With February fast approaching, love is in the air… for the NBA All-Star Weekend, 2015. This year’s event will be held in Brooklyn, NY. Take a look back at TCC’s All-Star diary from Houston, 2013, including an exclusive VIDEO of NBA shoutouts to Irish Fans:
Midway through the second half, a real battle broke out between childhood friends and opponents, Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brandon Knight of the Detroit Pistons.
This contest led to this:
The game was notable for Faried breaking 30 points for the very first time: Manimal totalling 40 points, including a series of showboating dunks late on. TCC caught up with Irving the following day to ask him about this:
Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons deserves to be an All-Star this year, at least according to an article on bleacherreport.com earlier in the week. They listed him as one of the best centers in the East behind just Kevin Garnett, Anderson Varejao and Al Horford.
So when TCC got a chance to talk to the Pistons’ big man this week, we got his reaction. Monroe said that being an All-Star is “something I’d love to accomplish” and added that he’s “capable, but it’s a process.” The big man then stressed the importance of team success, saying that once that started all the individual accolades would fall into place.
Monroe is averaging 15.3 points and 9.1 rebounds this season, leading Detroit in both categories. Speaking about being a leader on the floor for a relatively young team he said that despite playing just 3 years in the league, he is trying to share what knowledge he has. “I try to give guys little kicks, try to make sure I’m a leader.”
One of the guys Monroe must be mentoring is rookie Andre Drummond. The rook has performed very well, averaging 7.1 points and 7.2 rebounds in just less than 20 minutes a game. Monroe was quick to praise his frontcourt partner saying he’s “being a big sponge” taking in a lot of information and “doing a great job of applying it.” This duo has the potential to be one of the better frontcourts in the league and they’re only 19 and 22 years old respectively.
It’s often hard to judge the character of a player in this league as tweets and comments can be taken out of context. Yet Monroe is a man of actions. His twitter account is quiet compared to many other players and he shows a respect to the basketball gods. When he was drafted he went to Denis Rodman and asked him was it ok to wear his notorious #10 jersey. When the Pistons retired Rodman’s jersey in 2011 Monroe again asked the legend his permission to wear the jersey. When asked was it a homage to Rodman the young man said he doesn’t “think anyone can replace that personality.” He could “never compare” to Rodman and just wants to “try to compete and win like he did.”
A healthy respect for his elders, encouragement for his juniors and lofty goals for himself; this guy is going places.
There was a tremendous energy in University of Ulster, Jordanstown, for the inaugural ESPN NI All-Star event. It began with a hotly contested three-point shoot-out with finalists Darius Surginas & Marty McDonald putting on extraordinary shooting performances. McDonald was the eventual champion, beating his first round score of 16 with an impressive 18 points in the final round.
However, the fun was only getting started.
The dunk contest featured some excellent athletes; Audrius Verikas (Armagh Magic), Audrius Cesonis (A-Town Tigers), David ‘Nature’ Evans (Ulster Elks), Darryl Dowey (Down Tropics) and, of course, David Durkan (Lisburn BC & St Mary’s CBS). Despite being undersized, it was clear from the first time he took flight that there was something special about the 5’11 schoolboy. In his second dunk, Durkan went for an impressive 360 degree slam receiving 10’s across the board from all 5 judges, which included Thomas Kane (BBC), Javan Dupree (Former US player & Irish Basketball legend), Nick Kuiper (Belfast Giants), Mark O’Neill (Basketball NI) and Conor Lilly (Basketball Ireland). Some skeptics may have felt that he had peaked too early in the competition but those of us who know David were simply excited about what the young man would show us next! If pictures say a 1000 words, then what does a video say? Courtesy of our friends at SportZoneNI.tv, check out Durkan in his final dunk.
[vimeo http://vimeo.com/40827018 w=500&h=400]
Don’t forget to check out the BBC Newsline report of the dunk and the ESPN NI All-Star event, with interviews from Javan Dupree, Darius Surginas and, of course, the man of the hour; David Durkan. Click image to view video.
Where you there? Give us your feedback! Click here to complete a short (5 minutes) survey. Your input will help us to improve the event, and others, for next year.
Summer is fast approaching and, with only one week until All-Star Sunday, I’m really starting to get excited. All the pieces are gradually falling into place and it’s been a real team effort to bring it all together. The ticket-holders who have already secured their place at the event are in for a real treat. Not only will their be some top-class basketball events on-the-day, featuring some of the best male, female, and even under-18, players in NI, we are focused on creating a fun and enjoyable experience for all those in attendance. “How so, Tony?” I hear you ask.
