Timeout

Past Features

Enraptored! Read more

 

The dunk that saved a league. Read the story

Remembering Jordan and the Pistons. Read the story

Does the Hornets brand still have sting? Read the story

Muggsy Bogues and point guards of stature. Read the story

NCAA legend Dwayne McClain reflects on his Sydney Kings career and talks about the NBL's future. Read the Q&A 

Lauren Jackson helps us forget the end of the Seattle Sonics. Read the story

 

Search
Submissions

 

HALF COURT PRESS

EDITOR: JP PELOSI

 

SUBMISSIONS

We welcome submissions at HCP. Stories should be no more than 750 words and preferably closer to 500. We're looking for unique angles or insight, analysis, personal narrative, and even nostalgia pieces. 

Please be sure to proof your article before submitting it. Only stories of a high quality will be considered. We endeavour to respond to all submissions but please forgive us you don't hear back - we're probably glued to a gripping finale! 

Blog Index
Navigation
Make Good Use of Your Sidebar

Use this space for anything from simple blocks of text to powerful widgets, like our Twitter and Flickr widgets. Learn more.

To access Website Management, hit the 'esc' key or use this Login link.

Monday
Nov092015

Why your love of sports is bigger than any team

By J.P. Pelosi

There’s a prevailing idea in popular culture that sports fans must be loyal to their team — forever. This heavy burden, which is typically imposed from a young age, not only demands an incredible commitment, but also whips up barroom debate whenever the chips are down for the club in question. Let’s face it, the chips are often in short supply for many teams, but perhaps none have been more empty-handed of late than the New York Knicks.

So I’ve been wondering why fans of such teams remain so blindly dedicated to them, particularly when owners and their management seem to operate in spite of their support? Listen, if your chief goal is to make money, and certainly when you run a corporatized sporting club it is, it doesn’t necessarily follow that your fan base is the top priority. I know this as a part-time fan of the Toronto Raptors, a club that’s preferred low impact spending sprees over the past 20 years to thoughtfully building a winning team and culture. Thankfully that’s changed lately, but man it’s been soul wrenching existence to this point — an exercise in supplanting one’s love of the game in order to stick with the team.

In light of this, the sports fan, unlike many punters who seek and often pay for what is essentially popular entertainment, is really held to a different standard. After all, I loved Bon Jovi growing up in the eighties, especially their album Slippery When Wet, but does that early affiliation require me to serve a lifetime commitment? I actually still like Bon Jovi, though certainly feel a particular nostalgia for their earlier work, and I don’t imagine anyone takes issue with this. Indeed many of us follow similar trajectories in our cultural journeys, along which our tastes change and our idea of what’s worth committing to — at least in the present phase of our lives — develops, shifts, or expands. Though I’m sure for some people that a band like The Rolling Stones were the benchmark of rock and roll in 1971, and remain so today. This happens, for better or worse.

Tribal behavior

Sporting club loyalties are different, however, mostly because they don’t produce singular outputs that are easy to return to after a long absence, the way you’d return to, say, The Stones’ Sticky Fingers album. Let’s also not forget that Mick Jagger still quarterbacks the Stones, so to speak, while on any given sports team, the players seem to change annually. And so as fans, we’re continually asked to support the club or the jersey, not the front man in the jersey. This can be a testing practice, because it means one’s sentiments toward a particular team must be sort of esoteric in nature, impenetrable because they reflect the tastes of a group.

While there is strength in numbers, long-term fandom requires a completely illogical state of mind, because undoubtedly your feelings about your team will change as you grow older and your world views are shaped, despite the collective ideas or passions of anyone else.

Which leads to the simple question: We form and join tribes, but are we beholden to them forever?

The majority of fans will continue to love their teams despite lengthy periods of losing, or the deplorable behavior of some players, or even the incompetence of front offices. That’s the life of a fan— you roll with the punches. But there are extenuating circumstances — surely. For example, as I’ve watched the Knicks fall from their intoxicating highs — a club that’s almost unrivaled in the excitement it seems to generate when it succeeds — I’ve questioned how even the loyalist Knicks fan can maintain a passion for, or even an interest in, a team that hasn’t been relevant since before Facebook. Some fans haven’t budged. But, fortunately, there are those who see their fandom in isolation, separate from the madness of peer pressure, like filmmaker Brian Koppelman, who against the grain, questioned his allegiance to the Knicks in a short essay that he wrote for Grantland, a few years back.

