Stereotypes

by Brian on March 4, 2005

Sadly I can’t link to it directly because it’s in an annoying popup, but the discussion of the best college basketball players of the year on ESPN.com, featured an hilarous quote from Andy Katz about Australian Andrew Bogut.

Bogut is a unique foreign player. He has a toughness that contradicts the stereotype of foreign big men and has helped him become a force in the paint.

I’ve heard of German stereotypes and American stereotypes and Australian stereotypes and so on, but the idea of there being a stereotype for foreigners, i.e. non-Americans, as such is astounding. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so other in my life.

Seriously though, were Australians in the NBA perceived of as weaklings? I wasn’t following American sports when Luc Longley was with the Bulls, so for all I know he’s responsible for Americans thinking of us foreigners as people who can be blown over with a puff of wind.

{ 46 comments }

1

Chris 03.04.05 at 6:34 pm

The Greeks pretty much called everyone non-Greek hoi barbaroi and had no shortage of stereotypes about them.

2

Chris Rasmussen 03.04.05 at 6:34 pm

I can see his point in the basketball context. Completely different styles of play played in America and outside of America (I prefer the European style of play) and some prominent “foreign” products have been considered soft (more willing to be jump shooters than physical post players, etc…)

Don’t blame Luc Longley. Toni Kukoc is your culprit.

3

Andrew McManama Smith 03.04.05 at 6:41 pm

I’ve been a huge NBA fan ever since I came to the states, and I can say that Luc Longley wasn’t a weakling at all.
Many of the European players do seem whimpy compared to American players. European centres and forwards (the tallest players, think Yao Ming) often are jump-shooters instead of “tough” post players like Shaquille O’Neal. Paul Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki seem much less tough when compared to Tim Duncan and Shaq.
Horever I thought Australians and Canadians didn’t have that same reputation, especially since Luc Longley got into some very memorable fights, but I guess I was wrong. Maybe to Americans it’s foreign or not, and they’re not famous for sublty, now are they?

4

ogged 03.04.05 at 6:45 pm

Kukoc, Divac, yeah. Until very recently, non-American players played a notably less brutal style of ball. If you hear of a stereotype of foreign players having bad hands, that’ll be Longley’s fault.

5

Chris 03.04.05 at 6:52 pm

It’s certainly a broad brush. However, the vast majority of foreign players in the NBA are European, and their style of play is considered “soft” when compared to the increasingly physical American style. Maybe as more Australians and other non-Europeans enter the league, distinctions will be made.

6

SomeCallMeTim 03.04.05 at 6:57 pm

Longley had a bit of a reputation as a punk. Often, when big men with obvious potential don’t meet with expected success, people claim that they are soft and lack toughness around the rim. You can see this is claims today about Ming and (to varying degrees) about Webber.

7

paul lawson 03.04.05 at 6:59 pm

The ‘Otherness’ prevalent, in many contexts in American media, is a particular creation of a pathological insularity. World Series Baseball? Sorta. But what if the Cubans were permitted to play, as a regional team? Hhhhmmm. At the 1776 ‘handover’, the band of the Cornwallis army played an old ‘air’–‘The World Turned Upside Down’. The lesson that might have been learned, by the victors, was not. Consequently, we have ‘us’, and the rest of the world,we others. Sad. The fearful 6% attempt to define their ‘place’.

8

Andrew McManama Smith 03.04.05 at 6:59 pm

Come on Chris, there are loads of Canadian, Brazilian, Argentinan, African and even a few Mexican players in the NBA. I’d figure less than half of foreign players are European.

9

lalala 03.04.05 at 7:17 pm

Longley did have a reputation for not working out hard enough. He was a big, meaty guy, but he had visibly less muscle definition than just about anyone else on the team at the time. So he might not have been seen as soft in the sense of “blow him over with a puff of wind” but I do think he was (somewhat legitimately) seen as soft in another sense.

10

Dave 03.04.05 at 7:19 pm

Yeah, what they said. This has nothing to do with a general stereotype of foreigners and everything to do with a difference in the style of play.

11

nick 03.04.05 at 7:19 pm

Um, I think that ‘foreign’ is actually a way of saying ‘non-black’, since I don’t think Hakeem Olajuwon ever faced that stereotype. At the very least, it defines the center position in terms of Shaq, rather than Divac. And there was certainly talk of how Yao had to ‘toughen up’ in the NBA.

