In the last month the Atlanta Hawks have enthralled the nation as a superstar-less super success story, riding a pass-heavy approach to a 36-8 record and the franchise’s best season since the 1950s. But while Atlanta boasts three All-Stars this season, none of them approach the caliber of Bob Pettit – the hands-down greatest player in franchise history.
Through much of my lifetime, I have known Pettit mostly by reading about his most stunning accolades: record 4x All-Star MVP; 10X All-NBA 1st Team; 50 points and 25 rebounds in the deciding Game 7 of the 1958 NBA Finals.
But, today, thanks to YouTube’s premier early NBA archivist, that changed. The following video helps beam the subtle aspects of Pettit’s greatness and personality into the 21st century. And it opens up interesting questions about the Louisiana native, such as the possibility he was the early NBA’s foremost three-point play maker…
Like Dr. J, Bird, Magic and Jordan before him, there is a timeless quality to LeBron James’ game. Future stars will be bigger, stronger and quicker, but we won’t again see his specific combo of skills, flow and panache.
There is also a timelessness in his life story, a tale of hardship, perseverance and camaraderie which seems to stay fresh no matter how many times it’s retold. With every twist of his career, each rendition gains an extra layer of meaning. The latest example, a 30-minute TV show, premiered Sunday night on Disney X D. It highlights the joyous reception James received from his hometown community of Akron, Ohio as he enters a Savior 2.0 Era leading the nearby Cavaliers from conference bottom dwellers to championship contender.
The show, the first in a series named “Becoming” about the lives of popular athletes, spotlights the neighborhoods in which LeBron grew up and his alma mater of St. Vincent – St. Mary High School. Much of the material will be familiar to LeBron fans – the hard-knock beginnings in a single-parent home, early dominance on the AAU circuit and finding lifelong friends there who would form the nucleus of one of the greatest prep basketball dynasties ever.
While the themes are familiar, it appears this is the first time some of the footage shown from James’ elementary and middle school days has been made public. It helps the video was co-produced by ESPN Films and James’ own Springhill Production Company, which has an office in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. “Becoming” is meant to appeal to younger viewers, but this show’s sharp production quality and rare footage make it worth any NBA fans’ while.
While this episode – which premieres on ESPN November 7 – is the latest LeBron bio, there have been a handful of accounts which involved direct access to James and his inner circle.
Each one offers something new – fragments of anecdotal gold not found in the others that are worth recalling as James and the Cavaliers start the 2014-15 season as the feel-good story of the year. Here are some of the most interesting:
Book: The Rise of a Star: LeBron James
Author: David Lee Morgan, Jr.
Publication Date: 2003
One reason James became so good, so fast, was that a former Division I head coach pushed him early on. Keith Dambrot, former coach at Central Michigan, was James’ high school head coach during his freshman and sophomore years.
Less known is that a woman coached James during his freshman season. Amy Sherry, a two-time MAC Player of the Year from Kent State, was one of two paid assistant coaches on Dambrot’s staff. It has taken 15 years, but the NBA is now following suit. In August, the San Antonio Spurs hired Becky Hammon as the league’s first full-time female assistant coach.
It seemed everyone wanted a piece of LeBron his senior year. He got calls seeking his presence from the likes of The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show , Good Morning America and Live with Regis & Kelly. A packed schedule meant LeBron often had to say “no.”
Comedian Martin Lawrence sought more than just a guest spot, according to Morgan, Jr., then an Akron Beacon Journal reporter. Lawrence’s production company called about a movie Universal Studios would finance. Although LeBron hadn’t yet announced he was skipping college, Lawrence’s movie would star him as a baller going directly into the NBA from high school. “Even LeBron laughed about this one.”
Pre-NBA LeBron was a beast of historic proportions in both high school and the summer circuits. Among his most impressive feats came after his sophomore season, when he dominated two age groups at Pittsburgh’s prestigious Five-Star Camp.
He excelled in his own age group and the one for rising seniors, playing in both leagues’ All-Star games. “No one has ever played in both before LeBron, no one has done it since, and I doubt if anyone will ever do it again,” said Howard Garfinkel, the camp’s longtime director.
