Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sounds from Sixers Media Day

For many, media day is viewed as the beginning of the season. It is the first chance for the public to gain access to the team as a whole and gain insight and perspective into the upcoming season. It signifies the dawning of a new year in the NBA, and represents the beginning of the circus of practices, games, road trips, and flights that is the NBA season. With a new coach, new uniforms, and new additions, comes new hope for the 2009-2010 Philadelphia 76ers. For a team that has successfully reached the playoffs for the past several seasons, but has not been able to get over the hump and become a serious contender, this is a make or break season. The Sixers were able to find success in an up-tempo style last season, as both Andre Igoudala and Thaddeus Young had stellar seasons. However, the loss of a point guard coupled with the addition of a (hopefully) healthy Elton Brand and other offseason additions presents many unanswered questions for the Sixers squad, who seem eager to answer them. Below are some of the sounds from Sixers Media day:

Elton Brand on his excitement to start the season: “I’m excited, I’m excited to be healthy, I’m excited to see what I can add to the team. Two first round loses in the last two seasons. I mean, for a young team that’s OK, but I was brought in here to get farther than that, and that’s my goal.”

Elton Brand on how much leadership he needs to provide the team: “You know, we have a young team, but we have guys that are capable of leading in their own right. Andre Igoudala, you know, he’s played amazing and guys look up to him, but we don’t have the Theo Ratliffs and guys like that, so I’m definitely going to have to take on some of that role, which I don’t mind.”

Elton Brand on the transition from Andre Miller to new starting point guard, Lou Williams: “Yeah, I’ve played with Andre Miller obviously a few times, and I think he’s a great player, he’s helped to win a lot of ball games for us, but especially in Coach Jordan’s system, the spacing, with Lou out there is going to open it up for everybody. He can hit the three pointer, he can drive and no one can stay in front of him. He’s less of a post-up player than Andre was.”

Elton Brand on this being a “do-over” season for him: “This is absolutely a do-over year, and I’m excited to get it started, and hopefully everyone accepts that and gets going. I’m healthy and the team’s been working hard.
Elton Brand on his stats: “Stats-wise, in this system, I expect to do, you know, what I’ve done most of my career. So maybe if it’s not in the twenties, it’s close to it. If it’s not ten boards, it’s gunna be close to it. But overall, winning is the most important thing to us.”

Thaddeus Young on Elton Brand: “He’s looking great. I’ve been put there with him for the past couple weeks, and you can just tell, you know, he’s been going to the gym, every day. He’s making all kinds of turn-arounds, he’s dunking on people. I mean, we’ll have to see how it goes during the season, but right now, he’s out there like a monster. He’s such a hard worker, everyone knows that. He’s going out there just killing everyone in front of him. There’s days where I’m like ‘Man, I don’t even wanna guard him today.’ ”

Thaddeus Young on his jumper: “My mid-range game is coming along nice. I’ve been knocking quite a few of those down lately in pick-up games. And now it’s just the three ball I’ve been working on. I just gotta get it consistent, that’s all.”
Thaddeus Young on his performance this upcoming season: “Like I said, it’s not really about me. It’s about our team, and helping us to grow as a team. You know. Whenever my team’s doing good, that’s our game. And I get better as we go, and like I said it’s a team concept.”

Jason Smith on upcoming season: “I’m just excited to be healthy, man. Missing a whole season like that last year was tough, you know, I’ve never had to overcome anything like that before. So that was tough, but I was proud of the team, and I like the team we have. I’m just excited to be able to be back out there and add my part to the team.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

Make No Comparison

Michael Jordan is so closely associated with greatness due to his heroics and accomplishments on the court that people rarely muster the need or desire to criticize him. Since his retirement, Jordan’s career has developed into legend, and he has been placed on that pinnacle of untouchable athletes, who are the greatest at what they did and are viewed as near-perfection in their chosen sport. However, despite all the greatness, there are still negative aspects to MJ’s career. Now, before I go any further, let me make it clear that I am not going to be the one to break the unwritten rule and write an article disparaging Michael Jordan (at least not yet). Rather, this article focuses on a negative aspect that has spawned from Jordan’s great successes, but not one that Michael directly produced himself, but rather one that the media has mainly created in its constant awe and admiration of Michael.

