Who really won the NBA lockout?

January 15, 2012

Would Harrison Barnes have been one-and-done?

As the final fourteen seconds ticked down in Donald L. Tucker Collessium in Talahasee Florida, on Saturday afternoon, UNC star Harrison Barnes walked with most of his team to the locker room.  He may have thought ‘I could be losing in the NBA right now.’  He’s right, of course; he could be losing in the NBA.  If he had declared for the draft and left North Carolina after last season, Barnes would likely have been a top three picks, perhaps going 2nd to the Timberwolves, who need a player like Barnes more than another power forward, which is who they got in Derrick Williams.  If that had happened, the Seminoles would still have beaten the Tar Heels.  We wouldn’t all have been as amazed though.  It would have been our loss.

As it turned out, Barnes and a slew of other NBA prospects returned to college for another season rather than enter the draft, get picked in the lottery, and risk what turned into a messy ‘labour’ dispute which ate one fifth of the season.  That gave us the best hoops moment of the weekend, pros included.  It gave us Barnes and his Heels being topped by 1 by #1 Kentucky, who’s Sophomore Terrence Jones went 14 and 7.  In a normal NBA offseason, he too is likely drafted, and currently toiling for a big league lottery team.  He was there though, contributing to a classic.  A week later Jones had four points and six turnovers in another thriller; this time a one point loss at Indiana.

The NCAA hoops fan is the clear winner of the NBA lockout.  This early list of contenders for Player of the Year includes only two players who would likely have gone in the lottery, and therefore would just as likely have gone professional before this season, if it were a normal one.  However,that’s assuming that Jeremy Lamb was always coming back.  Jared Sullinger is first on the list, and his intentions always seemed to be to return to Ohio State, but players have often reversed enthusiastic public positions to become lottery picks; especially number one, which Sullinger could have been.

In the top ten picks of last year’s NBA draft, there were a combined 12 years of NCAA experience, and 1/3 of them belonged to #10 pick Jimmer Freddette.  This year projections have the top ten leaving with about 18 years of experience.  That 50% increase is likely to hold, or even increase slightly when the season is complete and draft intentions are declared.   In short, a handful of top players remained in the NCAA for a year longer than they normally would have.  Will this extra year at the college level help those players develop?  Perhaps.  Already this fortunate fallout of the NBA lockout has contributed to an entertaining year, which promises to finish with a tournament which will be exciting as it always is.  This year though, it will have a little more star power.


Basketbrawl VIII: Rockets Red Menace

September 21, 2011

An uncomfortable incident occurred on Chinese hardwood recently, and I’m not talking about the ping-pong trick.  A friendly between the Bayi Rockets of the Chinese professional basketball league and the Georgetown Hoyas erupted into a melee.  It is was much worse than the ‘Malice at the Palace’ in terms of punches landed and players attacking each other, and the same in terms of crowd reaction and on-court official reaction.  The event was covered in the news cycle, but seems to have been lost, possibly dropped behind the great firewall by those engaging bumblers at the Washington Post.

One month later, unanswered questions linger like the disappointed memories of a goodwill trip turned borderline international incident.  The most interesting pair are: When is the next goodwill tour of China by an NCAA basketball team (surely other sports are more civilized)?  What were the ramifications for the players and officials involved?

To begin answering the former question, we must acknowledge that the Bari Rockets are not just a team in the CBA, they are the team.  They feature first ever Chinese NBA player Wang Zhizhi, and they are the Yankees, the Man U, the Canadiens, of Chinese hoops.  They are also sponsored by the army, as in ‘Bayi’ refers to the army, rather than where they play.  This article contains an account of the full trip, including the incident, and in fact seems to be the most extensive account on the net, but it does not answer our question.  While it purports to deal with the question about future goodwill tours, it is written from the perspective of someone in the Georgetown delegation, writing in something called ‘the Diplomat,’ so the incentives are all pointing directly towards the conciliatory tone in which the author does not actually mention any players feelings about the event (bait-and-switching with the ‘overall trip’ and the reconciliation afterword to fake the impression that he has).

