After yesterday's Puerto Rico-Brazil scrimmage in Harlem's Ruker Park, I caught up with Toronto Raptors' guard, Leandro Barbosa, who also is a member of the Brazilian national team, to discuss the 2010 FIBA World Championship, the chemistry of the Brazilian team, joining the Raptors and much more.
Yesterday the Puerto Rico and Brazil national teams faced off at the world famous Rucker Park in Harlem.
Although San Antonio Spurs' center Tiago Splitter did not see any time on the court, he did enjoy the game, had some laughs with teammates and if Spurs fan were worried about the injury he suffered recently, they can breathe easy. During the game Splitter jumped out of his seat to avoid getting hit.
Check out this exclusive Project Spurs footage of Splitter.
As I walk to Rose, he is lacing his sneakers, icing down his knees and chatting with Oklahoma City Thunders' guard Russell Westbrook.
Jeff: I bet you and the team are ready to play against the international teams instead of each other?
Rose: (smiles) We want to start now! We want to start this journey we are on.
Got to get that gold huh?
We got to win this World Championship. We have to win it. No let downs!
Is there any pressure to win it in Turkey seeing how the US has not won at the Worlds since 1994?
No pressure at all. I know we are just going to go out there and play. I know with the guys we have on the team are young but we worked hard. We are just trying to bring it together, trying to gell, before we make it out there.
How are you and the team adapting to the international rules of basketball?
You don't really think about it too much. Only thing you think about is stopping people from scoring the ball. We still need to work on rebounding the ball because everybody is in the paint so you are rarely going to get a clean rebound. So its really up to the guards to get the long rebounds and when we get them we just got to get out and run.
As I conclude the interview with Rose, a group of kids and their parents come up to him and ask for an autograph and pictures. Despite the sore knees and tried look on his face he happily obliges. Talk about a great ambassador for Team USA huh?
The World Basketball Festival events in New York City's Rucker Park continue as the Puerto Rico and Brazil national teams held a scrimmage in front of a packed house.
After the game, Project Spurs caught up with San Antonio Spurs' center, Tiago Splitter, to talk about his injury, finally playing with the Spurs and Tim Duncan and much more.
Enjoy this Project Spurs exclusive interview with Tiago Splitter.
The World Basketball Festival continues in New York City at the mecca of streetball, Rucker Park in Harlem.
This morning, Miami Heats' Dwayne Wade, Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony and and New Orleans Hornets' Chris Paul took part in the Jordan Breakfast Club basketball clinic for the children of Harlem.
After the clinic, Wade, Anthony, and Paul held a press conference to talk the 2010 FIBA World Championship, playing for Team USA and much more.
NEW YORK CITY -- Stephen Curry finished his rookie season in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors. He was the runner-up for the 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year and was a unanimous selection to the 2009-2010 T-Mobile NBA All-Rookie first team. Not to mention he averaged 17.5 points and 5.9 assists for the Warriors.
Not bad for a rookie entering the NBA but for as much as Curry has accomplished in his budding NBA career, when it comes to being on Team USA and playing on the international basketball stage, there is still much to learn.
As one of the younger players for Team USA, Curry knows he can learn a thing or two from playing with and against other veteran NBA guards such as Derrick Rose, Chauncey Billups, and Rajon Rondo day-in and day-out in preparation for the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey.
"I'm a student of the game no matter if I play against the guys, watch them on TV, or just watching film. I always have my eyes open and try to learn something from those talented guys. Especially because they play my position," said Curry when I asked him about playing with Rose, Billups and Rondo. "I'm not just going out here blind or going through the motions. I'm definitely trying to pick up some stuff and add to my game. Sometimes my athleticism tries to take over but I see how they see the game and I can definitely learn some things."
