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The NBA before the All-Star Game: what do we know?

The NBA breaks this weekend for its annual All-Star game, a game which TCC was fortunate enough to attend last year in Houston.  The All-Star Game, while lacking in the intensity of some regular season games, does allow the best players to showcase their skills and, in some cases, network with their fellow players in a more cordial environment than the “heat of battle” of the regular season.

It also allows us pause for reflection of the first few months of the season and take stock of where we are, particularly looking ahead to the end of the season and the playoffs.  Here are a few of my own observations and thoughts about what has gone on over the past few weeks:

The East is AWFUL: The Eastern Conference is truly playing up to the old “Leastern Conference” moniker.  Four teams are over .500 at the moment: Miami, Atlanta, Toronto (!) and Indiana.  The Bulls and Wizards are only a game under .500 as well.  That means a team with a sub-.500 record will almost certainly get into the playoffs again, where they will likely get smashed by Indiana or Miami.  Milwaukee haven’t even won a tenth game yet.  They are over 30 games back but have only played 50.  Now a lot of teams have both eyes firmly on the upcoming draft class, with Joel Embiid now becoming a likely contender for the 1st overall pick – if he chooses to declare for the draft, which isn’t a given. Teams like New York, however, were not tanking for the 1st overall pick.  They just suck.  Brooklyn have improved somewhat in recent weeks, but the fact remains that they feature a bunch of guys over 30 years old and have a head coach who has no coaching experience.  Without Brook Lopez, it’s hard to see what will surely be Kevin Garnett’s last season ending in anything other than mediocrity.  The fact that Washington, who were so desperate they gave John Wall a max contract, are tied for 5th in the conference says everything.  Incidentally, keep an eye on Washington over the next couple of seasons.  In this sort of conference, they could become a playoff team very easily.

Indiana signing Bynum instals them as favorites: I can’t believe that Miami have seen enough from Greg Oden to make them think he gives them what they need so they have the best chance to beat the Pacers in the playoffs.  After he was unceremoniously dumped by the Cavaliers, I expected Andrew Bynum to be on his way to South Beach if for no other reason that to give the Heat a proper big man to battle Roy Hibbert, who tends to save his best performances against the relatively undersized Heat.  Their last meeting in mid December saw Hibbert in foul trouble and finish with 6 points and 2 rebounds.  With Hibbert out of the equation, the Heat will of course be contenders to beat Indiana in just about any given game, but they cannot expect him to be as ineffective for an entire series.  I seriously doubt that Oden is the guy to stop him, as heartening as it is to see him back playing and playing relatively well.  Unless Miami makes a move before the trade deadline, which I find hard to believe will happen, Indiana are strong favorites to win the East.  They have only lost 2 games at home so far this season.  Only OKC has a similar dominance in their own building.  And, of course, Miami.

The Heat might be coasting, but they are still playing very well: The third year of an attempted three-peat is notoriously tough on players.  The Heat were quite an old team last year, particularly guys like Shane Battier and Ray Allen. Dwyane Wade is not as old, but has serious issues with his knees that have limited him to 36 games out of a possible 49 so far this season.  How will he fare once the season extends to the playoffs?  LeBron has been more or less flat out, but that’s been true for a few seasons now.  The issue of his potential burnout must surely concern the Heat management.  He has, of course, shown no signs of this, but the possibility exists nonetheless.  Despite taking things relatively easy, the Heat are still the second best team in the East by ten games.  Unless something goes disastrously wrong, they should take the East’s 2 seed easily.  Their foes of last season, Chicago, are clearly in the process of rebuilding in the hope that Derrick Rose comes back stronger next season after another year of knee trouble.  That just leaves Indiana in their path towards a fourth consecutive finals appearance.

The Suns are playing out of their minds: There is no good reason for the Suns to be the sixth best team in the Western conference at the moment.  They have four first round picks for the upcoming draft and everyone thought they were going to play out this season and try to rebuild next year.  Instead, driven by the excellent Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe along with a cast of impressive role players, Jeff Hornacek’s team have been on a tear which saw them beat the heavily-fancied Indiana Pacers twice.  Whether or not they decide to trade away some of those picks for experienced players in bad situations (Pau Gasol has been mooted, Kevin Love is another name that makes sense for both parties) or if they keep them and go for a really young team next season remains to be seen but the Suns are fun again and it happened much quicker than anyone expected.