On the day, there will be: talented face-painters and balloon animal makers (Danny Kingsberry & Sara Edge), mascot (UU’s very own Elkman), DJ Sneakybear (Fiona Sullivan), kid’s competitions throughout the course of the game (PeacePlayers’ Joanne Fitzpatrick & Darryl Petticrew), Big Ted and his famous cookies, hip-hop dance crew with original choreography by Emma Smyth, free prize giveaways courtesy of our sponsors ESPN and of course, a half-court shot competition for a whopping £200 cash prize! [N.B: the person(s) selected can choose to opt out of the half-court shot and instead shoot a free-throw (with a prize of a £25 Nike voucher) or a three-point shot (with a prize of £50 Nike voucher). They can choose one of the three shot attempts.]
That’s not all though; we will also be having a bucket competition that will take place just before tip-off. Participants will take a ball, label it with their name, and throw it, aiming for the bucket in the middle of the jump-ball circle. The first ball to land in the bucket will win a signed Belfast Giants jersey or a limited edition commemorative Ireland Basketball jersey! In the event of no ball making it into the bucket, the prize will be awarded to the ball closest to the bucket.
Sunday 22nd April | UUJ | 1pm
In the three-point contest each of the fourteen participants will attempt to make as many shots as possible within a minute from five positions behind the 3-point arc. Players start in one corner of the court and move from one station to the next until they have shot every available basketball, or until their one minute expires.
Each rack holds five basketballs, with the final ball in each rack designated the ‘money ball’. Players score one point per ball, with the exception of each ‘money ball’ which is worth two points.
There is a maximum of thirty points available to our shooters, and the top three scorers from Round One will progress to the Final to shoot again and decide the winner.
No player in the history of the NBA Three Point Shootout has ever scored more than 25pts and the record number of consecutive shots made stands at 19. Can any of our NI sharpshooters make history?
The Dunk Contest
Each of the six contestants will have thirty seconds to make a dunk of their choice, which will be scored out of ten by our panel of five judges. After all dunkers have (hopefully!) made their first dunk, the two lowest scoring players will be eliminated. The remaining four competitors will then get a second dunk attempt to woo our judges and again the lowest scoring two will be eliminated, leaving two dunkers who will go head-to-head with a third and final dunk for the title!
David Durkan (5’11 – St Mary’s CBS & Lisburn Basketball Club)
Audrius Verikas (6’4 – Armagh Magic)
Ciaran Ashe (6’1 – UUJ & Belfast Star)
Audrius Cesconis (6’4 – Andersonstown Tigers)
Alexandr Sasha Prymus (6’8 – Blackstone Ballymena)
Daryl Dowey – (6’0 – Down Tropics)
Thomas Kane (BBC Sports reporter)
Conor Lilly (Basketball Ireland)
Mark O’Neill (Basketball Northern Ireland)
Nick Kuiper (Belfast Giants)
Java Dupree (Former US College player & Star of the Sea professional)
All-Star Exhibition Game
The first showcase event of its type, the All-Star Game will provide an exhibition of the best and brightest talents playing basketball in Northern Ireland today, as chosen by you, the fans.
The game is not only sure to be an exciting spectacle, but creates an opportunity to claim national bragging rights: is Belfast basketball best or will it be just too tough a test against the rest?
It is intended that the game should provide a competitive, fun and entertaining exhibition of basketball and will therefore be played under normal regulations with a few additions.
The game will be played out over four full 10 minute quarters and will be overseen by a team of four referees, three-man rotations, with a quarterly change-over.
The starting fives have been pre-determined by fan vote and coaches will not use zone defence in the exhibition game.
The Events Team
As many of you will appreciate, organising an event of this magnitude is not an easy feat and requires a committed effort from a variety of quality people. I’d like to take this first opportunity to introduce, and thank, the team of individuals that are preparing all that is necessary to make this Sunday an unmissable day of basketball, fun and community:
John Wynne (TCC), Deirdre Brennan (Ulster Elks), Stephen Crothers (Ulster Elks), Dave Cullen (Down Tropics), Ryan Hayes (TCC), Marc Mulholland (SportzoneNI), Danny Kingsberry & Sara Edge (Face–painting), Joanne Fitzpatrick (PeacePlayers), Aodhan Hickey (Ulster Elks), Paddy McGaharan (Ulster Elks), Ronan O’Dornan (Nexus Photo), Prezemk Zdrojewski (ZDR Photo), Fiona Sullivan (TCC), Susie Dick (Ulster Rockets), Niall McDermott (TCC) and Paul Bullock (TCC).