Learning new things takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to grasping the international style of play. Curry, like most of Team USA, is adapting his style of game and is looking forward to play against any other international teams, "It's kind of tough right now because we haven't played against anybody but ourselves or the college guys (USA Select Team) who play our same kind of basketball," said Curry to Project Spurs, "But once we get to play China and France, get some exposure against other teams, other systems, then we can assess where we are and how we are developing with the international game. With the rule changes, you can get away with just playing ball but this weekend is going to be a good test for us."
One of the biggest differences between the NBA and FIBA is the trapezoid lane. It allows for big men to patrol the middle without the worry of a defensive three-second violation thus allowing for a more physical game. Especially if you are a guard trying to get to the rim.
Curry is fully aware of this but knows it allows him to showcase his three-point shooting touch especially with a closer three-point line, "It is!" said Curry when I asked him if he can sense how much more physical the international game is as compared to the NBA, "The lane is bigger which creates a lot more space on the floor. Guys can sit in the lanes because there is no defensive three-second rule. The big guys will always be down there if you are going to get in the middle. But that helps me because I can just shoot the three all day."
Learning and adapting and focusing on winning gold. There is no doubt Curry will be an asset in Team USA's pursuit of the gold medal.
Fans are not fair, they are not objective, they are not logical. Fandom and bias are inherently linked. Fans are driven by, and labeled for, their unrelenting loyalty to their team. Objective assertions of a team's faults or shortcomings do not serve fandom, therefore they have, for the most part, been eliminated from the fan's mindset.
Generally, these statements are true. That's not to say a true fan cannot also be objective, and possess sound logic; it is, however, to say they are typically content to sip beer quietly in the corner while other “true fans” boisterously interject wildly biased opinions favoring their team. Trust me, those fans – the ones who believe being a fan means never criticizing, even soundly – they want to hear nothing of objectivity.
This is true of all fans and not just San Antonio Spurs fans. In any sport, with any team, there is a peculiar phenomenon that occurs. People latch their happiness and pride, inexorably, to the fate, and even merely the perception, of their team.
The question which has come to persistently occupy a small subsection of my brain is this: why?
I think thoroughly exploring the cause of this phenomenon is a larger undertaking of psychology and sociology than I am currently fit to suffice. Regardless, that didn't stop a buddy of mine from trying to explain the whole thing, at least in the case of Spurs fans.
My buddy Ray, in all his unassuming sage wisdom, started to try and explain to me why Spurs fans are the way they are, and moreover, why it's not only acceptable, but appropriate that they be that way. As he started to tell me all this, I was, as you probably are now, intrigued.
He started, we finished. We went back and forth, dissecting the mental state of Spurs fandom, considering the criteria for bias for and against the NBA team from San Antonio, and within a half hour, we had come up with a fairly astonishing, and accurate, explanation for the state of Spurs fans.
The pitch is as follows: Spurs fans are overly defensive when it comes to anyone criticizing the Spurs, even fellow fans. They are also over aggressive when it comes to heaping praise on the Spurs, or taking the side of debate in order to elevate the Spurs or Spurs players above other teams and players in the league, or in pro sports generally.
The second part of the pitch is what's astonishing: the current demeanor of Spurs fans is entirely valid. It is completely acceptable, and necessary, perhaps even commendable, that Spurs fans fervently contend Spurs superiority in every aspect, and defend them from any form of criticism whatsoever.
Let me repeat this: not only is it OK Spurs fans are biased, that's the way they should behave, according to our theory anyway.
Why? We came up with four primary reasons, under the umbrella of one overarching rationale.
Everyone else is biased against the Spurs.
Forgive the overstatement of “everyone”, but suffice it to say, there is a lot of anti-Spurs sentiment out there, or worse, dismissal or non-mention of the Spurs throughout all of pro sports.
For a moment I was hesitant to start using the victim mentality as rationale, but when we started to consider this assertion, we found four sound reasons to support it.
Lack of Media Coverage
I've worked for my fair share of pro sports sites, and while I generally enjoyed the editorial staffs I worked with, I can say without a doubt that when it comes to the Spurs, there isn't so much a biases against them, so much as there is a tendency to forget about them entirely.
