Sports Putz: Philly Hoops Fans Racist?

Posted in Basketball, Racism Corner, Sports Journalism at 8:38 pm by

(not the Kyle Korver of his day : Billy Cunningham)

Certain know-it-alls just do not have the ability to field a question and reply “I am not really certain” and just leave it at that instead of exposing their ignorance. This certainly applies to Bill Simmons as evidenced by his speculation that lack of support for the Philadelphia 76ers may have a racial component involved when The Philadelphia Daily News posed a question to him during his book signing tour date in Philly. From the Philadelphia Daily News Editorial page:

A COUPLE OF weeks ago, I sat and watched Bill Simmons, ESPN’s lead columnist and the author of the current New York Times No. 1 best-seller, “The Book of Basketball,” at a sold-out appearance at the Borders just south of City Hall.

For more than four hours, Simmons signed books, shook hands and traded barbs with hundreds of fans there to buy a book whose target audience, narrowly defined, is hard core basketball fans. Sports fans at a book signing about basketball: This was, presumably, a cross section of Philadelphians who might be interested in basketball.

Of the 500 fans who showed up, there weren’t 10 guys wearing Sixers gear. Afterward, I asked Simmons about it: Is Philly just not a good pro hoops town?

Simmons, love him or hate him, knows basketball. He just consumed roughly every pro basketball game ever filmed, and, as a lifelong Celtics fan, should have a decent idea of the Sixers’ status in the Celts’ once-upon-a-time main rival’s hometown.

Pausing to thinking for a second, he tilted his head back, crossed his arms and half-whispered his answer: “I don’t think so,” and then paused. “No.”

“It could be a race thing to some degree. They’ve never had an awesome white player, and they’ve always had the most iconic African-American player. They had Doc, then they had Barkley, who was obviously very outspoken, and then Iverson.”

Would we have showed up more if the team were whiter? Maybe, but I’m not so sure.

I wont even bother wasting my time defending Philly sports fans against such blatantly ignorant and insulting speculation but am puzzled and appalled that Daily News sports editor E James Beale stated that Simmons may be correct. That, and when it comes to basketball and 76ers history/knowledge, neither Beale or Simmons seems to recall somebody named Billy Cunningham. Gee guys, maybe, just maybe if Shawn Bradley and Matt Geiger didnt pan out….


17 responses to “Sports Putz: Philly Hoops Fans Racist?”

  1. Nick says:

    Joe Frazier, one of the greatest boxers of all time, was raised in Philadephia and yet the city is so racist that a fictional white boxer is more respected and famous among the locals. Heck, there is even a Rocky statue. The 2000 census revealed that if you were born in Philadelphia in the 1980’s you were more likely to be named Rocky than Joe.

    Some of this is totally true.

  2. GC says:

    I’m not sure you can fairly assume because someone frequents a Borders dressed in something besides Sixers gear, they are not in fact, a Sixers fan. Presumably some of these Simmons acolytes came straight from work, and there are number of employers who prefer you not wear a World B. Free throwback on the job.

  3. Nick says:

    On the other hand, it’s totally acceptable to wear a Kevin Youkilis jersey at any job in Beantown. Oil Can Boyd uniforms are for casual Fridays.

    Also, I’d guess the attendees at a Simmons reading would dress very much like the fans at a Counting Crows concert. So imagine a room full of guys dressed as Ross from Friends (with an occasional white hat atop a head).

  4. Chuck Meehan says:

    The Rocky iconography in Philly is primarily due to the fact that it was a huge box-office hit that was filmed and took place in Philadelphia at that time and face it, Joe Frazier spent his whole career in the shadow of Muhammad Ali. As to the subject matter I posted of, the reason the Philadelphia 76ers are such a poor draw is that they have pretty much sucked for a quarter century, not resentment of having their historically prominent players being outspoken black players. When you think of Sixers futility, its the likes of Shawn Bradley and Matt Geiger that come to mind, not Charles Barkley or Allen Iverson. If anything, Iverson was the only reason many people came out to see the Sixers during his tenure in Philly. As far as the love/hate ups and downs with AI, it wasnt much different than say, the relationship Phillies fans had with Pat Burrell. I have never paid attention to Simmons as the first time I read his writing I got as far as reading a few paragraphs of his jibber-jabber, lost interest and I dont pay any attention to him. However, Simmons comment was just flabbergasting in its ignorance and disrespect and I actually hold the author of the editorial in worse esteem for allowing this crock of shit assessment to pass with an ass-kissing “maybe he is right” sentiment.

