Steve Nash: Who's hue in hoops

By Mark Kiszla
Denver Post Staff Columnist

If white men can't jump, then what business does Phoenix point guard Steve Nash have being the most valuable player in basketball?     

The NBA has not witnessed a bigger upset in 20 years.     

Nash is a 6-foot-3 native of Canada with straight hair and a lousy tan. The MVP is simply not supposed to look like him.     

"I didn't have any NBA players in my neighborhood," Nash told reporters in Arizona.     

And everybody knows exactly what he means.     

We are all victims of our own stereotypes.     

Nash was voted the MVP for making basketball fun for the Suns again. Thanks to him, the assist is cool and scoring is up. Guided by his hand, Phoenix rose from the NBA ashes to win more games than any other team in the league.     

This award, however, is significant because it shattered a stereotype.     

The last time a white player had been voted the NBA's top player was Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird in 1986.     

And, if we are honest, many basketball fans wondered if it might be the last time a white player would be so honored.     

"Steve Nash winning the MVP is going to open some eyes," said Jon Entine, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. "It's going to create a buzz."     

What's all this noise, certain to rattle rims on Bronx playgrounds and instigate debate between sips of $12 martinis in suites of NBA arenas?     

The only hint you need is the title of a controversial book written by Entine: "Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid to Talk About It."     

Nash gives us a reason to re-examine our sports prejudices. And discuss. That's a good thing.     

"For better or worse, whites view basketball as a black sport, just as blacks view swimming as a white sport," Entine said during a telephone interview.     

"There are a large number of young white players who drop out of basketball because they don't see enough role models like Steve Nash to believe they can succeed in the NBA. It's a sad situation, but these stereotypes of athletes are reinforced culturally."     

In the NBA, four out of five players are African-American. The All-Star Game and the celebrity-studded parties it attracts have become known as black Thanksgiving. That's unnerving to some basketball lovers, most notably Bird, who last year suggested America would be more apt to stand up and cheer for his beloved sport if more white guys hit shots at the buzzer.     

The real problem is not the color of sports heroes we watch on TV, but how U.S. athletes are limiting themselves by what they see in the mirror.     

We become slaves to our stereotypes. Athletes of all races commit the same error.     

While an entire generation grew up wanting to be like Michael Jordan, baseball is striking out with the black youth of this country. On opening day, only one in 10 players swinging for the fences of major-league ballparks was African-American.     

"With the number of blacks dwindling in baseball, young black kids don't see themselves in baseball uniforms. They look at basketball, and believe they can be Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady or Allen Iverson. In football, they see themselves in Ray Lewis, Donovan McNabb or Randy Moss," Rockies outfielder Preston Wilson told me during spring training: "Young black kids don't see themselves in a baseball uniform because there just aren't that many black stars on the field anymore. Our culture tells black kids they aren't baseball players. The culture becomes destiny."     

The NBA does not need Nash to be the great white hope. His success will not change the face of the league. So what does winning the MVP prove? Only that the one unbeatable foe is a restriction an athlete puts on himself.     

"I didn't win this because I overpower people or I'm dominating people with physical ability, whether it's jumping or strength or height," said Nash, whose imagination on the court is what allows him to rise above the rest.     

Nash dreams in colors, and this is a hoop dream come true.     

A really big dream can never be limited to black and white.