He wrote:

We can decide to recognize that the team we loved does not exist anymore. That it can never exist as long as the Dolans own it. We can decide to see the Knicks for what they actually are, not what we wish them to be, like the husband who realizes, finally, after everyone else has told him, that his wife is not only cheating, but poisoning his mac and cheese. I am done eating poisoned mac and cheese. And I am done with the New York Knicks. Let’s go, Brooklyn!

If you’re a Knicks fans and spitting your Ruffles right now as Kristaps Porzingis throws it down, naive to Koppelman’s brave declaration of 2012, it’s worth thinking about the purity of his stance. What’s easy to miss — and you need to read the entire piece to understand this — is that the man clearly loves the game, and has a history with it, which is why he’s demanding a higher standard. We could argue over what it means to be a real fan until the end of time, but a genuine passion for the sport should count for something. It just might be everything, in fact. (Koppelman seems to have reluctantly stuck with the Knicks since writing that piece).

And still, we’re led to believe that our initial sporting bonds, the ones between each of us and our respective clubs, must hold firm.

It’s in our blood

Some sportswriters, like Bill Simmons, typically cry foul at the ‘team switching’ notion, insulating themselves from such fair-weather nonsense with a fraternal-like bond for the team they grew up with. Fair enough. I imagine that it’d be near impossible for Pittsburgh Steelers fans, or indeed Boston Red Sox supporters like Simmons, living in those respective cities during their formative years, to disassociate from the home club — no matter the circumstances of the day. Changing allegiances is never even suggested in these towns, which is why so many people seem to bristle whenever the topic rears up.

You get this sense in Toronto, where the majority of residents are devotees of the storied but long-suffering Maple Leafs hockey club, which is so ingrained on the city’s consciousness that an almost 50-year Stanley Cup drought has done little to curb enthusiasm for the team. I lived in Toronto for a short while and the commitment of local hockey fans was so steely that I’m pressed to think of supporters in any sport that could surpass its level of fanaticism, though I’m certain many towns would promptly offer their own examples — be it the Celtics in Boston, the Browns in Cleveland, the Canadiens in Montreal, or, say, Liverpool fans in English soccer. There are, of course, numerous places where a single club is as much a part of the city as its most beloved diner. I mean the experience of following the Green Bay Packers from within the city limits must embolden the locals like few sporting experiences could, mostly because of the colorful history and tremendous success of the team, and certainly because of celebrated names like Lombardi and Favre, who are as integral to the sport’s fabric as Knute Rockne, Pete Rozelle and Monday Night Football.

Infantile and ignoble

When it comes to fan loyalty, I often think about the Seattle Supersonics. It’s certainly hard to rationalize undying dedication to any professional sports clubs when a sudden break-up is possible, isn't it? But sports fans so deeply care about their teams, as seen by Seattle’s ongoing campaign to win back its club, and this is at the very heart of being a fan — the infantile and ignoble joy — as the great writer Roger Angell once called it. The problem is that when you lay your heart on the line, you don’t always count on the irrepressible powers of commerce. I imagine Seattle’s story wouldn’t have felt so cruel had its collective adoration amounted to a few more championship banners.

When our passion has been bled dry though, there’s little left but numbers formed by dimly lit bulbs on a scoreboard. 

Sunday
Nov012015

What does Al Harrington bring to the Kings?


The arrival of Al Harrington to Sydney means fans no longer have to worry about where their side's scoring punch will come from, as they forge on without injured star Josh Childress. Harrington knows how to tally points folks, and at 6-foot-9, should have very little problem finding a clear sight to baskets around the NBL

Harrington is especially prone to reserving spots around the three-point line, as we saw countless times during his NBA career, where he had a knack for slinking into position around the perimeter before being fed the ball for a quick-fire three. In basketball parlance, this is called 'catch-and-shoot', and it’s something the Kings need to focus on with their new import gunner.

