True Hoops

True Hoops

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summer School

I used to always think that summer time was the end of the school year.
Then the summer before my senior year in high school, standing between two mirrors, I realized that summer might actually be the beginning of the school year.

Kind of a mind blowing concept right?

Seen in that light, the work we put in during the summer is incredibly important.
If we improve our game and develop winning habits it will surely carry over into the next season.
Most importantly, if compete and win some games/tournaments, the confidence we gain from those experiences will serve as momentum starting the new season.

Think about my last post, "The Rulers Back." Before the 2008 olympics Kobe did win MVP, but the Lakers lost in the Finals to the Celtics. After he saved the US in Beijing, He dropped 61 at the Garden, was all-star co-MVP, and more importantly finals MVP.

How about LeBron? After winning gold he then collected two consecutive MVPs.
And what about Dwayne Wade? Having an injury plagued season (only 51 games, no playoffs) before the '08 olympics, Wade was the leading scorer for team USA and and carried the team in the first half of the gold medal game against Spain. Any co-incidence that the following NBA season he played 79 games and had the best year of his career from a statistical standpoint (30.2 points, 7.5 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game on 49% shooting)?

Of course these guys we stars before the olympics.
But what if we apply this concept to the group of younger players that were on last summer's 2010 gold medal world championship team? Actually, as gratifying the Redeem team was in '08, what team USA did last summer was even more impressive.

Let's look at some of the players on that team and see how they faired before and after winning a gold medal on the international stage.

Kevin durant
Hmmm, Dr. JRS makes a good point.
Season before the gold medal: 30.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game on 48% shooting.

Season after the gold medal: 27.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game on 46% shooting.

Durant's numbers actually went down during the regular season. Maybe this wasn't the best example to start off with. But, what did leading Team USA to a gold medal and winning tournament MVP do for Durant come playoff time?

Playoffs before the gold medal: 25 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game on 35% shooting.
lost in first round.

Playoffs after the gold medal: 28.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game on 45% shooting.
Advanced to western conference finals.

Ah chaaaaa!

Russel Westbrook
Season before the gold medal: 16.1 points, 8 assists, and 4.9 rebound per game on 42% shooting (22% from three).

Season after the gold medal: 21.9 points, 8.2, and 4.6 rebounds per game on 44% shooting (33% from three). Not to mention being selected to the all-star game for the first time as well as the all-NBA third team.

Derrick Rose
Wow, those summer workouts
really payed off.
Season before the gold medal: 20.8 points, 6 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game on 49% shooting (27% from three).

Season after the gold medal: 25 points, 7.7 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game on 45% shooting (33% from three).

Let's not forget that he led his team to the best record in the NBA (going from 41-41 to 62-20) and as you might recall, was selected first team all-NBA and MVP.

Lamar Odom
We can go with the numbers here, or we can simply state that he won 6th man of the year in the season after winning the gold medal.

Eric Gordon
Season before the gold medal: 16.9 points and 3 assists per game.

Gordon was the surprise of the 2010 world championships for team USA - becoming their best shooter, outside of Durant.

Season after the gold medal: 22.3 points and 4.4 assists a game.
Gordon is now a budding star that has no regard for James AndersonTim Duncan or Paul Milsap.

Kevin Love
Look at me. I'm dressed for success!
Season before the gold medal: 14 points and 11 rebounds per game on 45% shooting (33% from three)

Season after the gold medal: 20.2 points and 15.2 rebounds per game on 47% shooting (42% from three)

How about recording the first 30-30 game (points & rebounds) in 28 years (although Wilt Chamberlain literally did it dozens of times)?

Selected to his first all-star game and was named NBA's most improved player. Not to mention the Right Guard  "Love in the shower" commercials.

Here's a cool little fact: besides playing in the world championships together, Rose, Westbrook, and Love spent the summer working out together in California. I guess it's not that surprising that all three had breakout years.

And finally,
Tyson Chandler
Again, forget the numbers. He changed the culture of Dallas' defense this year and brought a winning pedigree. Now the Mavs are the champs.

All I do is win

Needless to say, what you do in the summer is incredibly important as a basketball player.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Rulers Back

Off we go let the trumpets blow...... the Rulers back.

If my last post was "My Favorite Basketball Commercial," well this may be "my favorite basketball cover." You might have noticed, it's the original picture of Kobe, LeBron, and Carmelo that I use for my True Hoops image. It's the type of attitude I wanted for this blog.

No, this is not some imperialistic or colonial reference. 
Try Slick Rick Rulers, with connotation to the USA being the originators.

The demise of USA basketball in international play was well documented leading up to the 2008 olympics:   
6th place finish int the '02 world championships
bronze medal in the '04 olympics
bronze medal in the '06 world championships. 

With these results came the obligatory questions: Did we have the best players in the world anymore? Did we have the best brand of basketball? Did our players lack skills and shooting? Could we play team basketball?

But really, how did things get to be this way?
Well, we laid down the blueprint in '92.
Then all of a sudden we had all these other countries (mainly Argentina and Spain) jacking our style and beating us literally at our own game. Not to mention that the best players actually playing (mainly Manu Ginobli, Pau Gasol, and Dirk Nowizki) were from other countries.