When thought was given to what topics, teams, and players would generate the most significant reader reaction, the Spurs were never atop the list, or on it at all in most cases. I wrote for sites that published half a dozen articles a day, and unless I wrote on a Spurs topic, they might go a whole season without mention of the silver and black until playoff time.
I'll never forget when Tim Duncan won MVP and SLAM Magazine (a publication I admire and revere) put a high school Junior named LeBron James on the cover. It was a moment that was hard to believe at the time, but looking back, and seeing the trend continue since, it seems normal now.
Bias Towards Larger Markets
San Antonio is perceived as a smaller market, primarily concerning television market. The reason I say “perceived” is because I have no real knowledge of television markets anymore, because I don't give a good damn. I don't watch TV anymore – at all. This is 2010, we have the Internet, and LeBron James became a house hold name playing in Ohio. I know San Antonio was clearly a smaller market than LA, New York, and Chicago a few years, and probably still is. I also know, however, that's irrelevant now.
Despite that San Antonio is regularly ranked as a top ten city in American, in terms of size, and commerce, there's still the perception in pro basketball that we're a small city, with a small team. This is ignorance, period.
More Attention for Other, More Arrogant Teams and Players
This is probably the single most true, and offensive piece of evidence in the case of bias against the Spurs. People – fans, media, etc – tend to favor players and teams of a different demeanor than the Spurs, namely players and teams that are more flamboyant, boisterous, and arrogant.
Look, I like Shaq, I think he's a funny guy, and he's technically a San Antonio product. Yet a majority of media commentators and NBA fans, when asked how Tim Duncan compares to Shaq, wouldn't hesitate in espousing Shaq's superiority. That answers isn't based on championships, because he and Duncan have the same amount. That answer isn't based on MVPs, because Duncan has more. That answer certainly isn't based on longevity because while Shaq has struggled in his latter years, Tim Duncan remains a basketball time warp as he ages.
The answer is based on this: people like Shaq more, because he's been in movies, because he does funny dances, because he refers to himself in third person, and makes lots of jokes. It has nothing to do with basketball. It's bias.
Tim Duncan is quiet, he's unassuming, he doesn't lobby for attention or media coverage, and as one SI writer once put it, he runs from the press conference mic like it was a burning car. As a result, Shaq is considered more interesting. A lot of people, especially in the media, don't know they're being biased, but subconsciously they're noticing the guy who is more noticeable. Slowly, favoritism builds.
Even if isn't all intentional, it's still not fair for Spurs players.
Assumption That the Spurs Are Old, Boring, Slow, etc
This one is probably the worst, not only because of its inaccuracy, but because of why people think the way they do about the Spurs style of play.
Let's establish this: for the past decade the Spurs have been a good basketball team. They've always maintained a winning record, reached the playoffs, contended for titles, and won a handful of championships. One could easily say they have been a great team for the past ten years.
In that time frame the Spurs have maintained a similar style of play, with little variation. Under the guidance of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs play with a heavy emphasis on defense, especially team defense that dissuades opposing teams from attempting to play isolations. The Spurs, when winning, are exceptional at limiting the opposition's three point opportunities and percentages. They are good at forcing bad shots, without necessarily blocking shots, or getting steals. They hold opponents to low point totals.
Offensively the Spurs rely on low-post offense from Tim Duncan, and actually limit three point shots, unless they're open off of a double team. They primarily play in half court sets, only occasionally running fast breaks on consecutive possessions.
The Spurs style of play works. It works well to the tune of four titles in ten years, and one of the highest winning percentages in pro sports over that time.
And you know what? People still don't like it. A majority of people outside of the South Texas area do not enjoy watching the Spurs play basketball. Boring is subjective, winning is not. Whether you like their style of play is irrelevant – it wins games.
