Larry and Adam, and Malcolm GladwellThis morning I read a very interesting piece by pop culture guru Chuck Klosterman on ESPN's Page 2 discussing Larry Bird and Gonzaga star Adam Morrison, who currently leads the US NCAA in scoring and is drawing comparisons to the legend because of their awkward jumpers, their wispy mustaches, and because of the fact that both of them are white.
Aging American white people have been waiting for another Larry Bird in the same way aging hippies have been waiting for another Bob Dylan, but nobody ever gets what he or she wants: Tom Gugliotta ended up being Beck; Keith Van Horn turned out to be Conor Oberst; Mike Dunleavy is probably Ryan Adams. But Adam Morrison -- at least on the collegiate level -- is closer to Larry than Robert Zimmerman was to the Wallflowers: He moves like Bird, shoots with the same kind of range and release, and displays an identical offensive mentality. He is confident and performs well under pressure. He doesn't pass as deftly (or as often) as Bird, and he doesn't rebound as aggressively (or as often) as Bird, but he has the same body frame and an analogous mustache. Gonzaga is a small school from a second-tier conference, just like Indiana State. These men are not clones, but they share important, undeniable qualities.
We ignore aspects of someone's achievement that contradict the stereotype. Hence the 'White Gunner' -- a type of player we struggle with because he is white yet simultaneously embodies all the stereotypes we've reserved for blacks. Tom Chambers is the White Gunner poster child. Rex Chapman was another example.
In basketball, the 'face' we're familiar with is black. We code black players by feature, so we can make endlessly subtle distinctions between players: There is a David Thompson 'type,' which is quite unlike a Grant Hill 'type,' which, in turn, is quite unlike a Gary Payton 'type.' But I think we code white players by category. They are simply 'white,' and we don't make the same kind of sophisticated distinctions among them. So we miss the 'White Gunner.'
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