Enough was enough.

If the rest of the world wanted our best, it was time to give it to them.
That's why in '08, y'all were going to have to deal with our baddest bad ass. 
That's right homie, y'all are gonna get Kobe. 

Hold that.

And just in case that wasn't enough for you to chew on, y'all are gonna have to deal with our young lions as well: LeBron and Carmelo (not to mention D. Wade coming off the bench!).

Forget the redeem team.
The Rulers are back to reclaim what is rightfully ours.
And that's what this SLAM magazine cover (before the 2008 Beijing olympics) is all about.

This picture is so bad ass I'm getting chills right now just writing this. 

Look at Kobe with his arms folded - grilling you. 
That's right, we got the Black Mamba - the best player in the world (coming off his MVP season). 
Look at his face, you think this dude is messing around?

Now Look at LeBron and Carmelo behind him.
Those dudes aren't exactly slouches themselves (as you know, Lebron would go on to win the next two MVPs), and you best believe they got Kobe's back. You mess with him, you mess with them.
Their position conveys so much. It's as if they are willfully taking a step back - following Kobe's lead and demeanor with their arms folded as well. Look at their faces - it's as if they're saying "you know we're here with this dude right?"
Maybe during the NBA season these cats had there eyes on Kobe's number one status, but here, game recognize game and they knew they were there to help him protect the throne. 

Talk about sacrificing for your country.
They were all are here for one goal.

As for the actual olympic games, the rest is history. Especially that gold medal game against Spain.

I was actually up at around 4 in the morning to watch it.
And boy was I glad that I did - as it really brought the promise of this SLAM cover to fruition.
Spain, to it's credit, pushed the US to the limit. 
So, in a pressure situation in the 4th quarter, what would the US do?
Who would they turn to???

You take a good look at the picture on the top of this page.

Now, you tell if you think that guy in the middle wasn't going home with the gold.
That's why we brought the dude this time.
And when push came to shove, that's why we won this time.
It is my firm belief that if it were not for Kobe, the US would have lost.

What was great was that up until that gold medal game, Kobe - much like Jason Kidd - seemed to be on the team merely for symbolic purposes. And Kobe, to his credit, was a good father lion in letting his young teammates eat and do most of the work as the US ran through the competition. But once Kobe sensed danger for his home and youngsters - it was time to spring into action.

I was actually a little concerned when Spain made a game of it in the 4th. More so because I thought Kobe was going to go crazy, rebel against coach K's system, and ruin everything in the process. 
Silly me.
It was only after the game I heard that in one of the 4th quarter huddles everyone on the team, including coach K, actually told Kobe "it's time for the mamba."

And mamba delivered - saving the US in the process. 
That takes guts. But it also takes everyone stepping to the side to let Kobe take over.
Again, that's what this cover conveys.

One final thought.
Everyone wants to compare Kobe to Jordan (or at least they wanted to compare LeBron to Jordan). 
Other than championships, if you look at their respective numbers and achievements, Kobe doesn't stand a chance (pretty much no one does). How would they match up on the court? That would be a lot closer as both would have advantages in different skill sets. I would love to see a battle of their wills.
But, there are some things that Kobe has done and faced that even Jordan never did. 

Scoring 81 points in a game is a nice start. 
How about beating the Celtics in game 7 of the NBA finals? 

Well, how about facing the pressure on having an entire nation on your shoulders in the 4th quarter of a gold medal game? Think about that. We can say that Jordan would have done the same. Maybe. 
But Kobe actually did it. 
We're talking global pressure. 
Kobe faced it and brought home the gold.

This nation owes him a debt of gratitude. 


Friday, July 8, 2011

My Favorite Basketball Commercial

I've been wanting to write this for a long time.

What do you see in this commercial?

The stages of a career, not through the individual, but through the emulation of others that one's game has influenced. Yes, this is a Jordan commercial, but more so it is a representation of the cyclical nature of the game.

We're just talking about basketball right?

Life is cyclical.
Seasons change.
Our continuous experiences allow us to grow, develop, and ultimately change into ourselves.
Is this not unlike basketball?
We start early with only an attraction for the game and youthful energy. But for those of us that stay committed, we add layers to our game - based on knowledge, skill, and strength.

But here is a question for you.
Why do we play basketball?
And here is another one: Why do we devote so much time to just a game?
Your answer is as good as mine.
I know I've asked these questions, especially as someone who has devoted a lot of time to basketball (and still do) - and never even played professionally.

It's irrational.
But I can say that sometimes it's the process of staying true to something - something that you have been passionate about for as long as you can remember. Sometimes it's being on a constant journey, the gradual process of building something, or perhaps building yourself. Sometimes we are simply drawn to the concept of committing ourselves to something fully.

