This Knick delivers with particularly foul shot

May 09, 2001|By Gregory Kane

WAS IT AN egregious case of anti-Semitism or yet another reason to hate the New York Knicks, the much-beloved National Basketball Association franchise of obnoxious New Yorkers? Or, perhaps, both?

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine ran an article about how Knicks players interact with one another. One segment highlighted - or lowlighted, as it turned out - the squad's born-again Christians. The Jewish writer of the article asked Charlie Ward and Allan Houston, avowed and devoted Christians, about their religion. They were having a fine discussion until Ward blurted out that Jews were "stubborn," and "had Christ's blood on their hands." Ward then blew the needle off the Idiots' Richter Scale, blurting out that "Jews oppress Christians every day."

Thus, we are reminded once again of the risks of engaging in conversations with some fundamentalist Christians. Some make delightful conversation. But with others, you roll the dice with your sanity when you talk to them. I get the feeling that little Chuckie Ward is in the latter category.

Reaction to Ward's comments was fast and furious. Some Jewish leaders understandably condemned his remarks. The notion of Jews as Christ-killers went out when African-Americans were still Negroes, but it seems Ward hasn't gotten the word. Neither has the message of one Jesus Christ that redemption is about atonement for your own sins, not the real or perceived sins of Jews, dawned on Ward.

In reaction to Ward's feeble attempt at a defense - "My best friend is a Jewish guy, and his name is Jesus Christ" - New York Daily News columnist Zev Chavets wryly noted that Jesus has not reciprocated Ward's palsy-walsyness by providing the basketball player with a decent jump shot. Other columnists were quick to nail Ward with the anti-Semitism charge.

But before we start talking about who's a bigot and who isn't, let's make sure we don't make the same mistake as Ward. How many of Ward's critics are really less bigoted than he is? Take the car door lock test and find out.

And let's not pretend you don't know what that test is. Everyone's taken it, and most have failed. It's when you're driving along and you're stopped at a red light. You look toward the corner and notice a black man or men standing there. It is then that you notice your passenger side door is unlocked. You reach over and lock it. It is at that point you've proven yourself to be every ounce the bigot Ward is. Most of Ward's critics could not pass that test.

"Aha!" those who fail the test will exclaim in explanation, "my action is based on crime statistics." It is there that Mr. Ward has you. He will claim that his statements are based on what's in the Bible, the word of God to Christians. Whom are you going to believe, Ward will then ask you, God or a bunch of statistics? If the Knicks scrub point guard were really on his game intellectually, he might even advise you that Jesus says the black guy on that corner should be forgiven for his sins, not feared.

It must be pointed out, in fairness to Ward, that he apologized for his remarks. Granted, he may have done it with a nudge from Knicks management and NBA Commissioner David Stern, who may have been concerned that non-Jewish Knicks fans may not have attended any more games and the Jewish ones may have said, "I'll keep my Christ-killing bucks in my pocket, thank you very much."

Ward also said he may talk to some Jews to get a better understanding of their religion. Matthew Weinstein, first vice president of the BLEWS, thinks that's a good sign. The BLEWS is a 23-year-old organization dedicated to promoting better relations between blacks and Jews in the Baltimore area. It may have been formed to counter the nonsense of people like Ward.

"I heard [Ward] may talk to a rabbi," Weinstein said. "That's a good first step." Weinstein believes there is an interracial nature to the black-Jewish relationship and an interreligious one, too.

"This is more about the Christian-Jewish aspect of the black-Jewish relationship," said Weinstein, who mentioned that Paul Weyrich, the conservative head of the Free Congress Foundation, made comments similar to Ward's at roughly the same time. (Weyrich's religious zeal led fellow conservative Evan Gahr to label him a "demented anti-Semite.")

"It just shows the need for education to break down the barriers of ignorance," Weinstein said. "Vatican II in the mid-1960s was supposed to lay that [the notion of Jews as Christ-killers] to rest. But [Ward's] not Catholic and Paul Weyrich is not Catholic."

The question was posed to Weinstein about the media's culpability in the matter. Editors at the New York Times Magazine didn't, after all, have to print Ward's statements.

"I wouldn't leave that kind of thing out," Weinstein said. "There's certainly no reason for the media not to report instances of prejudice or bigotry."

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