Parker, France and the 2010 FIBA Worlds

13 01 2010

The FIBA World Championships is an international basketball tournament held every four years by the International Basketball Federation. For most people outside of the United States, its importance eclipses that of the Olympic Games’ basketball tournament.

Today, Tony Parker told reporters that he may forgo playing in the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. Here are a few quotes from Parker…

“I just think I’ve played too much basketball,” Parker said to nba.com.

“I’ve played five summers in a row, and I think it’s about time I need a rest.

“It’s going to be tough. The contract’s coming up, and Pop wants me to play well every night.

“Sometimes it’s tough because you know you play all these championship runs and every year I play for the national team. Every year.

“This year is the first year I’ve found my body is a little bit tired, you know?

“So I’ll have to make some decisions, because I’m not Superman.

“I can’t do 82 games at the level Pop wants, and then play on the national team.”

Whenever a professional basketball player abstains from ancillary play, the critics come out in droves. Here’s a quote from a fan of USA Basketball’s Facebook page:

“Need to rest”…these players get spoiled.What more could a player want than to represent his Country? I haven’t had a vacation in 5 years,yet I still work hard at my job and my business.I believe that all of us would love to play all year whatever sport we love and get paid so well we can be financially independent at 30.Please professional players,save your excuses and go play.

This fan first asks, “what more could a player want than to represent his country?” Tony Parker has been representing France on the basketball court since 1997, when he was 15 years old. Parker played on the Under-16, Under-18 and Under-20 before moving onto his country’s senior national team. He has been the captain of the French senior national team since 2003. By all accounts, he has been very  much involved in France’s official basketball program for all of his adolescent and adult life. (Parker was even involved in Paris’ bid for the 2012 Olympic Games and was the first ambassador for Make-A-Wish France.)

A more appropriate question is “what more could a player do to represent his country?”

The Facebook fan then seems to trivialize Parker’s work ethic by saying “I haven’t had a vacation in 5 years, yet I still work hard at my job and my business.” This comment betrays a lack of understanding for how much dedication it takes to achieve success at the highest level of a commercially-viable sport. They seem to believe that the physical and mental demands on a high-profile athlete is comparable to their work struggles, since they work 10 hours a day.

Lots of casual fans seem to believe that the NBA (and other professional sports leagues) is filled with spoiled, lackadaisical athletic freaks who have all happened onto a high-paying job. A player of Parker’s stature has put a considerable amount of work into his trade and any fan would be misguided if they dismissed this fact.

The Facebook fan then seems to be making a connection between Parker’s financial position and his duty in representing his country. This particular fan is lucky enough to presumably own a computer and purchase access to the internet. Since these are luxurious afforded to him, should this fan have considered donating his internet budget to a trivial, sports-related, nationalistic cause?

The accompanying argument I hear a lot is “Athlete X is a great basketball player. He should be playing every year for the national team.” The rationale is that if a person has the capability to do a physical act, they should do that act since others cannot.

Here is an analogy: since some people do not have the use of their legs, a physically capable person should be obliged to run a marathon every year for their country. Granted, this is somewhat brash and hyperbolic but the spirit of the argument is the same. Since others cannot, capable people should do it whenever possible.

It can be argued that Tony Parker has contributed more to French basketball than any person in the last 10 years. Even if you take his visibility into account, I think he’s done his fair share. Why are clearly-dedicated players lambasted  when they take a year off from international play?





First or Last: The Win Is All That Matters

17 02 2009

"Kerr, for the win!"

“If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

It’s a funny Will Ferrell quote from Talladega Nights.

The line is also a succinct assertion about our society and, specifically, our society’s relationship with sports.

You can find this attitude everywhere: from the after-school park district basketball court to the Staples Center.

Playing to win all the marbles is not a mentality, it’s a framework in which all sports actions are judged.

When Dave (nbaroundtable) shared his thoughts on the recent Vlade Radmanovic-for-Adam Morrison trade, I was struck by the home run-or-nothing sentiment.

…the Bobcats just keep cutting off their options and with each solid role player that they acquire they also remove themselves from the running for a high lottery pick (they win more games).

His argument is certainly very logical and I agree with it to an extent.  But permeating that thought is this value statement: NBA champions or bust.

Suns GM Steve Kerr’s actions over the last couple years are indicative of this core value.  Kerr brought in Shaquille O’Neal, forced Mike D’Antoni out because an offensive-minded coach doesn’t win championships and has now replaced Terry Porter because, I guess, a defense-oriented coach can’t win a championship.

Robert Sarver, the Suns owner, is obviously complicit in all of Kerr’s actions but the sentiment is still “win or else,” regardless of who is driving it.

I hear the same call-to-action from Chicago Bulls fans around town.  “We have Derrick Rose!  Let’s just start over!”  Everyone I talk to thinks they should literally trade away the entire roster and “rebuild” around Derrick Rose.