Those feelings, and the way they proliferate throughout the NCAA may affect the number of goodwill tours in the future.  Those who do not recognizing this may also not be realizing that as the exchange rate changes, and flight costs rise, destinations like South America, Eastern Europe or even Nigeria will become more attractive.  Those areas already offer more teams playing at an appropriate level, where Bayi are the Chinese hoops fans’ only hope for a victory over the visiting Americans.

The latter question, about the suspensions and fines which would have been assumed, delivered, and feverishly reported had it been an NBA altercation, is equally difficult to answer.  This article gives an interesting glimpse into the Chinese social and institutional reaction and method.  It does not, however, answer the question: did anybody get suspended?  Reports of Georgetown coach John Thompson being yelled at for unknown reasons, and even more so these two statements on the Georgetown website, suggest that the Hoya’s view the whole thing as some kind of inexplicable nightmare which is best simply forgotten.  The Chinese reaction may suggest that they view it the same way, but the lack of information allows any sort of wild speculation.

Time will answer the first question for us, but it may never be known if there was any punishment meted out to the Chinese players or not.  The punishment for the Hoyas involved, apparently, will be left at that delivered on the court during the incident itself.  In light, however, of any real news on the NBA labor front (unsubstantiated and obviously false Chris Sheridan rumors notwithstanding), why has there been so little in print about it?  Perhaps international politics, fistfights and basketball are not as exciting, even in combination, as Ron Artest’s name . . . nah!

What is the WNBA?

August 23, 2011

Part 1:  Equality in Sports?


Summertime Pro Hoops

This post was originally titled, ‘Should We Encourage Women to Play Sports?’  This title was scrapped because the question is too facetious: obviously I think everyone should play more sports.  The question is not interesting in itself, but the answer starts the inquisitive ball rolling down a path that leads quickly to territory usually ignored.  That territory will be surveyed , and a scouting report delivered, sportsvssports style, right here over the next couple of weeks.

The question obviously begged by any reasonable answer to my initial question is ‘How should we do so?’  From the first to the second question, the answers become contentious.  Children have been enrolling in sports at a declining rate, although the decline is less for young girls than it is for older children or similar aged boys.  Enrollment in Olympic sport clubs tends to rise and fall in relation to how recent Olympics were, and the rise in popularity of basketball among women certainly suggests that media exposure and ‘big league’ treatment influence children’s choices.

It would seem then that encouraging girls to participate in school can be done through mass media marketing.  Another method is by offering tax incentives for sports participation, which is likely an effective remedy of one barrier, but does not affect the child’s interest.  Without getting sidetracked with a debate about the tax incentive’s effectiveness, we can all agree that motivation to participate in sport is what we want to encourage, and where the biggest gains in actual participation can be made.  School seems like a natural place to be exposed to different sports, and given basic instruction in them.  For many if not most of us, school is where we first played the majority of sports, with only ‘big league’ team sports being played at the neighbourhood park, or on the road.

The largest body of data ever accumulated around the participation of women in sports was gathered about women in NCAA sports.  It showed that when the US college system applied ‘Title IX’ rules, around 1972, female participation grew and continued to grow through 2000, when the number of women participating in American college sports surpassed 150,000, a 372% increase from the year before Title IX was put in place.  Title IX is a set of rules attached to federal college funding (meager though it is, compared with state post-secondary funding throughout the rest of the developed world), set up to deal with academic gender discrimination, but which also stipulates essentially that colleges must provide and fund women’s teams for each sport in which they have a men’s team (excepting football).

Not surprisingly, the sport which benefits the most from this situation is the NCAA’s other big money sport, basketball.  In other words, it is reasonable to suggest, if not quite obviously fact that, NCAA gender-equality rules allowed basketball to grow amongst women.  The rules allowed that growth to continue within a certain institution, and therefore age group, for decades, and eventually this growth led to a women’s big-league.  Has the popularization of women’s hoops culminated in the WNBA?  Was said popularization better developed along different lines, with the WNBA a male-centric road-block?  Has the WNBA made basketball more popular among girls, or did girls’ interest in basketball (encouraged by Title IX) force the NBA to speculatively create its female counterpart?

Feel free to answer those questions for me in the comments section, or ask others, while I prepare part 2 of this series.  Part 2 will focus on other sports, where there is precedent for women’s pro leagues, women in men’s pro leagues, and all sorts of dangerously explosive fodder.  Picture of a young woman in skimpy clothing guaranteed.