Free throws and a high-tech basketball net

25 02 2012

NBA All-Star Saturday Night typically values style over substance, so it makes sense that a new technology incorporated into its main event follows along those lines. I came out with a story yesterday for’s Playbook about the basketball net that will measure the force of dunks at the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. The project to develop the net was a collaboration between Turner Sports, whose TNT channel will broadcast all All-Star Weekend events, and MIT Media Lab, which works on these kinds of hair-brained projects.

I found out about this idea by reading a Reggie Miller Q&A in the L.A. Times. Miller stated in the interview that Sport Science was developing the net for the NBA’s dunk contest. (Sport Science is the TV series that airs occasionally on ESPN.) I read that on Tuesday, February 21, and I emailed a guy connected to Sport Science to find out if that was the case. He said it wasn’t. At the same time, I went to a contact at Turner, who stated that there was a high-tech net. However, the person said it wasn’t Sport Science and didn’t tell me initially who the net developer was. But I did get an interview with Pete Scott, an executive in Turner Sports Digital.

The room where I conducted the interview.

I knew that I had to get this interview quickly given that the dunk contest would be on a Saturday. As is usually the case with these  quick-turnaround stories, I had to settle on the first available time, which was at virtually the same time I was to attend a Nike event on NYC’s Lower East Side. So, as the event crawled to an end on Wednesday, I snuck into a room for the phone interview. Twenty-five minutes later, I had most of my details. I wrote the story on Thursday – with a few follow-up answers from Scott – and it posted Friday. You can read it by clicking on the link below.

Are you curious about the force with which a player dunks a ball? Does this serve value to you, as a basketball fan? Hit me up on Twitter or Google+.

New Net Rates the Force Behind Monster Slam Dunks

I also had a free throw-centric story on SLAMonline earlier this week. The idea for this one originated during the NBA lockout, when I was thinking of what I would want to cover once the work stoppage ended. An article documenting how NBA players devised their free throw routines seemed like a fun topic.

Do a Google search on free throws and observe the number of stories that delve into how players came up with their routines. There aren’t many of them. The free throw isn’t a sexy topic – I get that. But I’m always interested in how professional athletes develop their games, including from when they were kids or teenagers.

The free throw routine is sort of a sacred thing for every serious basketball player. It’s called a routine for a reason – the key is to do the same thing every time. In thinking that through, I realized there was more to a free throw story than to simply document the when and why a group of NBA players started their routines. I had to consider the psychology of the shot. Free throw coaches and sport psychologists play a role in helping players, particularly those in the NBA, refine their shots.

After speaking with about 12 NBA players throughout various locker room visits to Nets and Knicks games, I found a pair of free throw coaches and a couple of sport psychologists. The story can be found at the following link.

Are you curious about how NBA players have developed their free throw routines? Let me know.

The Art of the Free Throw


An Interview With Jerry West

31 10 2011

The interview will be up tomorrow on SLAMonline. I wanted to plant a few thoughts on here, though. Jerry West is one of those athletes whom I think of only in mystical terms. He played in an era – the ’60s and early ’70s – which obviously came well before I was born. He played for a team I grew up loving to death – still do.

West’s presence, though, has been one that seemed only half-real. There are YouTube videos of NBA games from his era, as there are older games on NBA TV from time-to-time. I’ve read books and magazine articles about West and other athletes, from all sorts of sports, from his era and eras before his time.

But I look at these guys now, older men, and it’s difficult to imagine that they were among the world’s best athletes at one time. I remember once seeing Sandy Koufax at an event at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. I was too nervous to go up to him and shake his hand. I mean, it’s SANDY FUCKING KOUFAX. As an L.A. kid who grew up watching the Dodgers and reading about their history, I was too awestruck to do anything other than stare at him. He’s a strapping guy, too. Seventy-four years old but still an athletic-looking 6’2. The same with West.

West is also 6’2 and, like Sandy, he still has an athletic build. Yet to think of him as a world-class athlete is odd. He’s 73 years old, so athletic prowess isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. At the same time, I was still slightly dumbfounded tonight as I spoke with him. I’ve read so much about him and have seen him on TV so often. He’s been apart of every Lakers dynasty while they’ve been in Los Angeles, since 1960.