There are also a number of people who will volunteer on-the-day that I would like to thank in advance. Their assistance will be invaluable, ensuring the smooth running of an excellent event:
Helena Fairburn (Ulster Rockets) and Ruth Neill (Tigers) as the table officials. John Coey (Queen’s Basketball Club) as the game’s Commissioner. Multi-taskers will include Maria Hall (QUB), David Wilson, Ciaran McGuiggan, David Stalker and Janet McGaharan, as well as members of my U16 girl’s team: Aislinn McFarland, Olivia Boyle, Sophie Short, Hailey McKeever, Roisin Murray and Laoise Carey,
Thank-you for all your support and I look forward to seeing you there on the day.
Hurry! Tickets are almost all gone.
To purchase tickets, click here to buy online. Alternatively, get in contact with a member of The Courtside Collective team.
Congratulations to all twenty-four All-Star nominees for the Belfast All-Stars panel and a special thanks to all of our followers who participated in the ballot. It is thanks to you that we now have our final roster for the first ever All-Star event in Northern Ireland. We look forward to seeing you all there and don’t forget to get your tickets before it’s too late. They can be purchased online (click here).
The Courtside Collective is proud to present the 2012 ESPN NI
Rory Leddy ONeill (Queen’s Hornets)– This ginger haired, bandana wearing, Michael Rappaport look-a-like, has provided the Hornets with fantastic leadership all year long. Rory is a deceptive and crafty player with the ability to score from anywhere on the floor. His high basketball IQ enables him to be effective at any position and with a good post-up game and a lights out mid-range shot, he proves to be a tough match-up for many defenders.
Marc Mulholland (Andersonstown Tigers) – The Captain of the Andytown Tigers has been in consistent form throughout the season. A ‘Glue type’ player who does what is needed, when it is needed, he was instrumental in a number of the Tigers wins at the end of this season notably vs Belfast Star and North Star pulling out some strong defensive plays and hurting teams with his 3 Point range averaging 14 ppg.
Michael McKillop (Belfast Star PL) – McKillop has range and he will shoot it from anywhere, he even scores sometimes as well! McKillop is a solid defender and often guards American imports for the Superleague squad. He has good hands around the basket and if you want a slippery offensive board he is the man to deliver.
Darryl Shazier (Ulster Elks) – a member of the 2011 Patriot League winners, Bucknell, Darryl has made quite an impression on the league this year. As a member of the Elks, Darryl had to re-adjust to a role that he was less familiar with; a scorer. He has surpassed the expectations of many, putting up several 40+ point games and leading the league in the scoring category. Much of the Elk’s success is due to Darryl’s poise and ability to control the pace of the game. He is able to shoot from anywhere on the court and is an extremely strong finisher when going to the basket.
Gert Celms (Down Tropics) – Gert Celms, undoubtedly one of the best players in the league this year, has been a consistent threat all season for the Down Tropics. His outside shooting touch and ability to get to the basket has seen him put up some monster games. What’s more impressive is his ability to get his team mates involved by drawing the defense in with his penetration and hitting them with crisp passes for wide open shots.
Scott Summersgill (Belfast Star SL)– Scottie is a veteran guard but still has the energy and quickness of a teenager. Diminutive in stature but a huge player on the court, Scottie leads both by example and through constant talking and communicating with his team mates. Summersgill has great handle and his low centre of gravity and speed allows him to penetrate with ease where he can finish in traffic and also find an open teammate.
Conor McElroy (Queen’s Hornets) – This young fella has a lot to be proud of this year. Hailing from small town Omagh, Conor has been able to establish himself as one of the quickest guards in the leagues this year and constantly has defenders on their heels as he attacks the basket on the fast break with conviction. He has improved his ability to knock down the 3-point shot and under the guidance and mentoring of ex-National League player, Simon McDade, Conor has shown drastic improvements as the season has progressed.
Fionntan O’Connor (Belfast Star PL) – Coach McGrattan has stated that Fionntan is a delight to coach and a delight to watch play ball, unpredictable, athletic and has found some range from behind the arc this year. His length and ability to keep up with guards makes him an excellent defender who can guard any position on the floor, the sort of player every team would want.
Audrius Cesconis – 6ft 6ins of Lithuanian lean raw talent. Audrius has been consistent throughout the Tigers Season averaging a 22 PPG, His presence and athleticism inside allows him to crash the boards consistently being the leading rebounder on the Tigers team. He has also been known to use his Athleticism to dunk at every opportunity.
