I was a big Jimmer Fredette fan last season. As a lover of the jump shot, I couldn’t get enough of seeing the 6-foot-2 Fredette going straight up with shots off passes, launching three-pointers and darting around until he got a few inches of clearance to take a shot against tenacious defenders. The BYU star was also a remarkable driver who could split defenders and put in acrobatic layups.
I hadn’t enjoyed watching a college player that much since the 6-foot-3 Stephen Curry was dazzling defenders and putting Davidson College on the basketball map a few years ago. Fredette and Curry are both relatively small guys in a big man’s game. They both have a remarkable ability to get their shots off under pressure. At the college level, each could dominate the game with the brilliance and flair of a Pistol Pete Maravich.
Fredette and Curry play to my fantasies. I identify with their talent and style of play. But Curry is thinner and more cat-like than I ever was. Fredette, at 200 pounds, has my kind of stocky build. If God had been kinder and taken the lead out of my legs ….
Let me also note that Fredette is white while Curry is black. I’m white. As a child in the 1950s, I remember names like Bob Pettit, Bob Cousy and “Tricky Dick” McGuire. They were the white guys who set the standard of excellence. Then along came Oscar Robertson. I can remember sitting in the living room at home with my older brother and several of his basketball pals and could hear the awe in their voices as they watched the “Big O” in action. He could do everything on the court, and no one could stop him.
In the decades that followed, fans debated excellence along racial lines. Who was better: Robertson or Jerry West, Cazzie Russell or Bill Bradley, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird? After that it was Michael Jordan. Period. The standard of excellence had become fully a black standard. In the NBA last season, 77 percent of the players were black, according to the University of Central Florida’s Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports. Of the 18 percent that were white, most came from Europe.
As a college player, Fredette challenged the black standard of excellence. I was delighted to see one white guy who could star against blacks. I doubt I was alone in such feelings. I also suspect that some black fans would have relished seeing Fredette shut down by more “athletic” black defenders. Sports bring out primal loyalties in fans. They root for their schools, their home towns, their countries. Yao Ming’s presence in the NBA has delighted Chinese fans; Jewish fans have been thrilled to see the Israeli star Omri Casspi. That kind of identification, within limits, is healthy. It gets people talking along racial and ethnic lines. Silence should not be confused with acceptance.
Last week, the Sacramento Kings made Fredette their first-round draft pick. The Sacramento Bee has heralded his arrival with big headlines like “Jimmermania” and Jimmer Dandy” and lengthy articles and opinion pieces. The pieces focused on his basketball ability, his cult fame via YouTube and documentaries, and the Jimmer brand. The articles have been scrupulously color-blind.
The hoopla makes me uneasy. Fredette has been anointed the face of the Kings before he has even signed a contract. “Jimmermania” is tinged with “great white hope” implications. I’d like to know what his star teammates Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, both black, are thinking. They sure like to shoot, too. What’s this new arrival mean for team chemistry? Will Fredette get the kind of acceptance that flashy guard Jason Williams got with the Kings a decade ago when he was nicknamed “White Chocolate”?
Bee columnist Ailene Voisin took pains on Friday to deny that the Kings’ owners dictated Fredette’s selection “for marketing purposes.” What could that mean except that a white face would be an easy sell in the Sacramento region? Why not say that? In her Sunday column , Voisin noted that Fredette had been on a whirlwind schedule, meeting and greeting sponsors and season-ticket holders, attending a rally at Arden Fair mall and participating in a live chat for the team website.
Before long, Fredette will be trotted out to public forums. He’ll be an effective marketing tool. He’ll be used by the region’s power brokers and politicians as an argument to keep the Kings in Sacramento no matter what the cost to the public. Black Mayor Kevin Johnson will be pictured with his arm around Fredette. A March deadline looms to get an arena funding plan in place.
It could be a long season of hidden messages. Sacramento should shoot for some open talk on race. It could be refreshing and enlightening. The same goes for the financing of a new sports arena.
For some other thoughts on black, white and Fredette, take a look at these sites: