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The NBA: A study in black and white

The Boston Celtics were never a personal favorite.

The Celtics beat my hometown Philadelphia 76ers with regularity. If not for Boston, the Sixers would have been the dynasty in the NBA with championship banners hanging from the rafters of The Spectrum. But no matter how much I disliked the Celtics, I had to respect them.

I read with interest the controversy surrounding Harvey Araton and Filip Bondy's The Selling of the Green, which describes the Celtics as a racist organization.

Former Boston forward Cedric Maxwell, who is black, left the Celtics under bitter circumstances in a trade against his wishes to the Los Angeles Clippers. Maxwell said he doesn't believe the Celtics, known for keeping a high percentage of white players, are racist.

"The Celtics are a business organization," Maxwell told the Boston Globe. "If they can put more fans in the seats by putting all white players on the team, they would do that, but they have great black players, so that's not going to happen. I knew there was going to be a certain balance, but that's justified from a financial standpoint. If there's going to be one last player on the bench, a black or a white, what's the difference?

"I enjoyed playing in Boston. It was a great team and a great place to play But you always had a certain atmosphere there. Why were there never any endorsements for the black guys _ other than M.L. (Carr)? We had me and Dennis (Johnson) and Robert (Parish), and we weren't getting any offers and guys like Rick Robey were. Why was that happening?"

The truth is, the Celtics are no worse than the majority of NBA teams in that regard _ probably better than most. Among black fans, the Celtics are regarded as "White America's team," because their best player for the past decade _ Larry Bird _ is white.

The NBA, since nearly 75 percent of its players are black, is considered by nearly everyone to be a "black" league. But really, it's not. Players can come and go, but the players don't control the game the way owners and general managers and coaches do.

Among the 27 teams, there is one black owner (with limited control), four black general managers and three black coaches. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the only club with a black GM (Wayne Embry) and a black coach (Lenny Wilkens).

The Celtics have had three black coaches while most teams have never had a black coach. Bill Russell and K.C. Jones combined to win four titles in Boston.

The Celtics are one of the few teams in NBA history to place black men in influential positions. Yet, no one hears the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers or Philadelphia 76ers described as racist organizations even though none of those franchises has ever hired a black coach or GM. Those four teams are more identifiable through their star players _ all of whom are black. But when was the last time Michael Jordan made a trade?

Trade central: Two teams looking to move up in the second half of the season _ Cleveland and the Los Angeles Clippers _ are considering deals before Thursday's trade deadline.

The Cavaliers, who need a shooting guard to challenge the Bulls and Jordan in the Eastern Conference, covet Rolando Blackman of Dallas. Right now, the team is trying to make room under the salary cap. They could trade Danny Ferry, but he makes an average of $3.75-million a year over 10 years. The Cavs may have to settle for Brian Shaw or Willie Burton of Miami.

The Clippers, under new coach Larry Brown, are considering two deals. The first, if it can be worked under the salary cap, is a blockbuster: Charles Smith, Loy Vaught and two No. 1 picks to the Sixers for Charles Barkley. Smith is expendable because he doesn't get along with Danny Manning, and Brown is likely to side with Manning because they won a national championship together at Kansas. The second proposed trade would send forward Ken Norman to Milwaukee for point guard Jay Humphries, which would finally give the Clippers' backcourt stability.

Faces and figures: Detroit's Dennis Rodman missed a shoot-around before a Feb. 5 game, so coach Chuck Daly benched him for the first seven minutes, jeopardizing his string of 20-rebound games. Rodman played the next 41 minutes and swept 21 rebounds. He has 22 20-rebound games. Despite adding Spud Webb, Mitch Richmond and Dennis Hopson, Sacramento was 12-29 the first half _ same as last season.