Kevin Durant is a really good basketball player: Paging Captain Obvious.  Captain Obvious to the lobby.  Look, KD has just claimed his 31st 30 point game of the season against the Knicks.  It was also his 7th 40 point game of the season.  He’s the top scorer in the NBA and he’s also the NBA’s best scorer.  It’s not even close.  Nothing he does looks forced.  Everything looks like a good shot.  Durant is probably the leading candidate for MVP and with his OKC Thunder sitting with the league’s best record without the now-long-departed James Harden and the currently injured Russell Westbrook, he is a deserving candidate.  Other guys have of course stepped up in Westbrook’s absence, but this is mostly about Durant.  He’s not the best player in the league, for my money, though.  The way LeBron makes his entire team better eclipses Durant who is more of a lead-by-example guy.  We shouldn’t get too bogged down in the LeBron vs Durant debate just yet, though.  Let’s just enjoy having these two incredible players in the prime at the same time.  As long as they remain in opposing conferences, we could be in for years of classic NBA finals.

Cleveland is a disaster: If you didn’t already read it, read this link.  Luol Deng, traded to Cleveland in a salary dump, has reportedly told a confidante (might want to rethink who you talk to in future, Lu) that the Cavaliers have serious, almost endemic, problems with professionalism throughout the organization.  In LeBron’s final season in Cleveland, the Cavs won 61 games.  They have only just won 61 games since LeBron left.  No names were named in the reports based on Deng’s comments, but it seems that Dion Waiters is a big problem.  No criticism was leveled at Kyrie Irving, the current franchise player, but if anyone is likely to be the one making demands that could challenge Coach Mike Brown’s authority from within the playing squad, it could only be Irving.  Reporters claim that when LeBron was in Cleveland, he was more or less allowed to do as he wished and it has been speculated that this institutional culture has persisted since LeBron’s departure.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that whatever LeBron decides to do this offseason, he is not going to re-sign for the Cavaliers.  Dan Gilbert has a lot of work to do to sort out this mess.  He should start by trading Anderson Varejao to a better team.

Andrew Wiggins is not going to be a stud in the NBA next season: Wiggins was much fancied as the number 1 overall a couple of months ago, but a series of indifferent performances at Kansas and the fact that his team-mate Joel Embiid has overtaken him as the predicted first overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft despite recent comments that he (Embiid) would consider playing at least another year in college to develop his game – Embiid has only played organised basketball for a couple of years – have dropped Wiggins’ chances of being an NBA stud next season to average.  He might well be a one-and-done, but Wiggins has proven to anyone who has seen him this season that at least one more year of college would be really good for him.  I already wrote about the issue of “one and done” players and the list of guys who did not work out at the professional level is extensive when compared to those that did.  Wiggins is not ready for the NBA and a couple of months won’t change that.  Jabari Parker and Julius Randle are probably ready and will probably enter the next draft – Randle almost definitely as no player worth his salt seems to want to stay at Kentucky for more than one season.  Charles Barkley recently spoke on sports radio and said that the NBA should change its rules to force players to stay in school for at least two years, which makes a lot of sense.  This sort of rule would protect talented players like Wiggins who lack the strength, both physical and mental, for the NBA challenge at such a young age.

The Lakers: Anyone see their 4 legal men beat Cleveland the other day?  Unreal.  Forty year old Steve Nash is working his way back after nerve issues ruled him out for the start of 2014.  Thousand year old Chris Kaman was asleep on the bench like a student during finals.  Ryan Kelly (remember that awkward but talented gunner for Duke last season?) has been one of LA’s best players in recent weeks.  They needed to invoke a practically unknown NBA rule to allow Robert Sacre to finish the Cleveland game despite having 6 fouls.  Kobe is due to come back from his “not as serious” knee injury soon, and lets face it, he probably will come back regardless of how good an idea it is.  Pau Gasol is injured and has been linked with a trade to Phoenix, but his injury will keep him out until after the trade deadline, so Phoenix will have no idea how ready to play he is if/when they do trade for him.  Things are a bit messy for the Lakers and the Clippers playing relatively well without Chris Paul doesn’t help.  They’ve written off the majority of their salary cap for next season to re-sign Kobe, so while they do have the money to make a run at an opt-out-free-agent like LeBron or Carmelo Anthony, they lack anything like the resources to put a decent team around Kobe and his new apprentice.  A couple of creative trades might be the only way out of this.  Dr Buss must be rolling in his grave.

NBA Playoffs 2013: The Haters Should Leave Derrick Rose Alone

By now, you probably know the Miami Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls 4-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. You probably also know that the Bulls lauded point guard Derrick Rose did not play, which means he’s gone more than a year without playing after tearing his ACL in the 2012 NBA Playoffs.

