Fredette out to break NBA stereotypes
Can Jimmer stamp out some racial code words? Doug Williams is rooting for him
NEWARK, N.J. -- In living color, Jimmer Fredette turned out to be a study in black and white, a prospect whose vertical leap was most valuable when he hurdled a stubborn stereotype and landed in the lottery of the NBA draft.
Fredette was the 10th pick of the Milwaukee Bucks before, voilà, he became the 10th pick of the Sacramento Kings faster than he could stop on a dime and unleash his lethal J. If the New York Knicks wanted Fredette and all his Glens Falls flair, they didn't want him enough to make the upstate kid's midtown dream come true.
So be it. The Knicks were better off taking a defensive-minded guard in Iman Shumpert, anyway, and Fredette didn't need his preferred destination -- Madison Square Garden -- to make the jump from Brigham Young superstar to NBA man of mystery and doubt.
Sinatra never sang much about Sacramento, and that's just fine. If Fredette can make it there, he can make it anywhere. But even if you don't care about the Kings or whether Fredette will be a worthy complement to Tyreke Evans, there is a big-picture reason to root for Fredette to tilt a Western Conference scoreboard or two.
He could help change the unfortunate language of the NBA draft, one littered with racial code words that need to die a sudden and painful death.
"It's unfortunate that some people, whether it's the media or outside forces, will always look at athletes from a black and white standpoint," said Doug Williams, the man who helped crush the vile stereotype that African-Americans couldn't make for winning quarterbacks.
"When I was playing football, an African-American quarterback didn't have as much time to prove he can play. It's unfortunate that [Fredette] might have to deal with the same thing in the NBA."
Williams seemed to be a good guy to call Thursday, and not because he liked what he saw from Fredette when he watched BYU play on TV. Back in the day, before he led his Washington Redskins to a historic triumph over John Elway's Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, Williams had to listen to small, ignorant minds question whether an African-American had the requisite leadership skills to play the sport's signature position.
"In the NFL the quarterback position was only for whites, regardless of what you did, and I think that's now changed," said Williams, the head coach at his alma mater, Grambling State. "But there was pressure on me as a black quarterback, and I think unfortunately there will be pressure on this Fredette kid to put up good numbers as a rookie so that people don't question whether he can succeed in a sport where most of the great players have been African-American.
"For me, it's never been about color. I love how Tom Brady and Peyton Manning play, and I like Josh Freeman, too. The color of an athlete should never matter."
But it clearly mattered in the head-to-toe examination of Fredette conducted by executives, scouts, media analysts and fans. Fredette was compared to every white NBA guard, past and present, except Dickie McGuire, and was forever subjected to questions about his athleticism and foot speed.
When Fredette's physical skills impressed in pre-draft workouts, the BYU guard was forever said to be "surprisingly" athletic and "deceptively" quick. What, exactly, was surprising and deceptive about it?
Wouldn't any 6-foot-2 player capable of dropping 50 points on a major college opponent have to be pretty damn athletic and pretty damn quick to pull it off?
Asked Thursday night whether he was frustrated by the scrutiny and that the stereotype of the athletically challenged white player was working against him, Fredette said, "I had a perception, and it's something I had to go out and prove. People had to see that in order to believe it, and I thought I did a pretty good job of it in the workouts, and that's why I think I was able to be picked in the top 10."
They had to see it to believe it, even if Fredette was the most explosive offensive force in the college game.
No, he doesn't land in the NBA without legitimate concerns about his skill set. Fredette didn't want to play defense at BYU any more than he wanted to plunge into the second round of the draft, and he has yet to show a visionary's touch when passing the ball from the point.
"Defensively," one NBA talent evaluator said, "I think Fredette is going to be a nightmare because the point guard is the hardest position in the league to cover. He can do everything else a guard needs to do, but if he can't stay in front of his man, you can't have your team playing four against five all night."
Fredette has to spill a lot more blood, sweat and tears on defense, that much is clear. But one longtime African-American executive agreed that the doubts over Fredette's ability -- or lack thereof -- to survive and thrive in the NBA transcend his shortcomings on his least favorite side of the ball.
"People are confusing athleticism with defense," the executive said, "and sometimes that happens when you stereotype a white player."
The executive went on to liken Fredette's offensive skills to Tim Hardaway's, a refreshing break from the misguided comparisons of Fredette to Steve Kerr, J.J. Redick, Jason Kapono, you get the idea.
Sacramento is merely hoping that Fredette can use the high lift on his perimeter shot and his Kemba Walker-like agility to emerge as a starter or, if not, one of the most dangerous sixth men in the league.
"We are an exciting team that likes to get up and down and score the basketball, so it's a great fit," Fredette said.
He spoke after trading his Milwaukee cap for his Sacramento cap, after officially finding a home sweet home in the NBA.
"A great moment for me and my family," Fredette said.
Maybe it will be a great moment for all right-minded fans, black and white, if it helps change the unfortunate language of sports.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter."