Sea of false trumpets

I'm sure that, despite yourselves, most of you have by now read Pat Forde's column on what a Dirk championship would mean for international hoops. It's hardly an original idea; hell, before loons were born FreeDarko was touting Darko as a figure who could permanently reorganize the NBA as we know it, take it global and overturn all oppressive cliches. And doubtlessly, at this point "Euros" remain relative outsiders; for one of them to cart off the LOB would provide that one absolutely inarguable proof of "their" right to live.

Forde does point out that Hakeem and Duncan are in some ways international players, meaning that pure-bred Americans suddenly don't have such a recent lock on the "centerpiece on the ultimate winner" status. And he does note that the Spurs relied heavily on their thoroughly arrivisite backcourt duo. I find it a little bizarre, though, that Dirk hoisting it high surrounded by a pretty fucking gully bunch of new jacks and Lost Years retreads would do more for the Euro then, say, Duncan, Parker and Manu hikin' up the proverbial shorts. Basketball games are not won by individuals, and only rarely does a star leave an indelible fingerprint on each and every motion his team makes. If I had a knit penny for every time that the General is credited with Dirk's transformation and the wondrous run it has allowed for, I'd be sick with wool; if Pop is seen as the U.S. counter-weight on the Spurs' trans-continental drift, certainly Avery's Mavs are in no danger of getting EU micor-chips implanted in the back of their necks.

I am also bashed across the pecs by how easily people switch up the significance of the mighty Euro. Spineless as they may have been, these prospects were gleefully welcomed into the Association by those waiting on the return of the bounce pass and the mid-range bonanza. Their immensely thoughtful grasp of the fundamentals and supposed devotion to the team game fell like creamiest evening upon their mind's dunk-scorched eye, the cavalry to save where many a Duke graduate had failed. Technicalities aside, they were as Establishment as it came, so I'm not sure why having this movement's banner automoton animated by the basketball's own Holy Roller is some kind of league-rending statement. This is the Euro assimilated, conditioned, brought to serve the master who in the first place stamped his visa. A Mavs championship would, on the contrary, reinforce the Spurs/Pistons "right way" era, slap another nail in the coffin of the Iverson Generation, and set out a bold new challenge for these supposedly more responsible studs now on the rise.

In the end, however, this slightly paranoid fantasia crumbles away based not on Dirk, or Avery Johnson's pedigree, but on the singularity of this team. Yes, Dirk is being made to play like a man, a bunch of gunners are learning the value of falling into line, and the tower of basketball fundamentalism is visible from all angles. I would insist, though, that it's a far more cooperative effort, that no one rules anyone else, and that at the end of the day, this is just basketball. What brings together Dirk, Josh Howard, and the alternately valiant and hilarious late-Stack? Nothing except that they all know how to play a little. What does Avery do? Yell a lot, motivate, encourage vigor and will. No bat-headed system or draconian scowl. He may be a taskmaster, but he's also a players' coach, a general like they did in the War Between the States. If the Mavs win, it won't be Nowitzki's "leadership" or socio-cultural valence that'll deserve the historic swerving and plunge into fissure. Rather, it'll be Avery, who found a way to heal all that was broken within this sport, who has welded a truly memorable amulet up against the clouds.

NOTE: Dude with tuba=


At 6/06/2006 2:39 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

I worried about the possible FD influence when I read this right after I'd posted something similar about the same article.

I don't know how Forde can essentially switch "The Right Way" to the continent of Europe when the coach and the majority of the major pieces of the Mavs are from the American youth system that he calls out in that column.

While I wouldn't say that there are no problems with youth development in the US, Dirk becoming a singular star after years in the NBA is hardly a definitive sign that the Euros are doing it "The Right Way".

At 6/06/2006 3:10 PM, Anonymous static kid said...

Forde's column was about the most intellectually lazy piece of basketball writing I've seen in a while. It's like every bad Euro and American cliche all simultaneously. I especially like the implication that the reason Tractor Traylor was a failure as a player was the American system and that if he had had a proper German b-ball upbringing he would be a revelation.

Those Wolff quotations are the worst:

"But isn't that ironic: Back in the '80s it was Europeans who got derided for being 'mechanical' and 'not natural.' Now brutishness is the province of Americans, and grace, flair and finesse most in evidence from guys with funny names and foreign accents."


At 6/06/2006 3:14 PM, Anonymous J.E. Skeets said...

Re: Stack and hilarity.