Yes, Harrington has some miles on his sneakers – 16 seasons in the NBA will see to that, whether you’re pouring in 40 points for the New York Knicks or just making quick as a bullet appearances for the Washington Wizards. He’s 35 and that means probably doesn’t have too much spring left, but that shouldn’t impact his contribution, which will lean on his all-around versatility. It's the type of repertoire that's featured big dunks, the sort you'd expect from a man his height, but also strong dribbling skills, which have seen him shake more than his share of defenders. The Kings should be hopeful that Harrington can at least bring this aspect of his game to Sydney, a club that's lacked the spark needed to overcome the likes of even mid-tier teams like Adelaide and Illawarra of late.

Childress had provided that offensive ignition in recent times, using his length, jump and general athleticism to his advantage, and in this regard, has really proven too much for most NBL defenders to handle. Harrington probably won’t be as lively, simply because he isn’t in that phase of his career. But he can still get around the floor, free himself up on the give-and-go, as seen in many of his highlights playing in China last season, muscle inside with delicate finishes around the basket, and can pass deftly off the dribble when the mood takes him.

This might just be the start of an exciting run for Sydney, if they can work Harrington’s varied arsenal into its current scheme, that is. On the attacking end, he'll have a ready hand outstretched and there won't be much opponents can do to discourage or stop him. Meanwhile, defence and rebounding haven't always been among Harrington's best attributes, but the Kings have other players to meet those needs, such as Julian Kazzouh, which makes the former NBA man's acquisition seem reasonably well-considered. Plus Harrington's size alone should help him fluster smaller NBL forwards and also nab his share of boards, which will surely be a bonus when you consider the type of offensive range he brings to the NBL.

 

Sunday
Apr122015

Why the Spurs are still too good for the Rockets

Basketball is most compelling, I think, when two opposing styles meet. For instance, a fast-breaking team that thrives on inspiration, comes up against a half-court offense that uses set plays. The eighties iteration of the Los Angeles Lakers comes to mind, as they were so free-wheeling that just about every opponent played with a contrary style. It was always must-watch TV.

In 2015, a number of NBA teams allow the parameters of probability—revealed to their front office through statistical analysis—lead their style. For example, the San Antonio Spurs have been playing an entertaining brand of basketball in recent years, using a strategy that centres on rapid ball movement, and that often culminates in three-pointers. This is by design because no team has attempted more corner threes than the Spurs, according to ESPN's Great Analytics Rankings.

More than a few stats junkies in the media appreciate this, especially because as far as basketball shots go, three-pointers have become a logical favorite. It's hardly surprising, given that they're worth more than any other. I'm sure if every free throw was suddenly worth one-and-a-half points, we'd soon see the folks at the MIT Sloan Sports Conference spinning on the floor like Homer Simpson.

While the Spurs' staff are said to pore over the numbers as diligently as analytics leaders like the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors, you might not know it. I didn't. Not until I saw ESPN's list of NBA teams that are really into the numbers—especially the newer ones, which are often referred to as 'advanced stats'. The Spurs were in the top five, which to my mind, was a highly improbable placing, mainly because they play such beautiful basketball. What I mean to say is, since when is splendid passing borne from numbers on a page?

The Spurs' style sees the ball pushed to the hands of open teammates with such conviction that it seems as though all five players on the court have memorised the choreography, which is certainly different to playing probabilities. That's more about moving into a position based on the likelihood of an outcome. But won't the likelihoods change each trip down the court? (I suppose if you're intent on shooting threes all the time, maybe they don't).

Over in Houston, the Rockets have a more explicit fascination with the numerical side of basketball, and I say that because at least in the columns of media outlets, it's a far more popular story. Led by general manager Daryl Morey, and his calculator, the Rockets are also greatly concerned with probabilities. Morey recently said that the basketball data his team uses is granular but rich.

