A reminder of what can happen if basketball doesn’t work out

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From Eyewitness News 7 in New Jersey:

SPARTA, N.J. (WABC) — In New Jersey, four burglary suspects, including a former NBA player, are under arrest after a high-speed chase.

A Sparta police officer stopped the vehicle carrying the suspects for speeding but when he approached the SUV, the suspects took off.

via 4 arrested in NJ after high-speed chase | 7online.com.

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I met Sean Banks at my first NBA Summer League. I was there covering the event for FanHouse (RIP), trying to bring original content in smaller blog posts on things you don’t get from the general coverage (RIP). As part of that gig, I was also covering the D-League for a site I started for SB Nation, Ridiculous Upside (now run by the brilliant and enterprising Scott Schroeder). I had this idea to talk to two fringe D-League guys, one who was one of the better guys in the league, who had great prospects for his career, and the other who was a longshot. I asked around, and the long shot wound up being a guy with incredible talent.

Sean Banks.

Banks was the Conference USA Freshman of the Year in 2004, a 6-8 forward with crazy athleticism, he was naturally gifted at basketball. You don’t score 17.4 points per game for the Memphis Tigers and snatch 6.5 boards as a freshman if you’re not. I keep wondering what he must have thought of his life then, how great everything must have seemed, how certain he must have been that everything was going to work out.

It didn’t.

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After a high-speed chase, the runaway SUV flipped over and crashed trapping the four occupants inside.

via 4 arrested in NJ after high-speed chase | 7online.com.

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I wrote a three-part series (part 1, part 2, part 3) on Banks, and tried to be honest in both of the sides. On the one hand, he had a history of monumentally stupid and illegal behavior, from drunk driving to a gang-oriented marking of a girl with a cigarette.  Meeting him, it was like pretty much every story you hear about these kinds of things. He seemed like a sweet kid. He wasn’t all there, and there was definitely an edge that he was protecting, but he also seemed desperate to try and turn his life around. He talked about his son, about how he had to change when he became a father. He was in great shape. A solid Summer League performance and you could see a team taking a flyer on him again, even after getting cut from the Hornets after a gambling-related suspension. He needed guidance. The talent was there.

He just needed someone to get through to him, to finally knock some sense into him and convince him to commit to all the things he said he wanted to do.

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Police say they recovered more than $20 thousand worth of valuables, from two burglaries, inside the suspect’s SUV.

via 4 arrested in NJ after high-speed chase | 7online.com.

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Banks didn’t play well in that Summer League, as you can probably guess. He had two plays which were absolutely tremendous, and I saw scouts raise their eyebrows. But looking back, I wonder if there was anything that could have convinced a team to take a chance on him. He’d shown too great of a void in judgment. His coaches in the D-League, which is the one place that should show you “This is it, there is nowhere lower for you to drop in terms of being paid to play basketball; if you don’t make it here, it’s over” talked about him being a headcase, about how frustrating it was to try and get through to him.

And still, Sean was trying to stay positive. He was really excited about the possibility of playing for Britain’s national team. He was really certain that he would get things right because of his son. He was sure that if he just kept his head down and kept working, things would work out for him. He was nervous, he was scared, but he had so much hope, still, even if he was the same knucklehead he’d always been. He didn’t want things to go badly for him, didn’t want to make a bad decision.

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Police have identified one of them as Sean Banks, a former NBA player who was cut from his team after being suspended for gambling.

via 4 arrested in NJ after high-speed chase | 7online.com

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This isn’t to try and say that Banks was a good kid who had things go bad for him. He made these decisions. He chose to live his life this way. He wound up back in the D-League last season, averaged 10 points and 2 rebounds in 20 minutes per night. Now he’s in all likelihood going to jail for a long time. Maybe he was always going to end up like this, no matter what. I spoke to him for a combined three hours over three days. I don’t have any huge knowledge of who Sean Banks is.

I want to say that this is why the D-League matters, why it needs more resources. Banks could play, at one level or another. Maybe he couldn’t do anything else in life, but he could play. With more resources I want to believe maybe someone could have convinced him to keep at it, to not turn to crime, again, as a way of life. (Banks is also a suspect in three other burglaries.) And maybe it would have failed, maybe he’d still be in a New Jersey jail cell, but it would have been worth a shot, to try and have a kid’s athletic potential turn into something more than this.

And then I think about how many coaches must have tried to get through to him, how his agent must have tried to, how even if no one really sat down and put forth the effort to help someone who didn’t want to help themselves, there were people that offered a hand. We make our decisions, and we live with them.

It’s just still sad that so often we make the wrong ones. I have enough sense not to excuse Banks or to believe he’s misunderstood, but I also have enough compassion to regret that things came to this, that his life came to this.

“I’m only 23, you know?  I’ve got so much ahead of me, so much to look forward to, in basketball and out of it.  I know I’ve still got so much potential.  I just have to work for it.” – Sean Banks, 2008

via No Entry: Summer League with Sean Banks, Part III – Ridiculous Upside.

‘Tired’ Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest, according to both parties (despite speculation this was really a win for the Los Angeles nightlife). Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

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Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

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Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.

Defense? Dramatic finish? Team LeBron wins All-Star Game that’s worth watching

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LOS ANGELES — The NBA gambled its new format — with captains picking teams playground style — would produce an All-Star Game where the players showed some pride, played hard, and the showcase again would become something that resembled basketball (unlike last season).

It worked.

For proof guys were invested this time around, check out how Team LeBron responded to winning with a defensive stop, taking away Team Stephen’s attempt to get a clean look at a game-tying three in the closing seconds.

The THRILL of #NBAAllStar VICTORY!

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“It had a real game feel to it,” LeBron James said.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen 148-145. LeBron was named MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He also hit the game-tying and go-ahead shot that got the win.

“I played with (LeBron) a few times,” Kyrie Irving said of the play and pass that set up that LeBron game-winner. “I cut back door, (Russell Westbrook) was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before even Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim, and he’s one of the best finishers at the rim.”

Most importantly, this was an All-Star Game with some defense — it had 81 fewer points than the layup line game last year, and the fewest points in five years. It also proved to be the closest game in six years.

“We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke,” Kevin Durant said. “Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.”

There was more defense than last year from the start of the game — for example, LeBron blocked an alley-oop pass in the first quarter. Of course, “better than last year” was not a high bar to clear, but there was some effort to not just have a layup line. Most of the time.

Also to start the game, Anthony Davis came out wearing the “0” jersey of injured teammate DeMarcus Cousins (he switched back to his own #23 before the first half was over).

On the night, Team LeBron got 19 points out of Kevin Durant, 16 from Paul George, and 14 from Andre Drummond. Team Stephen was led by 21 from both DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard, and 19 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid in his first All-Star Game.

The fantastic ending made up for what was a laughable opening skit/national anthem before tip-off that did something very rare — it unified NBA Twitter. It was awful.

Now all anybody is talking about is the game itself. And that’s what the NBA wanted.

LeBron James hits go-ahead shot in All-Star win (video)

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LOS ANGELES – LeBron James‘ team trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of the All-Star game, but he led a competitive comeback.

This shot put his team up 146-145 over Stephen Curry‘s team, and Team LeBron held on for a 148-145 win:

Great penetration by Russell Westbrook, and he and Kyrie Irving moved the ball well. LeBron made it count.