Or maybe it's simply the act of doing.
And maybe that act, by itself, is what drives us.
I know for me, some of the moments that I've had the most clarity about basketball is when I am by myself.  Working, when no one is watching. Training, when no one is around to see.
The dedication.
That is truth.
That is freedom.
When you do something for the sake of doing it, on your own, because YOU choose to.
It allows us the opportunity to strive for greatness.

That choice, that act of doing, and the pursuit something greater -  that drives us.

Okay, great. But another question.
What is our reward for staying true to something?
(Of course you mean beyond the relationships that we develop through the game).

Ah, now we have come to the heart of the matter.

Well, if we do it right, if we stay true - that actually makes us stand out. That actually makes us different and separates us from most.
Of course, by staying true to something we grow and change.
But more importantly, by staying true to something, our actions can change others.
How many people do you know are truly genuine?
That sort of quality can have a profound effect on others.
Therefore what we do, on the basketball court, has the ability to inspire.

Surely, this isn't our goal. And it isn't something we realize when we are in the moment. Nor should we. We're just trying to play ball and be the best that we can be. But others take notice. And as we slow down, reaching the end (of our career?), we finally have the chance to look around at see just how many people have noticed.

The game is cyclical, we start off someplace with a hoop dream and a purpose. At some point we eventually come back to the beginning, where we have to let the game go. Maybe we question the the path we have chosen. The life we lived. The time we have spent. After all, this is just basketball. But then we see others start the same process or at various stages of their respective career. And then all of our original emotions come back to us.

The reward is knowing that we are a part of something bigger, and that our work has contributed to the progression of this cycle. Arriving at a place we have been before but seeing it from a different perspective. Seeing it from a position of acquired excellence.
The reward is seeing our game in others.

What more can we ask for than the realization of that?

Believe it or not, this commercial represents all of that.
Yes it does.

We do not see Jordan for the majority of this commercial. Instead we see his game in people of various ages, sex, and race emulating his moves.  The diversity of those in this commercial speaks to how Jordan's moves have transcended basketball. They range from simple (chewing gum) to extraordinary (his dunk from the foul line) to iconic (his championship winning jumper). All of them from different seasons of Jordan's game.

But there is so much depth to this commercial. Go back and listen to the music. It starts off simple, although with a certain profoundness that is often associated with simplicity. As the commercial advances this initial single layer keeps repeating while new layers are added during additional scenes/moves. Thus, even at the music level we have a representation of the cyclical nature of the game and the process of building as our individual games progress.

Then, we reach the pinnacle moment in the commercial where we finally see Jordan.

But this is only after a direct connection is made between a kid emulating Jordan's move and Jordan himself. We see a kid look over in his direction and shrug his shoulders in disbelief over what he is doing  on the court - a genuine emotion from someone in the moment of seeing his practiced skills come to fruition (think about that). Of course this shrug was something that Jordan created - in the '92 finals, after hitting 6 three's and scoring 35 points in the first half (Do you think the kid even knew that?). That would certainly elicit a shrug.

Two words: Empathy and gratification.

Jordan knows what emotions the kid is going through, he can relate as he has been in that sort of zone before. But also, in knowing that was his reaction, Jordan realizes how much his game has transcended his individual goals and accomplishments to become a fixture in basketball and inspiration to those that play. This may have been an unintended consequence of his dedication to the game, but is it not his most significant?

What is more significant that the act of creation?

And with this, we see Jordan smile.
Why not?

If we do it right. If we commit ourselves fully and truly, our reward is at the end of the day having an opportunity to stand to the side, with our arms folded, just watching and smiling.
That smile is our reward.

To watch others that we have influenced. To see those that have come after us, just as we came after those that influenced and paved the way for us. Wether subtly or overtly, we get to see ourselves in a continum of constant evolution. Evolving towards what? Who knows. But ultimately something more, and something further than we can understand. We know that this evolution, this process, this cycle is necessary. And we know in some form we have done our part, and that our contribution will live on past us.

I have always felt that there are secrets in life, which perhaps we never fully understand. However, in rare moments of clarity we are allowed vague glimpses. Some sort ambiguous consciousness of something greater and a recognition that we are a part of it all. 

And at the moment Jordan smiles, the music goes back to the beginning to start all over, representing that as one career ends, another begins. But this new career (or would you prefer cycle/season?) builds upon previous accomplishments and standard settings. It is the job of one generation to strive for greatness and the job of the next generation to take those achievements and add their own layers to it.

Do it.
"Let your game speak."
That choice, that act of doing, and of pursuing something greater - that drives us.
That is freedom.
That is truth.

And the cycle begins again.

By now you will surely agree it's not a coincidence at the end of the commercial the number XX1 appears, with 1 being most prominent. Yes this is a commercial for Jordan's 21st sneaker. But still, the of concept of 1 - a new beginning, after all that was previous - stands out most. Not to mention the journey to get to 1, as represented by how the XX lines are drawn out  - moving forward.

Just as sublime art is supposed to do, this commercial always makes me reflect.
It makes me think.
It makes me consider. It makes me reconsider.
It makes me see the Then, Now, and Next.
It makes me appreciate.
It makes me smile.
And mostly, it makes me grateful for being a part of it all.