 

Rose goes down

 

He was medically-cleared in February, and it has been his decision not to play even after participating in a mini-documentary called “The Return.” Bulls fans understandably want answers, especially after the Rose-less squad put forth such a gutsy first-round win over the Brooklyn Nets in seven games with players playing through injury.

Wouldn’t any player of Rose’s caliber want to play on such a stage?  As many have pointed out, in this same 2013 season the New York Knicks Iman Shumpert came back from the same injury and played well (at times) after less than a year.

Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports wonders if Rose’s reputation can recover at all. “He lost a lot of us, that’s for sure,” he wrote. He went on to compare Rose’s playoff inaction to Scottie Pippen’s refusal to enter at the end of a game in 1994 because his coach, Phil Jackson, called for the game-winning shot to be taken by Toni Kukoc. (Kukoc went on to bury the shot.)

Rose’s teammate, center Joakim Noah, defended Rose before the series with the Heat was even over, telling ESPN, “If you tore your ACL and you have to be the starting point guard and have the expectations that Derrick has, then maybe you can judge, but everybody who hasn’t been in that situation before should really shut up because I feel like it’s just so unfair to him and to this team.”

I have torn my own ACL, so I do know that it’s a serious injury for anyone who plays high-impact sports with lots of cutting. But I also know it doesn’t take more than a year to rehab it properly.

When I tore mine toward the end of 1999, I fancied myself a basketball prospect (youth tells us all sorts of lies), so I sought out a reputable surgeon who worked with both Purdue University and the Indianapolis Colts. After surgery, it took me three months to play baseball, six months to play basketball competitively, and about nine months to play in another game. Properly-rehabbed ACL’s are rarely reinjured, and time doesn’t seem to be that big of a factor, but then again I didn’t play in the NBA where millions of dollars are at stake either.

Do I think Rose could have played and played well? Sure. His conditioning probably would have been a bigger problem than his knee. To make things even more difficult on Rose is to make the obvious comparison between the “old guard,” Michael Jordan, and the “new,” Rose. Any of us willing to bet would probably put our money down that Jordan would have bulldozed his way back on the court, probably three or four months ago. But I’m not so sure that doesn’t tell us more about Jordan than it does Rose.

The two came from different generations. With increased medical research and technology, Rose’s generation is the more caudled one. In instances like pre-cautionary rule changes in American football in order to prevent concussions and eliminate the possibility of playing for those who are concussed, that’s probably a good thing. In instances like sitting out more than a year after an ACL injury, it may be a little extreme.

It’s hardly Rose’s fault either way. He simply followed the conservative approach of Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. And why shouldn’t Rose and the Bulls take a long-term approach? At 24, Rose is their best player and hopefully has a lot of basketball left in him.

 

Robinson stepped up in Rose’s absence.

 

His teammates learned how to play without over-relying on Rose this season, which should only benefit the franchise in the long-term. I suspect Rose will be back to form next season, and the Bulls will contend much more seriously than they did this year. Maybe we’ll even get to see that playoff series with the Heat again, and this time Rose will be on center-stage, where he belongs.

NBA Owners Vote Against Kings-to-Seattle Plan

Full Story from NBA.com: http://hangtime.blogs.nba.com/2013/05/15/reports-board-of-governors-vote-to-keep-kings-in-sacramento/?ls=iref:nbahpt3c

The thirty owners of the NBA have resoundingly voted to keep the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento.  A late, but strong effort, led by Mayor of Sacramento (and former NBA star) Kevin Johnson convinced the wealthy individuals, who didn’t quite have the same reservations when it came to allowing a team to leave Seattle a couple of years ago, to vote 22-8 in favour of leaving a team in the Californian capital.

KJ at his best

Johnson was aided by Vivek Ranadive, the founder of TIBCO Software (and part-owner of the Golden State Warriors, see http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/05/11/090511fa_fact_gladwell) and the two campaigned locally to establish the framework for a new arena, one of the major sticking points for the city of Seattle which has a reasonable facility in the shape of the KeyArena, but one that was not considered modern enough to retain the Sonics.

There have been rumours that the Maloof brothers (owners of the Las Vegas Palms resort) were not keen to sell the Kings to Ranadive and preferred the offer tabled by the Seattle group, led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (Microsoft has strong ties with Seattle sports, co-founder Paul Allen is a co-owner of the Seattle Sounders MLS team) and Chris Hansen.