  5. Nick says:

    Chuck, I’m not being all that serious about the Rocky/Joe thing, although I’d venture a guess that you know more Rocky’s than Joe’s. I’m again kidding with his bad joke, which was once good (at least when Bill Burr delivered it to an angry Philadelphia crowd). I’ll say that I don’t find the Frazier was in the shadow of Ali defense all that strong of an argument. Local legends are local legends, regardless of the treatment they get from the greater world. Put it this way, those Patrick Ewing Knicks teams are loved in New York despite clearly being in the shadow of the Jordanian Bulls. My guess, though, is that this is all a moot point. Joe Frazier is probably loved in Philly.

  6. Chuck Meehan says:

    Nick, trust me, I have been around more Joes than Rockys. I think Ali was “larger than life” to the point where he overshadowed everybody , even Joe Frazier in his own hometown. I think that if there was no Ali, Frazier would be seen more as an icon. Ali spent a lot of time in Philly at the Nation of Islam mosque and did live in Cherry Hill NJ for a while

  7. matthau says:

    This is really silly. Besides the Sixers being generally awful in years without a prime Iverson, they are also the fourth team in a four sport city. Does that mean Philly isn’t a “pro hoops town?” Possibly/probably but I would hardly bring race in to the discussion. The Phillies will always own the summer out of boredom but they can be easily be seriously ignored for the Eagles training camp if they are on pace for 100 loses (with a roster full of white guys). The Flyers have a strong loyal fan base still based on the toughness of the Broad Street Bullies. Hockey is a “white sport” I know, but Philly fans love flexing their muscles and the aggressive nature of hockey gets them off.

    Regardless of that if the team is good people will be interested. Games were sold out for seasons leading up to and after the 2000-2001 run. I remember seeing enough Eric Snow jerseys around town that I actually thought he was all-star worthy. If race were an issue, former Temple coach John Chaney woulnd’t be the guy most of the people I know would eat dinner with if they had one choice.

    I don’t know why I felt the need to explain the obvious here but that really is a silly comment. You can (easily) argue that Philly isn’t a pure basketball town but blaming it on race is just lazy and irresponsible. Maybe next time just blame it on the economy if you must have an answer.

  8. zambonirodeo says:

    If he wasn’t so quick to spout off (and if he knew anything about college sports) he could have just gone with the much easier answer, which Matthau hints at. Is there a better college basketball city (*city*, mind you) in the country? There are six different teams you can be watching on TV or in person instead of the NBA, and the whole city will rally around any of them at tournament time in a way that won’t happen for the Sixers until they win a couple of playoff rounds. The Sixers core fan base is not that different from the Flyers’ core fan base, except the former might be smaller. When the team is good the bandwagon revs up quickly.

    Beyond that, as Chuck’s comments illustrate, there’s also little difference between the Sixers and the Phillies – both teams *earned* their empty seats during the period they had them. It hasn’t been the same for some fans since Ed Snider forced out Pat Croce, and for others since AI left (I would, however, say the “love-hate” relationship with AI was only in the white fan base). Though as fans of both I’d say that we should be so lucky as to have a Pat Burrell or Bobby Abreu on the team right now, as far as the high-dollar guys go, feels more like Greg Jeffries and Travis Lee.

  9. Joe B says:

    Don’t forget the Sixers were the first team to draft a Canadian in the first round – Leo Rautins!