"If you want to look at style of play, i.e., how quickly the players move, how much they get up the floor, how often they are spaced, how often they are clumped—that kind of data can really glean the different styles of play in the NBA, both at the team level and at the individual level," Morey said in an interview with Northwestern University. "If you want to look at all the derivatives of movement in terms of position, velocity, acceleration, jerk—you can get all those things with the data that we now have."

These measures sound interesting and presumably show the organization trends that can be suitably addressed in any future contest, and against any opponent—even perhaps the Harlem Globetrotters. The trouble, however, is that no amount of study about trends is likely to ever stymie a club like the Spurs, who, despite their own penchant for analytics, really seem to hit spots on the floor and find spaces based on what's presented to them. That's what I think, at least. Yes, the Spurs apparently use numbers, but there's something different about their application of them. For them, the game appears to always return to instincts—a kind of improvised magic—which might look choreographed, but clearly involves quick thinking and athleticism as well. Of course, good basketball teams do some planning, and even some after-midnight analysis, but any former player or fanatic of the game knows that plans—or set plays, or indeed the study of tendencies, shouldn't be used frequently but situationally. 

See, the concern one might have with an analytical focus to the game is that its proponents invest so much time and energy into the exercise that they rely on it too frequently. I think this was really at the heart of Charles Barkley's recent complaint—he didn't mean it like that stats people! Let's remember, Chuck was a great improvisational player: Why would someone with his skill level care about probabilities? Such players drop their head, plough forward and WILL score. Whatever the defense. No matter the consequences. 

Houston is known to rely heavily on three-pointers too, as well as creating scoring chances close to the hoop. They like the combo of the two in their offense, actually. This strategy, and the success that's come from it, has even led Grantland editor Bill Simmons to suggest that NBA players who can't contribute to it are now outdated. For example, on his podcast he regularly laments the shooting limitations of Dallas Mavericks' point guard, Rajon Rondo, who can't shoot the three and has been resisting the dribble drive too. And yet, Rondo plays for a team and owner who are 'all in' on advanced stats. Go figure.

This brings us to the recent Spurs-Rockets contest in which San Antonio not only outplayed Houston but outsmarted them. (And no, I'm not referring to the sneaky good but contentious block by Tim Duncan in the final seconds). The truth is, Houston could print off all the data inside their laptops, tuck torn pages of it into the shorts of its stars for quick reference, and they'd still fail to keep up with the ball when whipped around by the Spurs—from the top of the key, down to the corner, into the low post, then back to the point, and over to the foul line extended. 

But here's the thing—the Spurs shot the three terribly in this one, connecting on just 4 of 17. So there's no way they should have won, right? Especially with the Rockets hitting 9 of 21 from deep by comparison. I mean come on! That's 27 points to 12 in the three column—a significant advantage. But, you know, the Spurs have other methods, ways of adjusting, tinkering on the fly and playing the game as it unfolds.

The Rockets also used big man Dwight Howard for their interior play and, as such, dominated the shot chart with 'x's' inside the paint. This made up a great deal of their offense and proved to be potent. Meanwhile, the Spurs attack featured a number of long twos, which must have thrilled the Houston front office, who have practically led a campaign to rid the game of such disgusting habits. Well, San Antonio's shooters connected on these 'ill-advised' shots as if they'd been up watching Karl Malone clips all night. Then, Patty Mills chipped in a few timely threes, they shared the ball some more, and finally, there was no denying the value of their excellent team defense. The Spurs showed the Rockets the full repertoire in their 104-103 win.

What does this all mean, anyway? Does the Spurs' talent and depth simply outweigh the Rocket's analytical effort? Is it possible that the two positives of these numerically inclined clubs have created a negative for the Rockets? Or is it simply that physics, biology and yes, chemistry—subjects at which no team excels more than San Antonio—will always trump good math?

Don't ask me, I just like good basketball. 

Saturday
Feb142015

The Nuggets' Rocky Mountain Low

By J.P. Pelosi

If you just tuned into the Denver Nuggets season because, oh I don’t know, you’ve been too busy with news about deflated footballs, and working out why Damian Lillard isn’t an NBA All-Star, well, you may be in for a shock.