Ballmer at a latter-day Sonics game

Bill Simmons has long been a “fan” of the Maloofs, as this 2011 article shows: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/110425&sportCat=nba.  They have disillusioned their fans to the point that the Kings had the lowest average attendance in the entire NBA last season at 13,749.  It is teams like Sacramento who are contributing to the surprising statistic (as per The Atlantic Wire) that the NBA’s average attendance was actually lower than that of Major League Soccer last season.  The average MLS game was watched by 17,872 fans, compared to 17,323 at the average NBA game.

So the great pacific northwest city of Seattle faces a longer wait for a team.  In the meantime, why not busy yourself with the excellent “Requiem for a Team” documentary?

Jason Collins: Outcast or Pioneer?

Two days ago, in an article published in Sports Illustrated, Washington Wizards Center Jason Collins announced to the world that he is gay.

Collins later remarked about how overwhelmed he was with messages of support, notably from his team-mates John Wall and Emeka Okafor as well as Kobe Bryant and figures such as former President Bill Clinton

In an unusually well-written piece for ESPN, Rick Reilly told of Collins’s former fiancee, who had her wedding to the Stanford grad called off a month ahead of the big day without any explanation.  Neither she, nor Collins’s twin brother Jarron, knew of Jason’s secret.

Then there was Chris Broussard.  Easily the worst “insider” on the ESPN staff, the man who has never tweeted an exclusive before it had been tweeted by at least four other people first, Broussard made these comments:

It is an odd world where Rob Parker can ask questions about Robert Griffin III’s race and get fired while Broussard is actively supported for his own hateful message simply because he bundled it up in religion.  Simply by saying “I don’t believe…” Broussard attempts to couch his bigotry in the sanctity of his own opinion, ignoring the fact that he is a commentator whose views reach millions of people.

Most significantly, Broussard’s comments provide insight into what is perhaps the worst form of bigotry: that which is tied up with something completely legitimate and, particularly in the US, powerful, in the form of organised religion.  The debates over same-sex marriage have echoed across the US.  My own view is “who cares?”  Why people think the actions of other people (which are still going to go on even if you don’t allow them to get “married”, incidentally) in the privacy of their own home should impact upon their life in any way is something I will never understand.  Some people, however, really do care.  In their worst form, people seem to think that homosexuality is some sort of illness.  See this link, for example.

In addition to the legitimised bigotry of others based on their interpretation of Christianity, Collins will undoubtedly have to deal with the more predictable banter-hate spectrum from opposition players.

The highest profile basketball figure to come out to date is President and COO of the Golden State Warriors, Rick Welts.  He commented that:

This team, this organization, this city, the whole community has really embraced me. The reason I did it is because hopefully it will make it easier for somebody who has gone through it and experienced it will come out

Collins, never an outstanding player on any team but clearly a highly thought of member of any roster – his career average is 3.6PPG and 3.8RPG (last season 1.2 PPG and 1.6 RPG for Boston and 0.7 PPG and 1.3 RPG for Washington) – it seems likely that a team will take a chance on one final contract for him.  His announcement at this stage is clearly brave, but also puts teams on the spot: will they sign an openly gay player?  If nobody signs him is it because he is gay or because he simply isn’t that good a player?

Equally, because Collins is not likely to be much more than a role player for any team that would sign him, the opportunities for abuse would seem to be minimal.  He wont be on court all that much and, particularly in an era when the volume of TV cameras makes it very likely that anyone abusing him on the bench would surely be “caught” and shamed, perhaps now is the perfect time.

Former Leeds United player Robbie Rodgers recently explained how he had to retire just to allow him to come out.  Rumours from his time at Leeds include his frequently being seen with black eyes and other signs of physical abuse.  Perhaps Collins can help others like him to announce who they really are to the world.

Basketball on TV – Games of the Week

It’s Monday and that means our new weekly feature on TCC is back! We take a look at the TV planner for the next seven days and break down your essential viewing. There has never been a better time to be a UK/Ireland based basketball fan with coverage on ESPN, ESPN America, Setanta and Sky allowing you to keep track of your favourite basketball, check out our picks of the week!

