last scholarship slot.

Camlost said...

Oh, and Hakeem Olajuwon set at least one record that will probably never be broken - earning NBA Player of the Month honors (Feb 1995) while under strict dietary observance of Ramadan.

Anonymous said...

Malnutrition. Disease. Stunted growth.

Anonymous said...

One theory is that the level of coaching and player development has gone down, with colleges replaced by the streetball-friendly AAU circuit and European club teams who focus differently?

--Discordiax

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you didn't mention the scene in Airplane!

Off-topic slightly, but I've often wondered about these sports-stars-turned-successful-businessmen. Do they get business acumen while being sports stars (contracts etc) they later use? Do smart advisers come after them, attracted to their money, and make them partners, like the cukong of Indonesia? What's the story?

Paul Mendez said...

Africa has high birth rates

One they figure out stuff they will take Over the world


In 1977 I was in college, and took a course on modern African politics pass-fail. (Keep in mind that this was at a time when it looked like OPEC and Japan would soon own everything on the planet, and any American with a smidgeon of Japanese business experience was in hot demand.)

The professor, who was Haitian, told us that now that Africa was freeing itself from colonialism, it would be the continent of the future. Africa, you see, had hard-working people (like Japan) plus untold natural resources (like OPEC). Once Europe stopped stealing Africa's output, Africans would become fabulously rich and successful. He advised all us young white people to take jobs with companies that did business in Africa so we'd get our foot in the door for the Next Big Thing.

I remember taking his advice seriously for all of 90 seconds.

Anonymous said...

Talent scouts should be looking at places like Senegal and at ethnic groups like Mande people.That' s where the big guys are in Africa outside of the Great Lakes.

Justin said...

African basketball is bad. Just look at any international competition. Given their huge population numbers, there is no excuse for it. Blacks in White countries, such as Britain, France, and America, seem to do well, but amongsts themselves, even in much greater numbers, they are junk.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Rice, the then Akeem used to have a girlfriend at Jones College. The now retired college secretary from that era regarded the tall African kid as a pest who came around too much.

David said...

From ESPN on the Bismack Biyombo tryout for NBA lottery:

As the workout comes to a painful conclusion, one NBA GM leans over to me and says, "Bismack Biyombo just played a game of one-on-none ... and he lost."

albert magnus said...

It should be said that Jordan came back for the playoffs in 1995 and lost to the Orlando Magic. The Bulls 1995-1996 team was much better than their 1993-1994 team, so who knows who would of been in the finals 1994 had Jordan played.

Dikembe Mutoumbo was a good defensive center that played forever, but not in Olajuwon's league.

Marlowe said...

A black underground railway to Africa did exist once - look up Marcus Garvey & the Back to Africa movement. See also the recent history of Liberia for the consequences of American black flight.

On the question of black African basketball players I think the answer lies in the global popularity of soccer & the huge amounts of money a good player can now make (a trend originating in the early '80s). I think this has drawn off the talent as more opportunities offer themselves. British football now has a lot of young black African players (& so do most European clubs). The current English national side's captain, John Terry, faces prosecution for allegedly racially abusing one of these young African players on the football pitch during a match and potentially several years in jail if convicted.

Truth said...

"There is no underground railroad terminating in Zimbabwe. "

No, there was one in another country though, can't remember which one.

Kylie said...

"Africa has high birth rates


One they figure out stuff they will take Over the world."


Africa has high birth rates because the ones who took over the world have been feeding Africans for decades. Once the ones who are in the midst of taking over Africa then move on to taking over the rest of the world, you can reasonably expect the African birth rate to plummet.

In other words, don't hold your breath and don't take your dashiki out of storage.

SGOTI said...

"Basketball needs hoops and most African nations don't have infrastructure for hoops."

Patently untrue!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiYbIyOYCG0

Anonymous said...

"What we DON'T see is black flight escaping White racism. There is no underground railroad terminating in Zimbabwe."

But there was the great migration in the 20th century from the South to the North.

Anonymous said...

