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Garnett, Boston, and race

Around 8:30 this morning, some guy whose name I didn't catch called up WEEI to bitch about the Celtics' acquisition of Kevin Garnett. One of his big complaints--I'm paraphrasing--was that, during yesterday's press conference, Garnett said he'd warmed to coming to Boston after asking a few other players (Antoine Walker, Gary Payton) about the city's racist reputation.

In fact, Garnett didn't say this. He did say he'd asked Walker and Payton about the city. But this was a secondary part of his explanation for why, after balking at a trade to the Celtics before the NBA draft, he'd eventually changed his mind. One  big reason, Garnett said, was dissatisfaction with the Minnesota Timberwolves' front office, which 1. had a vision for the team's future that he couldn't agree with and 2. hadn't reciprocated his loyalty to the team. Another big reason: the C's draft-day acquisition of Ray Allen.

Unfortunately, the 'EEI hosts didn't set the caller straight--and the myth of Kevin Garnett's dislike or distrust of (white) Boston continues to grow.

It's time to squash this. As far as I can tell, the idea that Garnett didn't want to come to Boston becuase of the city's racial history was first advanced by Washington Post sportswriter Michael Wilbon. Here's how TrueHoop's Kevin Arnovitz explained it earlier this month: "When Kevin Garnett announced that he wanted no part of a trade to the C's, Michael Wilbon speculated on Dan Patrick's ESPNRadio show that Boston's history might have played a part in Garnett's position." Wilbon also offered his take on Boston and race in a online chat; here's a sample:
A great, great many of us -- black folks -- have had openly hostile and unpleasant experiences in greater Boston. I'm talking even physical confrontations. I've been called "Nigger" to my face in Boston Garden on two occasions, openly and publicly and to no great objection by the people sitting nearby...I can talk to just about any black person who spent time in Boston through the 1990s and get similar stories...So I'm not going into any more anecdotes. I have hundreds. Having said that, I've been in greater Boston recently and noticed what I feel is a huge change...
The Herald's Steve Bulpett subsequently asked Celtics coach Doc Rivers about Wilbon's claims. Rivers rejected them.

Fast forward to this past Monday, when Herald columnist Gerry Callahan, in a piece on Garnett's arrival in Boston, reminded readers of Wilbon's comments. Quoth Callahan:
In the past month, someone convinced Garnett that teaming up with Pierce and Allen would be his best chance to make his first trip to the NBA Finals. In June, Garnett's agent said it wasn't going to happen and Michael Wilbon of ESPN's PTI said it was because of the racial climate in this city.

Who says we're not making great strides in that department? A little more than a month later and Garnett is ready to sing along with the Standells and call Boston his home. Maybe Wilbon can fall on the fact that the Celts traded away everyone but Brian Scalabrine....

Just think, Kevin Garnett on Friday and Saturday nights; Randy Moss on Sundays. It's too bad our racial climate is so lousy. We might have been able to attract some athletes to this town.
Two things stand out here. First, in reiterating Wilbon's speculation to refute it, Callahan also links Garnett to Wilbon's arguments. Second, if any black athletes are reluctant to come to Boston, Callahan himself may be partly to blame.

Here's the bottom line: Garnett shouldn't be held responsible for Wilbon's commentary/speculation. And the local media has a responsibility to keep that from happening.
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  • Jeff said:

    Dialogue on diversity is challenging enough (but well worthwhile) without speculation and false attributions about what others might be thinking. Most people of color agree that although we have a ways to go in terms of full mutual respect and inclusiveness, Boston has indeed changed for the better.
    August 1, 2007 7:51 PM
  • Michael said:

    Being a person of color who is extremely addicted to Boston and Washington DC sports teams, sports radio (WEEI), Michael Wilbon, PTI and Tony Kornheiser I feel as though I should comment. WEEI is the ratings leader for a coveted advertising demographic therefore it should be no surprise that the on air talent and their commentary "play" to that demographic. Anyone who listens to EEI expecting to find a refuge of racial tolerance will not find comfort there. I usually have to turn the channel two or three times a year when I just cannot take it any longer. Despite this my love of sport talk brings me back for better or for worse. In my opinion, most of the on air talent is fair--most of the time--the most egregious of them, Gerry Callahan has been missing but his style lives on. On caveat, since race is America's original sin, who among us really is without blame. I agree with Wilbon's comments about the Black community (outside of Boston) fear of Boston. The truth and some hyperbole has disseminated throughout the nation starting from the well known tension that derived from School busing in the 70's. When I moved here 14 years ago, I was called the N ward literally a month after having arrived in town. Despite this non-black co-workers, some (but not all) neighbors and associates treated me like family from day one. I still can remember the image from Time magazine of someone trying to impale a black man with a flag pole with the flag wrapped around this. Imagery like this and other incidents die hard. Think about the on-going "tribal warfare" in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq, Cyprus/Turkey/Kurds etc etc etc. I am looking forward to our new trio for the Celtics, however like most of us, they will need to live to a higher standard if they are to survive the scrutiny they will undoubtedly receive.
    August 3, 2007 10:56 PM

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