Nike brings World Basketball Festival to Chicago

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CHICAGO — Nike and USA Basketball descended on the city of Chicago this week, and partnered to put on its World Basketball Festival event that was created to celebrate and honor the global passion for the game. The two previous versions took place in New York in 2010 and Washington D.C. in 2012, but Chicago’s city-wide, deep-rooted passion for the game seems to be the most appropriate stop to date.

The folks at Nike and Jordan Brand wanted to give a group of media members an overview of just how influential basketball has been to those in this city, and after a day spent visiting historic sites related to the game and speaking to some of the legends associated with it, it’s clear that basketball is incredibly important to all of the individual communities that make up one of the country’s largest cities.

Our day began with an introductory speech from Scoop Jackson — a well-known journalist, but also a Chicago basketball historian whose enthusiasm for the game and what it means to this city is evident from the very first words he speaks. Jackson tells us about legendary players like Billy Harris, the name at the top of everyone’s list anytime the topic of Chicago’s greatest playground legend is ever approached. He explains how no matter the age or skill level, people can be found all over the city playing the game and discussing the area’s most influential players.

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He points out the wide variety of players from the area who made it to the NBA, all of whom don’t necessarily do one thing great, but have mastered multiple aspects of the game in order to compete anywhere while growing up in the city. Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre, Shawn Marion and Tony Allen are a few examples he gave, and of course there are more recent entries like Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis and incoming rookie Jabari Parker. He tells us stories of Michael Jordan flying in to compete on the city’s playgrounds to scratch that competitive itch, both while he was still in the league and for years after he retired. Finally, he implores us to talk to as many people around town that we can to verify that what he’s saying is the truth — something we’d get a chance to do anyway, but that wasn’t at all necessary given the intensity and excitement with which he conveyed his words.

“Basketball is Chicago’s export to the world,” Jackson has said. “I’ve compared it to Hip Hop in New York, technology coming out of Seattle, the auto industry in Detroit, food from New Orleans. This is what we do.”

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Our bus pulled up to Simeon Career Academy, a high school on the South Side of Chicago that is a large facility, but unassuming when you consider the level of basketball talent that has been produced there over the years. There’s Bucks rookie Jabari Parker and Bulls superstar Derrick Rose most recently, but others like Nick Anderson and Benji Wilson (whose tragic story was chronicled in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary) speak to just how rich the school’s history is.

We walked into the gym that doesn’t have air conditioning, and made our way to the bleachers. In came Sonny Parker — Jabari’s father, and a former NBA player who was born and raised in Chicago. He spoke about growing up in the city, and how the South Side has changed. Back in the day, he said, it was understood that athletes could walk through bad neighborhoods with a free pass, and that if something was about to go down, they would be given a warning so they could get away unscathed. He doesn’t believe that’s the case anymore, but also doesn’t feel like the neighborhood is nearly as bad as the media reports make it seem.

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He talked about Michael Jordan, and how he had a “Love of the Game” clause in his contract that allowed him to play anytime, anywhere — even on the playgrounds of Chicago. Jabari, he said, has the freedom to do the same. Parker told us how players from different areas play the game differently — for example, on the West side, he said, they’re a little more aggressive because of a shortage of bigs. Intensity is used to make up for that size advantage with players from that part of town, but those differences speak to what Scoop Jackson told us, which is that players had to be able to play a variety of different ways and hone a broad range of skills if they wanted to be able to dominate in all parts of the city.

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The day wrapped up with a trip to the 63rd Street Beach House, home base for all of the World Basketball Festival’s activities. We stopped by some outdoor basketball courts across the street, where clinics were being conducted for children from all parts of the city. We got some time to speak with Anthony Harris, who currently plays professionally in the D-League but more importantly for our purposes, is the son of Billy Harris, Chicago’s most legendary basketball player.

Anthony didn’t get to see his father play in his prime, of course, but said the man could still shoot the lights out, even in his older years. Scoop Jackson told us about how he was researching Billy, and walked all over the city on a daily basis trying to find one person — just one — who would say they ever saw Billy play a bad game. He gave up after three months. Anthony echoed that sentiment, and said he heard ridiculous stories — like his father grabbing a jump ball at one end of the court, and immediately shooting from there and draining what would have been an incredibly long shot. Anthony had trouble believing it, but said multiple people who claim to have been there swear that it happened.

Anthony talked about growing up in Chicago and leaving the house early in the morning to play an entire day’s worth of basketball, sometimes going from court to court in search of the city’s best players.

“If I went to your court, I was coming for you,” Anthony said.

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We wrapped things up by walking over to the Beach House, where there is a Nike Basketball museum of sorts set up that has some incredible artifacts — like the LeBron James MVP Puppet that was a part of one of the company’s more popular campaigns in recent years.

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There will be games held there all weekend — pro-am and three on three tournaments, FIBA skills competitions and appearances by members of the USA Basketball team. But more than anything, it’s simply a celebration of the game of basketball, and one that the city of Chicago seems uniquely positioned to appreciate.

