Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On the Entry of Fil-Foreign Players in Philippine Basketball

IMO, this might as well be referred to as the globalization of basketball. Similar to the tritely mentioned concept of globalization in transnational commerce and trade, the removal of restrictions and barriers of entry to foreign goods and services can only lead if not coerce the domestic market/the locals to keep-up with the level of quality brought in by other cultures, nationalities, races and backgrounds. If you fail to keep-up with the rest of the world, you drift and fade to irrelevance, rejection, and dejection. If we put this in the context of basketball talent, we (Filipinos) are perhaps ill-informed, and dare I say living an illusion, if we still think that we are a basketball superpower in the world, not to mention in our very own region, Asia. We need to keep-up with the global trend. After Croatia, Lithuania and the other basketball nations of the Soviet bloc a few decades ago, countries like Greece and Spain have shown some sparks of brilliance in pitting themselves against USA basketball. And oh, don't forget South America's Argentina. I don't even have to question if Filipinos have the passion for this sport. We obviously do. Is the drawback really perhaps genetic? Then again, we have always been a tolerant and hospitable culture and we do embrace those trickles of assimilated genes to our country's DNA pool. Aside from this of course, I think, is the mindset of the culture in breeding basketball positions. Percentage-wise, there is no arguing that we have a populace with heights comparably shorter to the average citizens of other countries (I can't really say people from the West, because China has been parading 7 footers as well). Let me cite an example, supposing we have 10 players on court (it doesn't have to be some serious hoops session, let's just talk about some everyday playground basketball), all are just in high school, 7 of these guys are standing 5'7" and below, 2 of them are around 5'10" and one is at 6'2", guess what happens? The small guys force the "bigger" guys to stop trying to dribble and handle the ball. They force the "taller" guys to familiarize themselves in the paint, even if let's say the 6'2" guy has been practicing his handles and looking ahead to becoming a guard like the guys he watches on NBA TV. That's how we end up with 6'3" to 6'6" centers. And guess what? In international hoops, 6'3" to 6'6" are 3's/small forwards. Our "bigs", who aren't really big at all in fact, are relegated to playing positions that aren't designed to stand-up against the "real bigs of the world" (I'm talking about the legit 7 footers). And how come through the years, we've seen bigs who have good handles and range; seemingly tolerated by the mentality/culture of their societies? Here are a few cases in point to mention, Dirk Nowitzi, Lamar Odom, Boris Diaw, Kevin Durant, etc. I leave these arguments for you to reflect on. Moving on to other aspects, is it perhaps the food that we eat? Rice vs burgers...hmmm...makes you think of some creative solutions indeed. Aside from food, how about flooding the market with some pituitary gland tweaking supplements? In any case, before the discussion gets weird and out of hand, local players undoubtedly have the talent as well, but the critical point in all of this is whether our local guys are prepared to stand-up to the "challenges" and level of play brought in by fil-foreign players. The local players can try protecting their "turf" all they want, but at the end of the day, you end up with mediocre competition and inadequate exposure to the challenges of the real "basketball world" (with emphasis on the word world). We can stay encapsulated and shielded from the truths about how the level of play has gone up exponentially in different regions of the globe and settle to making ourselves believe that we still parade the best Asian talents, coaching, training, conditioning, basketball philosophies, among others and find satisfaction in beating the hapless Vietnamese and Sri Lankan basketball teams (nope, I'm not hating or ridiculing them, they are still young basketball nations at this point anyway) into bloody and pulped masses of meat, which probably wouldn't last in the coming years anyway if these guys found some secret formula to winning in this sport. Just my two cents, though, peace out!

All compositions, statements and opinions of the author are copyright © Earl T. Malvar 2009-2010. All rights reserved. There is no honor, respect, admiration, intellectual and academic dignity garnered through plagiarism.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Decision: What Was He Thinking?!

We've all heard about the tragic sports history of Cleveland and there was no refuge to be found from what Lebron had to say yesterday. Now, a lot of articles have been written and published across the web trying to dissect the circumstances and the persona of Lebron James that led up to The Decision and I felt that I had to put it down on paper to say what I thought about it. As any event would have it, there are always consequences.