Game of the Week

Miami @ Duke

Saturday 11.00pm – ESPN America

With only two weeks left in the regular season this battle of two potential number one seeds was always going to be high on the list of games to watch this week. This game will go a long way to deciding who finishes the year top of the ACC standings and thanks to a revenge factor Miamis trip to Cameron has became the “must watch” game of the week. Earlier in the season Miami upset Duke when the blue devils had just achieved a number one ranking however it was the nature of the defeat that will have left a sour taste in the Dukies mouths and sets us up for an electric atmosphere in Cameron indoor stadium. Miami ran all over Duke in the game that really showcased them as a serious contender for post season honours this year. The Hurricanes went on a huge 25-1 run during the first half and led by more than 30 points at one stage to hand Duke their worst loss in five years. Further fuel was added to the fire when Miami players slapped the floor on defense late in the game, a move that the Duke players took as a sign of total disrespect.  Duke are still missing Ryan Kelly who they hope will be back for the ACC tournament but will be confident they can get the win after Miami’s 14 game unbeaten streak was ended by Wake Forest last week.

Highlights from Duke at Miami earlier this season:

Notable Highlights

Florida @ Tennessee

Tuesday Night / Wednesday Morning 2:00am – ESPN America

Tennessee are on a tear of late after reeling off five straight wins which included a 30 point demolishing of Kentucky but they will need to be at their best to beat the SEC leading Florida Gators on Tuesday night. Home court will help the volunteers but Florida are a well balanced team with aspirations of a number one seed and will be favoured here. Florida are led by Mike Rosario (with whom anyone that has watched the excellent Bobby Hurley documentary ‘The Street Stops Here’ will be familiar with –  trailer below) and the NBA prospect needs to take on more of a leadership role late in the season if the Gators are to make an impact in the post season.

OKC @ Denver Nuggets

Friday Night / Saturday Morning 3,30am – ESPN

OKC are in contention for finishing the year with the best regular season record but the Nuggets have one of the best home records in the league (23-3) and always try and make their advantage in the mile high city count. A high scoring and close game is expected here – don’t miss it!

Heat @ Knicks / OKC @ LA Clippers

Sunday 6.00pm – SKY Sports 2

Is SKY’s Sunday double header giving us a preview of the potential conference finals? OKC and Miami are both heavily favoured to lift their conference championship trophies and the Knicks and Clippers will both have aspirations of proving the bookies wrong. Both games have plenty of star appeal with the likes of LeBron, Carmelo, Durant and Chris Paul on show and should prove and entertaining nights viewing to end the week.

Star Power: Chris Paul and Kevin Durant

Star Power: Chris Paul and Kevin Durant

 

Basketball TV Watch – Games of the week

Welcome to a new weekly feature on TCC where we take a look at the TV planner for the next seven days and break down your essential viewing. There has never been a better time to be a UK/Ireland based basketball fan with coverage on ESPN, ESPN America, Setanta and Sky allowing you to keep track of your favourite basketball whether that is the NBA, NCAA Basketball, Euroleague or even the local leagues.

Game of the Week

San Antonio Spurs @ LA Clippers

Thursday Night / Friday Morning – 3.30am – ESPN

This is one to set the DVR for with a late west coast tip time meaning the game won’t start here until 3.30am. Part of the Thursday night double header (Heat @ Bulls tips off at 1am also on ESPN) the Spurs travel to LA sitting atop of the NBA standings. Gregg Popovich is working his magic and has the team running his offensive system like only his teams can. A perfect illustration of this was last week with Parker, Ginobli, Duncan and Jackson all sitting out the Spurs still managed to roll to a 103-89 victory over the Bulls behind great team basketball and 26 points from the ever improving Kawhi Leonard. Any fan of pure basketball will love the spurs, they move the ball better than any team in the league evidenced by the fact that they lead the NBA in Assist ratio.

The Clippers had a hot start to the season but have had a recent poor run of form when they were missing 5/6 different players but as Grant Hill told us last week they are now back to full health. The clips are one of the most entertaining teams in the league to watch with one of the NBA’s leading point guards in Chris Paul and the high flying Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. What makes the Clippers most fun however is their bench, Eric Bledsoe plays the game at a ferocious pace making spectacular plays on both ends and Jamal Crawford is in the running for the sixth man of the year award while challenging Kyrie Irving as the most entertaining player to watch handle the ball. (check out the video above!)

Notable Highlights

There is over 20 games on TV this week and we think these are the pick of the bunch:

Indiana @ Michigan State

Tuesday Night / Wednesday Morning 12:00am – ESPN America

Two of the top teams in the best conference in Men’s college basketball, The Big Ten, go at it in what promises to be a great NCAA match up. Two defensive orientated teams but when two of the top 10 ranked teams in the nation go at it in a conference game there is always a good chance of excitement and an electric atmosphere.

