Basketball At It’s Finest

I love the game of basketball. It’s a great game; A game of strategy, intelligence, talent, athleticism and teamwork.

I started watching the pro and college games in 1980 when the Showtime Lakers won their first championship Magic Johnson’s rookie year. Though I am a Laker lifer, I’ve always enjoyed watching other good teams play. I remember the Milwaukee Bucks of old with Moncrief and Pressey, the 76ers with Doc, Toney, Moses and Bobby Jones, the Celtics of course and so on. These teams were fun to watch and watching them taught me how the game was played on the highest level.

The resurgence of the NBA was ushered in by the rivalry of the Celtics/Lakers series and of course the duality of Magic and Bird. Basketball came up again and drew many fans from many demographics. The Michael Jordan apex happened at a time when cable TV and the 24 hour sports expansion of media and marketing went to a new level. As great at Jordan was as a player, in so many ways the game itself suffered as many of the upcoming players only focused on Jordan’s individual one on one exploits. They rarely took notice of his all-defensive team selections, or the genius of the Triangle Offense. Those things are affective and essential to winning championships, but the NBA doesn’t market the game this way. They continue to focus on personalities and individual glamourized talent. They want us enamored with LeBron James, but not Tim Duncan. But you see Tim Duncan has four championships, and LeBron has none.

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This is what I thought of yesterday as I watched Game 2 of the Western Conference finals between San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

For me the “Triangle,” when executed properly is probably the most poetic and fluent offense that I’ve witnessed. It gives multiple options to each of the five players on the court. But what I saw last night for the first three quarters from the Spurs was nothing short of basketball perfection!

You talk about mastering the pick and roll, spacing, dribble penetration, drawing the defense in, making the extra pass, then making shots to a point of making the game look like an award winning work of art.  The Spurs were like an orchestra owning the stage and captivating the audience. I was awed by what I saw.

What Tony Parker did to Russell Westbrook was a crime. It was an execution. Parker basically took Westbrook over his knee and spanked him for thinking he could compete on his level at playoff time. Watching Parker was like watching Pete Sampras and Roger Federer at Wimbledon during their hey-days. If it were a play they would have called it, “Murder at the Alamo!” Westbrook like the basketball child he is, failed to see the irony of what was happening to him and tried to dribble and one on one his way out of his whooping.

By the way… James Hardin is a way better basketball player than Russell Westbrook. I’m just sayin. But I digress!

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This is what basketball is up against. TEAMS win championships, but individuals are marketed and packaged to sell the game more than they should be. It’s not like I can’t appreciate the talent LeBron and others have. The problem is that they feel they have to rely on that talent alone to prove their perceived worth to those of us watching as well as those reporting.

I see this as a basketball official. At lower levels a talented individual can definitely win some games for you. But I witness more than I can count the number of teams that I see who can simply pass, shoot, rebound and defend as a unit methodically crucifies the teams with better individual talent.

Look at Spurs coach Greg Popovich; He’s been with the same team his entire career, has won, lost, and now is winning again. Unlike other coaches, his voice has never worn on his star veteran players. I think that speaks volumes for veteran guys like Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. What about the job RC Buford has done with the personnel? They have managed to add Stephen Jackson, and Boris Diaw to a group of savvy veterans and ultimate team players to make this run. It’s amazing. Yet the league will not sell them to the public.

You need not be a rocket scientist to see what is going to happen here. The Heat and the Spurs will be in the Finals. And the Heat, even with the greatness of Wade and the talent of James, don’t have a chance!

I just hope that young people who play this game are paying attention.

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Encouragement, And Words that add Life

Proverbs 12:25

  Worry weighs a person down;
  an encouraging word cheers a person up.

My regular readers may remember when I officiated some basketball games and had this inward moral conflict going on inside me as to whether to take this extra money the tournament director tried to pay me.  I decided to give the money back but he let me keep it.  Read here if you didn’t see it.

Anyway that school had a tournament again this past weekend and I made my first return there since then.  I saw that same director who greeted me with a smile and said, “Man I am sure glad to see you.!”  I said, “Why do you say that?”  He said, “Because you are an excellent official, and a great person.”  Later on he joked with me about not wanting to take his money, and we had a laugh about it.  Needless to say he didn’t forget that incident and it made an impression on him.

I bring this up not to pay myself on the back.  Just last Thursday a parent greeted me on the floor after a championship game of 6th graders ended in an exciting buzzer beating finish.  I thought it was his kid that hit the shot and as he walked towards me with a half cocked grin,  I stopped, held out my hand to shake his and asked, “Was that your kid who hit the shot?”  He said, “No…  and you suck!”  There are times I literally leave a gym depressed and weighed down after having every single thing I call or don’t call loudly second guessed and throughout the course of a game been called everything BUT a child of God.  Sure some parents and coaches really know the game and some don’t know Sugar Honey Ice Tea!

The point of this post is just to say that Saturday I was really having a challenging day from an emotional perspective.  No matter what I try to be a top notch professional and have a positive attitude with the students I ref.  But I thought it would be a long day mentally and a part of me wanted to be someplace else.

Hearing the tournament director’s encouraging words really did a service to my spirit however.  For one I know that he is hard on officials.   I have read his emails to others criticizing officials who are lazy or those who may seem incompetent.  Bad officiating is bad for business as teams don’t want to pay to get in tournament if the refs are horrible.  Win or lose, coaches and parents will talk about who they think called a consistent game.  So I have a pretty decent reputation for handling myself a certain way.  That aside the fact that a guy took the time to say something good and meaningful to me pushed me to the point where I was able to manage the thing that was bothering me and really step my game up even more.

The world is really hurting out there.  And flowers are often needed when one is living, not at the funeral.  If you have something good to say about someone out there – something that you really mean from your heart that will add life, by all means say it.  You never know the effect it can have.  And you never know what someone is going through at the time you say it.