Yet, the Spurs are criticized, and lamented, not because they don't win, but because of how they win. It is unfathomably ludicrous.
Also, for the record, anyone who has been paying attention, and has functioning brain cells, knows watching Manu Ginobili is one of the most entertaining feats in basketball. Tony Parker not only starts, and finishes one-man fast breaks, he does it in remarkable fashion often with impressive finishes.
The Spurs have slowly worked in a more up tempo aspect to their style of play, for the sake of winning. This isn't Cirque du Soleil – the point is not an acrobatic display, it's winning. It doesn't count for more points if you do a pirouette before putting the ball in the basket.
For years now, people have found a reason to not like the Spurs, and they have, in a remarkable display of unabashed ignorance, selected the reason for which the Spurs are most successful. Brilliantly, stupid.
Ultimately... why I still don't buy it:
I've spent a lot of time describing why people irrationally don't like the Spurs, and are often times actively biased against them, as a way of trying to justify the attitude of extreme bias in favor of the Spurs, displayed by Spurs fans.
Here's why I still don't buy it: because two wrongs don't make a right. Making Fahrenheit 9/11, a clearly biased documentary, as a response to one sided propaganda, doesn't make either side right, it makes both sides wrong, and deliberately ignorant. Fox News putting on one conservative, and one liberal so they can yell at each other doesn't make them balanced, it makes them a circus. Balance is two centrists having a discussion where they both see each others point of view.
Balance is not hearing some ignorant fan boy from a different camp say, “Shaq is better than Duncan” and jumping in to say, “Nuh-uh, Duncan is better.” Balance, and objectivity, is saying, “You know, they're both great, have an equal number of championships, and in all honesty they're very different, but comparable overall.”
Of course, that's not exciting. That's not interesting enough for people, not sensational, not flamboyant, not boisterous. I'll never make a good writer trying to write balanced, objective stuff like that. No, of course not.
Yes, there's a lot of anti-Spurs bias out there, but I'm not sinking to the level of countering bias with bias, and you shouldn't either.
But there is one jersey he is proud to wear and that is the red, white and blue of Team USA.
Chandler has represented the United States before in international competition. In 2007 he was a member of USA's FIBA's Americas Championship games where that team finished with a 10-0 record.
Now as Team USA is prepping for the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey, Chandler has his mind set on winning gold but knows the team has a few things to accomplish first.
Case in point, finding the right big men for the team.
With the international game being a bit more physical, big men will be a premium for Team USA. Chandler is battling against other NBA big men like Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love, Washington Wizards' JaVale McGee and Los Angeles Lakers' Lamar Odom. Though competition for the center spot is intense, he keeps in mind what the goal is for the team.
"It's been great but it's a situation where we all have the same goal. Granted we are being competitive out here, going at each other, but at the end of the day we all want to win the gold. We help each other out, we give each other pointers as long as we each get better, we get better as a unit," said Chandler to Project Spurs.
Getting gold is the goal but in order to get the gold, there are adjustments still needed for Team USA. Chandler is fully aware of this and the adjustments he needs to make as a center, "The three-second rule doesn't exist in FIBA games. That's probably the biggest thing because it allows the defense to setup and protect the paint. There's less spacing and it forces you to do things offensively differently then we do in NBA games. But it allows us to do things defensively we can't do in the NBA."
It goes without saying learning FIBA basketball rules will be some getting used to for NBA players but Chandler does like how the team is adjusting and as he says, is starting to find an identity, "We are starting to understand our strengths and what he have to play to. In Las Vegas everyone was trying to find their place but now its more about finding our identity and that's what we are trying to accomplish while we are here in New York."
Speaking of identity, he is now a member of the Mavericks and had a few things to say about joining Dallas, "I bring in some youth, speed, athleticism, some fire", said Chandler to Project Spurs, "I think it's going to be great with the team we have. Big men that can get up and down the floor and finish."