Boston Celtics @ LA Lakers

Wednesday Night /Thursday Morning 3.30am – ESPN

A classic NBA match-up between the two most successful franchises in league history. The Celtics are proving the Ewing Theory true and have went on a tear since losing elite point guard Rajon Rondo and the LA Lakers are desperate for wins as they chase the last playoff spot in the west.

With Nerlens Noel out, how will Kentucky fare for the rest of the season?

With Nerlens Noel out, how will Kentucky fare for the rest of the season?

Missouri @ Kentucky

Saturday Night / Sunday Morning 2.00am – ESPN America

The headline game from College Gameday, after improving in recent weeks how will Kentucky perform in the absence of Nerlens Noel who is ruled out for the season with a torn ACL?

Golden State Warriors @ Minnesota Timberwolves

Sunday 8.30pm – SKY Sports 3

Two of my favourite teams to watch go head to head in this Western conference showdown. Kevin Love is still injured but with Ricky Rubio and Steph Curry on the floor, what’s not to like?

Ricky Rubio is just all sorts of awesome, check it out:

Knicks v Pistons: TCC Diary

Game Recap: The Knicks got out to an early lead and looked like the early season version of the team with good ball movement, knocking down threes, Melo doing what Melo does and Shumpert didn’t look too rusty in his first game back. Respect to the Pistons who didn’t gave up and made a good run in the second half to make it a closer game but in all honestly the Knicks never looked like losing after the first few minutes. Check out the nba.com highlights of the game and check out our random points of note below the video.

Points of Note:

  • Crowd atmosphere wasn’t great, place was a bit dead in the first half. Picked up when the Pistons made their run in the second half.
  • Standout moment for the first half was probably Austin Daye’s hard foul on Chandler, when it happened chandler was at the rim and it looked like he went down hard, it was ruled a flagrant one.
  • Largest crowd reaction of the night was easily when the camera showed Ashley Cole – HUGE boos all around the arena.
  • Shumpert looked sharp considering he has been out for so long. Could be a huge factor for the Knicks going forward this year, increases their energy on defense and gives them a lock down on the ball perimeter defender. His hair is just as great as you would imagine in person and he nearly threw down a ridiculous poster but unfortunately lost control of the ball.
  • An “infectious control timeout” isn’t nearly as serious as it sounds.

 

JR’s Moves – Check out this video we got from our man @jrochec at www.nbamainiacs.com

 

 

The Man Who Doesn’t Miss Shots – With Dave Hopla in town of course TCC had to speak to the basketball shooting legend. Hopla has strong Irish connections having plied his trade in Belfast for years playing for the old St Gall’s team. After what he describes as “some of the best years of his life” Hopla went on to become one of the best shooting coaches in the world and is now an assistant coach with the NY Knicks. Check out what he had to say about his time in Ireland, working with the Kicks and how young players from here can make it in the states:

 

 

The Belt: The first of many videos to follow, hear what Steve Novak had to say about “The Belt” and inspiring kids like “little Nathan”.

 

Shumps Crazy Kicks: Looks like Shumpert could be making his season debut and there are rumours that he might actually start the game. The kids at the “NBA Cares” clinic aren’t too bothered about that though – they just love his shoes.

The kids enjoyed the basketball clinic but they LOVED the Shumpert’s adidas

 

B Diddy is here! – Baron Davis is over with the Knicks but his actual role is a mystery. He looks like he is making a documentary or something, constantly running around with a very expensive looking video camera. Maybe he is working for “Knickstape”? Who knows? One thing is for sure, he isn’t here playing basketball! (Although he did show off some sick handles on the sideline during training.)

 

Baron Davis seems to be here for no other reason than simply having the craic!

 

Brandon Knight getting ready to take on the Knicks at the O2

NBA has landed -The Knicks and Pistons are in London to play only the third ever regular season game outside of US shores. (Okay, technically outside of North America, but it’s all the same place really, isn’t it? …. Sorry Colm )

Both teams touched down yesterday and today had practice sessions in the O2 arena followed by an “NBA Cares” clinic with about 40 local school children. TCC were on court speaking with the players and staff on about their trip to London, Swag, TV-Shows and Championship Belts amongst other things.

Over the next three days we will bring you all the news from the game and the surrounding NBA entertainment machine which is in full operation.

But most importantly we want to hear from YOU! If you are heading over to the games hit us up on Facebook or Twitter and let us know where you are at and what you are doing! TCC will be looking to speak to any Irish basketball fans over the weekend so don’t be shy – get in touch!

 

Special thanks to our friends at ESPN for continuing to support our mission of developing a better basketball culture on the island of Ireland

NBA and ESPN UK reach TV Deal!