Stephen Dawson – “Dawsy” is one of the quickest players in Northern Ireland and can use his speed to devastating effect. A one man fast break Dawsy can also knock down open jumpers and weave through traffic to finish in the half court. His speed also helps him pick up steals and when he does you can just mark the two points down in the book as no one will be catching him in the open court.
Paddy McGaharan – Paddy is a combo guard and has been a leading scorer for the Elks this season. The former Irish underage international is one of the best mid-range shooters in the league and has an excellent pull-up jump shot. McGaharan also has a solid handle and a quick first step which enables him to beat his man and get to the basket.
Mike Calo – When Mike first stormed the Northern Irish scene many moons ago, it was his overwhelming confidence and charismatic demeanour which helped him fit right in the basketball culture. Mike has played for a number of teams such as Queens, Lisburn, Jordanstown, and most recently, Down Tropics. Mike prides himself on his ‘step-back jumper’ and is well known for his trash talking. Some examples of which have been highlighted in earlier TCC articles. I am sure you can expect the same in the lead up to the All-Star Game now that he has been selected.
To see the N.I All-Star team, click here or to book tickets for the event, click here.
Congratulations to all twenty-four All-Star nominees for the N.I All-Stars panel and a special thanks to all of our followers who participated in the ballot. It is thanks to you that we now have our final roster for the first ever All-Star event in Northern Ireland. We look forward to seeing you all on Sunday 22nd April. Don’t forget to get your tickets before it’s too late. They can be purchased online (click here).
The Courtside Collective is proud to present the 2012 ESPN NI
Remigujus Danys (Kilkeel Knights) – Remigujus is a handful for any defense in the league. He has the ability of always seeming to find an open lane to the basket and when he gets there he is excellent at finishing. He has a soft touch, can use both hands and also pull up when needed. Remigujus is one of Kilkeel’s leading scorers with Banys and also is one of their top rebounders.
Ger Murray (LYIT)- ‘Ger’ is an athletic centre who runs the floor well and has a balanced offensive and defensive game. He is essential for LYIT and is a dominating force for them on both ends of the floor. He is one of their top scorers and also leads the team in rebounds and blocks. He has hops and has had some impressive dunks this year including one top ten candidate.
Daryl Harkin (North Star) – Daryl is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, he is non-stop hustle on both ends of the floor, and despite playing at guard for North Star is one of their main rebounders. But he isn’t simply a defensive stopper, Daryl is also one of North Stars main offensive contributors and it is his versatility that is key. Daryl gets points in nearly every conceivable way, on the break, shooting jump shots, posting up, slashing to the basket, off offensive rebounds and drawing fouls and getting to the Free Throw line.
Simonas Bastakys (Dungannon Cavs) – This centre may well be the most dominant big man in the BNI Premier League,. Simonas is 6’8″ with a muscular frame: he protects the rim and crowds the key for the Cavaliers on defence, not to mention his soft touch around the rim on offense. He has averaged 26 ppg in the premier league this year and there has been games where he was simply unstoppable. His presence allows the Cavaliers to shoot from deep, giving his teammates confidence in his ability to clear the offensive boards.
Marty McDonald (Blackstone Ballymena)– Marty is a former Irish underage international and played a year of High School ball in the USA. Although undersized, McDonald has the quickness and strength to get to the basket and finish but he is best known for his deadly three point shooting and has led Blackstone in points scored throughout the season. A flashy player who will fit well in the All-Star game!
Tadas Bubliauskas (Armagh Magic) – Bubliauskas in one of the most talented big men in Northern Ireland and next year he will be a force in the BNI Premier League. 6’8″ with a post-up game, guard skills and range on his shot he is a nightmare for defenses. Tadas has a high basketball IQ and is excellent at passing out of double teams. He also has the timing and ability to make him an effective shot blocker and an effective defensive presence.
Audrius Verikas (Armagh Magic) – A young, energetic guard who pushes the ball at every opportunity and isn’t afraid to let fly from three. The Magic have taken division one by storm this year and Audrius is one of their main offensive weapons with his ability to shoot from deep and also his athleticism which gets him to the basket with ease.
Conor Boyle (LYIT) – Conor is the point guard for LYIT and gets the team going on both ends of the floor. A vocal leader, Boyle has evolved his game this year. In previous seasons Boyle was primarily a slasher and would drive to the basket kicking out or finishing himself. This year he has improved his three point shooting and is now a real danger from beyond the arc making him much more of an offensive threat.
