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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024
The Eagle

Basketball 'teams' wait in sad state

Although it's justifiable for New England fans to think the sports world revolves around them right now, I refuse to designate the approximately 750 words in this column to the frigging curse, struggle, anguish, heartbreak, redemption or blah blah blah of the Red Sox Nation.

You've all had your moment. You now boast the world's best baseball and football teams and the NBA's most storied franchise. I hope you are finally satisfied.

Now for a look ahead at what could be a rather dismal NBA season.

First off, I am down on the state of basketball in America. After last summer's Olympic debacle, which culminated in a pathetic bronze medal, I think a lot of basketball purists must feel the same way.

The United States is no longer the envy of the basketball world. We invented the game, perfected it and are now destroying it.

Rather than building teams on fundamentals, talented players are taught early on to follow a certain pattern to make it to high-level college hoops or the NBA.

That pattern includes spending every weekend from about middle school on at Amateur Athletic Union tournaments with other all-stars, most of whom are likely not even from their own city. Fundamentals are left at the registration tables and hot dog stands.

No one plays defense. No one plays offense. The games are spent in transition situations. While one team runs up the floor for a dunk, the other jogs to defend while pulling up their drooping 4XL shorts. While many AAU teams do play a solid brand of basketball, the fact remains that AAU and other all-star functions are set up to produce individuals, not teams.

We all saw how successful our individuals were in Athens. The beauty of basketball was put on display by the graceful offensive execution of the Argentineans and the hard-nosed defense of the Lithuanians. As a team, the United States shot about 6 percent from three-point range and maybe even worse from inside the arc.

This leads us to the NBA season, which opens Saturday. Without the Lakers soap opera and the rookie season of Lebron James to obsess over, I have no idea what the likes of Steven A. Smith, Greg Anthony, Charles Barkley and Ernie Johnson are going to have to yap about on TV.

Certainly they don't want to spend broadcasts analyzing actual games. Just think, instead of getting our nightly update on the whereabouts of Kobe Bryant's private jet scurrying him to and from his rape hearings, they'd have to devote air time to analysis of match-ups such as the Hawks vs. Grizzlies and the Knicks vs. Clippers. Scary thought.

The completion of the AAU pattern ends in the NBA. If you watched the NBA draft last summer, you might have known about five names of kids you followed in college for more than one year. The rest were high-schoolers and foreigners.

It used to take a tremendous talent like Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant to make the leap from prep ball to the NBA. Now, all it takes is "tremendous upside." In many ways, the NBA is turning into a developmental farm league. Unproven high-schoolers like Robert Swift of the Seattle Supersonics and Shaun Livingston of the LA Clippers are lottery picks because they MIGHT develop into a superstar.

And this is why, year after year, those teams are absolutely pitiful. The NBA is becoming the be-all and end-all of basketball. It's absurd that teams now draft based on future, rather than current, talent.

The results are obvious. The games are slow, boring and often downright ugly. The only things drawing large crowds are hype and storylines. Right now, the league must wait until Christmas day, when the Heat and Lakers, i.e. Shaq and Kobe, before television ratings will rise above the disgraceful level.

Basketball will never go the way of hockey in our country, but the game is not healthy. And it won't be until coaches and players at all levels start learning that making a mid-range jump shot is just as cool as a dunk, taking four steps is a travel, and playing good defense isn't something that only Gary Payton does.

They're not as appealing to the new breed of "basketball fans" as alley-oops or no-look passes, but Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson all knew them. So unless the basics of the game are again respected in this country, it won't be long until we start losing to Estonia.

 Hosts Sara Winick and Sydney Hsu introduce themselves and talk about their favorite TV shows. This episode includes fun facts, recommendations and personal connections. 

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