It is that time of year again: March Madness is back. Tonight, Kansas plays Kentucky for the national championship. Yet something about the game makes me uneasy. The feeling of unease began during the Kentucky-Louisville game last Saturday night. There were many possible reasons. For example: seeing Coach Calipari on the sidelines, he of the vacated records at UMass and Memphis; associating the University of Kentucky with the new one-and-done trend in college basketball; the hypocrisy of keeping student-athletes out of class for as long as they do during March in search of glory and money. But it wasn't any of that.
Instead, it had something to do with race.
There is something jarring about Kentucky basketball. Watching the game Saturday night, one could not help but admire the skills and athleticism of the players on the court. I loved watching Marquis Teague, whom I saw playing in high school and who has grown immeasurably since January; Anthony Davis, who happens to be the second freshman to ever win the Naismith award as college player of the year; and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, slated by some experts as a top-five pick in the upcoming NBA draft. These are three of the four freshmen who joined the team this past year. The sophomore class includes Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, also expected to be drafted in the first round. Incidentally, these players all happen to be black.
Here's what bothered me: quite often, CBS would turn to the crowd after a great play, perhaps after a time out. And not once did I see one Black face in the stands rooting for Kentucky. This is not to say that Kentucky basketball does not have any Black fans; I am sure it does. Rather, the point is that Kentucky's fan base is overwhelmingly white, while its basketball players are overwhelmingly Black. Hence my unease.
Without question, Kentucky basketball has now become the sexy destination for elite basketball players. Yet I cannot help but wonder about the politics -- racial or otherwise -- of the fans as compared to the politics of the players. I also wonder about college admissions and whether these players would be accepted at institutions such as the University of Kentucky without their basketball skills. I wonder where these fans stand on affirmative action and the upcoming Fischer case. For those then alive, I wonder about their thoughts about Black players before 1969, the year when Kentucky basketball first integrated. I just wonder.
And here's what I really wonder about: what if all these one-and-done players, the Anthony Davis' and the Kidd-Gilchrist's, decided to play together not at the white University of Kentucky, but at a historically black college, or even at the University of Detroit or Wayne State University? What would such a decision do for the city of Detroit, or for historically-Black colleges in general?
That is my dream.