Race and the NBA: Is Steve Nash Getting A Pass On Fatherhood?

Would an African-American player be getting glowing praise for sticking near his kids?

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Matt York / AP

In this April 25, 2012 photo, Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash leaves the court after an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs in Phoenix.

Let’s hear it for the Father of the Year, Steve Nash, who says he’s moving from Phoenix to Los Angeles because he wants to be close to his kids, who happen to live in, well, Phoenix. But to his adoring fans in the sports media, it’s another classy move by the NBA’s ultimate Character Guy. Check out the reactions at ESPN.com: “I can’t fault a guy for wanting to stay as close to his family as possible.” “I’m always impressed when players make family considerations and winning a top priority.” “It says a lot about Nash’s character.” Funny how a white guy can move to a better job in a better city with a better organization without becoming history’s greatest monster.

Honestly, I’ve got nothing against Steve Nash. If he wants to live near his kids—though apparently not too near—then more power to him. (Although it’s worth noting that in the off season, Nash lives in Manhattan, which is also farther from Phoenix than Phoenix.) No, this is just another excuse for me to complain about the national consensus that LeBron James—who, like Nash, played eight years of sterling basketball for a lousy owner, and, like Nash, fulfilled his contract without complaining—was somehow history’s greatest monster because he moved to Miami to play for a team with other players who didn’t suck. As I wrote in Swampland, there is strong evidence that the LeBron backlash is not unrelated to race; even in Florida, his approval-disapproval ratings are only 26-20 among whites, versus 63-7 among blacks.

(MORE: Some Thoughts on LeBron, Obama, and Race. And Some Gloating.)

LeBron is known as an athletic freak, which he is, but he’s also an incredibly smart, unselfish, hardworking winner who plays the right way; nevertheless, he became a symbol of me-first ballers. Nash is an athletic freak, too, creative and instinctive, and he doesn’t work nearly as hard as LeBron on defense; nevertheless, he’s known as a scrappy, team-first traditionalist who relies on brain and grit. Now he’s being hailed as a hero for taking less money to pursue a title; LeBron, the most underpaid player in the NBA, also sacrificed cash to chase a championship, but somehow he was known as a narcissist.

Yeah, I get it, LeBron did a dumb TV show. Jeff Daniels is doing a dumb TV show as we speak, but America will forgive him. America isn’t so forgiving of proud black athletes. If LeBron ever announced that he was moving away from his children so that he could be close to his children, you can be sure there would be talk about his character, too, but it wouldn’t sound quite this glowing.

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