My Difference makes all the Difference

After watching the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup it is clear that the United States has distinguished itself as a class unto itself.  This US roster was not comprised of the NBA’s elite tier of players but its second tier.  James Harden and Stephen Curry were the only players to claim All-NBA honors while half of the team was not even considered.  The US displayed a distinguished style of play, much of which was heavily criticized by commentators throughout the tournament.  Chastised for selfish, individualistic, culture of play they were warned would come to bite them as competition stiffened.  Funny thing, it never did.  Kyrie Irving who did not make an All-NBA selection won the tournament Most Valuable Player award and his offensive talent won the championship game before it really even started.

Was this the reality of world basketball today?  The US leaps and bounds beyond the rest of the world.  Would it be more competitive to have our college kids play?  Should there be something similar to the Nike Hoops Summit which fields a world team versus American team … what would that look like?  Here are some of the names that came up for the world team:  Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Dirk Nowitzki,Luis Scola,  Manu Ginobili, Andrei Kirilenko, Nicolas Batum, Luol Deng, Boris Diaw, Bojan Bagdanovich, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, Milos Teodosic, Patty Mills.

Recalling most of the games I kept thinking that if only these teams (Serbia, Lithuania, Turkey … France, Spain could be included if they played the US) had backups as good as the starters they could make a game of it.  Viewing the depth of the above world roster I would argue that they may have caught up and then some.

This conclusion brought me to two realizations.  One, the depth of talent the US has is a result of its sheer size.  Two, International players may struggle in the NBA not because of a lack of talent, but a completely different style of play.  Being on a team with coaches who have a different offensive and defensive schemes may completely disrupt a talented player’s ability to contribute and in many cases impact their confidence.  There are the exceptions to those rules.  We see immense talents of Pau Gasol, and Dirk Nowitski excel but often overlooked are equally talented players like Darko Milicic and Andrea Bargnani who never seemed to take off the way their predecessors had.

It is something to note what happens when someone coming from a particular background comes into an overwhelmingly different majority culture and is forced to adjust.  There are coaches and organizations who have learned how to incorporate those from different backgrounds and maximize their talents.  Still others get buried on a bench and never receive an opportunity.  Differences are a reality of our world that can be ignored, embraced, or rejected.  No matter what we choose some will make it, some will not, just depends which particulars are yours.

A Sterling Reputation is Worth 2 Cents.

The issue of race has reached another climax in the wake of NBA owner Donald Sterling of the Los Angeles Clippers having his prejudicial beliefs and discriminatory practices exposed.   Enter in Mrs. Sterling, who after the banning of her husband says she will fight for her financial interests in the ownership of the team.  Image

Much respect to LeBron James and Doc Rivers for standing up openly and saying “No!”. Individuals who stand up are often ridiculed, criticized, and pay a huge public and financial price for doing so.  Just ask Craig Hodges, Muhammad Ali, Tommy Smith, John Carlos.  I guess once you lose your public love it is easier not to cling to it, good to see some not shying from the moment but standing up despite the public backlash.

The problem is Shelly Sterling didn’t “stand up” when her husband was continually sued for racist and discriminatory practices in years past.  She didn’t “stand up” when her husband failed to publicly apologize for his remarks  or when he would make constant racist slurs at his own players while sitting court side  next to her.  No, she stands up to be heard when her financial interest are at risk, which is also her husband Donald Sterling’s financial interests.

The answer needs to be “No” by the league.  I hope this off-season more players, especially with the Clippers team stand together to say the same thing or demand a trade promptly at the end of the season.  This  cannot be accepted at any level or made any allowances for, it is  time for them to go.

A Critique on Criticism

Josh Smith.  Monte Ellis.  DeMarcus Cousins.  Russel Westbrook.  Some of the most criticized players in the NBA.  “Not a Winner”.  “Uncoachable”.  “Not a team player”.  “Selfish”.  Many labels are placed upon people whom we do not feel are performing up to our expectations, our hopes for them, our aspirations, our …

This, unfortunately, does not stop here.  Children in sports are constantly viewed as less than an imaginary level of status worthy of value and respect.  We shake our heads at other parent’s children.  Our own children, players, students, etc.  What is this standard?  What is this imaginary plateau to which we pressure and reinforce, negatively or positively, people to strive for?