I think the NBA has transformed into a league that is dominated by skilled, over-sized guards. The emergence of Kevin Durant, Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony has lessened individual team's needs for "role players". A guy like JJ Reddick would have been significantly more valuable in the NBA if he came along around the same time as Olajuwon. Remember Paxson and Kerr on the Bulls during those championship years. They came up HUGE. I think the same holds true for Olajuwon. He was a big, athletic guy whose scoring abilities continually evolved over the course of his career, but let's not forget about Clyde Drexler's role on those teams too. Even though Hakeem was highly skilled, he still had a very specific role on those teams.

We have entered the age of the highlight reel in the NBA. A lot of this has to due with youth basketball's shift toward AAU teams. Team concept basketball? Bye-Bye.

I think this "Olajuwon Shortage" speaks more of the evolution of American basketball than it speaks of a shortage of African prospects.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that there have been more great white players from Europe than great black players from Africa. Maybe some peoples racial theories are just wrong?

beowulf said...

OT, I see economist Jamie Galbraith endorsed Ron Unz's minimum wage plan.
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/01/03/7_raise_the_minimum_wage_a_lot

Fake Herzog said...

As a huge Bulls fan in the 90s, I watched and rooted for Olajuwon as he won those two titles (once the Bulls were eliminated -- famously against the Knicks in '94 which was painful) and he was absolutely amazing.

Therefore I tend toward your first explanation. However, I still think it is strange that we don't see more West African players coming to America, which makes me think that they just aren't playing the game, period. If Argentina or Spain can give the U.S. a run for our money in the Olympics, then you would think that if a West African country took basketball seriously, they would produce some talent.

G Joubert said...

All those African diamonds-in-the-rough are presumably still there. Problem is, basketball is much more an international game now, with Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans, South Americans, and even Asians, competing for those precious few NBA spots. What those places have that Africa generally lacks is a system for identifying and developing talent from an early age.

Canadian Observer said...

Hakeem played the first 17 years of his career in Houston, and played the last year of his career with the Toronto Raptors. His only claim to fame here is that he became useful fodder for ethnic comedians here in Toronto who would mimic his thick and charming African accent.

Samir said...

the answer is muscle bulk....when will we see some Indian professional ballers?

Kylie said...

"But there was the great migration in the 20th century from the South to the North."

Manufacturing was much stronger in the North.

Go Ron Paul! said...

Go to Drudge and vote for Paul!

not a hacker said...

I once heard Chick Hearn say, "Olajuwon's standing right next to Jim Peterson, who's 6'10", and he's exactly the same height."

dearieme said...

There was once a lovely player of the jazz clarinet, Edmond Hall. He took it into his head to set up a music school in Ghana, to bring forth new jazzmen. Do read about it: I sympathise with the poor guy, though I dare say some readers here will cackle.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmond_Hall

Anonymous said...

I still think it is strange that we don't see more West African players coming to America


If you think that black people are naturally gifted athletes - as many people here do believe - then it looks strange.

If you think that African Americans are dominant in American sports for cultural reasons, then it does not look strange at all.

The fact that white Europeans do so much better in NBA basketball than do white Americans seems like petty conclusive evidence that something cultural is going on.

Catperson said...

Because of malnutrition, blacks in Africa just don't have as much height, coordination, reaction time and IQ as blacks in America and thus are not as competitive in complex professional sports.

candid_observer said...

I agree with a number of other commenters here: the real problem with Africa seems to be that there's no pipeline.

When there's no pipeline, you're at the mercy of random events, resulting in flukes.

And Olajuwon appears to be a fluke.

Even if the NBA would have better players if they could develop the talent in Africa, what's in it for them to do so? Who among sports fans is going to know or care that there are potentially still better players out there?

And what individual college could afford to develop the talent in Africa?

Anonymous said...

The professor, who was Haitian, told us that now that Africa was freeing itself from colonialism, it would be the continent of the future.

As a Haitian he would know that the French were kicked out of Haiti a long long time ago (George Washington might have been the President at the time)and being freed from colonialism it is the country of the future.

Anonymous said...

"African basketball is bad. Just look at any international competition. Given their huge population numbers, there is no excuse for it."