Whether LBJ chose to stay or not, his critiques had their ammunitions ready. If he had stayed he would've been criticized for staying all wrapped-up in his cocoon, a safety zone that he's grown accustomed to, not to mention a perceived ego that he could never share the ball or the spotlight with another superstar (or two). And as he did, he chose to leave and is now getting torched from all angles about his decision. LBJ is now being vilified for not being able to live up to being his own man, a player like Jordan who stuck to the Bulls and delivered the rings for himself. LBJ's infallibility as a hoops deity became tarnished with a decision that implied, "I can't do this on my own, I need real help." If one were to look at the free agent landscape, it was easy to see that Cleveland was indeed going nowhere, even with Lebron on it. Most of the free agents took their picks even as Lebron waited to decide. Furthermore, no other championship coach was available out there other than Pat Riley.

If Lebron was so overconfident about himself, he would've chosen any team and would have just waited for other free agents to fill in the space, but he didn't. He was deliberate, he waited for the landscape to form, for him to scrutinize it. He consulted with other free agents because he wanted to have teammates who weren't past their primes, who were Shaq-like and Gasol-like in their primacy when Kobe won his.

This is exactly what Kobe got with Shaq and Pau Gasol. Kobe was in a position to win when he got drafted into a team with a man named Shaquille O'Neal and eventually a coach in Phil Jackson. Kobe's not in a position to answer this question at this point though because after all the threatening he did that he would leave the Lakers a few years back (after Shaq left), he never had to because Jerry Buss got a Euro superstar in a Spaniard named Pau. Even when he played for the Grizzlies, Pau Gasol was exceptional. He was a Shaq from Europe in his own right (watch his Grizz highlights on Youtube).

I must say, though, that I didn't like the way LBJ had to tell his decision to the world. A one hour special was indeed a humiliating and painful way to tell your hometown that you're leaving. Then again, I wasn't really a fan of the Cavaliers before LBJ came to the scene, anyway. Tell me, were you? I'd like to meet a real authentic Cavs fan, prior to the arrival of LBJ. LBJ would still be LBJ, whether he played his rookie year with the Cavs or not. The ESPN one-hour special was probably something Lebron and his promoters could have done away with, but it's all part of the hype and the drama. Media attention is important if LBJ wants to be a billionaire. Ultimately his brand and legacy would be in jeopardy if he didn't get at least one ring. I see Lebron as a very ambitious man. There are probably two life-goals that continue to control his decisions, winning a ring (a culmination of who he is as a talented basketball individual) and becoming a billionaire (to black America, this is indeed a holy grail in a white man's world). Fame, I think, can also be fueled by controversy. Remember what Kanye did to Taylor Swift? For fame to remain aflame, there has to be something to talk about. Kanye did it because that's how the game of showbiz plays it. If you laid low, you fade away into oblivion from the public eyes. Kanye, of course, being called by Obama a jack-ass, received negative publicity. Lebron, seemingly leaning on to leaving Cleveland, wanted positive publicity for the sake of his legacy, his brand and his public image. He wanted to justify himself properly because he couldn't afford to jeopardize his brand equity, i.e., his billionaire aspirations. In moving to another team, he had better chances to winning a ring. Although knowing that it will be a shared form of glory if they win a title, Lebron took a chance for the sake of winning something significant. How could anyone find credibility in saying that Wade or Bosh or Lebron were better off on their own? Clearly, after Shaq's departure, Wade couldn't carry the load by himself for the Heat, LBJ could only go as far as a one-time appearance in the NBA Finals and getting swept by the Spurs, btw, Bosh has only been close to Youtube. His decision to collaborate in another city instead of risking it ALL in Cleveland, in effect, also meant pulling back on his image as the savior of Cleveland sports. It is something that damages his marketability and the LBJ brand. Without properly justifying himself, he would only look as a traitor, which in any case he seems to be getting depicted as anyway.

Confidence is a huge chunk of how a player keeps pace on the court. I personally experienced this when I played in a competitive basketball league (not on any level near the NBA though ;-p). If you don't have the confidence, then you will just wilt to the pressure and those jab steps, pull-ups, drives, reverse moves, and cross-overs don't feel the same anymore against opposing teams.

How about LBJ? He was clearly better than Kobe in high school and expectations were astoundingly higher for him to achieve more - something that could rival Michael Jordan's. And when LBJ did step-up to the plate after being drafted by Cleveland, he never had a Shaq in his prime nor a coach who handled the greatest player of the sport, but he did have that belief and confidence that he could win a ring. And after seven years of posting ridiculous stats, displaying efficiency and basketball savvy, without winning a ring, he was left to question himself. A tarnished self-confidence that was like an irritating itch that couldn't wait to be scratched. In my opinion, he was doubting himself. To put the situation in a different setting, his was like a college graduate finishing school with honors, but never getting any job offers or achieving anything significant in life, which the school system led him to believe was attainable.