Anybody remember Jer-Bear’s dunk attempts and facial expressions during the ’00 contest in Oakland? The poor guy drew the unlucky straw of havin' to follow VC’s air show, and well … oh man … let’s just say Stack’s performance in it is unintentional comedy gold!

At 6/06/2006 3:33 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

stack threw down at least one really nasty dunk in that competition, but no one remembers he was even in it. i remember the cameras were still on vince post-dunk and missed one of stackhouse's attempts! poor guy. and outshined by his younger carolina brother, too.

At 6/06/2006 3:56 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

just read the forde column. i wonder what it means if shaq and wade win the title-- the foreign invasion has been thwarted? if the point is that dirk is important because he didn't go to college or high school in the u.s., what does it mean that it took him two years of playing in the u.s. to develop into a star player? and what does it mean that, as forde says: "several teams have struck out in drafting foreign players while searching for The Next Dirk"? shouldn't great european players be everywhere if their system is so much better than ours?

also, this is a nitpicky point, but forde cites the "evolution from Sabonis to Detlef Schrempf to Vlade Divac." since he uses the word "evolution," i presume he means that divac was better than schrempf who was better than sabonis. and dirk is better than them all. but, don't euro hoops experts insist that sabonis was the greatest european player ever? even in his fat nba days, he was better than schrempf.

At 6/06/2006 4:08 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

what absolutely sinks the column is that we have no idea who forde has tagged as the bad guy. fine, telfair is bad. but what about wade? you could make the argument that he's also not a product of that corrupt American hoops circuit, both literally and symbolically. fine, maybe he's an exception; lebron, too. how, though, is dirk then still representative of some imagined international norm? the amount of young american stars who have turned out alright despite their enivornment is roughly equal to the number of international ballers that actually have a remotely positive impact on a game (much less "the game").

despite all this hatred inside of me, i took forde's "evolution" to be an unfortunate choice words.

At 6/06/2006 4:29 PM, Blogger T. said...

only related to the foreign players vs. US bred players by the loosest of all possible threads, but my favorite Jerry Stackhouse moment was when as a rookie, he tried to dunk on Mt. Mutumbo about 3-4 times, and each time Deke sent them back.

Mutumbo said "That rookie - Steakhouse, Stackhouse - whatever his name is, he has to learn that the key is my house"

Did someone say Detlef? Detlef went to high school and university in Washington.

And what about the Uwe Blab to Pitor Gudmandsson to Pavel Podolkzkin evolution of the great big Euro stiff? How come no one talks about this?

By the way - in 3 days, Costa Rica shocks the world.

At 6/06/2006 5:52 PM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

I'm pretty sure the author of the ESPN piece has no idea how the European or German system of developing basketball players actually works. This is how the system is set up:

In Germany (and I guess most European countries) basketball leagues are divided by age groups, for those under 13 years, those under 14, under 16, under 18, and finally those under 21. Those are the youth teams who play league games against guys their age from the same geographical region. At the end of the season the best teams from the severall leagues meet in elimination tournaments against the league leaders from other geographical regions. These elimination tournaments encompass an increasingly broader region until you have a Final Four tournament for the four remaining teams in all of Germany.

For everyone over 21 and those good enough at a younger age, Germany has a 8-9 league system (depending on the federal state). Between those leagues, the champion advances to the next higher league at the end of the season while usually the two worst teams drop down one level. Interesting to note that Nowitzki never actually played in Germany's first league, but he helped his team reach the second league while he was still a teenager.

If you're good enough, there are scouts that will find you, put you in camps for the respective youth national teams or give you the opportunity to play on teams in one of the higher leagues for grown-ups.

But overall I think this system isn't superior to the US system at all. One positive is that you can play against grown-ups at an early age if you're talented enough. But then why have all the Euros had that label as being soft when they should have been used to physical play. My guess is that the NBA is such a different animal that playing against grown-ups at 16 isn't going to prepare you for Karl Malone. Also, I'm not sure that the whole 'high on fundamentals' school of though is entirely true. I personally am not good enough to have had a chance to train and play on first-league or second league teams, but I've played against such players and it's not like they possess all the fundamentals that US players are supposed to be lacking. on another note, one plus for the European system might be that players will see various zone defenses at an early age which might factor into them developing a game more versatile and not mostly dependant on athleticism. But that is just a thought of mine and might be total nonsense.