I don't think it's a big sport in Africa. African Judo is pretty bad too, but then how many Africans do judo and how many get good practice? Does that mean Japanese are more athletic than Africans cuz top Japanese judo guys beat African guys?

Anonymous said...

Because Africa is closer to Europe, many African athletes play European sports. If Africa were next to the US, maybe US teams would recruit more from Africa--just like US baseballs recruits a lot of people from the Caribbean.

Anonymous said...

It could be part of the reason is cultural. Individualism isn't very big in the African cultural character. Basketball is an irreverent game where one has to make slickity-slack showboaty moves. American individualism may have had an impact on black athleticism. It could be American blacks are less inhibited about doing wildass stuff to show off.

ben tillman said...

The Mulombo tribe seem to have a knack for the sport:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiYbIyOYCG0

Anonymous said...

"Fifth, soccer is just a steamroller in Africa (as in most of the world), so even big galoots aren't playing basketball."

Rugby and cricket are also big sports in the former British colonies and are played by blacks increasingly. Black African professional rugby players now play in Europe. Basketball doesn't have much of a foothold in Africa yet.

Anonymous said...

To play basketball right, you need a hardwood floor -- or at least some concrete, asphalt, etc

Africans, the math, do, etc

Anonymous said...

@Catperson, there a whole load of Africans who play in European soccer. Wouldn't the same thing apply to them?

ATBOTL said...

Maybe Africans aren't as great athletes as some think.

G-Popovich said...

Nah, I think the real problem lies in African culture. American culture too.

BTW Shawn Marion, you cannot be a "world champion" because there is no such thing...

Anonymous said...

Boy, these sports threads really show the cluelessness out there.

Euro soccer is the landing place for athletically-talented, SEVEN FOOT Africans?! Really?

Soccer is the peasant sport for the Third World. Basketball is the peasant sport for the First World. The US and Brazil are really the only countries that do both at an elite level (extra points for remembering Oscar Schmidt).

Troofie, that particular railroad ended in Liberia. Google Liberia or the American Colonization Society.

Hunsdon said...

I was always a fan of Olajuwon. Part of this is traceable to having lived so long in Houston, but there were plenty of great athletes in Houston I cared nothing for. Olajuwon, whether Akeem or Hakim, always struck me as a class act. There was a younger American Muslim player who refused to stand for the national anthem, and Olajuwon chided him for that, gently.

Anonymous said...

"It is interesting that there have been more great white players from Europe than great black players from Africa. Maybe some peoples racial theories are just wrong?"

I think it is more likely that we will start to see good black basketballers from Europe.

"British football now has a lot of young black African players (& so do most European clubs). The current English national side's captain, John Terry, faces prosecution for allegedly racially abusing one of these young African players on the football pitch"

The player in question here, Anton Ferdinand, is only partly and distantly African. His father is West Indian (St Lucia) and his mother Irish. But what I am getting above is that n'th generation black immigrants have the advantage of genes plus pipelines, nutrition, etc.
Gilbert Pinfold.

Aaron Baugher said...

It's hard to imagine that soccer is stealing all the 7-foot guys, since most really tall guys don't seem agile enough to dribble the ball with their hands without hurting themselves, let alone with their feet. I remember Kareem getting stuck dribbling the ball down the court because a full-court press had everyone else tied up. This guy was nothing but grace and finesse in the paint, but when he put the ball on the floor 80 feet from the basket, he looked like a go-cart built out of tinkertoys and then sent hurtling downhill, ready to fly to pieces at the first bump.

Maybe some of the soccer fans can tell us: are there a lot of really tall guys in soccer? Is it considered an advantage, for reaching up over the crowd for headers, or seeing better for throwing the ball in?

Even if it's an advantage in soccer, it's a huge advantage in basketball. If a guy is 7'2" and has a little bulk so he can't be brushed out of the lane, he doesn't need a whole lot of talent to have an NBA career. If he develops a bit of a hook shot and practices enough to make a decent free throw percentage, he could be a star. Those are skills that can be learned in a couple years if you have any natural aptitude. On the other hand, if he's 6'9", he'll need to be Charles Barkley to compete in the paint. Those few inches make a huge difference, whether it's a 6'4" kid dominating his 6' peers at a small high school or a 7'2" pro center in the NBA.