Even though he hasn’t worked for the Lakers since 2000, his fingerprints were all over the latest Lakers back-to-back title teams. He drafted Fisher, traded for Kobe on that same draft night and hired Phil Jackson. In many ways, Jerry West IS the Lakers. That’s why it was such a pleasure to step out of my mindset as a sports reporter and enjoy the experience of meeting him as a sports fan.

Brooklyn Nets Have a Chance

30 09 2011

Skepticism reigns about the New Jersey Nets’ chances to succeed in New York City once they move to Brooklyn. That’ll happen next year, in September 2012, assuming the NBA lockout actually ends by then.

Until that time comes, the point has been brought up – on Twitter, sports TV/radio shows, by sports writers – if the Nets can compete with the Knicks for fans in New York City. The situation has been compared, at times, to what the Los Angeles Clippers endure by playing in the same city as the Lakers. There are significant differences.

When the Clippers moved from San Diego to L.A. for the 1984-85 season, they began playing in the Sports Arena. That outdated arena, opened in 1959, is located in downtown, next to the Coliseum and across the street from USC’s campus. It was not a good area to be at night in 1984. It wasn’t a good area to be at night when I was growing up in L.A. in the early-mid ’90s.

Plus, it was close enough to Inglewood – the Lakers’ home before moving into Staples Center in 1999 – that the Clippers couldn’t develop a distinctive identity. They were literally the Lakers’ neighbors. And let’s not forget the Clippers’ move to L.A. coincided with the Lakers’ Showtime Era, when they had already racked up a pair of titles in ’80 and ’82 and were about to win another in ’85.

When the Lakers moved to Staples, the Clippers joined them. There was speculation the Clips would go to Anaheim in Orange County (also known as NOT L.A.) to play at the Pond. That never came to fruition, as Clips owner Don Sterling was too enamored by the fiscal security of playing at Staples. So, the Clips never had a chance to develop an identity.

Obviously, the fact that the Clippers never had a must-see star player and didn’t even make the playoffs in L.A. until ’92 had something to do with their lack of success.

Counter all that information with what the Nets have going for them. Yes, they haven’t been a great NBA franchise but they’re still the team that had Dr. J when they were in the ABA in the mid-’70s. They’re still the same organization which made back-to-back Finals in 2002-03 with Jason Kidd as their Man. Now, they have Deron Williams, a certified top-ten NBA player who’s in the prime of his career. And they have a shiny new Barclays Center which will open with their move there.

What gives the Nets the greatest chance at success is how regionalized each of NYC’s boroughs are. Brooklynites have a sense of pride in their borough that isn’t necessarily shared by people who live in Manhattan or Queens or The Bronx. The residents of each of those boroughs also enjoy their locales for different reasons. But they don’t generally share love for each other and for the various areas in which they all live. Therefore, each borough has its own identity. The businesses in each of those areas can thrive because of that.

More than 2.5 million people live in BK; think they wouldn’t rather go to a centrally-located arena in their own borough rather than tredge all the way to Midtown West in Manhattan? The Nets can market themselves as Brooklyn’s team, the first major pro sports team BK will have since the Dodgers left for L.A. in ’57. That’s a difference-maker.

Vote ‘No’ For NBA Parity

2 07 2011

A question was asked last week by one member of the Dan Patrick Show about whether the NBA is better off with star-studded teams. This debate is nothing new; the argument for ‘superteams’ versus parity is a spirited one. I think that, by nature, people want superteams, even though they try to convince themselves that sports leagues are better served by parity.

This thought, to me, is rooted in the belief that most people are good, at heart. Therefore, they want every team to have a chance – for fairness. And this is a result of the desire for most sports fans to cheer for an underdog. Most people like underdogs, including reporters, because it offers a fresh story. But I think most us who are realistic understand that parity isn’t always the best route for a league to take. It makes sense in football because there are so few games; each one is critical and it’s easier for a team to come out of the blue to surprise other teams.

In basketball, talent levels out whatever momentum an under-manned team might hold for a certain period of time. Plus, let’s face it: an underdog story has only so long of a lifespan. People eventually get bored with one story. They want to be entertained, which is part and parcel why sports fans become fans in the first place. That’s why star-studded teams benefit the NBA more than a league full of parity.