As the new season of basketball of all ages approaches, maybe we should consider this question?  Why do I have expectations, what are they, and are they true?  Sports are games.  A form of entertainment.  A source of community and opportunity to build relationships.   Just something to ponder.  Even if someone under-performs whom you are watching or playing with, maybe take a minute to take in the friend whom you share the court with, the smile on your child’s face throughout the game, the friendships on your team, the entertaining play the athlete makes on the television, even if it does not equal to the game victory you had hoped for.Image

Loyalty is Overrated

kobe-bryant-instagram-dwight-howard-rocketsSo who’s a loyal fan?
Is it you?

The die-hard fan, loyal to the end.

Who’s the heart and soul of their franchise, only to find himself traded? Have we forgotten that this is a business? Owners are business men first, second, and third and a fan dead last.

Embracing the business of professional sports can actually make for a more exciting experience, like the stock market (that I know next to nothing about) someone has to sell for someone to buy, fall to rise. Instead of being devastated by the fall anticipate the rise. This is only natural.

Cleveland Cavalier’s fall became the rise of a Miami Heat dynasty run. Duke University Men’s Basketball’s loss of spectacular Kyrie Irving became Cleveland Cavalier’s renewed hope. The Seattle Supersonic’s loss was the city of Oklahoma’s great find.

So with that said, what is on the horizon?

The Houston Rockets are poised for the next Shaq/Kobe dynast run possibly. Los Angeles Lakers are more resolved than ever to take a page from the San Antonio Spurs book and turn back the clock of time next season. The Golden State Warriors will be ready for a title shot as they step onto the top floor of the league. The Brooklyn Nets are all-in.

So as this offseason continues. Summer League unfolds. Let go of old ties to franchises and grab ahold of the new horizons emerging around this wonderful business of professional basketball.

Ps. Shouts out to Portland Trailblazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Why I Love the Bottom Feeders

“Do you remember that one guy that played for State?” “Yeah, whatever happened to him, he was pretty good?” Well I’ll tell you what happened to him, he just made the roster of the bottom feeder near you. If you are still unaware of what a bottom feeder is, it is a team that perpetually uses terminology such as rebuilding, long-term plan, development and potential when describing its team’s future.
The future of a bottom feeder tends to lie in its past. How this team has been doing for the past 5-10 years is precisely how it will continue to do as the present season develops. However, the very reasons that this team remains at the bottom is exactly why many of the fans continue to come and support and admire many of its prominent players. These teams are often laden with very talented athletes and exciting players, they score in entertaining fashion and do breathtaking theatrical feat through the air that remain at the tail end of many ESPN highlight countdowns. They often play hard in big games just before bowing out at the end leaving the fans believing in a brighter future and jerseys selling at a steady rate.
You’ve seen them play before and will probably recognize your team if you read this article carefully. The star player is often a gifted athlete who has explosive scoring outbursts and numbers that keep suggesting he was “robbed!” as the all-star rosters are chosen. The fact is that he may be that exciting and immensely talented but his team can’t win and won’t, but that’s ok. I love seeing him partake in scoring exhibitions back and forth with the great players on opposing teams and even overtaking them for the occasional moral victory. The star players are generally traded at some point when the cost of keeping them overtakes their value in produced wins and team revenue, only to see them leave and play a valuable role on a playoff bound team’s run for a title.
Few of these teams will take extreme measures to leave the bottom cellar of the league, ridding themselves of the inconsistent, unproductive excitement for the consistently mundane but productive all for the chance to shed its past and give its loyal fans the reward they dream of, becoming a middle-of-the-pack team that I have deemed the “Mercurial Middle-man” team (see upcoming article).
Until then, if this is your team, enjoy the excitement and fun that your team brings each night. Sure they’ll frustrate you at times, leave you wanting as playoffs come around and disappear when it’s time for all-star balloting (besides that’s what the slam dunk and three-point shoot out events were for) but rest assure you will be entertained, isn’t that what games are for?

Don’t Let the Smooth Taste Fool You

BASKETBALL IS BACK!!!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here is some unsolicited insight to temper expectations about the upcoming NBA season. During each off-season each team attempts to do something noteworthy to convince it’s fans, the consumer, of why they should continue to buy the product or support their team through buying tickets, jerseys, watching televised games and maintaining interest in this upcoming season.