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Dwyane Wade gave Kevin Hart a toddler-sized Heat jersey (VIDEO)

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Kevin Hart and Dwyane Wade are friends, although the two have hammed it up for cameras over the years as purported enemies from time-to-time. The relationship between the two has always been jocular, and the recent joke Wade played on Hart was no different.

As Hart saw his way to Miami this past week to play a show in American Airlines Arena, Wade showed up to his team’s home building to give Hart a special gift.

Via Twitter:

Hart tried to play it off like the jersey was a gift for his son, Kenzo, who will turn 1 in November.

Looks like Kevin is the comedian but Dwyane’s the one who got jokes.

Ben Wallace says he battled depression in years following retirement

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Ben Wallace was a four-time All-Star, four-time Defensive Player of the Year, and NBA champion with the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons. Wallace’s final season in the NBA was in 2011-12 during his second stint with Detroit, and since then he’s not been in the eye of the general public.

Wallace made nearly $90 million during his time in the NBA, and his retirement at age 37 should have set him up to find new challenges and enjoy the rest of his life. But according to Wallace, life without basketball was extremely difficult in the two years following his final NBA game.

In a recent article in The Undefeated, Wallace detailed his trip into depression in the years following his retirement. Wallace said that he lost weight, and felt as though he had no purpose.

Via The Undefeated:

“Basketball is sort of mind-controlling,” said Wallace. “It takes you on a journey of extreme highs and extreme lows. It almost makes you need it. One day I can go out and get 20 rebounds and tomorrow I can come out and get seven or eight. Now, you’re sort of waiting for the next time to prove yourself. When you retire, you start feeling left out, no one’s really checking on you, you ain’t getting no phone calls that you used to get. Then you start to get low, but there’s no game tomorrow to lift you up, so you just keep sinking and sinking.”

Wallace has since rebounded from his darkest days, seeking out help through friends and re-involving himself with basketball. Wallace reached out to the likes of Rick Carlisle, Mike Woodson, and Doc Rivers, all of whom helped him dip his toes back into organized basketball.
Wallace is now part-owner and chairman of a G-League team, the Grand Rapids Drive, and stays busy as the owner of an RC car company.

The stigma around mental health discussions in the NBA has slowly started to fade with the help of several current stars. It’s great to see Wallace speak about his problems openly, and that he’s been able to find new purpose in his life.

Report: Stephen Curry won’t face suspension after stepping off bench during Lakers dust-up

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Lance Stephenson is already mixing things up in Los Angeles. The Lakers wing got into an altercation with Golden State Warriors backup Quinn Cook during a preseason game this week, and was ejected after throwing a punch at Cook’s head.

Meanwhile, the NBA reviewed the tape and determined that no other discipline would be necessary, including any toward Stephen Curry or DeMarcus Cousins.

Ever vigilant, a league is particularly sensitive to players leaving the bench area during an altercation ever since Game 4 of the 2007 playoff series between the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs in which Robert Horry hip check Steve Nash into the scores table.

The league review the tape and found that both Curry and Cousins took steps off their bench. However, neither will be suspended thanks to how the league views the actual dust-up between Stephenson and Cook.

Via Yahoo!:

The two stars will not be reprimanded because the league did not deem the activity of Lakers guard Lance Stephenson and Warriors guard Quinn Cook as being an “altercation,” sources said.

Had Curry been disciplined, he would have been forced to sit out Tuesday’s anticipated season-opener at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Cousins would have served his suspension once he returned from an Achilles injury.

What this appears to mean is that the league saw the ejection as a one-sided swing from Stephenson and nothing more.

Plus, it would be hard to imagine the season starting without Curry on the floor for the Warriors.

Charles Barkley says he thought he was going to be Orlando Magic GM in 2017

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There’s no doubt that you have watched countless hours of former NBA player Charles Barkley on “Inside the NBA”. Often bombastic and always opinionated, Barkley stands as one of the more controversial talking heads on that show.

There’s no doubt that Barkley is very good at his job and the role that he plays. But would he make a competent NBA general manager?

That’s the question many have after Barkley revealed that he thought he was going to take over the top management spot for the Orlando Magic in 2017.

Speaking on the radio in Chicago this week, Barkley said that he interviewed for the position and was sure he was going to be the man for the job.

Via Twitter:

Barkley would have certainly been an interesting choice. One can only imagine the roster construction and theory behind any squad he would cook up.

Meanwhile, that teams get close to hiring former players to do anything at a top level — coach or GM — remains incredible. His co-host Kenny Smith had interviewed for the Detroit Pistons job this summer, but didn’t get plucked. These are all corporations valued at more than a billion dollars, and yet they give more weight that’s due to guys who have played in the league.

Elton Brand for the Philadelphia 76ers makes sense, having worked in player development and been the GM of a G-League team before his hiring. Hell, Vlade Divac worked in basketball administration for a full decade before becoming the Sacramento Kings GM, and that’s not working out so hot.

But Chuck and Kenny? Entertaining as all get out on TV, but shaky choices for top GM spots.

NBA teams stay doing NBA team stuff.