As I have always believed, confidence and humility go hand-in-hand. Here was Lebron who was blessed by the stars to be born with the right physical attributes and understanding of the game, who was led to believe that he couldn't be stopped. Here was LBJ, whose confidence was pushed higher by those who believed he was destined for greatness, only for him to begin doubting himself after so many years of chasing his goal. If you were in his shoes, wouldn't you doubt yourself as well; possessing those attributes, putting in the work, sharing the ball (yes, he is a great teammate he knows how to pass - passing in basketball just shows the attitude of the passer) and posting ridiculous stats, but never getting a ring? Although, I don't personally know him, his game speaks to how he views a team. Remember the much maligned pass by LBJ to Donyell Marshall for a winning shot attempt? He said it himself, he makes his decisions by trusting his teammates. It wasn't about him forcing a ridiculous shot to try to win a game. He was grounded enough to know that he could share the limelight with his teammates. LBJ can be a volume shooter, but he doesn't do it. He expects his teammates to carry the load, too.

I have been a fan of Kevin Garnett, as well. His history is a prime example of what LBJ feared. Garnett was an exceptional player, he was talented, he put in the work, he preached teamwork (oh yeah, he really really did), he took care of his teammates from the starters to the bench guys, he gave it all when he played for Minnesota, but he never got to the Finals. After months of tossing and turning, he pulled the trigger and moved to Boston, but by then, he had already passed his prime. Think about all the what-could-have beens. Lebron is a notch higher than KG, even during their high school days, but they seem to have been on the same track.

Basketball is his work, his livelihood, he could only aspire for more and nothing less. Just think about all those NBA draftees every year who get cut because the management and coaching staff evaluated them and they just couldn't fill in the requirements needed by the team to WIN. This is a business after all, if LBJ wasn't LBJ, he would be cut-out of the team roster anyway, no questions asked. No matter how badly a player wants to play for the main NBA teams (not D-League teams), heart doesn't matter to the owners. It's all about performance and the dollars they can reap through ticket sales and team merchandise. It's a business. We all work for a living right? In sports, people love winners. There is no pity-fandom for losers. Although, there may be exceptional groups of people, like those who root for the Clippers.

Teams serve as inspiration for the common man, perhaps with the values they possess, the service, charity and pride they bring to their communities, but ultimately, it's the goal of winning and clutching the Larry O'Brien Trophy. In a clearly defined game like basketball, where there are schedules and rules of play to be followed, the zenith of an organization/team/player's career is to win the championship trophy; nothing less. I would like to believe that fans translate THE DRIVE that they see in sports to their own personal lives. I, for one, have sought to draw the inspiration from what other people do for a living as well, whether it be team sports, the Jabbawockeez, etc. The passion sometimes just doesn't mean to do something for the love of it. A person should always seek to excel in it, and at the end of the day there shouldn't be bitterness or an illusion that one can be better than his fellow man. All that counts is that a person knows he gave his all, whether the results were fruitful or not, there can be no what-ifs. As a high school teacher of mine once said, "Always aim for the stars, so that in case you fall short, you'll at least hit the moon." In life, which is a chopsuey of experiences and circumstances, it's all wide open. If one were to ask you what your dreams and aspirations are, yours would be different from any other's, but just the same you would do everything in your power to seize them.

Lebron James has always felt the same way himself. He wants a ring so bad and he has made his intentions clear by implying that he is willing to share the credit with other people, (i.e., Wade, Bosh, Riley, Spoelstra, et. al.). He just wants a taste of the feeling as any person would in their own personal lives and careers - a promotion, a home run in little league baseball, a win over some douche at the video arcade, a much praised speech, a good review for a movie, recognition for an excellent dissertation, a raved about chef's main entrée by a critic, you get the drift. Anything less would be unacceptable, if not regretful to anyone who is blessed with the right attributes, tools, skills, opportunities, luck and has put everything into the process to achieve a goal. Winning a ring is the apogee of Lebron's career.

All compositions, statements and opinions of the author are copyright © Earl T. Malvar 2009-2010. All rights reserved. There is no honor, respect, admiration, intellectual and academic dignity garnered through plagiarism.