Darius Surginas (Armagh Magic)– Darius is formerly of the Kilkeel Knights and last year played with the Dungannon Cavaliers where he helped them to the BNI Premier league title. This year he stepped down a division to play with the new look Armagh Magic and has been in fantastic form. A three pointer shooter with unlimited range Darius will often pull up well behind the line and let it fly. Darius is also a leader for the Magic and organises them on offense with his experience and vocal play, he controls the tempo of the game and has led the Magic to an undefeated season.
Kevin Stanley (North Star)- 19 year old Kevin Stanley is North Star’s leading scorer this season regularly scoring 20+ per game and scoring 30+ on three occasions including 32 when leading North Star to a notable victory over the league winning Ulster Elks. A strong guard with solid handle, Stanley is an effortless scorer and there are few defenders in the league that can stay in front of him. He is equally adept at going to the basket or shooting the ball and is also an effective on the ball defender.
Arturas Kisielius (Kilkeel Knights) – Arturas has been playing in the BNI leagues for a number of years now and is formerly of Newry and the Armagh Magic. He is the point guard for the Knights and is their vocal leader who gets them organised on both ends of the floor. A quick and athletic guard Arturas is a pass first point guard who can knock down three’s when required.
Adam Murray (Ballymena Blackstone) – At this stage, Adam Murray is a veteran guard in the Premier league with ten seasons under his belt. His only break was when he signed a contract to play in France three years ago, alongside former Ballymena star, Chris Butler. Adam is a combo guard who has had stints at the point and off guard positions for Blackstone this year. An excellent three point shooter Murray also possesses good court vision and has the ability to drive and dish setting up his team mates.
In a recent BNI Under 18 game David Durkan, a 5’10” guard, went with an in-and-out crossover from just inside the half-court line, penetrated the lane and threw it down the throats of two unfortunate victims from Belfast Star.
The young Lisburn City BC protégé is coming off a hugely successful season, having helped steer St Mary’s CBS (Belfast) to an All-Ireland Schools’ Cup win, and his performances have given players, fans and basketball writers (inc. your own TCC crew) something to get that little bit more excited about.
The arrival of a young player with the kind of aerial ability that defies his small stature to leave opponents embarrassed, spectators’ jaws on the floor and his teammates energised is a boost for the BNI basketball brand as it seeks to draw more participants and fans; but is also a tantalisingly positive omen for the future of the ESPN Northern Ireland Slam Dunk Contest.
There are many sceptics out there who don’t believe that we can run an exciting dunk competition. To be honest, who can blame them? We had to seriously consider whether we had enough players who could dunk the ball, let alone do anything that will make the crowd go ‘ooh’ or ‘aah’. But with players like Durkan climbing their way through the junior ranks, the future of the contest looks promising.
“Tomorrow every father and son will be out in the driveway trying to dunk. If Spud, can do it, anyone can.”
–Mike Fratello, on the 5 foot 7 inch Spud Webb winning the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk Contest
TCC caught up with Durkan recently to discuss the arrival of the Slam Dunk Contest in Northern Ireland basketball. His response, like all other young players in the country, was overwhelmingly positive. When asked if he would like to compete in this years contest, he was excited at the prospect.
“Yes! I’d love to!” he affirmed.
What he might well have said, had he not been the humble young man that he is, was “Are you kidding me? What has taken you so long to ask me?”
Who would bet against Durkan being a future Slam Dunk Contest champion? Maybe his fellow competitors; five well-established ballers lining up to claim what they believe is rightfully theirs.
So, what should we expect from this year’s line-up?
Alexandr ‘Sasha’ Prymus – at 6’9”, the Czech forward is long and athletic so dunking the ball has never been a problem. Playing for Ballymena Blackstone, Sasha has the potential to be one of the most skilful big-men in the league and has had some impressive dunks this year. The big question is: can he bring something exciting to the contest that will impress the judges?
Matt McColgan – TCC did a profile of Matt some months back and the following week he had one of his most impressive performances of his Ulster Elks career. However, we’re way too humble to claim the credit; after all, Matt has experience playing High School and D3 college ball in the U.S. Despite growing up in the game as an undersized 2-guard, Matt has grown into a solid, tough and strong forward. However, having suffered from a lower back injury midway through the season, we are anxiously waiting and hoping that he will be able to participate this year.
Audrius Cesconis – Another tremendous athlete, hailing from Lithuania, Audrius is the complete athlete. Although Andersonstown Tigers struggled this year, Audrius brought energy to the team and helped clean up the boards for the west Belfast-side. Like Matt, Audrius has also suffered from a lower back injury this season but if he competes, he is sure to be a serious competitor.