No matter how much malnutrition and AIDS and soccer Africa has, it still has to have a handful of really tall guys whose height would mean a lot more in basketball than in any other sport. If they aren't showing up at all, something else in going on. They aren't being searched for (and if NBA teams thought there were more Olajuwons over there, they'd be looking), or they don't have the minimum agility and learning ability that it would take to make a 7-footer a reasonable prospect.

Truth said...

"but then how many Africans do judo and how many get good practice?"

The Cuban program is one of the world's best.

Anonymous said...

Even if they had a lot of great players in African, they shouldn't be allowed to come here and play. I've had it with the Latin baseball players too.I read on Vdare that Bush signed a law that let in many more foreign players for the minor league teams.

Marlowe said...

Why doesn't America produce any decent cricketers?

Perhaps they can't understand the shape of the bat - after all it is curved on one side and flat on the obverse. Or the necessity of having two batsmen face one another - very confusing! And one runs back and forth going nowhere which makes little sense.

It must be a lack of good breeding.

Anonymous said...

Soccer is the peasant sport for the Third World. Basketball is the peasant sport for the First World.



Who knew that Britain, Italy, Germany, etc were "Third World" countries? Or that the only country in the "First World" was America?

Indeed, these sports threads really show the cluelessness out there.

jody said...

probably a combination of interest in basketball not being that high in africa in general, combined with the absolute myth that africans in general are totally awesome, unstoppable, ultra dominant athletes.

in reality african africans routinely get outplayed, often easily, by europeans, in most international sports. they are decent track runners and jumpers and not much else. they suck at soccer, the ball sport they are probably most interested in.

we can't overlook the fact that the europeans' bigger brains help give them an athletic advantage over africans. africans, relying strictly on other africans for everything, are not going to be very competitive in international sports. there's 1 billion of them, so it's not a fluke or a small sample size or a statistical abberation.

by the way, hasheem thabeet is one of the biggest busts of all-time. it's hard to overstate what a colossal bust he is. but he's not white, so there is zero focus on what a legendary bust he is. he's a much, MUCH, MUCH bigger bust than ALL of the white players NBA analysts love to bring up endlessly, some of which were decent enough anyway. sometime in the last decade the standards were turned completely upside down.

this is another phenomenon which i've been watching and have posted about before - how incredibly terrible players routinely get a pass now, if they're african, because they melt into the general background of africaness, and people don't really want to keep track of players AS players, they just want to focus the blame for their team's failings on convenient european scapegoats. it was pretty frustrating watching erick dampier score 0 points per game in some of those maverick playoff games and then watching dirk take a full blast of bashing for merely scoring 39 points. "No team will ever win with him" was a direct quote from several "experts".

JS123 said...

It is going to take a while for our country to get their minds around that idea that Africans and African-Americans aren't the same race. Africans are a race, while African-Americans are a mixture of African and white races.

nsam said...

Yannick Noah's son plays in the NBA. He is 25% African (Yannick was half) and that didn't seem to much affect his basketballing talents. Yannick's wikipidea page makes for interesting reading.

http://goo.gl/YW8tb

vandelay said...

I loved Deke! The finger wag and the voice alone qualified him for all-star status. The shot blocking was just the icing on the cake.

Catperson said...

@Catperson, there a whole load of Africans who play in European soccer. Wouldn't the same thing apply to them?


Well soccer seems to only require speed and Africans are so genetically superior in speed that even malnourished Africans can outrun well nourished whites.


However the margin of African genetic physical superiority is not as great in all physical traits so well nourished whites can hold their own against malnourished blacks in basketball since basketball is dominated by height where blacks have no genetic advantage. In addition, a complex strategic sport like basketball probably requires an IQ of at least 75 to play at such a competitive level and mean IQ in Africa is only 67. The same malnutrition that shrinks African IQ also shrinks height and impairs physical coordination.

jody said...

