By: Jesse Taylor

David Lee is a bad defender. No stats or short video from a game in Minnesota needed to tell me that.

But being bad at defense doesn’t mean you deserve to get laughed at and completely disrespected.

According to multiple public reports and sources I’ve spoken to, that’s what happened Friday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. Speaking at one of the sessions, Grantland contributor Kirk Goldsberry used analytics to criticize David Lee’s defense and showed a short 3-possession video displaying his “Golden Gate” defense. The visuals in the video were overlaid with some goofy, carnival-sounding music track sung in a different language, I guess to emphasize how hilarious Lee’s defense is. Goldsberry delivered sarcastic comments as he played the video and this, along with Lee’s bull-fighter like action on the screen, caused the room to erupt in uproariously laughter. At David Lee. The Warriors first All-Star in 15 years.

People I’ve spoken to that were in the room didn’t want to go on record, but did say they were shocked by the reaction. One person compared it to Stephen King’s Carrie having blood poured on her head as the whole room pointed and laughed at her. I doubt it was that bad, but still.

I’ve watched every single Warriors game this season. That Minnesota game shown in the video was by far the worst I’ve ever seen him play defense. While bad, his defense is usually not THAT bad. Lee is not even the worst defensive player in the league. Many other names come to mind. Kevin Martin, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison, Andrea Bargnani, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire to name a few.

So what caused this Jim Carrey as Lloyd Christmas point-my-finger-in-your-face-and-laugh-while-you’re-choking-to-death reaction from the audience?

My theory: A bunch of white people feeling it’s safe to laugh at the white David Lee.

Important note before I address the above statement. Of all the race-based crimes, white-on-white crime is the one that obviously needs no awareness campaign. It’s benign. It’s at the bottom of the list in terms of our society’s racial injustices. But I write for a blog named for David Lee’s team. And he’s one of the top players on that team. And the audience’s contempt for Lee was a major narrative coming out of the Sloan Conference on Friday. So it’s a worthy story.

My 38 years on this earth as a socially liberal white guy leads me to believe this is a case of white liberal guilt coming down on David Lee. Unofficial reports from multiple sources say the audience watching Goldsberry’s presentation was at least 80 percent Caucasian. Take a look at the list of Sloan speakers or this crowd shot and it’s easy to tell this was a white people event on par with a country music festival, movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels or a Murder Mystery Dinner presented on a boat.

From growing up poor and then going to college with non-poor folks in the racially diverse Bay Area to working for seven companies in 16 years I’ve either chosen to or been forced to be around the following types of white people:

  1. Racist white people
  2. White people who would probably be racist if they weren’t too afraid of the blowback from being a racist
  3. Non-racist white people
  4. Non-racist white people who over do it to prove they aren’t racist

Of this group, no doubt, the vilest are the racists. The worst that I’ve personally encountered are the ones who get drunk at a party and think it’s cool to come up to you and start spewing ignorant racist remarks. “Hey, this guy’s white. I bet he hates people of color just like I do.”

In addition to racism, they are usually filled with anti-gay venom. These folks deserve to get punched in the face but it’s usually best to just walk away. It makes me uncomfortable knowing the handful of times that this has actually happened to me and is proof enough that just because we have a black president doesn’t mean racism has all of a sudden disappeared. Need more proof? Search Barack Obama’s name on Twitter and check out the results.

The most annoying of this group is #4. Typically, but not always, they are college educated and know how ridiculous racism is. But they do not have enough experience being around other races to understand that it’s okay to be yourself when it comes to race. As a result, this group can be afraid to make fun of non-whites, but will rip into members of their own race. Especially the easy targets.

Like David Lee.

Lee is a good guy. He unfailingly supports his teammates. He’s one of the best passing big man in the league, meaning he doesn’t mind sharing the ball to help his team. He goes above and beyond the NBA-mandated community work, and donates much of his time and money to worthwhile causes.

On top of that, he’s one of the best basketball players in the world.

Does he need to play better defense? Yes.

Does he sometimes make head-scratching turnovers at critical times? Yes.

Would it be nice if he learned to pump-fake in the lane once in a while? Yes.

Does he deserve to get laughed at for his play on the court? No.

Even before the Sloan incident, Lee was the butt of many NBA jokes. But look at who’s playing the stand-up comedian role. It’s not his teammates, of whom 10 are African-American, one is Australian and one is Latvian. It’s not his African-American coach. During All-Star Weekend, all of his African-American peers praised Lee, the only white player on the NBA All-Star roster. In fact, to show his support for Lee, one of his black teammates, Steph Curry, played the role of Jack the Giant Slayer in going after Roy Hibbert. In this case, Jack, not the Giant, was slayed, but the courage Curry displayed bought him years of credibility with Warriors fans.

The group bashing Lee is the one Eminem rapped about back in 2002 – White America.

When news of the Sloan ridicule came out, I almost tweeted a comment about the racial rationale behind it. But race is such a controversial subject in our society, I decided to sleep on it first. When I told several people about the article idea, each of them said something to the effect of “be careful.”

I could be completely wrong. Maybe if the video were about Carmelo Anthony or Antawn Jamison, people would have laughed in the same manner. But the reaction was so passionately negative, I think the people in the audience would have been to afraid of the racial backlash to have done that. But like I said, I’m open to debate.

