Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Magic Week in Philadelphia

I recently spent a day with the Orlando Magic during their summer workout week in Philadelphia, led by Jameer Nelson. They participated in a multitude of activities in order to promote chemistry and off-court bonding, and found some time to get some ball in as well. I got the opportunity to talk with some of the players about the week and the upcoming season. After spending a day with the team it is clear that they are focused and ready to make another run at the Finals, but this time, they’re hoping the outcome might be a little different.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Ming Dynasty

The impact of an NBA player is usually measured in statistics; the amount of points he has scored, the number of championships he has won, etc. This statistical analysis is the common way to compare one player to the others and measure the success and validity of a career. However, like in most aspects of life, there are anomalies; situations where statistics alone cannot be used to quantify the validity of a career; situations where a player’s numbers simply do not do justice to the overall impact of their career. Such players are able to transcend the game, and their value boils down to more than just a bunch of numbers representing career achievements. Such players shape and change the game in one way or another, leaving their stamp on it forever. Michael Jordan was one such player. Sure his numbers were outstanding and virtually unparalleled, but it can be argued that Mike’s biggest impact was off the court, as he exploded the overall popularity of basketball and launched the marketability of the game’s superstars. Another such player is the incomparable Yao Ming. Sure his career is far from over (hopefully, barring more serious injuries), but it can be argued that nothing Yao will do on the court can match his impact on the game away from the hardwood.

Yao came into the League surrounded by enormous amounts of hype and excitement, with rumors of his ability circulating from China to California. His pre-League hype was matched only by his number one pick successor, LeBron James. The 2002 NBA draft was considered the Yao lottery, as he would surely change the fortunes of any franchise lucky enough to have the ping pong balls bounce in their favor. He was the talented big man with touch who could turn around a franchise, and serve as a rock of consistency for upwards of a decade. The Houston Rockets were the lucky lottery winners, and while Yao has been far from a slouch on the court, posting respectable career number of 19 and 9 boards, injuries have so far barred him from reaching his perceived potential. But while he has not yet been able to help elevate the Rockets to that elite level, he certainly has made an enormous impact on the League in other ways.

Although it is impossible to credit the League’s recent worldwide popularity explosion on one individual, it is safe to say that Yao has contributed as much as anyone not named Michael. Yao has reached hero status in China, as he has been become their brightest basketball ambassador, winning over fans both in the U.S. and China with his play and pleasant personality, all while providing a link between the two countries. No the NBA isn’t a new phenomena in China, but Yao’s breakthrough finally allowed the Chinese to have an NBA superstar to embrace as their own. In a way, Yao represents the population of China, as he is their most popular and best internationally-known athlete. This fact is illustrated by the millions in China who tune in to watch Yao battle the League’s best on a nightly basis, working to unify the people behind a common protagonist. He was their product, and his success is their validation. The rising worldwide popularity of the NBA and its biggest (literally) star culminated last summer in what is billed as the most watched basketball game of all time, when the U.S. Men’s Basketball team faced China and Yao. It is estimated that this game was viewed by over a billion people; a testament to both the increasing popularity of the NBA, and the unparalleled loyalty and support showered onto Yao by his fellow citizens of China.

While Yao’s future on the court remains uncertain due to perpetual nagging injury issues, both his contributions to the game and his legacy continue to grow as quickly as the NBA’s popularity in China, and this is certainly no coincidence. In twenty years, when Yao’s playing days have come and gone, and a new generation of NBA fans in China anxiously await the start of the new season, it will be easy to see Yao’s contribution to the game; a contribution that is much more than a list of statistical totals could ever be.

Anthony Randolph Interview

A few short years ago the Golden State Warriors were the story of the League, as they (then an 8 seed) were able to upset the number one ranked Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 Western Conference Playoffs. Although the Warriors were eliminated in the next round, they look poised to position themselves as a power in the West. However, despite a roster teeming with talent, the Warriors have not been able to duplicate their 2007 success, leaving them on the outside peering into the Playoffs for the past couple seasons. But, with the offseason addition of scoring-machine Steph Curry, and the breakout Summer League performance of second-year, soon-to-be-star, Anthony Randolph, the Warriors look ready to return to the Playoffs. One person who believes in the team is Randolph himself. I had the opportunity to talk with Randolph recently, as he elaborated on his Playoff predictions and several other topics.

