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Other game rituals like the anthem singers, the family basketball shoot, and the Little Lynx relay have featured regular minority involvement. "Any time we have a situation," says Coleman, "where we can randomly plug contestants, I think you'll see that [minority representation is] definitely an issue we're concerned with. If it's a group of girls that have won the opportunity because of some contribution they've made to the organization, we have no control over what their makeup is. I guess the decision could be made to not allow them in."
A less defensive choice might be to try to balance the "makeup" of these existing, well-connected groups by trying harder to seek out minority participants. Perhaps if the Lynx organization had more widely spread the news of competitions to be entered, more diverse teams would sometimes win. (Although if, as in the Great Basketball Dribble example, winning primarily concerns financial contributions, the game is rigged from the start.) Of course, ignorance is not limited to just one side of this relationship.
The Lynx Hip-Hop Team, Coleman explains, came about because of the organization's desire not to manage or oversee a performance team, as the Timberwolves do. "We were going for more of a fun, youthful, energetic kind of thing," he recalls. "We were looking for a group of young people already together and already performing." The front office was familiar with a dance instructor at the Plymouth Dance Shoppe through Target Center dance competitions; when contacted, she agreed to bring in two groups she was working with, one from the Shoppe and one from Wayzata High School.
There exist, notes KMOJ's Queen, fun, youthful, and energetic dance lines at almost every high school in Minneapolis and St. Paul. (Fact: 43 percent of Minneapolis Public Schools students are African-American.) "Those in the minority community," he says, "are wondering how [the dancers] were selected. It appears that schools such as North, Henry, and other city schools were not contacted."
Did no one at the Lynx even think about the lack of minority representation on the dance line? "This was a unique situation," Coleman responds. "We were prepared to go with that group, I guess, no matter what. But now that they're in place, [diversity] is definitely something we would like to address."
Coleman talks about "adding a couple of different ethnic background performers"--and, he adds, "a couple of male performers"--to the dance team. But, he says, "it may be that we don't get to address that until season number two for the Lynx."
Sounds familiar, says Queen, who remembers the Timberwolves performance team starting out all white (a state they almost returned to in the 1998-99 season). "When you get franchises in, they begin to think about white first," he declares. "Then when somebody makes them aware of their shortcomings, they begin to realize they should deal with minority groups. I think that unconsciously they make an effort to make sure that they are attractive to the majority of the people.
"To some extent, I can understand that. When you look at an organization like the Lynx--particularly in this city--they seem to be very protective at first in terms of who they cater to. If you notice, the impetus [with the Lynx] is basically to show off the white female."
I wouldn't go that far. But I'm not the one feeling shafted. Queen says he's heard black fans citing the predominantly African-American crews of the Los Angeles Sparks and the Orlando Miracle, and questioning whether the Lynx's five white players were chosen to appeal to the hometown crowd. He confesses he's wondered about the same thing himself--especially because Phoenix, another city without a large black population, sports a team with a similar racial balance.
Lynx head coach Brian Agler says he felt no pressure to whiten up his team. "For this year, it happened to work out like that. I think the majority of the quality players in the United States right now are African Americans. I can't promise this--you don't know how things are going to turn out in the draft--but I would have to say that [the Lynx's] makeup will fluctuate as time goes on."
That some minority basketball fans would feel ignored by Lynx marketing and promotions, Agler adds, is "unfortunate. I'm not involved in some of those things. But I can tell you that some of these issues will be addressed in somewhat of an immediate fashion. I can tell you that they've been talked about already."
When I spoke with Tate and Edwards about the lack of minority participation in the ball exchange, they said they'd noticed--and that they would ask what was up. It's those little things, they acknowledged, that encourage people to engage with a team. "Don't you like it when you know somebody on the court?" Tate queries. "You might not know that person, but if someone speaks to you--takes the time, five, six seconds to talk to you--you're more apt to come out and support what they're doing. You feel like a part of their family. I don't know if we are targeting the black community or not. But if you look in the crowd, it doesn't look like it."