The Nuggies’ record is 19-30, just two games up on the Utah Jazz, who’ve gone 4-6 in their last 10, as per NBA.com. Hey, that’s actually solid in the plodding Northwest Division, especially when you consider that the Nuggets are 1-9 over their last 10 outings.

This horrible run of basketball, which led one CBS Sports columnist to call the team a ‘train wreck’, seemed to come to a head in a 104-86 rout at the hands of the Charlotte Hornets last week.

If only it did. The Hornets loss was just one of many stings, with no relief in sight.

Apparently intent on giving up on their club, coach and Denver’s loyal fans, the Nuggets additionally mailed in their most recent performance against quite possibly the league’s worst team, Philadelphia, losing 105-98.

And don’t let the close score fool you: the Sixers’ Hollis Thompson, who hit 1-of-9 shots against the Pistons last week, and 3-of-7 against the cowering Wolves, couldn’t miss on this occasion.

His lights-out shooting in the first half gave the 76ers a 61-40 lead at the break, a gap so insurmountable that even the quick-triggered legend Michael Adams couldn’t have thrown up enough 3’s to close it in time.

Still, point guard Jameer Nelson looked to be trying in the second half, as he mostly has since arriving from Boston last month. That’s at least something. And Danilo Gallinari finally sunk a few buckets for 22 points, though at this point it’s unlikely anybody noticed.

I say this because Denver is in a weird place right now. And I’m not talking about one with rainbow striped buildings. That’d at least be fun.

No, the word on the street, across the web and echoing through Colorado’s old gold fields is that the Nuggies aren’t even trying. Coach Brian Shaw insinuated as much to the press recently, as covered by The Denver Post, and judging by the on-court product of late, it’s hard to argue.

How did we get here?

I mean earlier this season I was among those touting this group as a potential eighth seed in the west. Now they’re shipping players, battling a locker room mutiny, and the most positive piece of news on the club’s website is that Rocky, the team mascot, is gearing up for Valentine’s Day this year.

Now I’m not certain I understand what ‘Send your Valentine the gift of Rocky’ actually means, but hopefully its something more appealing than the passionless basketball we’re currently seeing in Denver.

 

*This story first appeared on Sir Charles In Charge.

Tuesday
Dec302014

Can the Thunder beat the Spurs when it counts?

Ish Smith charged up court and into the San Antonio Spurs’ key, where he was greeted by the typically towering and intimidating silver and black defenders. Smith stopped, turned, and tossed the ball to a trailing Serge Ibaka, who awkwardly nailed a leaning three-pointer.

Commentator Hubie Brown called it “good basketball,” but like so much Thunder ball, it was really more opportunistic than anything else. To the keen observer, Oklahoma City finds chances that aren’t really there, and more often than not, it’s up the middle of the court.

Read the full post on SI.com's Fansided blog, Sir Charles In Charge

Thursday
Dec042014

88 miles per hour! 

It’s easy to forget that a flux capacitor, a barrel of plutonium and a top speed of 88 miles per hour in combination, can send you hurtling through time.

Luckily, we have Russell Westbrook to remind us that when he’s on the basketball court, the application of this method permits him to rip across the court like Doc Brown’s DeLorean. The instant he pushes down on the accelerator there’s simply no catching Westbrook, who roars by opposing defenders like they’re stuck in 1955, and he’s headed for 2015.

Indeed, the Oklahoma City Thunder have already tossed away their 2014 calendars and are gazing toward June 2015, and a shot at an NBA Championship. That hope, firstly hinges on Westbrook’s blistering pace and supreme energy, which was on full display last week when he returned to the court against the New York Knicksafter being injured for a month.

The only sign of his injury, in fact, was a protective brace on his shooting hand, which may as well have been for show, because at a glance, Westbrook looked as brilliant as the airborne time machine in the Back To The Future movie. That this team started with a 4-12 record is surely now an afterthought, like the fiery vapor trails that vanished from the Hill Valley sky.