Of course he is also joining the Spurs-Mavericks rivalry and is looking forward to being a part of it now, "I love it. I love that type of stuff. Gets me fired up. I was down in the West (Western Conference) a couple of years ago and I love the competition every single night. I'm looking forward to it."
Competitive, making adjustments, and doing what it takes to capture gold in Turkey. Chandler brings exactly what Team USA needs heading into Turkey. With his help, Team USA should be able to win gold in Turkey at the World Championship. Something the USA has not done since 1994.
After recovering from his ankle injury last season, San Antonio Spurs' all-star guard, Tony Parker, spent the final few games of the 2010 Spurs' regular season and the entire post-season coming off the bench in relief of George Hill.
This offseason has been fraught with Parker trade rumors, insinuations of his unhappiness at the prospect of a new role with the team, and manufactured drama between the two talented guards regarding who will be in the starting lineup and who will be riding the pine. In the final months before camp, the roles have yet to be established in any definitive way.
It is hard to imagine Parker, a former all-star in the prime of his career, relegated to bench duty. Parker is still ranked by some as a top 5 point guard in the NBA and at 28, he certainly has more than a few playing years left. Additionally, the Spurs have a lot invested in Parker, paying him $12.6 million in 2009 and in the upcoming season, the final year of his contract, Parker stands to make as much as $13.5 million. This likely makes him one of the top five highest-paid point guards in the NBA. It is hard to imagine someone like this being a regular bench player.
While it is true that Parker averaged six fewer points per game this season than the previous, it is also true that he averaged fewer minutes and fewer shot attempts while maintaining nearly the same field goal percentage. Ignoring this injury-shortened season, Parker is one of the best point guards in the NBA and in the prime of his career.
Then there's his potential replacement, Hill. Few would argue that Hill is a complete player in his current state, ready to carry a team to an NBA Championship. Hill has impressively exceeded all expectations. But his playoff performance as a point guard left much to be desired. Hill had only 7 assists in 10 games compared to Parker's 54 assists in fewer minutes played, making a tough case for being the team's starting point guard. I think Hill, who shot nearly 40% from the 3-point line in the playoffs has a much better case for the starting shooting guard slot - a position that arguably has less pressure for a young player and one that his skill set is much better suited for.
Hill, for his part, has the right attitude on the situation. Here's what he had to say when asked about his role with the team and the situation with Parker:
"Whatever Coach Pop needs me to do," that's what I'll do," he said. "Whether it's playing the point guard position and starting, or playing the two-guard position and starting there, or coming off the bench. Whatever he wants me to do to help this team win ballgames, that's what I'm down with."
"All the accolades, starting or whatever, doesn't mean anything to me. I just want to win and be the best teammate possible, the best player possible. Everything they say for me to do, I'm going to take it and run with it and do the best I can."
Parker would not have lost the starting job if not for his injury last season. Outside of that, there was no movement to substitute Hill for Parker. Injury and fatigue have been issues for the Spurs' international players in recent years due, some say, to the fact that they play so much more basketball outside of NBA competition than the average NBA player does. Not this year.
Both Manu Ginobili and Parker are sitting out international competition during this offseason. Again, it is hard to fathom how a player who has done as much as Parker, returning healthy and well rested, will not also return to the starting lineup.
Hill is an incredible player with ridiculous potential. He may in fact be ready to lead a team right now. But when you have a player on your roster with the talent and experience of Parker, you have the luxury of not tossing a young, talented player into the deep end to see if he sinks or swims. Hill is almost certainly the Spurs' point guard of the future. When Parker's playing days are over, he will be ready to take the reigns. Until that day comes however, Parker and Hill are more valuable together than they are apart.
Project Spurs' own Jeff Garcia was in New York City for the Team USA practice and had a chance to talk to Minnesota Timberwolves' center, Kevin Love.
Love, who the San Antonio Spurs will see four times next season, talked about the changes to his team, playing with Tyson Chandler and Lamar Odom, and the pride he has wearing the USA name and colors.