Until that point, Garfinkel had seen about 125 players from his league eventually make the NBA. James was in the mix for best prep player he’d ever seen, but another No. 23 edged him out. “I’m not going to say he’s the best, because I saw Calvin Murphy score 34 points in an All-Star game one night, then have to travel to Allentown, where he scored 62 points in 29 minutes the next night in a major All-Star game. On the next level, you have Wilt Chamberlain and Connie Hawkins.”
Murphy, a 5’9” dynamo who would go on to star for the Houston Rockets in the 1970s, became the first Hall of Famer to wear No. 23 throughout his career.
The Spurs have already inked major American pro sports’ first full-time female assistant coach in Becky Hammon. Could San Antonio one day make another new assistant, Ettore Messina, the NBA’s first non U.S/Canada-born head coach? Gregg Popovich is 65 years old and as much as he loves the game he eventually must shimmy off stage.
Originally posted on NBA.com | Hang Time Blog with Sekou Smith:
Ettore Messina had taken a sip from the NBA cup before when he was a consultant on Mike Brown’s staff with the Lakers for the 2011-12 season.
This time is like opening wide, throwing back his head and drinking it all in.
“The Spurs,” he said with a grin. “It is a familiar taste.”
A comfortable fit, like a designer Italian suit.
The team with nine international players from seven different countries now adds another bit of overseas flair to the mix with an assistant coach with a worldly resume.
The 55-year-old Italian has won four titles in his home country, four Russian League titles, four Euroleague championships and was named one of the 50 greatest contributors to the Euroleague.
“He’s a smart guy, a helluva good coach and a very interesting man,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “Why wouldn’t you want somebody like Ettore to be around your team?”
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OK, rest of the world. It’s time to cry “uncle” already.
I’m an American, who appreciates winning, steak, Will Ferrell, and all the rest. But I am tiring of the headlock Team USA has every other nation in. On Sunday, the United States beat Serbia 129-92 in a FIBA World Cup title game that after six minutes held about as much drama as “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” The U.S. has now reeled off 63 straight wins, a run that was cool at first, when we had something to prove in basketball after losing three Olympic games a decade ago. Yes, the whole “Redeem Team” thing was fantastic. Millions of Americans tuned in to see the U.S. make a resounding statement in the 2008 Olympics to reclaim Gold.
Less enthralling was the “Confirmation Team” of the 2010 FIBA World Cup. Or Confirmation Team 2.0, or 3.0. We get it: America is unequivocally the sport’s King once more. It’s clear that since American basketball powers actually put their mind to it, the U.S. simply has too large a pool of hyper-skilled, hyper-athletic players – headlined by hyper-athletic, hyper-skilled young superstars ( e.g. Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis) – that no other single nation can hope to match.
Spain, of course, appeared to pose a threat this summer. They boasted multiple NBA All-Stars, and a roster that in total had logged more NBA games (3,223) than even the American roster (3,213). But the host nation went cold at the wrong time, against a French team with enough athletic wing players to disrupt the Spanish perimeter offense. With far more disruptive, quicker players, the Americans would have beaten Spain too.
Now that the sun is setting on Spain’s Golden Generation, as it already has with Argentina’s, the United States is accelerating beyond the teams that have hung with them in recent years. “If anything, the gap is widening,” ESPN announcer Fran Fraschilla said last week during the Americans’ semifinal win against Lithuania. To the point where no nation poses a legit threat to Team USA at the 2016 Olympics.
France could look best on paper, but they would need four Nicolas Batums to hope to slow a team with firepower including Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Paul George. If the San Antonio Spurs, a favorite to repeat as NBA champions this coming season, were allowed entry they would pose the biggest threat. But despite the Spurs’ Texan roots, they appear unlikely to seek political autonomy any time soon.
Instead of messing with the Olympics, it’s time to form another major international tournament that provides actual compelling and competitive basketball. Provide a venue in which the best players from non-U.S. nations team up by continent. Call it basketball’s “Pan-Continental Cup.”