Read the full interview here:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Post-Practice Post

After watching the Magic scrimmage themselves and some Sixer players this afternoon, I am expecting big things out of Lou Williams this season. He looks ready to run some point for the team, and with his increased minutes I expect greatly increased production. His shot was on point, along with his court awareness, drive, and confidence. His shoot-first, pass-second tendencies still worry me, but adjustments can be made, and will be necessary if Lou and the rest of the team is to have a successful season.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Quickly We Forget

Very few players were as closely associated with their team as Allen Iverson was with the Sixers during his turbulent and terrific tenure there. He was the teams' most consistent and outstanding player, and it was nearly impossible to hold a relevant conversation about the team without mentioning Allen. He single-handedly rescued the team from mediocrity for a decade, taking the fans on a wild ride that included stops at All-Star games, playoff series, and a long-awaited stop at the NBA Finals (a destination that the team has yet to even approach since Allen's departure). Allen was a bona fide superstar, and his tremendous triumphs on the court consistently made me proud and happy to be a Sixers fan. And then something happened. Allen was traded. I will never forget the moment. I was shopping in Best Buy, re-upping on the latest rap albums, when my phone rang and I was informed by my friend on the other line that Allen, along with my dreams of him bringing a title to Philadelphia, was shipped to Denver. At first, the news felt like a hard blow to the stomach, as I had long ago realized that I would never so strongly associate with or be as captivated by one player on one team as I had been by Allen during his years in the City of Brotherly Love. The news however, did not come as a total shock, as trade rumors and speculations had been swirling around for weeks, which granted me ample time to prepare myself mentally for A.I.'s departure from the only team he had ever known. But, as I quickly learned, reality is much harder to face than speculation, and over the next couple days it became increasingly difficult to accept the fact that I was soon going to see Allen in powder blue and yellow on a nightly basis rather than the familiar black, blue, and red.

Fast forward a couple years. How quickly we forget. After a couple statistically solid, but overall underwhelming seasons as a Nugget, and a disastrous stop in Detroit, Allen is on the market again, with very few suitors, as most have written The Answer off as "over the hill," and "past his prime." Although I have no real rebuttal to the detractors who claim that his days in Detroit destroyed him, except to say that the team was not the correct fit for the four-time scoring champion, I seem to possess a better memory than most. Wasn't it not too long ago that Allen was consistently the leading the League in scoring, and dragging an otherwise mediocre team along with him? Was it really that long ago that he had one of the most impressive individual seasons in NBA history, grabbing the MVP award and Eastern Confrence Championship trophy while leading the championship-hungry Sixers to their first Finals appearance since the early 80's? And does the man not annually get selected by the fans to start in the All-Star game, a testiment to his enormous popularity? No, I'm not saying that Allen is still the same caliber player that he was during that 2001 Finals run. I'm simply saying that players of that talent do not fall off so quickly, and Allen still ha some gas left in the tank. Two years ago, he averaged 26 and 7 dimes per, and now no one wants him? Are people fooling themselves? One bad season and people are ready to write off one of the most individual ly impressive careers in recent memory? Four scoring titles, an MVP award, double-digit All-Star selections, and this man is struggling to find work? Despite the fact that his talent might be diminshing with age, which understandably makes teams reluctant to sign him to a long-term deal, Allen could still contribute significantly to any team in the League right now, and provide an enormous spark offensively.

After deliberating on all the possible options for Allen's future for weeks now, I have decided that there is only one fitting place for Allen to end his FHOF career: Philadelphia. Now before anyone jumps down my throat, let me say that this is neither a prodiction for a speculation, rather just a dream or a wish from a diehard fan of the two entities. The middling Sixers are in no shape to sign a player of Iverson's age or contract, and I can't imagine Allen being too excited about returning to a struggling Sixers squad. But, one can dream. I mean, the two owe it to each other. The Sixers are the team that put up with Allen's off-court antics for a decade, allowing him to become the face of the franchise and one of the true stars of the League. Meanwhile, as a player, Allen did everything he possibly could for the franchise, playing his hardest on a nightly basis, and helping to create a buzz and excitement around the team that had not been felt for quite a while prior to his arrival, and has not been paralleled since his departure. Not to mention the fact that Iverson alone greatly increased revenue and ticket sales for the organization, and navigated them to their first and only Finals appearance in over twenty years. So, isn't it fitting for these two, who have done so much for each other, to reunite, allowing Allen to end his exceptional career in the only uniform that he truly looked right in? Like I said, one can dream, and if the dream doesn't materalize and Allen Iverson provides me no new memories in a 76ers uniform, at least I have ten years of unforgettable ones.