I’ll finish with the following point: what do NBA fans typically think of when they reminisce about the league’s supposed golden age of the ’80s? Lakers, Celtics, Pistons, Magic, Bird, Isiah, Jordan, right? Superstar teams and superstar players. Do fans now even realize that the Dallas Mavericks made the playoffs five years in a row from 1983-88, including one appearance in the Western Conference Finals? Do they understand that the Milwaukee Bucks – a team not considered to have a rich history – made the playoffs every year of the 1980s, won 50-plus games seven consecutive seasons from 1980-87 and made the Eastern Conference Finals three times in four seasons from 1983-86, at the height of the Bird-McHale Celtics dynasty? Hell no; I didn’t even know all those Bucks accomplishments until I looked them up for this post.

Long-term, people care almost exclusively about the superstar teams. Perhaps this new digital/social media era will change how fans think of teams 10, 20 years from now. I’m willing to bet it won’t make a big difference. Sports fans want the superstar teams to root for and against, which is why all those NBA stars should continue to talk their way into playing with each other.

LeBron Not In A Career-Defining Moment

15 05 2011

Some folks were turned off by LeBron James’ celebration with Dwyane Wade as they wrapped up their second-round series against the Celtics. Others approved of it since they thought it represented James getting over a hump against the Celtics. Technically, that’s true. But it’s also b.s. James developed his frustration against the Celtics as a Cavalier, but he “overcame” his past failings against them with a different team. I don’t think that qualifies as a player finally getting past a squad.

James’ Cavaliers lost to the Celtics in seven games in the 2008 second round. They lost to the Celtics in six games in the 2010 second round. And then there are various regular season games that each team has played, but those two playoffs comprise all of the supposed mental barrier the Celtics had built against James.

Now, if James had led the core of his Cavaliers team to a playoff series victory against the Celtics, then I would be more open to thinking James cleared a career hurdle. The truth is he helped defeat the Celtics with a new team and a new core of players, save for his former Cleveland and current Miami teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who isn’t that instrumental to Miami’s success. James might consider this to be the next step in his career and that’s all fine and good. Yet James has been to an NBA Finals. He’s had multiple 60-win seasons with the Cavaliers. It’s not as if the guy has never won. And even though he did beat the Celtics, it wasn’t with the team which shared so much of his frustration and angst.

Bosh or Bynum

2 05 2010

You would think I’d want to hold onto a true center on my Lakers after going through the post-Shaquille O’Neal Era. Shaq fortunately played for the Lakers at the peak of his career, which was a dominant enough timeframe that he was the primary factor for them going back-to-back-to-back in the NBA Finals.

His dismissal from the Lakers left a hole at the center position that couldn’t be filled by Chris Mihm or Kwame Brown or any of the other crappy options that were presented prior to Andrew Bynum’s arrival.

Now that Bynum has proven himself as a future star, it would seem to reason any Lakers fan should be thrilled to have the big lug in the middle. But that big lug (check out his awkward running motion to see what I mean by calling him a ‘lug’) won’t age well. The small meniscustear in his right knee is already the fourth major leg injury he’s had in three seasons. If Chris Bosh is offered to the Lakers this summer for Bynum in a sign-and-trade, I’d hope the Lakers would sign off quicker than you can say “cut the check.”

Bosh is already the type of player many hope Bynum can be. And a Bosh/Gasol combo in a Triangle offense, assuming Phil Jackson returns, makes me salivate.

I think why Lakers fans revere Bynum is because he’s viewed as a capable bearer to the Kobe Torch, which will inevitably become extinguished. To continue the Lakers’ competitiveness, the team needs a young guy to bridge the gap whenever Kobe just can’t play at an elite level day-to-day. Bynum could become that guy but that’s reliant on his ability to stay health. And the way things have been going, that looks as likely as Shaq making more than half his free throws.

John Starks is a businessman

8 04 2010

I never thought I’d talk to John Starks about his line of zipper-laden workout gear, but that’s exactly what I did at the NBA Store last week as part of its week-long Spring Jam. Zipway is a cool brand led by zipaway, rather than tearaway, pants. Shorts, shooting shirts and shooting jackets, which aren’t necessarily zipaways like the pants, are also included.

Starks is a very nice guy who laughed out loud when I asked him if he’d rather see more trash talk and physical play that personified the NBA era during his prime — the mid- to late ’90s. I have a feeling he wanted to say “Hell yeah!” but instead he gave a rather diplomatic answer. It seems like most Knicks fans will remember Starks for his 2-for-18 performance in Game 7 of the ’94 Finals, but perhaps they can remember him for being a hard-nosed defender, capable scorer and a tough guy on many very good Knicks squads.

Click the link to read the story below.

John Starks Doin’ Business