I’ve lived in Chicago since 1998 and the Bulls have won 312 regular season games.  They’ve lost 529 out of 841.  That’s a .37 winning percentage.  I’m sure there are junior college kids next door that have a higher BAC.  As much as I would love a seventh trophy, I wouldn’t mind seeing them at least field a competitive (ie. non-lottery) team for more than three consecutive years.

So if you don’t win everything, what constitutes success?

Consider that the NBA has 30 teams in the league.  Only one of them will “succeed” each season.  Twenty-nine other teams will effectively be “worthless” to the vast majority of their stakeholders.

Think about the San Antonio Spurs and how successful they have been this decade.  Not only have they won several NBA championships, the Spurs own one of the top win-loss records in the four major American sports.  The organization is a blue-print for success.  Their success is so heralded that a few business meetings I’ve gone to have referenced their winning culture — and I work in the healthcare industry, far from the hardwood.

Now, keep the Spurs’ winning percentage and their culture but extract their four championships since 1999.  Would a typical sports fan consider these theoretical Spurs a “successful franchise?”

My guess is a resounding no.

I’m not against “reach for the stars.”  The NBA championship should still be the primary goal.  But should we place the value of a team solely on whether they get a ring at the end of every season?  Is “first or last” the lesson we want to impart in our sports?





The Man Who Played

5 09 2008

During the NBA playoffs, the 6’5″ guard injured his ankle during his San Antonio Spurs’ loss to the Phoenix Suns.  The nagging injury hampered the normally dynamic player, limiting his effectiveness as the Spurs X-factor.    His game visibly flattened and San Antonio’s playoffs hopes floated down the river.

Manu took his bum ankle and flew across the world to represent his country.

Scorning his NBA coach, Manu Ginobili went to Beijing this summer and played for Argentinian Men’s Basketball Team.  Manu was their captain, their leading scorer and their flag-bearer for the opening ceremonies.

So coming off a first-round loss and a troubling injury, he felt well enough to strap up the sneakers and test the Chinese hardwood.  Unfortunately, he re-injured that left ankle during an elimination game against the US team.

A few days ago, Manu went to Los Angeles and had surgery on his left heel and ankle.  The guy’s going to be on crutches for three weeks plus two or three months of rehab. 

Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs have delayed negotiations to extend Manu’s contract.  Manu’s agent says that “[they] want to see how [Manu] recovers from the surgery.” 

I wasn’t surprised to come across anger towards Manu for playing in the Olympics.  But I was surprised to see him being called selfish.  Manu Ginobili?  Selfish?

I suppose he takes his fair share of shots but really?  Selfish?  I’ll need that explained to me further.

The guy left Europe where he was making bank to join the Spurs, where he was the seventh or eighth guy on the roster.  Keep in mind that Manu was getting bites from other NBA teams where he could start and get a bigger slice of cheese.

He’s one of the most productive guards in the league and he’s ceded his starter status to Mike Finley for the good of the Spurs organization.  The man has the skills to demand the ball on every possession but he plays the team game.  And he’s being called selfish?

Manu is coming off a disappointing NBA finish where he could have taken it easy, rested his old body and lined up a good contract (see: Steve Nash).  Instead, he goes and plays hard for his country.  Selfish?  Really?

Manu doesn’t strike me as a stupid man.  If he were, he’d probably parlay his basketball clout into a maximum contract for a bad team.  So you have to think that his participation in the Olympics was highly calculated.

On one hand, he can play it safe and stay home.  He effectively chooses the San Antonio Spurs over Argentina’s national team.  It also puts him in good shape, contractually, as he is lowering his risk of aggravating his ankle.

On the other hand, he can play in the Olympics.  He effectively chooses the Argentinian team over the Spurs.  He has an opportunity to win a gold medal and gets to represent his country.

In terms of gain, the first option benefits his income while the second option benefits his nationalistic feelings.  So he can be seen as selfish that way.  He is chooses one constituency (Argentina) over another (Spurs fans).  Naturally, Spurs fans are miffed and confused by his measured gamble.

Another point to note is that most European teams hold the FIBA World Championships in higher regard than the Olympic gold medal.  This thought is paralleled by futbol’s World Cup having precedence over the Olympic soccer championship.  So why would Manu trade his NBA clout for a lesser tournament’s championship?

What do you think?  What would you have done and why did Manu do it?  Is it selfishness?





Would JR Smith Play Defense In San Antonio?

24 06 2008

I’ve been on countless teams in my life. Teams at work, teams for school or teams to volunteer. Athletic teams or scholastic teams. You name it and I’ve most likely participated in it.

If I could take one aspect from my experience and apply it to team-building, it would be this: never make your teams homogeneous. Even if only one person is different, it would be a mistake if everyone’s the same.

It’s better to have a different perspective on a team. Switching it up puts a different spin on the ball.