"Boy, these sports threads really show the cluelessness out there. Euro soccer is the landing place for athletically-talented, SEVEN FOOT Africans?! Really?"

i've mostly stopped trying to address the persistent myth that 6-8 basketball players would "dominate" any sport they wanted "if they were interested". alone and by myself, i can hardly ever hope to match the brainwashing and propaganda efforts of ESPN and other US sports media outlets.

it is interesting the contradictions they must create to establish and advance their agenda. in soccer, the ball is AT YOUR FEET. the taller you are, the further you are away from it. in basketball, it is generally accepted that the taller a player is, the worse his handles are. to make a single dribble, the taller a player is, the further and further the ball must travel from the player's hand, to the floor, where his feet are, then back up. this is why germany and spain could be awesome at soccer, but nowitzki and gasol never played. there's no shortage of 7 foot athletes in europe, especially in the netherlands, but there are zero soccer players that tall at the highest levels of play.

yet generally accepted sports science, agreed upon even by basketball "experts", is thrown out the window instantly, in the face of the all powerful, all conquering argument of "but lebron james and dwight howard would be the best at any sport if they wanted." based upon, i suppose, them being invincible black superhumans, or something.

that michael jordan sucked at baseball, and that basketball players at the highest level of play, are very specialized for hoops and vertical athleticism, with less crossover to other sports than american football players, must be ignored. stay on message. lebron james is the best athlete in any sport in any country by such a huge margin it's not in dispute. he could outsprint bolt, knockout klitschko, outthrow rodgers, outpitch verlander, and outbat kemp, any time he wanted.

Anonymous said...

Anon, 4:35, are there no peasants in Europe? Is the Oxbridge contingent in the UK playing soccer, or are they more likely involved in crew and cricket? How about the Sorbonne and Heidelberg?

Or does the soccer talent come from the council flats and banlieus?

Just who/whom plays Euro soccer? Per the BBC, an average of 10 players PER TEAM were foreigners in the 2009 English Premier League. All prep school kids from New England, I guess..

Clueless is as clueless posts!

Truth said...

"that michael jordan sucked at baseball,"

Eric Clapton would have 'sucked' at guitar, if he hadn't picked one up for 11 years in his 20s.

"lebron james is the best athlete in any sport in any country by such a huge margin it's not in dispute. he could outsprint bolt, knockout klitschko, outthrow rodgers, outpitch verlander, and outbat kemp, any time he wanted."

In high school, LeBron James was the #2 rated wr in America, when he quit the sport as a junior. He was first team all-Ohio as a SOPHMORE and led the team to the state semifinals as a junior.

Hacienda said...

Hakeem was a 7 footer. That's the first and most important clue. They are about a one in a million phenomenon to begin with. He was allowed to develope his game in college due to his height and his clear athleticism. The guard position is a skill position and the skill can't be developed late so pretty much any African less than 6'6" is out. There is enough US talent in the forward height range that only the most outstanding African talent would be worth developing, if at all.

So the question might be why haven't there been more really tall Africans in Hakeem's class?

Maybe the answer is that Hakeem was such an athletic freak that he found the NBA, not the other way around.

Why hasn't there been another Magic Johnson? Or Tiger Woods? Maybe supremely talented athletes find their sport or their niche, rather than the talent scouts finding them.

Anonymous said...

Catperson, if you think soccer is all about speed then you don't know what you're talking about.

It requires some very complicated skill sets at the higher levels of play.

Anonymous said...

"Or does the soccer talent come from the council flats and banlieus?"

Council flats and banlieus in First World countries.

"Just who/whom plays Euro soccer? Per the BBC, an average of 10 players PER TEAM were foreigners in the 2009 English Premier League. All prep school kids from New England, I guess.."

Those are mostly foreign players from other First World countries (yes, that includes South America). The Premier League pays the biggest salaries, so it has the highest percentage of foreign players. "Foreign" is not the same thing as Third World.

"Clueless is as clueless posts!"

Look in the mirror.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe some of the soccer fans can tell us: are there a lot of really tall guys in soccer? Is it considered an advantage, for reaching up over the crowd for headers, or seeing better for throwing the ball in?"

Height is an advantage in soccer in the "air game" but there is a point of rapidly diminishing returns. You'll find lots of tall players (up to six and a half feet tall at most) in soccer, but almost never any seven footers. Goalies might be an exception to this.

