Referee race bias study back in news, still not telling us much we didn’t already know

Leave a comment

Remember back a couple years ago, two researchers released a study saying that black officials called slightly fewer penalties on black players and white officials called fewer penalties on white players? Then the NBA league office blew up and went into full defensive spin mode — and likely won the public relations battle — saying that was not true.

Well, the study is back in the news as it got run in the prestigious Quarterly Journal of Economics, which meant some news outlets ran the story again with new interviews. Which means that the next round of league denials is likely on the way.

What the authors were arguing is that people make split-second decisions and race helps influence those decisions. The authors told Zach Lowe at SI’s Point Forward they used basketball referees as the example in part because there was a lot of data to look back on. The NBA has argued that data and the study are flawed because they just looked at refereeing crews and many of those are racially mixed. The authors say that even if you cut the study back to only all white or all black crews you get the same results.

The authors say they got the idea for the study from Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink.” Which I would suggest reading, it’s a fascinating concept. Boiled down in a nutshell, the idea of the book is that we all have unconscious, ingrained biases – likes and dislikes, if you will — and we make quick instinctive decisions based on them. We all do it. Gladwell’s most famous example is the studies showing tall people tend to be more successful and move up corporate ladders faster. Ask us if we think tall people are smarter or better leaders and we laugh, but we make quick gut decisions about people and things — decisions that can make or break what we choose — based on these inherent biases. And with that tall people win out.

Which is to say, no white NBA referee is thinking, “I’m going to let Kevin Love get away with that foul because he’s white.” They certainly are not doing it with Timofey Mozgov. But NBA referees have to make a thousand instantaneous decisions a game and their inherent biases are bound to slip in a little.

The issue (as Henry Abbott points out in really the definitive post on this issue) the authors want to get at is not basketball, but how these same issues impact law enforcement, education, a host of other much more serious areas. Basketball was simply to be a proving ground that they do exist.

And despite the league’s protestations, no doubt they do. Because basketball and sports reflect society at large.

Minnesota’s Gersson Rosas says Andrew Wiggins must be “main contributor” to T-wolves

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last season in Minnesota — with Jimmy Butler torpedoing the team and ending the Tom Thibodeau era — was pretty much the figurative definition of a train wreck.

Out of that wreckage, the Timberwolves think they found some positives. Ryan Sunders was thrown into the fire as a young coach but bonded with Karl-Anthony Towns. Robert Covington sparked the defense before his injury. Josh Okogie emerged as a player. This summer the team drafted a player with a lot of potential in Jarrett Culver.

Minnesota also brought in the aggressive Gersson Rosas out of Houston to take over as team president and start reshaping the franchise into one that can live up to the promise of Towns’ potential. For that to start to happen, meaning a return to the playoffs, Rosas pointed to a couple of things needing to go right this season. First and foremost, they need more — and more consistency — out of Andrew Wiggins. Via Timberwolves writer/podcaster Dane Moore.

Most Timberwolves fans, and the rest of the league, have moved on from Wiggins, who has four years, $122 million left on his max contract. While he averaged 18.1 points per game last season, he doesn’t get those buckets efficiently nor consistently, and the result is an average/slightly below-average wing whose contract is an anchor on the franchise. We’ve learned no contract is untradable in the NBA, but this is as close to that line as it gets — the sweeteners Minnesota would have to throw in right now make a deal are prohibitive.

The only thing Minnesota can hope for is that in year six Wiggins takes some steps forward he did not take in the last five. Maybe continuity helps, but we’re all going to need to see it before we believe it.

The other thing Rosas said Minnesota needs: More consistent defense from Towns.

Saunders seemed to connect with Towns and got him to defend, and Covington played MIC linebacker calling out coverages and getting guys in position before his injury. Rosas said Covington would be good to go at the start of the season, if so that gives the Timberwolves real hope that the defense will improve.

Whether all of that will be enough to get them into the playoffs in a deep West is another question, but at least Minnesota seems to be moving in the right direction now.

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
1 Comment

WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
7 Comments

In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?

Kyle Kuzma scores on own basket in Team USA-Australia game (video)

3 Comments

The Lakers are desperate at center. They might even need Kyle Kuzma to play the position. He’ll have to work on, among other things, rebounding.

At least it usually won’t go as poorly as this play in Team USA’s exhibition win over Australia.