We’re in the middle of summer right now, with MLB’s Home Run Derby currently airing on ESPN, so naturally we’re going to focus on a truly timely matter.
Dick Vitale and the election of Donald Trump.
The Detroit Sports Czar is a huge fan of “what ifs”, so imagine my surprise when, during a conversation with a friend a few weeks back, I discovered it wasn’t that hard to draw a line between an ill-fated trade entered into by Dick Vitale and the election of our current president. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well follow along.
The tale actually starts with John Y. Brown, who overruled Red Auerbach and dealt 3 first round draft picks to the Knicks for Bob McAdoo, supposedly because his wife was a fan of McAdoo when he played in New York (to be fair, his wife was a sportscaster, so this isn’t quite as ridiculous as it sounds). Auerbach was rumored to be so livid that he almost followed McAdoo to New York, but he stuck it out to rebuild the Celtics while Brown was run out of town to become the governor of Kentucky.
Which brings us to M.L. Carr and Dick Vitale.
After playing in Europe and the ABA until the league folded, M.L. Carr played for the Pistons until becoming a free agent after the 1979 season. Auerbach scooped him up, which required the Celtics to offer compensation to the Pistons. McAdoo was miserable and injury-prone during his half season in Boston and Auerbach never wanted him in the first place, so he offered him to the Pistons and their head coach, Dick Vitale. Vitale was ecstatic, but as a negotiator he was Donald Trump to Auerbach’s Vladimir Putin, and so he gladly handed over the Pistons 2 first round draft picks in the 1980 draft. Trouble was the Pistons sucked, one of those draft picks turned out to be the first overall pick, and Vitale was long gone by the time the draft rolled around.
This is where the tale starts to turn.
1980 NBA Draft
Let’s not fool ourselves, Red Auerbach was a basketball genius. He built 16 NBA championship teams, so to say he wouldn’t have been able to do it again without swindling the Pistons is likely nonsense. But for the sake of our “what if”, lets just pretend this draft swung the balance of power in the East. Because in the 1980 draft, Auerbach took the Pistons’ 2 draft picks – again, including the #1 pick – and traded them to the Golden State Warriors for Robert Parish and the draft pick that would eventually become Kevin McHale. And I think we can all agree that building the Celtics dynasty of the 1980s is substantially more difficult without McHale and Parish.
Here’s where our little thought experiment requires a bit of a stretch.
Gerald Henderson Trade
Now, what takes this trade off the basketball court and down the line to the Oval Office was the Celtics drafting – and subsequent death – of Len Bias. And without the trade of Gerald Henderson to the Celtics, the Celtics don’t have the #2 pick that allows them to draft Bias. While Henderson was with the Celtics in 1979, without his contributions to 2 championship teams, including a pivotal steal and layup that allowed the Celtics to steal a game against a superior Lakers team in a series they won in 7 games in 1984, it is unlikely he would’ve demanded the trade that found the Celtics holding the #2 draft pick in 1986.
We’ve now established that there is no Celtics dynasty in the 1980s, which means the 1986 Celtics aren’t one of the greatest teams ever. They also don’t hold the #2 draft pick that will allow them to draft a player many expected would challenge Michael Jordan as the best player in the 1980s.
Now we start to get serious.
Death of Len Bias
As mentioned earlier, many expected Len Bias to be one of the best players in the NBA from the minute he was drafted. That doesn’t change because he gets drafted by the SuperSonics instead of the Celtics. Unfortunately, what also likely doesn’t change was the fact that he overdoses two days after the draft. What does change is the political circumstances of his death. If Bias is drafted by Seattle instead of the reigning NBA champions, he’s just another #2 draft pick, a sad footnote mentioned alongside such immortals as Sam Bowie, Hasheem Thabeet, Darko Milicic, and Steve Stipanovich (obligatory mention of such NBA immortals as Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, etc.). More importantly, his new fan base is not located in the Congressional district of a Speaker of the House who is trying to keep control of the House in the upcoming midterm elections.
The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986
Shortly after Bias’s death, it was widely reported that he had overdosed on crack. It wasn’t true, but that didn’t stop the story from spreading; Jesse Jackson even lamented the scourge of crack at Bias’s funeral. Crack was becoming an epidemic in the inner cities, and Bias’s death was the final straw that saw Congress – and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill out of Massachusetts – implement a law that required mandatory minimums that were harshly skewed against crack “dealers”. The law required mandatory sentencing of 5 years in prison for 5 grams of crack, but 500 grams of powder cocaine. The mandatory minimum rules decimated the black inner cities and helped contribute to the 1992 L.A. Riots, which did nothing to help the image of minorities by White America.
At a 1996 campaign speech in New Hampshire – one of the whitest states in the nation – Hillary Clinton referred to young black male criminals as “super-predators” and said that they needed to be “brought to heel”. Clinton was defending her husband’s crime bill, which was designed to curb street crime in the black community. Unfortunately, analysts have now determined that the bill was a major factor in the Era of Mass Incarceration, and Bill Clinton’s defense of both the crime bill and his wife’s super-predator comment during the 2016 campaign did not help the issue. The super-predators comment was not as significant to her campaign problems as her email server was, but to say it didn’t help is an understatement.
Finally, we come to the 2016 election, which found a well-established racist running against the woman who uttered the super-predators comment 20 yeas before. And how did the black community respond? They stayed home. While Barack Obama’s inclusion in the 2012 election helped the black voter turnout rate reach an all-time high that year, the fact remains that 765,000 fewer black voters showed up at the polls in 2016. Considering 88% of blacks voted for Clinton in 2016, and the election swung on roughly 80,000 votes in 3 swing states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan with their significant black populations, it’s not difficult to pin the election result on the decreased voter turnout in the black community.
So there you have it folks. John Y. Brown overrules the greatest executive in NBA history to acquire Bob McAdoo. Red Auerbach suckers Dick Vitale out of the #1 draft pick, which Auerbach then flips for 2 future Hall of Famers. Those 2 Hall of Famers contribute to the Celtics dynasty of the 1980s. Auerbach flips Gerald Henderson for the SuperSonics’ 1986 first round draft pick, which they use on Len Bias. Bias overdoses on cocaine two days after the Celtics draft him. Boston’s Congressman overreacts and helps push through anti-drug legislation that dis-proportionally punishes the black community. Hillary Clinton refers to the victims of that legislation as super-predators, which the community never forgets. And then the black community stays home on Election Day 2016, allowing Donald Trump to eke out a narrow victory.
There are any number of people to blame (or thank, depending on your point of view) for the presidency of Donald Trump. I’m blaming Dick Vitale.