Compare the lineups of the US and German national teams and you'll notice the Germans team is on average bigger and taller than the Americans, very noticeably so. But none of them are what you would call "basketball tall".

All other things being equal height does help in soccer, but only up to a point.

Aaron Baugher said...

Jody, when people suggest that taller NBA players could dominate at other sports, I find myself wondering if they've actually seen a 7-foot man try to do anything except dunk a basketball. As you say, when your feet are that far away, "nimble-footed" really isn't the term that comes to mind. Heck, few guys I've known in real life over 6'6" were what you'd call graceful in movement. It's a rare combination to get height greater than that combined with athletic agility.

Marlowe's joke about the lack of American cricketers brings up a good point. How well do professional cricketers get paid? If they got paid better than American baseball players, don't you suppose some Americans with good bat skills would start migrating over there? (Assuming those countries allow it, of course.) To a 7-foot-tall African (or Asian or anyone), pro basketball isn't just some foreign sport among many; it's THE foreign sport that's designed for his size. It's the one career path that could pay him millions. Given that, it doesn't seem like enough to say, "Well, they just aren't big on basketball over there." If I had some physical anomaly that gave me a big advantage at ping pong, and pro ping pong players were getting paid millions in Japan, I think I'd find my way to Japan, or at least get myself in front of a Japanese scout somehow.

I do think people underestimate the importance of intelligence in sports, especially at the highest levels. There's a reason the NFL uses the Wonderlic. Everyone knows QBs need some brains, but so do the guys grunting on the line -- they all have to learn the playbook. Basketball players may not need a lot of book smarts, but they do need quick decision-making, and I'd bet that many of the stars are sharper than fans would guess (more so back when it was more of a team game than today, though).

Anonymous said...

Maybe some of the soccer fans can tell us: are there a lot of really tall guys in soccer? Is it considered an advantage, for reaching up over the crowd for headers, or seeing better for throwing the ball in?

Best club team in the World Barcelona also has the shortest average height.

Kristof van Hout is given as the tallest current player and he is a goalkeeper.

The tallest players play goalkeeper or striker.

Anonymous said...

"the absolute myth that africans in general are totally awesome, unstoppable, ultra dominant athletes."

Though not all blacks are tough, in the integrated school I attended, just about the wimpiest black kid could beat up the toughest white kid. If a black kid said 'after school!' to a white kid, the latter was about to pee in his pants.

And in black vs latino gang fights I've seen, a bunch of guys will be putting on tough guy act but when the big tough blacks appear to join the fight, the latinos run like a mothafucka.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe Africans aren't as great athletes as some think."

They don't get the training. If Mike Tyson had grown up in Africa, there would have no Cus'Dmato to train him and no business model to promote him.
No matter how fast or strong someone is, he won't amount to much in sports without training.

Anonymous said...

Anon, 4:35, are there no peasants in Europe?



Ah, so now you are saying that the phrases such as "Third World" and "First World" which you used do not actually refer to the Third World and First World?

And no, there are actually not many peasants in Europe. Not very many farm laborers, that is.

But perhaps by "peasants" you meant "coarse, boorish, unsophisticated people"? In that case the typical NBA fan seems to be considerably more coarse, boorish, and unsophisticated than the typical European soccer fan.

Anonymous said...

It could be NBA figures it already has too many blacks anyway, so making the game blacker will not make it any more appealing to many people. If basketball is to attract more whites and international audience, it needs more white players. Maybe even a Chinese guy.

Anonymous said...

I give you English footballer (soccer) Peter Crouch. 6 foot 7 ins, he is the tallest player Im aware of - ever. Very much an outlier, whether he has ever dabbled in basketball I dont know, he looks a bit too weedy.

bruce banner said...

"does the soccer talent come from the council flats and banlieus?"

That´s only true in France and the UK. Where the other major Euro leagues take place (Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Germany), the talent pool is equally working-class and middle-class.

Anonymous said...

"Anon, 4:35, are there no peasants in Europe? Is the Oxbridge contingent in the UK playing soccer, or are they more likely involved in crew and cricket?"