On their own, Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio et al won’t beat the U.S. in the coming years. Spain doesn’t have wing players big and athletic enough to defend the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. But with France’s Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw on their side, they have a legit shot. Add long, imposing players like Joakim Noah, an intermittent French national team member, or England’s Luol Deng to the mix, and the U.S. would finally face a foe that rivals it in terms of skill, athleticism and size.
Pan-continental teams work. Look at golf, where the Ryder Cup has pitted a Team USA vs. a Team Europe since 1979. Meanwhile, bowling has its own USA vs. Europe competition. In each sport, over the years, the two sides have proven to be pretty much even.
The idea is already a reality at the youth basketball level. FIBA sanctions the Nike Global Challenge, an annual event in which a Pan-Asian team has competed against other nations including the U.S., and a Pan-African team still does. Another event, the Nike Hoop Summit, goes one step farther: It pits some of the United States’ best high school players against the best similarly aged players from all other nations. Just like in golf and bowling, this setup helps raise the game of both sides and provides better competition. Each side has won three games each in the last six years.
The below stats-smorgasbord shows how the rest of the world has been catching up with the United States in terms of national team players with NBA experience. Below, I look at only Olympic rosters dating back to 1992, when NBA players were first allowed to play in the Olympic Games.
To the right of each player, you see the total number of NBA games that player had played before the summer of the competition.
The boldfaced number below each roster is the players’ total number of NBA games, and below that is the average NBA experience of each NBA player on the roster.
2012 London Olympics
1. usa #NBA games
Deron Williams 441
Chris Paul 485
Kobe Bryant 1161
Kevin Durant 380
LeBron James 689
Tyson Chandler 724
Russell Westbrook 312
Anthony Davis 0
Andre Iguodala 615
Kevin Love 669
James Harden 220
Carmelo Anthony 646
4. argentina #NBA games
australia #NBA games
Patty Mills 90
David Smith 103
nigeria #NBA games
Al-Fourq Aminu 147
Ike Diogu 225
2008 Beijing Olympics
1, usa #NBA games
Carlos Boozer 395
Jason Kidd 1006
LeBron James 391
Deron Williams 177
Michael Redd 517
Dwyane Wade 315
Kobe Bryant 866
Dwight Howard 328
Chris Bosh 362
Chris Paul 222
Tayshaun Prince 452
Carmelo Anthony 302
2. argentina #NBA games
3. spain #NBA games
4. germany #NBA games
croatia #NBA games
Zoran Planinic 148
australia #NBA games
Chris Antsey 155
Andrew Bogut 226
Interesting interview today from CBS with the Houston Rockets’ new starting point guard. Things are looking up now for Beverley’s career, but that wasn’t the case nearly three years ago when he was freezing his butt off in Russia trying to earn a buck:
What comes to mind when you think back to being overseas and wanting to be in the league, following it from afar?
Actually when I was overseas I didn’t watch any NBA. I was like, ‘Forget the NBA,’ and this and that. ‘Cause I was hurt that I wasn’t on an NBA team. I kind of was rebellious when it came to that because I was kind of jealous and envious that I wasn’t on an NBA team, so I kind of just focused on my game and focused on overseas.
[and staying warm, I should add]
Cold as f**k in Russia!!!!! -13 pic.twitter.com/j9nfhAbm
— Patrick Beverley (@patbev21) November 26, 2011
Most of the interview covers his summer activities (which included a ton of workouts with fellow Chicago natives Derrick Rose, Will Bynum, Tony Allen) but at one point he did have a chance to talk about his two seasons playing for the University of Arkansas:
Do you ever stop and think about your journey, coming from Chicago and going overseas before the league?
All the time. I’ll never forget where I come from. Especially my humble beginnings. I’m appreciative and I’m more humble than anything, especially with me and my grandmother, her still staying in the city. So when I go back, I see all of that again and I’m just in a position where I’m blessed and I can kind of take care of others. It puts me in a position where I appreciate things more, you know?
Chance not taken.
Little wonder he didn’t want to rehash a messy departure that included half-accusations of his Razorback teammates cheating on tests. “Someone from Arkansas was doing papers, was doing me and some of my teammates’ papers,” Beverley said in 2009. “Basically, instead of ratting my team out, I just said it was just me. I was forced to have a year of ineligibility.”