After weeks of worry and speculation ESPN has finally agreed a TV deal with the NBA for the 2012/13 season. Great news for all basketball fans in the UK and Ireland!

Full details below:

NBA, ESPN REACH TV AGREEMENT IN UK AND IRELAND
ESPN tips off NBA coverage on Thursday night with New York Knicks versus Miami Heat and runs through to the end of the 2012-13 season.

Partnership includes three live games per week, NBA All Star Game, First and Second Round NBA Playoff coverage, Western Conference Finals, and NBA Finals.

The NBA and ESPN have reached an agreement for television coverage of the remainder of the 2012-13 season in the UK and Ireland. ESPN will begin its coverage of the season on Thursday and will bring fans in the UK and Ireland three live games per week throughout the regular-season, plus the NBA All-Star Game, First and Second Round NBA Playoff coverage, the Western Conference Finals, and the NBA Finals.

“Through our continued partnership with ESPN, fans in the UK and Ireland can look forward to weekly games and an array of NBA programming for the remainder of the 2012-13 NBA Season,” said Dan Markham, Vice President, Media Distribution & Emerging Markets.

Added Simon Potter, head of programming and production, ESPN EMEA, “We’re very pleased to have the NBA returning to ESPN this season, and are looking forward to getting straight into the action and bringing UK and Ireland fans the world’s top basketball league with some great early match-ups.”

In the first week of coverage, ESPN will feature some of the top teams and stars from around the league, including multiple members of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team that won gold at London 2012. Among the teams featured on ESPN in its first week of coverage: the NBA Champion Miami Heat (led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and new teammate Ray Allen), take on the New York Knicks (Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler ); the Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash) against defending Western Conference Champions the Oklahoma City Thunder (led by Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook); Texas and Western Conference rivals the San Antonio Spurs (Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan) face off against the Houston Rockets (James Harden, Jeremy Lin); the Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets (Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace, Joe Johnson) in one of the league’s newest rivalries; and the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks (Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand, OJ Mayo) as they take on perennial contenders the Boston Celtics (Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett).

This season, the UK is represented by nine-year veteran and NBA All-Star Luol Deng (Chicago Bulls) and rookie Joel Freeland (Portland Trailblazers) as part of the league’s 84 international players from 37 countries.

Accompanying ESPN’s live coverage this season will be ESPN produced studio shows NBA Tonight and NBA Countdown, providing round-ups of all the action from around the league.

NBA SCHEDULE – DECEMBER 6-12 – ON ESPN

Day and Date Time (GMT) Matchup
Thursday 6h Dec. 1 a.m.*. New York Knicks @ Miami Heat
Friday 7th Dec. 2:30 a.m. LA Lakers @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Monday 10th Dec. 1 a.m. San Antonio Spurs @ Houston Rockets
Tuesday 11th Dec. Midnight New York Knicks @ Brooklyn Nets
Thursday 12th Dec. 1 a.m. Dallas Mavericks @ Boston Celtics

*morning of Friday, December 7th

BENJI – Promise Unfulfilled

ESPN Films, 30 for 30 – Benji – dir. Coodie and Chike

In the closing section of this, the last of a new series of ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries, sportswriter Michael Wilbon says that Ben Wilson (the ‘Benji’ of the title) “represents promise unfulfilled”, and in piecing together the story of Wilson’s life and devastatingly premature death, Coodie and Chike have given credence to Wilbon’s claim that “nothing haunts us like that”.

Perhaps the most enduring appeal of sports is that it can be so easily understood as a microcosm of life itself: its competitiveness, its community, its rewards and its tragedy. What is equally true in sports and in life is that very few people ever come close to fulfilling their promise, to achieving their dreams, to transcending their roots.

Some, however, come closer than others and when such a person comes along, those of us who know them well find a place to pin each of our own faded hopes and dreams. It is a catharsis that many in Irish basketball will know from personal experience: how the promise of one young friend or teammate becomes, however momentarily, a collective promise; the promise that we, too, might see our ambitions played out through them.

Benji demonstrates quite clearly that such a feeling is not exclusive to small towns, that even in a large city like Chicago, fomenting with basketball talent, such feelings exist. Any large city is a patchwork of smaller communities and in a suburban neighbourhood harassed by gang and drug culture, the desire for a way out is palpable.