Association football is a full blue spot at Oxford and Cambridge and the rules the FA drew upon to makes its original laws were the 'Cambridge Rules'. Most professional footballers do come from a working class background though, but I doubt you would find a (non disabled) Englishman of any class who has never played football at school.

I expect more students at Oxford and Cambridge have played football than have rowed during their time at university. Rowing at the college level is a much bigger commitment in terms of training time than football for a start.

College level = intramural.

Sanitation Department Head Zhivago said...

Do you suppose some black American athletes were aided by a bit of white blood?
Consider some of the greatest black-American athletes and they weren't entirely black. Ali was brown than black. Joe Louis was also brown. OJ Simpson was brown too. So was Jim Brown. So was Sugar Ray Robinson and Leonard. So was Jesse Owens. So was George Foreman. To be sure, there were many great black black athletes like Walter Payton and Michael Jordan. But maybe some black-American athletes gained something extra by having a bit of white blood that added an extra dimension to their physical and mental capability. Though it was advantageous to be MOSTLY black, maybe certain white genes added something special to black-Americans with some whiteness. They benefited from macro-blackness and micro-whiteness.

It's like a bit of salt makes food taste better. So, maybe a bit of white blood added some salt to black athletics.

Anonymous said...

And notice that best-looking blacks also have some white genes.

Anonymous said...

@aaron

Kobe Bryant does seem quite bright in the interviews I've seen.

Anonymous said...

"Catperson, if you think soccer is all about speed then you don't know what you're talking about.

It requires some very complicated skill sets at the higher levels of play."

Right, Look at Theo Walcott, Gerrard and Lampard of England. Walcott, while a decent player, is much faster, but he isn't even close to Gerrard and Lampard in their primes.

Xavi and Iniesta of Spain are both about 5'7" and weigh 140 pounds , but they are 2 of the best midfielders in the world. I am sure they wouldn't win any foot race.

Galactic Overlord said...

Responding to an anonymous poster about black African teams being competitive in rugby and cricket:

I don't know much about the makeup of cricket in South Africa. I do know it was historically quite white, although nowadays it's the only sport in the country that's top-two in popularity among all major ethnic groups: Afrikaners, Anglophone whites, blacks, "Asians" (actually subcontinent Indian), and Coloureds (mixed-race people, mostly black and white, who were considered a separate group under apartheid).

As for rugby, I follow that sport quite a lot more. In South Africa, it remains a heavily white sport at the elite level, despite huge efforts to bring non-whites into the game. Just as an example, here's a rundown on the national squad for the 2011 Rugby World Cup...

Squads are limited to 30 players. Of the 30 players initially named to the squad, I can only identify seven non-whites. One player was replaced due to injury before the team left for New Zealand; both of these were whites. More specifically:

Among the forwards, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Tendai Mtawarira are black. Ralepelle's real first name, BTW, is Mahlatse. Mtawarira is an immigrant from Zimbabwe.

Backs? Odwa Ndungane is black. As best as I can tell, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Bryan Habana, and JP Pietersen are all Coloured. Incidentally, Habana is now the country's all-time leading try scorer.

I don't know this for sure, but I think that South Africa's national rugby sevens team (seven-a-side, but on a full-sized field) has proportionally more nonwhites. It's one of the 12 "core teams" in the IRB Sevens World Series, the world's top annual series for teams in that rugby variant. Interestingly, another black African nation is a core team—Kenya. (BTW, "core teams" are those that have a guaranteed place in each tournament.)

Anonymous said...

just about the wimpiest black kid could beat up the toughest white kid.

Roger Huerta did not go to your school.

Anonymous said...

"I give you English footballer (soccer) Peter Crouch. 6 foot 7 ins, he is the tallest player Im aware of - ever."

TAller guys obviously have the advantage in headings.

Jim O said...

Jordan's baseball sojourn doesn't seem weird when one realizes that it was just a cover for a negotiated suspension by the NBA for his gambling:

1. NBA announces investigation of Jordan's gambling.
2 Jordan announces he's leaving basketball for baseball, supposedly in honor of his recently-deceased father's wishes.
3. NBA announces that,ergo,probe will be dropped as moot.
4. Jordan announces he's returning to NBA.
5. NBA announces that investigation will resume, since it's not moot anymore.
6. Everyone is oblivious that number 5 didn't happen.