Messiness Schpelphryness, I really I loved watching P-Bev play. (Still do) He remains the best 6-2 or shorter rebounder at the major college level I have ever seen. Put somebody like him on this current Razorback basketball team, and they’re making the Sweet Sixteen.
Kevin Durant’s withdrawal from Team USA earlier this month not only significantly altered the national team’s roster and chemistry. It also likely set into motion a domino effect ushering in a watershed moment in international basketball: For the first time in the Dream Team era, Team USA enters a major tournament with less total NBA experience than a competitor. Host Spain’s players have the most NBA experience in the upcoming FIBA World Cup with 49 cumulative years. Team USA is second with 46 years, followed by Brazil with 39 years.
This is only the latest tremor to ripple through a landscape that has dramatically shifted since the original Dream Team arrived in Barcelona for the 1992 Olympics. Its 12 players had a total of 87 years worth of NBA experience. Germany followed with two players totaling 12 years. And not a single Spanish player had logged an NBA minute. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who has firsthand seen much of this growth, wrote in an e-mail: “It is not a surprise that a national team other than the U.S. team has more NBA experience. In 1992, the NBA had 21 international players on NBA rosters and last season we had a record 92 international players so this really speaks to the global growth of the game.”
At the least, this benchmark is a sure sign Team USA must continue to work hard for its Gold medals. It may, however, point toward a basketball future where the Americans – despite their best efforts – regularly lose to squads that are more seasoned and nearly as talented.
The 2016 Olympics may feature such a team: A loaded French squad could be the first non-U.S. team to feature a roster of all NBA players if dual citizen Joakim Noah joins the likes of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Evan Fournier. In major competitions following that, Canada (with possible roster entries Andrew Wiggins & Tyler Ennis) and Australia (which appears to be on the brink of a golden generation with the likes of Patty Mills, Dante Exum, Ben Simmons and Thon Maker) also loom as potential rivals to Team USA. Of course, an advantage in NBA experience alone doesn’t portend ultimate success. In 2002, the Americans had a total of 65 NBA years but lost to three squads with far less. Two years later, they were eliminated in the Olympics by an Argentine team with a total of seven NBA years of experience.
Since that loss, Team USA has won 62 of 63 games. In 2014, though, a second loss in the Mike Krzyzewski Era has never looked more likely. The Spaniards are brimming with confidence and for good reason. They have a dominant front line featuring Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol, who looks to be in the best shape of his life and joins Anthony Davis as the tourney’s best all-around players. Spain boasts athletic and seasoned guards and wings who pushed American squads far more talented than this one in two Olympic Gold medal games. In all, these Spaniards have 11 players with a total of 701 international (FIBA) games played. This U.S. team has five players with 41 total games, according to ESPN.
Serbian head coach Aleksandar Djordjevic told one Spanish newspaper he believes Spain is the frontrunner. Meanwhile, Spanish guard Jose Calderon said the host nation’s team won’t crumble under the local weight of expectations (unlike a certain 2014 FIFA World Cup counterpart). “We are very laid back right now … the strength of this team is peace of mind to say you’ve got to compete and stay calm,” Calderon told as.com. “We know what we have to do, but there’s not the pressure of ‘Win no matter what.’”
Pressure to stay on top contributed to a bigger and younger Team USA roster than what was expected had Durant remained. For one, his training camp replacement Rudy Gay would not be traveling to Spain. But his absence might also have cost wing player Kyle Korver a spot. The 33-year-old sharpshooter would have been a perfect complement to Durant’s supreme offensive abilities. Yet when Team USA announced its final cuts on Saturday, a premium was placed on size and strength rather than shooting skill and precision. As a consequence, Detroit’s Andre Drummond – who just turned 21 years old – is in. “USAB officials decided in recent days that they simply couldn’t resist carrying Drummond, especially with a potential rematch with Spain and its imposing frontcourt of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka looming in the Sept. 14 championship game,” wrote ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.