There are a million things to look for in high-level sport — stats, ankle sprains, coaching salaries, crimes, jersey script, great plays and on.
So forgive me, please, as I tell you I notice things you might find odd. I notice red hair (Andy Dalton), long arms (Trevor Ariza), big bellies (Pablo ‘‘Kung Fu Panda’’ Sandoval), bad posture (Michael Phelps).
I notice good teeth (Brandon Marshall, Michael Jordan). And bad teeth (Duncan Keith, Josh Childress, James Harden, our buddy Phelps).
I also notice tattoos (Bears wide receiver Marquess Wilson has ‘‘WILSON’’ inked on his back in gigantic letters; former NBA guard Jason Williams has ‘‘W-H-I-T’’ tattooed on the knuckles of his right hand and ‘‘E-B-O-Y’’ on the knuckles of his left).
Which is a good place to start, perhaps. Because, here’s the thing: When it comes to the NBA, wherein players are easy to see, I notice white and black players on the floor at any time.
I can’t help this.
I am paid to observe, I love to observe, and, in these still difficult and racially sensitive times, to not notice something as obvious and charged as racial makeup and ethnicity and country of origin is akin, in my opinion, to not noticing if a person is a senior citizen or an infant.
And in the NBA, here’s one of the things I notice: There are not many white American players in the league. And there are almost none who truly matter.
Please don’t start hollering racism. Or worse, in my mind, hollering that nobody cares about anything this old-fashioned and dumb.
Because it’s not racist to notice. Nor is it dumb or old-age to think noticing matters. The Ferguson, Missouri, tinderbox is all about race, for instance. And lawsuits filed Monday against Harvard and North Carolina argue that ‘‘affirmative action’’ policies should be banned not only at those schools, but across the nation.
That stuff matters immensely.
So where are the white Americans in the NBA?
There are none listed as of Tuesday in the top five in scoring, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, blocks, assists, steals or field-goal percentage. No white American is in the top 20 for assists or steals.
And the highest-ranked scorer is Jazz forward Gordon Hayward at 23. The only other white American in the top 50 is Kevin Love at 37.
There are white players scattered about in the middle echelons of stats — the Gasol brothers, Dirk Nowitzki, Andrew Bogut, Nikola Vucevic, a few others. But they are from Spain, Germany, Australia, Montenegro, etc. Not from here.
What about how great Steve Nash was recently? Well, he’s from Canada.
What is it here in America? White kids still want to play basketball at the highest levels. You can ask them. But there are scarcely any role models, any players of substance in the pros, particularly any who aren’t freakishly tall.
Why? What happened to the Jerry Wests, the John Havliceks, the Pete Maraviches, the John Stocktons? Even the Scott Skileses of the league?
Skiles, the 6-2 feisty former Bulls coach, rang up a league-record 30 assists for the Magic in 1990.
You can fill in your own answer. I don’t know. People will say it’s about desire, about poverty, about the culture of hoopdom either waxing or waning within a group.
And there are those who will say it’s about genetics, about what Jon Entine called in his controversial but intriguing book, Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports, ‘‘one of the most politicized questions in all of science.’’
We want more black Americans in baseball. There are movements to help make that happen, including Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, whose goal is ‘‘to increase participation in baseball and softball among underserved youth.’’
Unstated is the fact that there are a number of black players in the majors, but from countries such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
Maybe we don’t need more white American NBA players. Indeed, there are many players now who are of mixed parentage, including stars Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. Bulls center Joakim Noah has a white mother and a father who is half-white, half-black. What does that make him?
The NBA is based on merit. So as long as the best players play, who cares who they are or where they come from?
But I can’t stop noticing.