JW Ogden said...

You only need this:
Third, Africans tend to be quite short due to poor nutrition and poor health.

Only a small slice of the west African population get enough food to become NBA stars.

War Lord said...

"Well soccer seems to only require speed and Africans are so genetically superior in speed that even malnourished Africans can outrun well nourished whites."

Well, we now have modern technology to find out if this "speed superiority" is the real basis of the recent influx of West Africans into European soccer leagues. I checked match statistics at the last year's World Cup in all 32 teams during the initial 3 matches and the comparison is really illuminating.

The level of physical condition in West African teams seems to be below average virtually in all available game stats - number of sprints per game, total distance per game, average top speed of all players. Actually, Nigeria was the World Cup's dead end of these stats and the condition of its players was obviously catastrophic. Only in individual cases, some African players belonged to those with the highest recorded speed (Nigeria 3rd, Cameroon 7th, Ghana 8th).

War Lord said...

"Well soccer seems to only require speed and Africans are so genetically superior in speed that even malnourished Africans can outrun well nourished whites."

Well, we now have modern technology to find out if this "speed superiority" is the real basis of the recent influx of West Africans into European soccer leagues. I checked match statistics at the last year's World Cup in all 32 teams during the initial 3 matches and the comparison is really illuminating.

The level of physical condition in West African teams seems to be below average virtually in all available game stats - number of sprints per game, total distance per game, average top speed of all players. Actually, Nigeria was the World Cup's dead end of these stats and the condition of its players was obviously catastrophic. Only in individual cases, some African players belonged to those with the highest recorded speed (Nigeria 3rd, Cameroon 7th, Ghana 8th).

War Lord said...

"'ve mostly stopped trying to address the persistent myth that 6-8 basketball players would "dominate" any sport they wanted "if they were interested". alone and by myself, i can hardly ever hope to match the brainwashing and propaganda efforts of ESPN and other US sports media outlets."

I agree. The poor fellows from USA lost any touch with the reality. They really think that their black countrymen with mediocre average height 178 cm (that has been stagnating for 3 decades) are the world's superathletic heroes.

Not speaking about the fact that average measurements of players in NFL and NBA stand farthest from the usual physiques of track and field athletes than any other game on this planet. What a "test of athleticism", really. What about mass psychosis?

War Lord said...

"Maybe Africans aren't as great athletes as some think."

They don't get the training. If Mike Tyson had grown up in Africa, there would have no Cus'Dmato to train him and no business model to promote him.
No matter how fast or strong someone is, he won't amount to much in sports without training.


SINCE THE AVERAGE HEIGHT IN WEST AFRICAN COUNTRIES IS ONLY ABOUT 170 CM OR SLIGHTLY HIGHER (AND HAS BEEN SLOWLY DECREASING SINCE DECOLONIZATION), THE SPORTS POTENTIAL OF THIS REGION IS VERY LOW AND WILL RATHER DECREASE IN THE FUTURE. IT IS ACTUALLY SHOCKING THAT YOU SEE SO MANY BLACK SOCCER PLAYERS COMING FROM THIS REGION. A BLACK PLAYER 180 CM TALL IS SOMEWHERE AT THE 95TH HEIGHT PERCENTILE OF HIS NATIVE POPULATION. ONE WOULD THINK THAT THE PEOPLE REALLY HAVE NOTHING TO DO EXCEPT PLAYING SOCCER.

Anonymous said...

I too was expecting an influx of NBA talent from Africa. But I didn't realize too very important factors that have prevented this.
1)There are just a few tribes in Africa that have high perentages of very tall males. The increased genetic diversity in Africa means we have pygmies and we have a few groups where 5% of the males are over 6 feet 8 inches tall. 2)Most Africans are shorter than americans or africans because of poor nutrition for now and past generations, high protein intake in particular makes each generation taller than the last. Black americans are far taller than their efrican counterparts because the have been eating like americans rather than africans.