While developing their new mini-van, would Ford brainstorm only with suburban soccer moms? No.

Would Miller Brewing recruit only college kids from Milwaukee? No.

Would the US Congress allow only upper-class, white men to serve as representatives? Wait a second…

JR Smith, the explosive prep-to-pro 2 guard, will become a free agent this summer. There are rumblings that San Antonio is interested in him. The thought of this signing has been dismissed by many.

It’s really not that crazy. I’m not talking about USA men’s soccer qualifying for Beijing.

Gregg Popovich has drawn outside of the lines before. He’s brought disagreeable personalities into the Spurs locker room before. Remember Cherokee Parks?

Remember when Popovich brought Stephen Jackson? Captain Jack helped Popovich to his second ring and his first 60-win season.

Granted, Jackson didn’t get his cuckoo label until he left San Antonio but his game is somewhat similar.

Both Jackson and Smith are athletic guards that can hit the long range J. Smith can attack the basket but has shown hesitancy to do so at times which is similar to a young Stephen Jackson.

They are decidedly different though. Although a lot of people rag on Jackson, I’m a fan. People once argued that he was the Spurs’ best defender — this was a team featuring Bruce Bowen, Manu Ginobili (in acclimation phase) and a still-formidable Steve Smith on the roster. JR Smith, on the other hand, plays what my friend likes to call “matador defense.” He jumps around with a lot of arm movement but then manages to get out of the way at the last second.

Another key difference is locker room presence. Jackson, like Rasheed Wallace, does not have a good relationship with the media. But by all accounts, including coaches Don Nelson and Rick Carlisle, he’s a great guy to have on your team. The same has not been said for JR Smith.

It’s interesting to note that Smith is 22 years old which is the same age Jackson was when he joined the Spurs. Although Smith has more professional years under his belt, Popovich would be dealing with a young man in the same emotional level of development.

Smith is a more efficient, if not better, scorer than Jackson was at this age. Smith shoots 46.1% from the field and 40.3% from three. Before he joined the Spurs, Jackson shot 42.5% from the field and 33.5% from three.

Jackson has always intrigued me because he can fit in a defensive system (Spurs) and flourish in an offensive system (Warriors). JR Smith has shown that he can explode in the Nuggets’ offense. Can he be the next Stephen Jackson?





Sour Grapes

3 06 2008

Recently, MCBias wrote a piece called The Corruption of a Sports Dynasty. He compared ancient Grecian dynasties with successful sports teams. Do teams really become sour the longer they stay on top?

The view from the top of the hill is very nice. It’s easy to become seduced by success. I know of this desire first-hand. I lived in an all-male dorm during my freshman year in college. We would have Tetris matches on an old-school Nintendo and I reveled in being the the unquestioned O’Donnell Hall Tetris King.

Eventually, I would employ mind games such as trash-talking and intimidation to gain every advantage I could (not that I needed it). I would ask around about Meatball’s recent one-night stand and casually mention it during a pivotal point in the Tetris match. These tricks would inevitably distract my dorm mates as they would angrily ask how I caught wind of these stories. “Jenny never hurt anyone, Lord Tetri. Leave her out of this.”

I’m no stranger to tricks of the trade. The longer a team’s core stays together, the richer their game experience becomes. And the longer you play the game on the professional level, the more subtle tricks you learn.

For most people, the line should be drawn here. Once they become aware of these subtle tricks, they shouldn’t employ them. They should turn their back and rely solely on their athleticism.

However, this is where my argument begins. I think that successful sports dynasties draw ire and jealously from those that aren’t as successful. The Evil Empire tag is more of a function of scrutiny than of actually being sour.

Take the NBA’s most successful teams in the last 5 years: the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons. In the beginning, they were a “how to” on how to build a winning program.

Top-level management was sturdy.
The rosters consisted of high-quality guys.
They played the game the “right way.”
They were consistently among the top defensive squads in the league.

Both continue to be model franchises but resentment has been boiling over against these teams. Nowadays, everything about these two teams is scrutinized.

They’re aging and old.
Every off-season, their roster is in shambles.
They play a boring brand of basketball.
They’re dirty.

Both the Spurs and Pistons are the Evil Empire. No one roots for them; in fact, everyone roots against them. But what is it that changed the perception? How did guys like Robert Horry and Bruce Bowen go from “high-quality characters” to “dirty?” A few high-profile fouls? Haven’t they been dishing out hard fouls their entire career?

Since when did the Detroit Pistons become boring? I think they are the most exciting fourth quarter team in the league. Tayshaun Prince in the fourth quarter is entertaining enough then throw in Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace. Boring? Really?

In my eyes, it’s not the squads that are souring. It’s a general uprising from the people. These guys haven’t changed the way they’ve handled business so why are we throwing a coup?

Photo courtesy of AP








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