Unfortunately, most of this tends to be a lot of false hype, blue smoke, the proverbial banana in the tailpipe (see Eddie Murphy “Beverly Hills Cop”)  and that’s ok, as long you don’t take the bait.  Just nibble on it as most fish do my bait when my dad and I go fishing. 

Teams will sell you many lines such as the “rookie sensation”, the “big trade acquisition”, the maturing young players that are about to “take their games (and subsequently their teams) to the next level” and so on.  When the players hit the court what you tend to witness is little variation from the original script sold the year before. 

To keep a proper perspective, LeBron James and Kevin Durant who both led their respective teams to the NBA Finals last season both missed the playoffs the first two seasons of their careers, with gradual improvements in success the following years.  Considering twenty-eight of the other teams in the league who do not have one of the two arguably best players in the league we might assume that marginal improvement to be the average expected goal of each team.

So when you’re putting together your NBA Fantasy League and regurgitating new proclamations of your team’s future success (which is half the fun of being a fan) remember that the hype is just that, something to chew on, nibble, take a big whiff and a long look at, but don’t buy.  As the season begins enjoy the excitement of renewed possibilities of higher success, cheer as your team gives their all and don’t stop bragging about, making excuses for and hoping from within, but temper your expectations so you enjoy the game for the game’s sake and not some business strategy to sell for the sake of increasing revenue and apparel sails.

My Favorite Player

ImageI’m watching Pardon the Interruption on ESPN and I hear a quote from Michael Beasley who is now a recently signed free agent by the Phoenix Suns.  Michael Beasley, aka Be-Easy, declared to the National Basketball Association he is guaranteeing to be an all-star next season.  To those who are unaware of who this player is, he is a former #2 pick in the 2008 NBA draft, selected right behind Chicago Bulls star player and former MVP Derrick Rose.  Beasley, highly criticized for not playing up to his potential is being given a fresh start with the Suns to become the star player he seems determined to become.

When asked who my favorite player is my patented response remains, “I don’t have a favorite player; I follow certain types of players.”  These are my types-of-players. 

  1. The “gym rat”.  He simply loves to play and be around the game of basketball.  The ballplayers from my neighborhood have a saying, “if the gym had a cot to sleep and a fridge to eat we’d live in the gym.”  Chances are, if you hear the bouncing of a basketball or the squeaking of tennis shoes, you’ll find the gym rat.
  2. The “baller”.  He loves being that guy:  the one who has the ball in his hands at the end of the game.  This player doesn’t shy away from the big moment, he goes and finds it.  He plays to win every time he steps on the basketball court. It doesn’t matter if it’s against the school for the blind or Michael Jordan himself.
  3. The “knuckle-head”.  Immature, unreliable, potential. He just doesn’t seem to get that some of us have worked really hard to get to the position where we are and the game should be taken seriously.  For this individual it is hard to take seriously what comes so easy (see, Mr. ‘Be-Easy’ up top).  Putting the ball in the basket comes as easy as blowing one’s nose (unless you’re 4 years old and prefer your sleeve).    
  4. The “player”.  He is often without a distinct position because he does a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  This is the guy you simply put on the court and allow to play because he makes things happen, sometimes driving coaches and fans crazy in the process.  This guy has a hard time staying within the play but always finds himself at the center of it for better or for worst.

They love to be on the basketball court because if it wasn’t for the court they would more than likely be somewhere you’d rather not.  For them the court is a sanctuary, a place of refuge and solace where as long as the ball is in their hands they have prestige. Their economic status and home situation don’t matter, and all that does is this moment where they find peace with their world.

You’ve seen them on the court before.  They are always there trash-talking and ball hogging and calling “NEXT!” out loud as they approach, anticipating the sweet move they’ll put on their unsuspecting defender, seeing the ball sail through the net, causing the audience to “ooh and ah” from the sidelines, all is right in their world.  There are many guys in the NBA that fit into these descriptions of my favorite ‘types-of-players’ which is why I love watching this game.  For now I simply focus on Mr. Beasley, highly talented and undervalued, simply calling out ‘NEXT!’ ready to receive the rock for his moment to shine.  Rest assure I’ll be watching him put that sweet move on his defender as I ooh and ah and all will be right in the world as that rock goes through the net.  So, all-star.  I’m a believer.  Main attraction.  Be-Easy.  I’ll be watching.  I’ll be grinning, as I root for my type of player as you hoop for you, your team and for me and all will be right in our world.