Ciaran Ashe – Ciaran Ashe, also boasting a year’s U.S. High School playing experience, is a strong and athletic 2-guard. Ciaran has played a significant role in Belfast Star’s playoff run and has contributed with his solid defence and rebounding ability. Ciaran may prove to be the surprise package in this year’s contest.
In Belfast and Ballymena, balls will already be bouncing off backboards and five men will be bounding over the backs of anyone brave (or stupid) enough to assist them in preparation for this year’s contest. Whether your allegiances already lie with your favourite player, or you give all five competitors the chance to win you over with their windmill, the first ever ESPN Northern Ireland Slam Dunk Contest promises to provide you with some electrifying entertainment.
To order your tickets and book your place in the ESPN N.I All-Star event, with a 3-point shoot-out, dunk contest and exhbition game, featuring some the best players in the country, click here.
Earvin Johnson was born in Lansing, Michigan, on 14 August 1959. He was from a large family, with nine brothers and sisters all competing for the attention of their parents, Earvin, Sr. and Christine, both of whom worked locally (his father worked for the General Motors corporation and his mother was a school custodian). He attended Everett High School and, upon graduation, decided to attend Michigan State University, located in nearby East Lansing. Johnson would not complete his degree, leaving MSU after two years, in 1979. Twelve years later, at the age of thirty-two, Johnson was diagnosed with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and forced to retire, prompting widespread speculation about his lifestyle and habits. He attempted to return to the career he loved so dearly on two occasions and met with intolerance from many quarters. Now aged fifty-two, he lives in California with his wife and two children, none of whom has the disease (even though his son Earvin III was born in 1992, he was not infected and his second child was adopted) and is forced to take a massive cocktail of drugs each and every day to ensure his survival.
Oh, and did I mention that in between, he was the first overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft, a five-time NBA champion, a three-time league MVP, a twelve-time All-Star, a three-time NBA finals MVP, a nine-time All-NBA first team selection, an Olympic Gold Medallist with the original USA Dream Team, scored 17,707 points, grabbed 6,559 rebounds, recorded 10,141 assists, and was and is a consensus selection by anyone you’d care to ask as one of the greatest basketball players of all time?
After a game in high school, where Johnson recorded 36 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists, a journalist for the Lansing State Journal gave him the moniker “Magic”, a name which has stuck with him ever since, even though his deeply-Christian mother felt that the name was sacrilegious. Throughout his career, both at the college and NBA levels, he famously battled against Larry Bird, of Indiana State and the Boston Celtics. Between the victories for the Seattle Supersonics in 1979 and the Detroit Pistons in 1989, there was only one year in which the Lakers or the Celtics did not win the title: the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers. The two met in three finals series’ during that time. On six occasions during that period, either the Celtics or the Lakers held the NBA’s best regular season record (since the turn of the century, only the 2000 Lakers, 2003 Spurs and 2008 Celtics have won the NBA title after achieving the best regular season record).
The Magic-Bird rivalry also extended to the All-Star game, where they battled on behalf of their conferences. Interestingly, Bird’s Eastern Conference came out victorious in the 1980 game (their first All-Star meeting), and Magic’s first All-Star triumph did not occur until 1985. The East dominated the All-Star exchanges during this period; the West won in 1987 and again in 1989 (although neither Bird nor Magic played in this game, due to injury) but then did not win until 1992, a game that would have a special resonance thanks to the appearance of the recently-retired Magic.
Thanks to ESPN, The Courtside Collective recently had the opportunity to speak with Magic. Given the pertinence of the topics of both the All-Star game and the upcoming London Olympics (with the common denominator of the Chicago Bulls London-raised forward Luol Deng), we asked Magic for his views on these topics.
TCC: I wanted to ask with the London Olympics coming even closer, fans in Northern Ireland, Ireland and the UK are excited their leading player, Luol Deng has been selected for the All‑Star Game this year. Do you think his participation is overdue or has he like many outstanding players have been overlooked because of the style of his play?
MAGIC JOHNSON: First of all, those who are in the NBA and those who have played in the NBA know how good Deng is. I think this year he became more explosive because he can hit the three‑point shot from outside now. So he’s always been a great defender, a great slasher, a great mid-range player, and now he’s added that three‑point shot with consistency. And he is really the key for the Bulls, because we all know that Derrick Rose was the MVP. But he needs Deng to play well and defend well because Luol has to take the best player on the other team night in and night out, and he’s done an amazing job. He’s great.
It must be great for all of you just like it’s great for us to see his growth and see his maturity, and see him just getting better and better every year. Looking forward to seeing you all of you at the Olympics. You guys should take great pride in seeing Deng play in the All‑Star Game, because he deserves it. He probably could have been in last year as well, but it’s great to see him this year.