Indeed, one of the most striking things about Benji is the quasi-religious way in which young Ben Wilson’s death is viewed by many of those featured in the documentary. It is both startling and moving to hear grown men, including school friends and neighbours of Wilson’s, speak about him as “much more than a basketball player”, as a “Little Messiah”. It becomes apparent, at times, that there remains more than one promise unfulfilled – not just the great promise that Wilson himself had as the number one ranked basketball prospect in the country, but the promise that “he would have taken us on some of that ride too”; that he might deliver friends such as Mario Coleman and others to “the promised land, so that we can make a difference and we can be where we want to be.”

The summer of 1984 was a golden summer for Benjamin Wilson, the 6’7” seventeen-year-old centre for Simeon Vocational High School on Chicago’s south side. He had just led Simeon to its first ever Illinois State Championship and, after attending Sonny Vaccaro’s “Athletes for Better Education” Camp, became the number one ranked basketball prospect in the country going into his senior year.

Wilson was no ordinary High School centre; he was, by now, a household name in the city that produced a host of NBA starlets like Mo Cheeks, Doc Rivers and Tim Hardaway; a city bristling with excitement at the arrival of a number one draft pick by the name of Michael Jordan.

A “sweet and smooth” player, Wilson was drawing the sort of hype that implied he might be better than all of them and attracted the overtures of respected college coaches around the country, including Indiana’s Bobby Knight and Illinois’s Lou Henson. With his relentless work ethic, Wilson perfected his game and, even at seventeen, “he could do everything that the pro players could do,” explains Henson.

‘Benji’ depicted in one of the film’s atmospheric animations

Sonny Vaccaro, the man responsible for taking MJ to Chicago that year, insists that the potential of Benjamin Wilson cannot be overestimated, that he was basketball’s first ever High School phenom and the forerunner of today’s biggest living legends in the sport. “Ben Wilson was my Kevin Garnett, my Tracy McGrady, my Kobe Bryant, my Lebron James. He opened the world of basketball’s eyes,” enthuses Vaccaro.

Unfortunately, while Chicago in the early-mid 1980s was a place of great change and even hope, with its first black Mayor (Harold Washington), the arrival of Michael Jordan, the disquieted voice of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the emergence of Oprah, it was also facing a growing problem with drugs and gang trouble. It was this boiling social turmoil that led indirectly to Chicago’s basketball community losing its so-called “chosen” one.

On November 20 1984, with everyone expecting him to lead Simeon to a second successive State Championship, and with the road to sporting greatness stretched out before him, Benjamin Wilson’s life was ended by a random act of violence. Chicago was cast in shadow – some 10,000 people are reported to have attended his funeral – and the name of Ben Wilson entered into the city’s mythology.

With Benji, Coodie and Chike have produced a hugely important piece of film and one that will help ensure that the memory of this bright and dedicated young man lives on. They present the story of Ben Wilson’s death sensitively, delicately and without judgment, allowing the main protagonists to recount the events as they remember them and without imposing too much of themselves in the form of narration.

Most impressively, the directors have expertly constructed a film that exposes the many layers of tragedy which surround the events of that November day in 1984. From the explicit tragedy of the murder of a seventeen year old and its impact on his family and friends, through the tragedy of unfulfilled promise in all its forms, to the deeper-lying tragedy of the drugs and gang culture that led his killer to commit an uncharacteristic crime, Coodie and Chike have taken a broad and impartial view. In giving voice to Wilson’s legacy, they allow each individual voice to be heard without bias and remind us that the destruction of a young life in such a sudden and incomprehensible way leaves behind it many victims.

In the end, we are reminded that out of the darkest days comes new light. The immediate and courageous response of Wilson’s mother that, “it’s not how long you live but how well you live,” gives way to a lasting legacy that has inspired new hope. The money raised for needy teens in Chicago’s crime-ridden suburbs, and the lawsuit that forced the City government to revise its emergency trauma procedures have undoubtedly saved countless lives since Wilson’s death.

Moreover, the example set by Ben Wilson and the way in which his memory continues to inspire young Simeon HS athletes to strive for success has been a catalyst for the fulfilment of a great deal of promise. Most recently, a new wave of phenoms such as Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker have given a nod to Wilson, wearing his legendary #25 at Simeon. “I wanted to be just like him…he still lives on,” says Parker.

Benjamin Wilson may or may not have turned out to be the ‘Little Messiah’ his fans and friends had hoped, but through his heart-breaking and untimely death he has become a saviour and a hero to many. Perhaps this story is not really about basketball. Perhaps, as Chike claims, it transcends way beyond that.

– Ryan Hayes

 

Benji airs on Wednesday 21November at 7pm on ESPN America.