The Athens Olympics showed that international basketball (like international ice hockey) is a very different game to its American league equivalent — many would say that it places greater demands in terms of shooting ability over brute force in the paint. (A similar analogy might be to English football and its Mediterranean cousins.)

A slightly better distinction might be made between those — of all nationalities — who have gone through the US college system to the NBA, and those who didn’t.

But what if the Cubans were permitted to play, as a regional team?

Well, the Puerto Ricans beat the US national team in the Olympics, with second-tier players.

12

tad brennan 03.04.05 at 7:28 pm

re Chris on the barbaroi:

I remember John Burgess at Princeton telling me a story about a kid who waited his table at a taverna in Greece, got part way through a multi-lingual conversation, then turned to his dad to ask “pos to lene sta xenika?”

I.e., how do you say that in foreign?

Given that kids in that situation have to learn a smattering of French, German, English, Italian, etc., you can hardly blame them for thinking that there are two languages, i.e. greek and foreign. Which dialect of foreign you use is largely a matter of whether the foreigner does or does not wear socks with their sandals.

13

mpowell 03.04.05 at 7:39 pm

The stereotype of foreigners in the NBA are largely shaped by early examples who were primarily European. And players like Tim Duncan, despite being born in the Virgin Islands, are not considered foreign. Generally, foreign players are regarded as those who do not play collegiate basketball in the US. They have been regarded as ‘soft’ b/c the style of basketball played in the US is much more physical than elsewhere. European players have come from a league where much less physical contact is allowed. Different kinds of players will excel in such an environment and even those that can adapt to a more physical league will need time to do so. Obviously, any stereotype should not be presumed to cover all cases, but this particular stereotype does observe a very real difference in the type of player raised playing basketball in the US style versus the international one.

And one note to all those internationalist out there: The US team has not fared as well in international ball recently, but if you created an international team of non NBA players and after a couple months of practice threw them into the NBA playoffs, they would get beaten up pretty good.

14

Chris 03.04.05 at 7:39 pm

It would probably have made more sense if he’d said “international big men.” The international style of basketball, which is dominant in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, and South America produces big men who are finesse players, usually with a good shooting touch (even Yao has more range than any other player near his size). The stereotype holds for African (and Afro-Brazilian) international big men as well, though. There aren’t many African-born big men in the NBA right now, but there are several at the college level, and they tend to be finesse players as well. Olajuwon is a bad example, because he came into the league during a time of dominating, powerful centers, and before the number of international players in the league was anything like it is today.

15

SomeCallMeTim 03.04.05 at 7:42 pm

Um, I think that ‘foreign’ is actually a way of saying ‘non-black’

Except that people still wonder if Tony Parker is soft (black but French). I think, if you’re good enough and tough enough, we assume that you are really an American who was wrongly born in a foreign land.

16

Sseziwa Mukasa 03.04.05 at 7:44 pm

In this case the categories are useful when understood in context. In general “foreign” in NBA terms means one did their apprenticeship someplace other than the American collegiate basketball system. Longley for example learned the game at the University of New Mexico and so can be considered to have learned the “American” version of the game. Compare that to Andrew Gaze who despite much promise never really flourished at the collegiate level, played only sporadically at the NBA level and never shook the tag of “foreign” in spite of his shared citizenship with Longley.

As with soccer there are definite styles to basketball and the United States’ border is a reasonable proxy for the region where you’ll find an emphasis on physical contact in the post, shoulder in the chest defense, and using individual strength to force ones way to the basket. As for the “foreign” (and given basketball’s origins that’s not a pejorative term) game being “soft”. In the 2004 Olympics it proved devastatingly effective against the more physical American style and it actually bears a close resemblance to the motion oriented offense and zone defense game played by Sacramento, Dallas, Minnesota and a few other teams.

Since NBA managers are as conservative as their counterparts in other American professional sports leagues though there is still a premium placed on players willing and able to play with more physical contact. Should professional leagues in Europe start attracting more players with the physical attributes of Karl Malone I’m sure that perceptions will change.