As it turned out, Deng’s first All-Star appearance might be better remembered for what he wore pre-game rather than what he did during it. While Luol Deng may have made history by becoming the first “British” player to feature in an All-Star game, he is, as most will know, a member of the Dinka tribe from South Sudan and only came to Britain after his family fled the Second Sudanese Civil War, initially moving to Egypt and then to Brixton, London. With all the unrest in Africa – Deng’s home nation only came into existence in July 2011 – Deng wore an African t-shirt pre-game. With the NBA’s strict dress-code regulations (a cynic might suggest that in the pre-game period, the only losers might be adidas which provides all the NBA’s official gear. Adidas listed its 2010 revenue as €11.99 billion, with an operating income of €894 million and a profit of €567 million).
[audio:http://thecourtsidecollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Magic-Johnson-Interview-TCC.mp3|titles=ESPN Interview: Tony McGaharan speaks with Magic Johnson]
Deng commented to the BBC that “If I get fined, I’m okay. It was what I felt like doing…To me, what I did is worth it for me. It was a positive message as there’s a lot of negativity going on in the continent of Africa. I think if my parents saw it they would be very proud.”
- Deng faces possible fine for wearing this t-shirt
Of course, while Deng’s first appearance made history, it was Magic’s last All-Star appearance which proved one of the most durable images of his career. He played 29 minutes and scored 25 points, including a barrage of three-pointers. In his own words:
I think it had a great impact on the world. When you think about it for ‑‑ well, let’s recall all the things that happened. First the fans voting me in, Commissioner Stern allowing me to play, and I want to thank him. Then I have to thank Tim Hardaway for letting me start in his place. Then there was some uncertainty with players who didn’t know if they could play against me, what would happen. So then also people saying can he still play? So all of those things were factors and uncertainties in terms of before the game started.
Then once the game started, we started playing basketball, and it was fun, it was great. Then Dennis Rodman really I think he took it upon himself to show people, hey, he’s going to play hard. He’s going to play aggressive. And I think that that’s really calmed everybody down.
Then, really, the way I played and performed let people know that I could still play. Then winning the MVP, hitting those three three‑pointers in the fourth quarter just showed people, okay, Magic is back. He can play. He’s okay. Yeah, you can play against him. Nothing’s going to happen. Those type of things.
So it did a lot for the world. It did a lot for HIV and AIDS all at the same time. It did a lot for people dealing with not just HIV but anything else, that they can go on and live a productive life. So the NBA, that All‑Star Game in Orlando educated the world, and it was great therapy for me.
So I want to thank the City of Orlando and the fans that came out that day. It was so special, and it was so loud. They were cheering everything that I was doing. Even if I probably would have missed all 15, 20 shots that I took, they probably still would have been cheering, and I appreciated that.
Arguably one of the defining images of Johnson’s career – and there were many – was when he won Gold as part of the Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Magic cited the influence of the Dream Team 1.0 (of course, every USA team since then has been styled as the “Dream Team”, even when their performances have been as disappointing as those at the 2004 Athens Olympics when a team featuring a young Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony “only” won the bronze medal. By this time, foreign players were actually becoming stars in the NBA; indeed the MVP award between 2004 and 2008 went to Steve Nash (twice) and Dirk Nowitzki) in bringing the game of basketball into global consciousness. He argued that:
I think the Dream Team opened the game up to the world. The world was fascinated by the play of the Dream Team. Then I think that allowed more international players to come in and enjoy the NBA basketball.
I think that now as you can see, the NBA and basketball is a world game now. So the game is much better in terms of the league and the NBA and the game of basketball is much broader now and better because of the Dream Team, and because we can all enjoy now people from around the world and those countries can enjoy the NBA as well because they have their countrymen playing in the NBA.
Of course, basketball was not new to the rest of the world. For example, in Lithuania, where basketball is the national sport, the national team won both the 1937 and 1939 Eurobasket tournaments under the influence of the “Godfather of Lithuanian basketball”, Pranas Lubinas, or Frank Lubin. Although Lithuania would be occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 – (quick WWII history) then invaded by Nazi Germany the following year, and re-occupied after the retreat of the German forces right through to its declaration of independence in 1991 – the great USSR teams of the period were always reliant on great Lithuanians like Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis who starred as the USSR won Gold at the 1988 Olympics. Lithuania certainly did not need the United States to teach it basketball. That said, Jonas Valanciunas, arguably the best player outside the NBA at the moment (although drafted by the Toronto Raptors fifth overall in the 2011 draft, Valanciunas remained with his Lietuvos Rytas team through the lockout who refused to release him when the lockout ended), has noted his admiration for Dwight Howard. Similarly, Sarunas Jasikevicius spent his teenage years at high school in Pennsylvania before playing at Maryland.
