Minnesota Timberwolves fans may notice something different about their team this year. In a league in which American-born black players made up 75 percent of roster spots in 2011, the Timberwolves will have an opening-day roster comprising just 33 percent black players (five out of 15).
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, this year's squad will be the league's whitest since the 1980s Boston Celtics.
Is that a problem?
Some civil rights leaders in Minneapolis think so. Tyrone Terrell, chairman of St. Paul's African American leadership council, told the Star-Tribune that he thinks the unbalanced roster could be seen as a ploy by the ownership to sell the team to a majority-white fan base.
"How did we get a roster that resembles the 1955 Lakers?" Terrell said to the Star-Tribune. "I think everything is a strategy. Nothing happens by happenstance."
Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn called the allegations "patently false."
Indeed, while the team lacks as many African-American players as most other squads, the Timberwolves are still quite diverse. Five of their ten white players were born outside of the United States.
Brandon Roy, projected to be the team's only black starter, says the color of his teammates doesn't faze him.
"It's just basketball," Roy said. "I never really had to feel like I'm the only black guy out here. I've played on teams that maybe had all black guys and the feeling is just the same when I'm out there on the floor playing with these guys."
Ron Edwards, a longtime Minneapolis civil rights advocate, told the Star-Tribune that it was "somewhat disturbing" when he saw a game last season in which Wes Johnson was the only black player on the floor for the Timberwolves. The composition of this season's roster has prompted Edwards to react even stronger.
"It raises some real questions to me about what's really intended," Edwards said. "I think, personally, that it was calculated. Is this an attempt to get fans back in the stands? Minnesota, after all, is a pretty white state.''
Edwards added that the Timberwolves' roster decisions are a "nullification of diversity and a reversal of history."
Kahn said the Timberwolves targeted two black players as free agents during the summer. But Portland matched Minnesota's offer to Nicolas Batum, and Jordan Hill opted to re-sign with the Lakers at less money for a better chance to win a championship.
"What if Batum and Hill were here?" Kahn said.