17

Enrique 03.04.05 at 7:44 pm

I know that the “soft European player” notion has been out there for a while since they started making a splash in the NBA. I remember even reading an op-ed piece on ESPN or CNNSI once that speculated that a lot of the negativity against foreign born players may have stemmed from the notion that Europeans may have been taking roster spots from African American players. I thought it was an odd way to play the race card, but the arguments within the article bore some merit (perhaps someone knows where that was?). Truthfully, the only Aussie players I knew of were Longley, and Andrew Gaze, and I only knew Gaze from leading Seton Hall to the Final Four. But the backlash at foreign born players in the NBA is an interesting phenomenon in any case (ok, will stop rambling now).

18

blah 03.04.05 at 7:57 pm

I agree with Nick. He really meant to say “the stereotype of white big men.”

19

John 03.04.05 at 8:32 pm

I’d be the last to deny Aerican cultural insularity but The “World Series” knock is off target. It’s named for the original sponsor, the now defunct New York World.

20

Chris 03.04.05 at 8:36 pm

Come on Chris, there are loads of Canadian, Brazilian, Argentinan, African and even a few Mexican players in the NBA. I’d figure less than half of foreign players are European

I don’t know. Eduardo Najera is Mexican. Who else? Manu Ginobili is Argentinan. Who else? Who are the African players on rosters this season? Are there more than 3 or 4? Are there any Australians on rosters this season?

Here are stats for foreign players for this season:

http://www.nba.com/statistics/international/interPlayersStats.html

Out of the 52 on the list, 30 look to be European. I guess I overstated it when I said “vast majority”, but it’s certainly still a majority.

21

BigMacAttack 03.04.05 at 9:02 pm

Yea it pretty tough to create a stereotype of the Canadian Basketball style based on Jamal Magloire and Steve Nash.(Maybe all-star style?)

Or two Australians separated by 10 or so years.

Apparently 34 countries and 77 players.(Only one Mexcian born player. Go to NBA.com and under players choose international.)

But if you just look at the big men, who did not play high school or maybe college ball in the US, you might have enough folks you can pin a label on them.

So give us more Australian players and we will gladly pin a crude label, maybe postive maybe negative, on Australian players.

(Hockey used to have the same soft Euro label for European players.)

22

dix hill 03.04.05 at 9:05 pm

What everybody else said. The cliche is that non-Americans play with finesse but not much power. And it got to be a cliche because there is a bit of truth to it.

One point I haven’t seen here is that because the lane is wider under international rules, it’s harder for big men to plant themselves near the basket and get nothing but dunks and layups. So in that way they are encouraged to be finesse players.

23

dix hill 03.04.05 at 9:06 pm

What everybody else said. The cliche is that non-Americans play with finesse but not much power. And it got to be a cliche because there is a bit of truth to it.

One point I haven’t seen here is that because the lane is wider under international rules, it’s harder for big men to plant themselves near the basket and get nothing but dunks and layups. So in that way they are encouraged to be finesse players.

24

Brian Weatherson 03.04.05 at 9:12 pm

Fun thread! I should note that it would be weird to use foreign as a synonym for ‘not coming through the college system’ in this case, because the point of the quote was to describe Bogut as the best college player of the year.

By the way, I’m pretty sure there were more than 2 Australian NBA players. I thought that apart from Longley, at least Anstey, Heal and Gaze got cups of coffee (or whatever the basketball equivalent is).

25

Chris 03.04.05 at 9:21 pm

Apparently 34 countries and 77 players.(Only one Mexcian born player. Go to NBA.com and under players choose international.)

There you go. 45 out of 77 of the international players are European. It’s amazing to step back and realize what a change this is. 15 years ago there were maybe half a dozen internationals.

26

Delicious Pundit 03.04.05 at 9:24 pm

The same stereotype applied for years in the NHL as well. Non-Canadians were soft — but also dirty, with the stickwork and everything. One still hears this, especially from Don Cherry.

27

sidereal 03.04.05 at 9:41 pm

The major contributions have already been made, but I’d like to reiterate the ‘big men’ qualifier. This means centers and big forwards and it’s a reasonable stereotype since centers and foreigners are trained to shoot the ball in international play, while in US collegiate and NBA play they’re taught to bang under the basket and get rebounds. Talk of Steve Nash and Tony Parker, while interesting, isn’t really relevant to the stereotype question.

