As someone who is a keen observer of both hockey and basketball, I’ve noticed something that most sportswriters aren’t willing to discuss – hockey’s inferiority complex towards the NBA.
Since the NBA and NHL free agency periods run concurrently, I’ve noticed that many hockey fans are portraying basketball players as soft, lazy, thuggish and my personal favorite, selfish, due to the amount of millions thrown out in free agency.
For some, teamwork, humility and being selfless is only exclusive to hockey. Anyone who follows sports knows that premise falls apart when properly scrutinized.
I recently had this exchange on Twitter with a popular Chicago radio personality:
Kaplan’s premise doesn’t make any sense since LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all took less money to team up to win two championships. After all, many in the basketball community often get after James for passing too much. They often point to lack of game-winning shots he takes despite nearly averaging a triple-double during the NBA Finals. Those pesky facts eh?
Those same hockey fans bristle at the $20 million Wade just got. However, little did they know the deal is cap-friendly. Also, look at what David West did by signing with the Spurs. West essentially took a pay cut of $11 million to play with Spurs so he could get a shot at a championship. If that isn’t selfless, I’m not sure what is. What about the deal new Spurs forward Lamarcus Aldridge signed? He could have stayed in Portland for more money and an extra year.
Here in Chicago, the Blackhawks can do no wrong since they have won the Stanley Cup three times in the last six seasons. Despite the rise in popularity of the team, they are still not as popular as basketball, particularly, the Chicago Bulls. In America, much to the chagrin of hockey fans, hockey is still a niche sport. Social media comments give life to their claims. Many of them don’t understand that they live in city that is considered a Mecca of basketball.
The fact of the matter is that the NBA is an international sport while the NHL struggles to expand their brand outside of North America. Also, hockey inclusiveness hurts them. They don’t market their individual stars like the NBA does. Most people who are casual fans of the sports know LeBron, Kobe, Durant and Rose along with countless other players. In hockey’s case, most people struggle to find stars outside of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Alexander Ovechkin. It's not Reggie Jackson or Jimmy Butler's fault that the NBA pulls in billions of revenue globally. Why hate on them because those reap those benefits?
Through 2 days of Free Agency:NBA: 34 agreements, $1.48BNHL: 103 signings, $281.94M2015 NFL Free Agency311 signings, $2.1B— Spotrac (@spotrac) July 3, 2015
As a society, we tend to dismiss things we don’t understand. When we can’t relate, we place unfounded labels on those things. When researching for this article, I did a quick Google search. I saw how narrative can take shape and we don’t even know it. The results were cringeworthy:
At this point, we ought to be asking ourselves where does the vitriol come from? Is the hatred racial? Generational? Or it is cultural? I asked three observers of basketball and hockey to give their thoughts.
“I hate to say it, but I think there is an element of casual racism,” said Chris Peters, who writes about the NHL for CBSSports.com. “Which is still racism, of course, but I think most of the people don't really even realize it. The culture of the two sports plays a role, but I think it's more societal. And you know everyone that does it will say they're not racist, but to me, it's hard to deny.”
“There are so few interesting figures in the game today, and those that are interesting get chastised for it,” Peters continued. “I think that's the deeper reason why you see those generalizations about "hockey players say we, basketball players say I." It's not intentional racism. I almost feel it's born out of a lack of practice in acting within a diverse fan base and also in how they treat not just black athletes, but unique individuals in general.”
“Hockey players are perceived more as the kids that grew up down the street that still play hockey for the love of the game,” said Keith Schultz, who maintains a Blackhawks fan blog called Blackhawk Up. “I think the money is another thing. Stars from the NHL make hardly a fraction of what an NBA player does and that gulf separates fans from them while still keeps the NHL player more fan-friendly.”
Eddie Maisonet III is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sports Fan Journal, a website that has a strong presence when it comes to basketball. He believes the misconceptions about the NBA, and its players, are largely unfounded.
“I would say that those types of perceptions are most likely to be generational, but I prefer not to call them lazy and/or ignorant,” said Maisonet. “The world champion Golden State Warriors are proof of that. Three of the five starters come from high-class, millionaire families (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut), one upper middle class family (Harrison Barnes’ parents are both educators) and then there's Draymond Green. Draymond is the closest thing to a goon, and that goon went to Michigan State for four years and got his degree and never got in trouble.”
“I think the other thing about hockey is that it's been so predominantly white for so long that fans and people within the game almost have grown comfortable with its whiteness,” Peters said.”The acceptance that it's a "white sport" limits the efforts for inclusion. The NHL knows it need to be more welcoming and have their initiatives, but they can't control the largely white fan base. They can't make those people open their arms.”
As you can see, it is bizarre how NBA players are labeled as thugs, soft and selfish all at the same time. If anything, after reading about how much money these guys give up on an annual basis, these players ought to be called philanthropists.