When Michael Jordan was drafted in 1984, he provided the League with a breath of fresh air, and provided fans and opponents alike with an unprecedented package. Never before had such a killer combination of raw talent, athleticism, and motivation been combined into one individual, and the final result was a rap sheet that not only positioned Michael as the greatest basketball player of all time, but as one of the most successful and respected athletes ever as well. Fans were enamored with MJ, as he helped push the mainstream success of the NBA and countless other companies, including, most famously, Nike. However, as Michael’s career wore on, and Bulls’ Championships became almost as automatic as Michael’s step-back, the general public became worried, fearing the eventual inevitable end to Michael’s magnificent career. After Michael, who would dominate the League, and more importantly, our attention? Who would provide the people with such special memories and magical moments on the court as MJ did? And with such unanswered questions looming large over the basketball world, a search began, harmlessly enough, to find the next basketball god who would serve as a replacement to Michael, in both his ability to dominate the League, and our imaginations. Fans had become accustomed to being awe-inspired on a nightly basis, and had become familiar with Michael’s position as an American icon, and they were largely not ready to accept the departure of His Airness, at least not without a suitable heir ready to don the proverbial crown. And it was in this search, unintentional as it was, that a large injustice was committed against the League and some of its premier players.

The trend of anointing an individual as the “next” so-and-so has never made much sense to me in any arena. Spending too much time searching for the “next” something often doesn’t allow you enough time to appreciate the unuqie talents of current individuals, yet you hear it everywhere you go. Grant Hill was going to be the next Mike (So was Penny, Jerry, and Kobe for that matter). Lil’ Wayne is the next Jay-Z, who was the next Biggie, and so on. It seems that no one is safe from being compared to a great predecessor, and in most situations it is not predecessor’s fault. The population just wants the new generation to provide them with the same greatness and excitement that the previous one did, but often this desire comes at the expense of the newer generation. While searching for similarities between individuals, we often miss the uniqueness that makes certain players or musicians so special. No, Grant Hill didn’t pan out to be as great as his Tobacco Road Rival, but does that mean he didn’t have a great career in his own right? Lil’ Wayne will probably not have as many number one albums as his idol, but should that cause us to discard the amazing success that he has had? Of course not, but the endless search for the next great one limits our thinking in that way. Instead of seeing Lil’ Wayne for the amazing talent that he is and the uniqueness that he has brought to the music industry, we limit him with constant comparisons to prior greats: His voice isn’t as captivating as B.I.G.’s, he can’t tell stories like Jay, his rhymes aren’t as intellectual as Nas’, etc. All of these negative comparisons instead of accepting Wayne as his own artist with unique skills. The pressure to live up to such greats has been detrimental to the success of many artists, and the same phenomenon is felt in the basketball world. The pressure to be the next Mike has weighed heavy on many players, and caused many of their career accomplishments to diminish in the eyes of the fan, simply because they were not Michael. This attitude limits the fan, as it does not allow them to enjoy and embrace the current players for who they are, because fans are constantly being reminded of who they’re not.

It is time for such thinking to change. Michael Jordan was an amazing basketball player who had an unparalleled impact of the worlds of sports and sponsorship; there will never be another one. The Notorious B.I.G. was an inspirational rapper who was able to turn his experiences into motivational music that touches millions, even a decade after his death; there will never be another one. So, we will never have another Mike, another BIG, another Ali, is all hope lost? Of course not, because of who we do have: Kobe, LeBron, Jay, Wayne, Money Mayweather, etc. Only once we begin thinking like this can we break the chains of comparison that have tied us to the past, and allow us to begin embracing the “first,” rather than the “next.”

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Look, Same Answer

Apparently someone is as excited about Allen Iverson's next career stop as I am. Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley hopes that Allen will be "The Answer" for the Grizz:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Back to the Future

The Philadelphia 76ers unveiled their “new” jerseys yesterday at Wachovia Arena in front of a small crowd of diehard Sixer fans who are hoping that the physical look of the team isn’t the only thing to change this season. The jerseys, a red base with white lettering for home and a white jersey with blue stitching for away, sported by Thaddeus Young and Elton Brand respectively, were introduced along with the hope of an improved season by GM Ed Stefanski. Stefanski kept the unveiling short, stating simply that the team needed a change and that such a jersey switch had been requested by Philly faithful for years. The jerseys themselves are clean and crisp, if uninspiring, and certainly represent a welcome change from the oft-criticized threads that Sixer players have donned for the past decade. The jerseys were welcomed with a warm applause from the crowd scattered throughout the arena for the unveiling, as many were quickly purchased from the Fan Gear store (along with countless other items) in order to be signed by Elton and Thaddeus following the event. The warm reception received by the jerseys was nice, however one cannot help but to wonder if Sixers fans are just looking for anything to cheer about at this point. After almost a decade of being stuck in mediocre mode, with no imminent improvement in sight, especially considering the powerful state of the Eastern Conference, the franchise was in need of a change and a return to the old uniforms will serve as a starting point.