Anyway, as far as suggesting that Nowitzki will validate this system by winning a championship, to me that is total nonsense. Looking at the German national team for example, there's such a drop-off in talent after him that it's clear he's just an exceptional player who would probably have flourished in any system of player development.

Also, Nowitzki's been trained under circumstances a little different than for most of the good youngsters. The guy who US media regularly refer to as some crazy mentor is actually a former German national team member who took him under his wing. Granted, some of his methods and ideas are a little unorthodox, but it's definitely not what some sportswriters would like it to be. For example, the guy studied mathematics and actually worked that in when developing Dirk's jumper. They revised the curve of his jump shot so that statistically it had the greatest chance of going in even if it hit the rim. Couple a great talent with that kind of hands-on coaching and developing and chances are he's gonna be a decent NBA player.

So sorry for this long-ass post, I hope I didn't bore you too much with my essay on German basketball. But I always get a little worked up when sportswriters throw out the whole 'European system' cliché when clearly they have no idea of what they are talking about.

What I should have said if I were better suited to write short posts is the following: Nowitzki is to European basketball players what MJ is to US basketball, a once-in-a-genaration player who is so much more than a product of a particular system of development. That's why, in my opinion, he is one of the very few archetypes rightfully referred to in every NBA draft when GM's look for the next so-and-so.

(Next test case: Bargnani is to Nowitzki as ... is to MJ - Carter? Stackhouse? Or maybe even Kobe?)

At 6/06/2006 6:25 PM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

One more thought on Nowitzki and the Mavs: it has been discussed here before what a championship for team x would mean for the rest of the league and how it would affect GM's trying to follow a certain formula to build a championship contender.

I agree with the point Shoals has made before that the Heat winning it all are the Lakers with a twist, maybe an improved version of the Shaq-Kobe-Malone-Payton team. If you have Shaq and a great two-guard, surround him with veterans and shooters (and guys who won't challenge Shaq's alpha dog status). Even though Wade is performing at a much higher level, the success of this team still rests on Shaq. If you don't have Shaq, this formula is not for you.

In my opinion a Mavs championship (and also to a sligty lesser degree the Pistons' and Suns' success) won't give GM's any kind of blueprint to try and copy. As other guys on here have noted, the Mavs' success is a combination of so many factors that is's difficult to actually make out what the main reason is. Dirk's development? Josh Howard - x-factor? Stackhouse - crunch-time shooter? Avery's change of the style of play? Avery's personality/leadership qualities?

I say the only lesson a GM could learn from this team is to throw blueprints overboard. Just look at what you have and recognize what could make your team special (like the Pistons cohesion in 2005 or the Suns' ability to play the game at a pace that keeps every opponent on their toes).

Maybe that doesn't sound like a particularly new idea, but those GM's that were successful in the last few seasons did that and made some unconventional choices on top of it. Other examples than Phoenix, Detroit and Dallas: San Antonio going international, Arenas-Hughes-Jamison in Washington, New Jersey getting VC when they already had Jefferson. Also, you have the Clippers who are built relatively traditional. But Elgin Baylor of all people recognized what they had and that they were just lacking the veteran leadership of Cassell and Mobley (or maybe Baylor was just lucky?).

That's also why I think the Cavs management made some grave mistakes when deciding to pay Ilgauskas top dollar even though LeBron probably warrants a totally different approach to team-building. And for the same reason I think that the Hawks might actually go places with a team made up only of guys between 6'5" and 6'10". Still, Chris Paul would have helped.

At 6/06/2006 6:45 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

maybe this just because i've been putting stupid records up on ebay all afternoon, but the only proper response to those comments is five or six of those talking picture doo-dads on soulstrut.

about the heat: when i compared them to the lakers last week, i was thinking of the teams that acutally won something. mostly because this year's heat has had so many rough patches, and the mix of personalities and players is so potentially disastrous, that at best i can see them as a distracted version of the earlier LA squads. Shaq, guard, and a bunch of niche filler.

though it's a little retarded of me to think that if they win, gm's won't notice that the non-Shaq-or-Wade players were named J-Will, Toine, Mourning and Payton. In some ways, I think it depends on how exactly this team looks during this particular series, i.e. how much of Finals effort can be atrributed to anyone but Shaq/Wade.

the point of my post was that avery is the perfect coach for this post-plan plan: just coach. coach them to just play basketball. i don't know what's at once more conservative, and in this day and age more revolutionary, than that.