If you are on the hunt for irrational stereotype, I can throw you a bone. If US-born big men are able to shoot the ball, they aren’t called soft. . they’re called ‘multidimensional’ . . a la Kevin Garnett.

28

foolishmortal 03.04.05 at 9:46 pm

This concept isn’t limited to American sports. Take the stereotype of foreigners in English football: good ball skills and creativity, but lack strength and work rate. Plus they go down like tissue paper.

29

John 03.04.05 at 10:03 pm

As delicious pundit said, the stereotype holds in hockey as well, with European players seen as notorious dive artists, however skilled.

It’s possible that the Americans who think Australians are ‘soft’ think that Australia is that country south of Germany and west of the Czech Republic – this would explain painting them with the same brush as other European imports at least.

30

Ian Whitchurch 03.04.05 at 10:14 pm

As far as Australians go, if you are a big, tough, tall young kid, who doesnt mind a bit of biff, you dont tend to play basketball, because outside the US basketball is a non-contact sport with a “travel” rule that requires the ball to be bounced rather than carried.

Australian kids who dont mind a bit of biff end up playing Aussie Rules or rugby league (or possibly union, depending on which school you went to).

Finally, Luc Longely getting into fights is just natural for an Australian sportsman.

Ian Whitchurch

31

Andrew McManama-Smith 03.04.05 at 11:00 pm

Chris, I stand corrected, 45/77 is 58% which really is a vast majority. Though I may be digging myself ever deeper into a hole with this… but my guess was from watching, so I thought I’d analyse to see whether more game minutes were played by Europeans or not europeans. 26,113 of the 48,458 (54%) minutes played by the 77 players on the link were played by non-Europeans so I think you can see how I made the mistake.

But the stereotype does not hold to non-europeans, does anyone think Dikembe Mutombo. Patrick Ewing and Nene Hilario are soft? I don’t think so. And Tim Duncan plays for the US olympic team which means he’s 100% american.

32

james 03.04.05 at 11:01 pm

No one would ever call Eduardo Najera soft. Even though his Mexican nationality is touted, he’s not considered foreign. Foreign in the NBA refers to players who avoid contact. Since this is only really important to the 4-5 slots, only big men really get the label. Hakeem Olajawun was never labeled soft because of his blocks and rebound numbers.

The US Olympic team was the victim of replacing coaching values with marketing values. They could have replace Carmilo with Lindsy Hunter (pure shooter) and had a far superior team. Carmilo is the better of the two players but not what international play requires. The other thing the US team needed was a pass first point guard. Move Iverson to the two spot and have him shoot set 3’s.

33

Vance Maverick 03.04.05 at 11:13 pm

This direct link works for me (though who knows for how long).

34

Chris 03.05.05 at 12:45 am

26,113 of the 48,458 (54%) minutes played by the 77 players on the link were played by non-Europeans

Point taken. A lot of the Eastern Europeans on that list are pretty far down the depth chart. The way it’s going, in 10 years the majority of international players will be non-European. I was particularly surprised at the number of Latin American and Caribbean players.

35

mac 03.05.05 at 12:52 am

“The US team has not fared as well in international ball recently, but if you created an international team of non NBA players and after a couple months of practice threw them into the NBA playoffs, they would get beaten up pretty good.”

“The US Olympic team was the victim of replacing coaching values with marketing values.”

Where have I heard this before? “Okay, so those Soviets beat some of our amateur hockey players. Just wait till our NHL players take them on. They won’t stand a chance.” “Okay, so they beat our NHL players. But it’s because of that big ice surface.” “Those Russians play dirty. That’s why Bobby Clarke had to break Kharlamov’s ankle.” “The toilet paper in those Moscow hotels is too rough. And the food’s upsetting their stomachs.” “And what about those Swedes? A bunch of crybabies. They just don’t have what our Canadian boys have: heart.”

And now that those dirty, fancy-skating, high-scoring European players have practically taken over the NHL, guess what: no NHL hockey this season. Coincidence? I ask you.

P.S. That Eric Lindros guy is always sitting out a bunch of games because he says he keeps hitting his head on the ice. You know what? Think about it: “Eric Lindros”. Sounds like a Swedish name to me.

36

Chuck 03.05.05 at 1:05 am

There’s an Australian-born ball payer who plays for Georgia Tech, Luke Schenscher and he also has a reputation for playing soft. That could be due to teh fact that he was very thin when he first came to the US.

