Victor Wembanyama and the Extraordinarily High Cost of Discrimination
Story Stream
recent articles

Basketball phenom Victor Wembanyama is black. Hopefully the latter isn’t too provocative.

Ok, so imagine if the San Antonio Spurs had passed on Wembanyama as the #1 pick in June’s NBA draft. And imagine if their decision had been racially motivated, as in if they’d purposely passed on the better black player in favor of a white individual. Figure that white players are a minority in the NBA.

If so, can anyone honestly say Wembanyama would have been damaged by the racial slight? Logic says no. Wembanyama’s draft position wouldn’t alter his talent one iota, plus while the Spurs are a historically well-run organization, it’s not unrealistic to say that teams drafting #1 (or up high) are generally doing so owing to past organizational ineptitude. Think the Los Angeles Clippers under former owner Donald Sterling, or the Washington Redskins (Commanders) under Daniel Snyder.

While there’s prestige and near-term higher pay that comes with being the top pick (or close to it) in any professional draft, long-term compensation arguably favors being picked later by an organization with a clue. In other words, if you’re a star would you prefer to be taken by the Golden State Warriors or a perennial doormat?

It’s a question worth asking as conservatives and libertarians continue to cheer the Supreme Court’s decision to ban affirmative action in college admissions. Beyond the ruling’s trampling on property rights and the right to free association, the ban is superfluous on its best day and harmful on its worst. It’s superfluous because colleges and universities are reliant on the most talented students mainly because they occasionally become really rich. Donations are the lifeblood of universities.

The ban is potentially harmful simply because the follow-on was so obvious. If schools can’t discriminate based on race, the logical next step is for the courts to decree illegal admissions based on legacy, donations or both. As a past write-up observed, if you hated Harvard when it was about the money, you’ll really hate it when it’s not.

All of this came to mind while reading a recent editorial on the Supreme Court ban. The editorial favored the ban despite the pro-freedom lean of its editorial board, and more surprisingly, it favors the application of the ban on affirmative action in admissions to a similar ban on race-based hiring. Who’d have ever thought conservatives would cheer so much government force? Shouldn’t businesses be free to hire whom they want, only for the markets to be the judge? Apparently not, and the reason seems to be that those discriminated against are damaged.

Quoting the editorial, “As with college admissions, hiring and promotion is a zero-sum game. Giving an advantage to an applicant of one race put others at a disadvantage.” This is not true. See Wembanyama again. Assuming once again NBA efforts to boost white representation at the top of the NBA draft, race-based hiring or drafting in the NBA would hardly put Wembanyama and other black players at a disadvantage.

Really, if the weak teams want to pile on with their ineptitude by drafting based on race instead of talent, who’s to stop them? Certainly not Wembanyama, and certainly not the better teams who might win his services based on the weaker teams choosing to draft for reasons other than merit.

Some will reply that no team would ever pass on a once-in-a-generation talent. Yes, precisely. Neither would a business unless the business wanted to decline. Oh well, get it? Discrimination is already expensive. On every level. Why then, are conservatives rushing to the courts to “fix” what market forces will fix much better?

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Vice President at FreedomWorks, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors ( His latest book is The Money Confusion: How Illiteracy About Currencies and Inflation Sets the Stage For the Crypto Revolution.

Show comments Hide Comments