With this new look the team hopes to simultaneously move in two directions at once, if that is possible. The team is looking to the future with high expectations, and as Ed Stefanski put it, “they have high expectations of themselves, and have the potential to be very, very good.” These new uniforms are a way to signify that new direction and hope, while working to dissociate from the jerseys (and thus the mediocrity and turmoil) that has become associated with the team for the past several years. To the team it seems that these fresh uniforms are equivalent to a fresh start, and for now, we as fans have no choice to believe it; the players certainly do. “We have the chance to be something special this year,” Thaddeus Young stated. “We have a lot of talent and the players are working extremely hard to improve upon last season.” Thaddeus himself stated that he started working towards this coming season the day after the 76ers first round series loss to eventual Eastern Conference Champ, Orlando. Brand, whose first campaign with the Sixers was cut short due to injuries, says that he “feels great, and can’t wait to add his piece to the already dynamic team they have in place.” With such votes of confidence from two of the team’s best players, coupled with the buzz surrounding the new uniforms and potential playoff run, the outlook heading into this season may be filled with more optimism than usual.

The second direction captured by these new uniforms is back in time. With the “new,” old-look jerseys, the Sixers look to reassociate themselves with the winning tradition of the past. As Stefanski put it, “we want to add to the tradition of the uniform,” as he then went on to list some of the all-time Sixer greats to wear the uniform, from Wilt and Dr. J to Moses and Charles. The Sixers past was one of glory and success, and the team is looking to recapture these feelings by redonning the uniforms that so many greats have worn before.

With these new uniforms the team is looking to merge the promise of the future with the glory of the past, and excite fans with the promise of fantastic future. The jerseys themselves may not be a symbol of hope, as they are duller than most of their NBA counterparts, but rather it is what they stand for that has Sixer fans quietly excited. The combination of the new look, the return of much of the team’s talent, and the addition (or return, however you like to view it) of Elton Brand has Philadelphia fans excited about their Sixers (which will hopefully take some pressure off the Phillies and Eagles). The jersey unveiling was a nice moment, a fun event for fans, and a chance, for once, to be excited about the quickly-approaching season. However, all this buzz and excitement will fade quickly if the team cannot perform on the floor, because as we all know, Philadelphia fans care about performance, not fashion. But for now, the new uniforms and look of the team give the fans something to be excited about as we approach another season, praying that the success of the past merge with the future, clinging to a new sign of hope, a sign disguised as a basketball uniform.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Stars for Hire

The career of an NBA player is riddled with uncertainty and doubt. A new game, new contract, or new season isn’t promised to anyone, and even those at the pinnacle of the sport are not immune to the potential pitfalls placed in front of players. Some are thrown from the top due to injuries (Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill), while others struggle with off-court issues that can derail or destroy a promising young career, while others still hit a wall where they become viewed as over-aged and undesirable. Whatever the case, the NBA is an unforgiving setting, where today’s triumph could quickly become tomorrow’s tragedy. This is why, as an NBA fan, one should never be too shocked be any player development. However, with that being said, I could not help but to be surprised by a couple developments I noticed while gazing at the 1996-1997 Philadelphia 76ers roster poster that hangs on my basement wall. Not only do none of the players from the team still player for the Sixers, only two were on NBA rosters last year, and as of now, both are unsigned heading into the 2009-2010 season.

Now this wouldn’t be a big deal or come as a surprise if we were talking about mid-level NBA role players who served their time and have since moved on to other aspects of life. No. We are talking about two franchise-caliber players; two players that were collegiate studs, who were selected in the top three in the draft, and during their primes were among the NBA’s elite. Therefore, the uncertainty of an NBA career never hit me harder than when I realized that both Jerry Stackhouse and the incomparable Allen Iverson, the backbone of that 1996-97 Sixers team, were struggling to find work this offseason. How could two players that have accomplished so much throughout their basketball careers be openly searching for a job…and struggling? Such a situation led me to come to a realization: The NBA is a cruel place. Wasn’t Allen the toast of the League just a few short years ago? Was it really that long ago that Stackhouse was crowned the next Jordan as he headed out of North Carolina into the League? I guess a requirement to be an NBA G.M. is a short memory span, considering the fact that every single one in the League has forgotten what players like Allen and Jerry can do.

Although the careers might not be over for these ex-all-stars, their time as the brightest stars in the night sky that is the NBA has certainly passed, leaving one to wonder what could have been. What if the two were able to coexist in Philly early in their careers? What if Allen had been able to use those 2001 Finals to decorate his own fingers, rather than supplying more bling to Shaq, Kobe, and Phil? Speaking of that 2001 season, did anyone think at the time that the NBA’s two leading scorers that season (Allen was First, J-Stack second) would both be out of a job a few short years later?

Since it seems unlikely that the Sixeres will reunite the once-explosive backcourt, one can only hope that both players find suitable homes to continue their careers. Both players have accomplished much during their time on the court, but both have fallen short of the ultimate goal of winning a ring. It is easy to look back on a career and point at what was wrong, but it is more rewarding to focus on triumphs, which these guys had many of. However, neither seems content with resting on their legacies. Rather it seems that both have more to give to the game, assuming that the game is willing to take them back, which I have quickly realized, like most things in the NBA, is not guaranteed.