Category Archives: NBA

Basketball at the Park

Ten middle school kids go to the park after school to play basketball. Like any group of children, some are better than others. Lucas and Devin are two of the best players in the neighborhood. Charlie is a notch below those two, but still a starter on the school team. The other seven kids vary in ability but none are standouts.

They shoot around for 10 or 15 minutes, chatting about TV shows, girls, and video games, before Lucas finally says, “Let’s start. I’ll make teams: Me, Devin, Charlie, Marcus, and Patrick.” Marcus and Patrick look at each other and smile. The five who were not called look at each other also, equally surprised but far less excited.

“Sounds good to me,” Devin says. “Me too,” adds Charlie.

Lucas says “ball in” and the game begins. His team dominates, as expected, but they don’t make new teams for the next game, or the one after that. Some other local kids show up and challenge the winners. On this beautiful spring afternoon, they play for hours.

Over the course of the day, the Lucas-Devin-Charlie trio wins more than it loses, but does lose a few. After the losses, the feelings are obvious: Lucas and his teammates are in shock, while the opposing players slap hands in celebration, discussing in detail specific plays that led to the victory.

After the wins though, the reactions are far less telling. The losing team certainly wishes it had won, but there’s no bickering among the teammates. But how does Lucas’s squad feel? It’s impossible for an outsider to know. You’d have to ask them.

LeBron James Free Agent Announcement

The face. The game. The seven-year NBA career. These things sometimes make you forget that LeBron James is only 25 years old.

And while some of his antics this past year would be considered immature even for a 25-year-old, it’s probably not fair to hold James to the same standard as your average 20-something. When you’re one of the best at what you do there is going to be extra scrutiny and a large number of people who don’t like you. And come Thursday night, the fans of all but one NBA team will have another reason to dislike James, all claiming they were spurned by “The King.”

Thursday is when James will announce which team he’ll be signing with, doing so during a one-hour television special that he is calling “The Decision.” While my eyes are rolling, everyone else’s will be watching ESPN tomorrow night. All eyes on LeBron — just how he wants it.

Some have suggested that James’s free agency circus stems from his decision to skip college and go directly to the NBA. He missed out on the recruiting process then, so he’s making up for it now. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he lined up the hats of the six teams courting him, much like many high school athletes now do when announcing their college choice.

Of course, for the high schoolers, the ordeal ends when they choose a school. We can only hope that James’s “look at me” behavior will end after he announces his decision. And, given his age, it’s reasonable to expect that he will mature in the next few years. (Let’s ignore the fact that Alex Rodriguez will be 35 in a couple of weeks.)

After all, it’s not entirely James’ fault. He sneezes, and every major sports news website has a new headline. Sometimes I wonder whether the interest warrants all the coverage, or if the market is so saturated that people have no choice but to become interested. Regardless, James lives in a world with a 24/7 news cycle where nothing goes unreported.

But he loves it. He craves the attention and tomorrow’s TV event is further proof. Can we all contemplate how absurd this is? I feel like this is a joke that’s coming true: Hey, LeBron should turn his announcement into an hour-long television special! It’s laughable, and only confirms the thoughts of those who feel James’ ego is out of control.

At least the advertising money from the program is going to charity. I’ll consider that James’s first step towards adulthood.

John Wall: The Best Freshman in College Basketball History?

It is perhaps the ultimate compliment to say that an athlete is “worth the price of admission.” It can get thrown around too often, but with certain players it is true: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Johan Santana, Adrian Peterson. There are others, of course; they are usually professional athletes. John Wall, however, is a 19-year-old college freshman. But if you don’t think Wall’s worth the price of admission, you haven’t seen him play.

Simply put, Wall is too good for college basketball. He knew it, NBA scouts knew it, and John Calipari knew it when he offered him a scholarship, first at Memphis and then once he was hired at Kentucky. But the NBA’s age requirement prevented Wall from making the leap from high school to the pros that James, Bryant, and so many others have done. Folks, we are seeing what LeBron James would have been like in college.

Despite his ball-handling, passing, and shooting skills, James has the body of a power forward, which allows him to dominate the game in an unprecedented way. But offensively, Wall can take over just the same, even though he is only 6’4 and 195 pounds. His speed with the ball in his hands has drawn comparisons to Ty Lawson, yet Wall has five inches on the former North Carolina point guard.

Wall hasn’t even played 10 college games yet, but is it wrong to say he’s the best freshman in the last 20 years? Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant were both spectacular in their one (and only) year in college, no question. Perhaps the player most similar to Wall is Derrick Rose, who also played for Calipari just two seasons ago. Rose was selected first overall in last year’s NBA draft and won the Rookie of the Year award.

Dan Wolken is in his third year covering Memphis basketball for The Commercial Appeal, so he witnessed Rose’s lone college season up close. He also saw Wall play several times in the AAU circuit two summers ago. “My basic impression of (Wall) at that time was that he had the chance to be better than Rose because he’s bigger and is probably quicker end-to-end,” Wolken wrote in an e-mail last week. “The only question was the intangibles. Rose’s teams always won, and Wall didn’t have that same kind of success in AAU or in high school. But Wall has pretty quickly answered the questions about his intangibles, so there’s no reason he can’t be better in college.”

Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader has covered Kentucky basketball for nearly 30 years, so it means something when he declares, “I can’t think of another college basketball player to get off to the start John Wall has,” as he did via e-mail last week. I found it a bit surprising that he made such strong comparisons to a Kentucky player who spent two seasons with the Wildcats before leaving in 2006: Rajon Rondo. I guess Tipton saw what many NBA scouts didn’t: Rondo was a great talent who deserved to be selected higher than 21st in the draft.

Tipton reminds us of the time when freshmen were ineligible, so dominant forces like Lew Alcindor (as he was known then) didn’t get a chance to showcase their skills right away. While Tipton would not say Wall is the greatest freshman of all time — he’d have a hard time overlooking Anthony, Shaquille O’Neal, and Chris Jackson, among others — just considering a player only nine games into his career speaks to Wall’s impact. “If Wall keeps making pull-up jump shots, he’s unguardable,” wrote Tipton.

Regardless of where you might rank Wall amongst the all-time greats or amongst all freshman, you’d have no chance of convincing me he isn’t the most exciting and entertaining player in college basketball. Nobody is more fun to watch than Wall when he’s got the ball. He is a “don’t blink” guy. He is a “change to the channel he’s on” guy. He’s been hyped up and talked about so much — but he has delivered.

Players like Wall are the reason I’m against the NBA’s age requirement. Sure, for every player like James, Bryant, or Kevin Garnett there are a handful like Lenny Cooke (who?), but I think it’s best to let these players and their families make the decisions. But that is a different argument for another day. For now, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy watching Wall, one of the greatest college players I’ve ever seen.

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