When Westbrook is on, dribbling high – then low – with a cross and a spin, leaping beyond defenders to lay it in or slam it down, there’s no stopping him. No way. When he’s tuned in like that, as he was against the hapless Knicks (who should just add the word ‘hapless’ to their moniker), you simply want to be a Thunder fan because it’s riveting.

Read the full post on Fansided

Saturday
Nov012014

Why the Nuggets are the Northwest Division sleeper

Everything we’re hearing about the Denver Nuggets right now is that they have depth. And while it’s certainly good to have a lengthy and versatile roster in the NBA, it won’t exactly drive jersey sales.

When a team is said to have depth, it’s like a pretty girl calling you a “good friend.” In this regard, the Denver Nuggets have become the dorky rom-com buddy who’s always polite and punctual, but never gets his lenses fogged up. This can be advantageous though, because as we all know, the dorky friend always beats the popular jock in the end.

So just how will the Denver Nuggets stand up to the likes of the much cooler Thunder and Blazers? Well, with the very versatility that their strange and eclectic roster boasts. Coach Brian Shaw has said he wants to run and gun, but also be physical inside. While seemingly contradictory thoughts, I think I know what he means.

(It’s a confusing roster, so we should expect any ideas about how it will be utilized to be equally perplexing!)

Read the full post on Fansided

Wednesday
Oct082014

Previewing the finale of Kobe's Lake Show

Everyone realizes it’s one of those down eras for the Lakers that swing by more infrequently than Halley’s Comet. Great clubs need moments of rejuvenation every now and then, you know, where they can ice the knees and sip some Gatorade.

That time is now for LA’s purple and gold, which conversely has meant good fortune has fallen upon their red and blue brethren, the Clippers. Yes, Jack Nicholson knows this is as bad as it gets, while Billy Crystal no longer has to scare up support for his squad.

For all the criticism the Lakers are getting ahead of the new season, mostly because their roster doesn’t look good enough to compete with the Washington Generals, there’s something admirable about this mob. It’s a team of young and unaccomplished parts, spear-headed by two of the sport’s all-time greats, one of whom especially, refuses to surrender to the rust that’s setting into his joints.

Fine, Kobe Bryant isn’t the self-catapulting basketball ninja that he once was, but he’s still one of the best ever, and won’t go quietly into the night. We know this, that even on one ankle, with the soles of his sneakers wearing thin, blindfolded with his pants pulled down, Kobe is still a threat.

His grinding down reminds me of Magic at last call, when instead of bustling his way across court with the ball being bounced up at his ears, Magic turned his back to the basket like a kid trying to keep it from his bigger brother. In this position, which seemingly lulled defenses into a slumber, Magic continued to pull a rabbit from the hat. That’s just the way it is, you play to your strengths.

And so to Kobe, who has no sharper arrow in his quiver than his self-belief. If Michael Jordan invented the hyper intensity of take-no-prisoners basketball, Kobe refined it, pushing himself to succeed when everyone else said he should be inspecting retirement homes in Boca Raton. Well folks, all he’s ever cared about is the equipment in the fitness centre. Oh, and the tapioca pudding I'm told.

While he’s never been my favorite Laker, I appreciate Kobe’s extraordinary effort. How can you not? No matter how close the Lakers drop to the NBA floor this season, setting off more alarms than a sweaty Ethan Hunt, his hunger to compete has surely never been more evident. You only need to consider the current roster and the prospect of him having to carry it to see this.

Conversely, there’s a likeable vulnerability to Kobe now, which is seeping into the picture of his career like the decaying edges of an old photograph. Like that photo, Kobe’s no longer crisp, but rather imperfect, and this undoubtedly troubles him as it does all the great athletes. And yet, from the sideline, it’s hard to not admire his seemingly endless and tireless pursuit for victory, buoyed by a melancholic sense of invincibility, which still yet might produce something noteworthy. 

Or maybe it won't. Listen, Magic remained my favorite player after he shaved the goatee, perhaps a sign that he was no longer young enough for fast styles, or breaks. Like Kobe now, he played on in the slower years, the old dog – the underdog, as it were – giving it one last heave before the era finally ended. That's all you can ask for.