At 6/06/2006 7:37 PM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

Shoals, you put it way better than me as far as the Heat goes, and distinguishing between the Laker championship teams and the one that lost to the Pistons definitely makes sense in this regard. Plus I didn't want my comment to get longer that it already was, it's not always that easy to try and make a point worthy of dicussion on here if English isn't your mother tongue.

Anyway, point also taken regarding Avery Johnson just coaching and coaching them to just play. What I wanted to get at was what has been discussed here by you and in various comments, namely the lack of a proper model after the Pistons' collapse, the Spurs falling short of expectaions and the Suns losing while playing a totally different brand of ball.

I didn't read your take on the Mavs and especially Avery's role in it as being a "post-plan plan". If this is what you meant when speaking of their singularity, then I was kind of thinking in the same direction. But I don't believe that the concept of such a post-plan plan works particluarly well with the idea of the Mavs reinforcing "the Spurs/Pistons "right way" era".

You say that "Dirk is being made to play like a man, a bunch of gunners are learning the value of falling into line, and the tower of basketball fundamentalism is visible from all angles." I would agree with your first point - Dirk's development - but disagree with the last two.

To me it seemed not like gunners learning the value of falling in line, but rather them taking turns shooting when they felt hot and - more importantly - doing so with the consent of the coach, who only intervened when things got way out of hand. This would work well with your clarification of "coach them to just play basketball" and this concept being conservative and very revolutionary at the same time. So I would judge what is happening on the court differently but arrive at a similar conclusion.

As far as the tower of fundamentalism goes, too many Mavs players lack the necessary all-around game to warrant such a claim for my taste. Dirk, Terry and Stackhouse still clearly have their weaknesses on defense, while Diop doesn't have any kind of move that would make Pete Newell smile. The Mavs have gotten better defensively, but nothing in this offense screams 'fundamentals' to me. Not Terry, not Stackhouse, not Dirk initiating the offense by setting up back to the basket in high post. I'd say Josh Howard is the closest thing to a fundamentally sound player the Mavs have.

At 6/06/2006 7:53 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

most of the quotes you disagree with come from the "paranoid fantasia" i put forth as an attempt to reconcile the dual meaning of the euro. the fact that it's retarded only makes the end of the post, which we agree on, all the more true.

WV: gozokbys!!!!!!

At 6/06/2006 10:49 PM, Blogger jon faith said...

This pertains to the Brown quote from earlier in the day, evolve doesn't establish an improvement per se, but an adaptibility to an environment, an ongoing thread of resiliance and adaptation. Even by this qualification, contrary to Pat F's natural selction, sabonis is one of the great big men of all time, regardless of prevaling xenophobia. I am knackered and drunk.

At 6/06/2006 11:18 PM, Anonymous throwawayidentity said...

Am I the only one who feels that:
Dirk winning and the World Cup happening in Germany, at the same time, feels predestined somehow. Like the lares of sports all got together and conspired.
I suspect David Stern is kicking himself for scheduling the finals during the opening round.

US nerds will not be distracted, but others may be. When; Was the last year David Hasselhoff was this busy?

In a previous post I compared Shaq to a nordic god, so I'm calling it a teutonic final.
The Big Aristotle
The Holy Roman Emperor

Be that as it may, I hope Wade and Howard can bring us beauty to the finals.

At 6/07/2006 8:30 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

THE POST-DIRK ERA (1999 - present)

all-star players (at least one appearance) produced by the fucked up u.s. system:

elton brand
steve francis
baron davis
wally szczerbiak
richard hamilton
ron artest
shawn marion
kenyon martin
jamaal magloire
michael redd
gilbert arenas
amare stoudemire
lebron james
chris bosh
dwyane wade

all-star caliber players produced by the rest of the world:

andrei kirilenko
manu ginobili
pau gasol
yao ming
tony parker

At 6/07/2006 10:30 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

1. i think you have to start from the time dirk was actually good

2. if you include dirk's draft class, this becomes even more lopsided.

3. as i said earlier, how much these U.S. players are products of the "national system" is a relative matter. depending on how much they pimped it, how hyped they were, what kind of game they had, etc. right?

At 6/07/2006 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe the difference is in the color of players skin.

check out the list of all-star players if you count only white players?

At 6/07/2006 12:19 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i don't think there's any question that international whites are superior to american whites when it comes to basketball. i guess that means that american system is reverse racist, right?

At 6/07/2006 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not racial, it's economic. Poor people are just better at basketball.


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