Of course, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that the very concept of the “Dream Team” performing at the Olympics was highly controversial. The Olympics had traditionally been an event which marked the coming together of amateur athletes at the top of their games. Of course, with certain sports offering its stars considerably more generous compensation for their efforts than others, a balance seemed as though it had to be struck.
The Dream Team was brought together under widespread pressure – including from President George Bush, Sr. – to include American professional players. Professionals from Europe and South America already competed and, although the very notion of a professional player competing in the Olympics ran contrary to the concept of amateurism, FIBA remedied this inconsistency by permitting the stars of the NBA to take part.
Such was the publicity storm around the team that, rather than land at El Prat airport, on the outskirts of Barcelona, they landed at Reus, what one might term the “Ryanair” airport (indeed, it is a Ryanair hub) for Barcelona, located 121km away from the city. In a 2010 interview with ESPN, Charles Barkley recalled:
And what people don’t understand, we got death threats. In our hotel, you had to have a picture ID to get in there, and we went to the pool on the roof of the hotel, there was like 10 guys standing around with Uzis. So it was kind of funny, it was like: Girl in bikini; dude with an Uzi; girl in bikini; guy with Uzi. People thought we didn’t want to stay in the Olympic Village because we wanted to be big shots, but it was because we were getting death threats. They had told us this would be considered great by one of these terrorist groups if they could take out the Dream Team.
Of course, more famously, Barkley commented that he had been afraid that an Angolan player “might have drawn a spear” on him. Barkley was also dismissive of legenday Brazilian player, Oscar Schmidt, admitting that “the notion that any of us knew anything about the foreign players, we just did not.”
What many people forget is that 1992 was actually Michael Jordan’s second Olympic Gold: he had also won as part of Team USA in 1984 in Los Angeles in a team that also featured Patrick Ewing. In 1988, at the Seoul Olympics, the USA team that won bronze included David Robinson, Mitch Richmond and Dan Majerle. Of course, all had yet to commence their professional careers at the time of their triumphs.
The Dream Team scored an average of 117.3 points per game and defeated its opponents by an average of 44 points per game on their way to the Gold medal. It never once called a timeout. Johnson averaged eight points per game, playing in six of the eight total games. He shot an impressive 46% from three point range (not forgetting the differences in court design between FIBA and NBA courts), although this should be viewed alongside the 87% shot by Charles Barkley who ended the tournament 7/8 from the arc, going into his MVP season of 1992-1993.
Since retiring (as with all great players, Johnson retired twice: the first time in the immediate aftermath of his announcement that he had HIV – partially a result of the intolerant attitude of the time, a result of a widespread lack of knowledge about the disease – and again in 1996 after a brief comeback where the former point guard played at power forward and averaged an impressive 14.6 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds in the last 32 games of the season), he has become a prominent businessman, with an estimated fortune that is occasionally cited as high as $800 million. Troubled by the bankruptcy of his teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1987, Magic sought the advice of businessmen and began to invest his money, initially in Pepsi Cola. By the early part of the 21st century, Johnson employed some 3,000 people across the United States. Where Michael Jordan made millions (and subsequently lost many of them in a messy divorce) through selling his name, Johnson made his money through shrewd investments.
Johnson has also embarked upon an impressive philanthropic career, notably with his Magic Johnson Foundation which attempts to combat HIV, both in the United States and in Africa as well as other charitable goals. He has also been active in persuading companies to bring their brands to relatively impoverished African-American neighbourhoods across the United States: most famously he secured a Starbucks in South Central Los Angeles, an area better associated with gang violence and murder.
ESPN has recently led the way in sports documentary journalism with its unmissable series entitled 30-for-30. For example, the film Once Brothers which detailed the tragic decline in the relationship between former Yugoslavian team-mates Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic during the early 1990s as national issues soured their long-standing friendship, is a must-see for any sports fan, or student of ethno-political division. ESPN Entertainment, on 11 March, will premiere The Announcement, a documentary about Magic’s 7 November 1991 press conference at which he announced to the world that he had HIV and was retiring. It promises to be powerful viewing.
The Courtside Collective would like to thank ESPN for inviting us to speak with Magic Johnson. We would also like to thank LucasLove for giving us access to their conference facilities for the interview.