  10. Dan P. says:

    Admittedly, referencing an individual’s job title or employer doesn’t fully explain his attitude or opinions. But it’s worth mentioning that E. James Beale isn’t a sports editor at the Daily News, he’s the contributing sports editor at the City Paper. Rather than overseeing sports coverage for a big city daily, he writes a column for an alt weekly (and evidently occasionally winds up on Daily News op-ed page.) As a alt-weekly writer myself, I’m aware that the bar to get in the door is quite low, so I wouldn’t get to worked up about what Beale says.

    What’s more surprising is that a 700 page book is on top the NYT best-seller list.

  11. Rog says:

    My only real problem with Simmons’ comments is the obvious pot/kettle argument that nobody has yet made. Both towns have really big, obvious racial tensions that sometimes bleed into the sports world. This is nothing new. I’ve seen it in both towns. I haven’t listened to Philly sports radio but if its anything like Boston’s then I’d say that Simmons might want to look in the damned mirror before he shows up and makes a comment like that. The other issue that I take offense of is the white-washing being performed by most of the comments makers on this thread. It’s the actual Philadelphians that are making the most case in favor of Simmons’ views and that can’t be discounted.

  12. Nick says:

    I don’t like defending Simmons but, Rog, I don’t think he’s denying that there are racialist attitudes among Boston fans. I think it’s implied in his comments. I’m sure he thinks that Boston is a good hoops town and the probable basis would be that they’ve had legendary white players like Bird and McHale. At least, that is what the logic of statement would suggest.

    The truth, of course, is that this is America and there are racist attitudes in every city, town and hamlet from Cranberry Island, MA to Astoria, Portland. But especially in cities with sizeable white working and middle class populations that have been a part of the city life for a while, you’re going to get some pretty blatant racism. I grew up in NYC in the 80s, very close to Inwood in upper Manhattan, which, at the time, was a predominately Irish-American working class neighborhood. I remember being shocked by some of the racist things kids and their parents said about blacks. Of course, in NYC, this attitude is more diluted as it is so large and there are so many different communities and, relatively speaking, it’s actually a pretty integrated city (relative to most American cities). But these attitudes seem more pronounced in places like Boston and Philly probably for demographic and geographic reasons.

  13. Chuck Meehan says:

    Rog- If the comments from Philly on this thread threw out the pot kettle black argument at Simmons, that would be much more tacitly making the case in favor of Simmons musings than any of the comments that have been expressed. The long and short of it is that the reason the 76ers receive poor fan support is because they have been a middling-at-best team for quite a while and there is nothing that indicates they are going to be a legit contender anytime soon.

  14. Sam L says:

    Doesn’t the article refute the race argument? I hit the link and the last graf says Philly doesn’t care about the 76ers because they’re more focused on college ball.

    On top of that, the proof that people don’t show up isn’t just that the stadium is empty now, but that they also didn’t show up when the 76ers were good. From the looks of it, the only person who mentioned race was Simmons, and it sounds like we all kinda agree he was at least not fully right.

  15. Chuck Meehan says:

    Sam – The subject matter of the editorial was the lack of support in Philly
    for the 76ers rather than racism amongst Philly fans. However, Beales ” Would we have showed up more if the team were whiter? Maybe, but I’m not so sure” reply to Simmons inane speculating isnt what I would consider a refutation to commentary that should have been strongly rebuked..

    I can not verify whether or not playoff games in Philly against the Celtics in the early 80s did not sell out (per Beale) but I did verify via basketball-reference.com that when the 76ers had legit contending teams (late 70’s -mid 80’s and 1999-2002) the 76ers attendance ranked in the top 5 of NBAs teams, indicating that Beales assertion that the 76ers did not receive support even when they had good teams was incorrect.

  16. matthau says:

    I wonder if Simmons gets asked that question at every stop on his book tour. He could travel the country labeling every city ‘not a true basketball town’ and ‘probably racist’. That’s a gimmick I could get behind. When is his Salt Lake stop?

  17. Sports says:

    No one wearing a sixer’s gear. Let’s think about something good. While racism should be condemned as against God’s nature of things, lets focus our attention on so much good which happens in the world of sports and not these parochial issues.

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