Of course it’s a silly stereotype, based on a small sample of players and certain desire to portray America and American ball-players in a certain way. If I recall, the stereotype of African ballplayers (Olajuwon, Mutumbo, and Manute Bol) is often that they’re “untutored,” at least when they first enter the American game at the college level, which is also not the best stereotype.

37

SomeCallMeTim 03.05.05 at 1:41 am

So, to summarize: there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that in comparison with American men, Australian males are little girls. Little French girls.

38

luci phyrr 03.05.05 at 1:57 am

Yeah, “foreign” here means mostly “non-black.” A black Canadian wouldn’t be thought of as having a “foreign” game, but I’ll bet a white Canadian would. Doesn’t Steve Nash?

39

Walt Pohl 03.05.05 at 3:26 am

I’m told that the authors of “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” were thinking of Australian men the whole time. So it’s not like the efforts of Luc Longley and other Australian athletes aren’t appreciated.

40

Jim Weldon 03.05.05 at 5:12 am

Similar here in China – people often say things like ‘oh you foreigners do X’ or ‘all think X’ to me, though it seems to mean Westerners in practice.

41

snuh 03.05.05 at 9:30 am

there are people outside of australia who know who andrew gaze is. colour me surprised.

42

Tom Hurka 03.05.05 at 1:17 pm

The comparison with hockey is interesting, because there the reaction to the contrast has been (or was) different.

In hockey too the contrast has been between skilled but soft Europeans and tougher Canadians (and Americans). And twenty years ago the contrast worked very much against the Europeans. More than in other sports, I think, hockey becomes a different game in the playoffs, played at a level of intensity, especially physical intensity, that you couldn’t keep up over an 80-game schedule. (It’s not dirtier — there are fewer fights — but tougher and more competitive within the rules.) And twenty years ago lots of skilled European players would “disappear” in the playoffs. They would rack up lots of points in the regular season but be literally frightened off their game in the playoffs. (Kent Nilsson of my then hometown Calgary Flames was a prime example.)

But over time the Europeans toughened up and, say, five years ago the contrast went all in the other direction. Something like 8 of the top 10 scorers in the NHL were Europeans; they had all the skill while Canada was turning out just 3rd-line grinders; and what had we done to fall so far behind? At that point it was the European game that was commonly thought to be the better. And that’s the interesting comparison: how much would it take to get Americans to take that type of view?

More recently the contrast has swung in the other direction. Now the top scorers in the league are Canadian — Jarome Iginla, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards — and Canada holds all the international trophies: Olympic gold, World Championship, World Cup. So now Canadians are both skilled and tough. But not so long ago the common view (Don Cherry aside) was that Euro skill was better than Canadian toughness.

43

Mark 03.05.05 at 2:38 pm

As I recall the “paint” in international rules flares near the basket and the three point line is closer than in the NBA. By keeping the big men further from the basket on offense giving 3 points for what in the NBA would be 2, the rules encourage a “softer” style. The US Olympic team needs to be selected with these differences in mind.

44

Mac Thomason 03.06.05 at 12:52 am

Right, a lot of it is the international lane, which is trapezoidal. The American lane is rectangular, and much closer to the basket, especially in college. And foreign-born players like Olajuwon and Duncan who played American college ball aren’t really considered “foreign”. (For that matter, both are American citizens, as is Patrick Ewing, another foreign-born, American-trained center.) American basketball is much more inside-oriented than elsewhere, and the officials generally don’t call any but the most egregious fouls.

Plus, yeah, Toni Kukoc was supposed to be the best player outside the United States and turned out to be both soft and something of a stiff, and that didn’t help.

45

mike 03.06.05 at 7:05 am

And oh, Luc also had a 10″ to 15″ vertical (leap). Lowest in the nba at the time (and possibly ever!).

46

MikeN 03.06.05 at 12:25 pm

Aah, Don Cherry…
I remember quite a few years back, the Swedish Navy had discovered an “unidentified” (but obviously Soviet) submarine in Sweden’s waters. After a few days hide-and-seek it was announced that the submarine had managed to evade contact.

Cherry: “They probably just went into a corner. Everybody knows a Swede won’t go into a corner.”

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