But even if I’m wrong, is it really that bad to actually bring it into the open and discuss the theory? Race remains a taboo subject because people continue to be afraid to discuss it. But when you talk openly about it in an educated manner … shocker … it actually helps. For me, two recent examples come to mind.

I saw “Django Unchained” with a black friend who I’m comfortable enough with to have had many open discussions about race. After the movie we talked about the tension in the audience based on all the racism in the movie. We saw it in a theatre that was about 50/50 in terms of white and black people. During some pretty extreme racial moments, you could see people looking around at each other, wondering how they should react. Should they laugh? Should they wince? Should they clap? No one knew what to do.

As we discussed this on the drive home, we were listening to the Watch The Throne album and “Ni**as In Paris” came on. My friend says, “Tell the truth. When you listen to rap music in the car by yourself, you say the N-word, right?”

My response: “Any white guy that raps along to hip-hop music in his car that tells you he’s never said the N-word is a liar.”

“That’s what I thought,” he said.

I’m not even sure a human voice can recite full songs by N.W.A. while editing out the N-word. It has got to be a near impossible task.

My belief has always been that if you wouldn’t say something in front of a person, you shouldn’t say it when that person isn’t around. Rapping to music alone in your car may be the lone exception.

The second example relates to my kids. As they get older (7 and 6) skin color has become something that they are more aware of. But to them, it’s similar to differences in hair and eye color. My kids are bi-racial, but are closer to my skin tone than my wife’s. They also go to a very diverse school and have friends of all different races. The backseat conversations between my son and his black and Hispanic friends about skin color are more tolerant and forward thinking than anything I’ve ever heard from adults.

While watching the Warriors play the Clippers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my daughter asked why most of the guys who play basketball on TV have “brown skin.”

This is the same kid who once asked me how the first baby ever born survived without any parents. In that situation, I looked at my wife and was like, “Yo, you got this one babe?”

But with the wife at work, I was on my own. My son chimed in first: “Blake Griffin doesn’t have brown skin.”

Not an incorrect answer.

I tried to explain it to her as best I could. “The guys who made it to the NBA just worked harder than anyone else to get there. Their skin color doesn’t matter. They grew up wanting to be the best and worked hard at it since they were little kids. If you want to be the best, you have to work hard at it.”

Bam! I nailed that. But it wasn’t good enough.

“But why do the one’s with brown skin work the hardest?”

The explanation of racial demographics in the U.S. and the sports people choose to play in the communities they grow up in would have been way over her head. So I went with, “No reason, really. People who play basketball and other sports have all different skin colors, hair colors and eye colors. It doesn’t really matter.”

And she was good with that.

If I chose to ignore her question, maybe she would have heard something different from a kid at school and believed it. These types of conversations help make people more racially aware and tolerant.

How do these examples relate to David Lee and the Sloan Conference? My theory about white people laughing at him because he’s an easy target could be completely wrong. But maybe, best-case scenario, it will at least cause people to be a little nicer to the guy.

He doesn’t deserve to be laughed at.

Follow Jesse on Twitter, @GSW_JesseTaylor

7 Responses

  1. PJ

    Dude, so you’re the type of white guy who feels the need to compensate for some perceived lack of disparity between white and black people. I’m white too. I just recognize that people of different skin colors are different kinds of people. There’s no value judgment placed. Like you wouldn’t just laugh if a black guy called you a honkey.

  2. Steve

    Interesting article. My initial take on the laughter was that maybe it was just the stat-heads hearing what a lot of them recognized as true that isn’t recognized often (I think him and K-Love sometimes get a bit of a pass because of their excellent rebounding). Or maybe Goldsberry is just a funny guy. But I think you’re onto something here, at least as a component if not the entirety of it. I appreciate the honest perspective and found myself really engaged when reading the article.

    I will say to the other posters, even if you don’t think it had anything to do with why people were laughing, I think there is something to this, and to say it wasn’t well-written might have to do more with your reading skills than anything else. Keep an open mind!

  3. Paul

    You weren’t even at the conference? Did you read Goldsberry’s paper or just hear about it from someone?

    This is atrocious.

  4. Jack

    Idiotic article. If you took time to actually read his research paper instead of playing the race card, you’d realize that David Lee was the third-worst defender in the league (by Goldsberry’s analysis). Here’s his bottom five:

    48. Kevin Love 52.1%
    49. Jonas Valanciunas 52.8%
    50. David Lee 53.0%
    51. Jordan Hill 53.9%
    52. Anderson Varejao 54.2%

    Only one of these players is an All-Star.

    Take off your homer glasses, and stop making idiotic allegations of racism.

    • Tom

      You stated that of the 5 people you listed only one of them is an all star. So whose not an all-star, Kevin Love or David Lee. Both of them have actually played in 2 all-star games. You may be the one whose idiotic, not the author of this article.

      • Jack

        Kevin Love has been injured all season. I am obviously talking about the 2013 All Star game, since this is the 2013 Sloan Sports Conference.

        Oh, and Kevin Love is also white. So if they made fun of Kevin Love instead, would this also have been white-on-white racism? Or is the author defending David Lee because he can’t separate his fandom from objective analysis?

  5. James

    Was this supposed to be some kind of parody? As a serious attempt at writing, it flat out stinks.

    David Lee is just a bad defender. This has nothing to do with the color of his skin. Everything else is just wasted space in this piece.