When I was 13, 14, and 15 years old, I spent my summer days on the basketball court at Groves High School in Birmingham, Michigan. I would literally spend hours there playing pickup games. I was 4'8, 85 pounds, but feared no one. However, my tenacity couldn't overshadow my meager stature. When it came time to pick teams, I was usually one of the last ones selected. They'd look at me and the kid with one-arm, wearing an eye patch, and drooling, and say "Eh, I'll take either one, doesn't matter. I guess we'll take the little fella." That was me.
Over time my game earned respect and I turned myself into a mid-round pick.
|D.D and Earl|
My connection with D-D, as I call him, was fun but never catapulted me into a Groves court superstar. I was the NBA equivalent of a sixth or seventh man. I could run the point, dish out assists, have an occasional 20-point night, but for the most part was a role player. Teams would likely sign me to the mid-level exception, or if I'm lucky, some bottom feeder would overpay me based on potential.
I'd probably end up on the Nuggets, Bobcats, or Hornets.
Carmelo Anthony can't relate. He's a stud. He's the guy who shows up to the bar an hour before it closes, has drinks waiting for him when he walks in the door, and by the time he leaves, has women clinging to his arms as if he were the central piece in a game of monkeying-around.
He's a superstar and in the NBA, superstars reign supreme and get what they want, where they want.
It's no secret that I criticize LeBron James and his decision to bolt to Miami as much as anyone. I think he handled the situation without class and did so because he didn't want the pressure of carrying a franchise, and city, on his own in Cleveland.
But, as much as this pains me to say, I have to admit, Bron's decision has made the league more interesting. Every team wants to copy whats going on in South Beach by recruiting several of the top players, surround them with Klemet's (ahem, I mean role players) and set the franchice up for a decade of title runs.
Star studded teams are nothing new to the league. Some of the best rosters of all-time comprised of combinations of Hall-of-Famers. The Lakers, Pistons, Celtics, and Bulls in the late 80s and early 90s were loaded with players on the NBA's 50 Greatest list. The Sixers of the early 80s with Moses Malone and Dr. J brought joy and a title to the 'City of Brotherly Love.' And, Lew Alcinder and Oscar Robertson helped Milwaukee, yes Milwaukee, win a title in 1971.
This is when the league was its most competitive and arguably the most entertaining. The NBA is getting back to that level, but at the risk of disenfranchising most of its teams and fan bases.
I personally don't have a problem with players dictating where they want to play. If a franchise is willing to bend backwards to make it happen for them, why not?
The problem is there aren't a whole lot of superstars that want to blossom in the mountains of Utah and Denver, the tumbleweeds of Oklahoma City, or the heat of Minnesota.
They want the bright lights and media circuses of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami.
With superstars flexing their influence, it puts small market teams at a major disadvantage.
How can the Timberwolves and Thunder expect to keep their young, talented pieces when their contracts expire when teams in big cities can promise them more publicity and better teammates.
The NBA has a serious problem.
But, for the next decade it will likely be the same teams going back and forth. Sure there will be the occassional '04 Pistons or '94-'95 Rockets, but for the most part, teams in the NBA don't go from futile to fertile unless they have superstars.
With a lockout looming, the NBA needs to re-evaluate how to give smaller market teams relevance. It needs to set up a system that does even more to reward longevity with one franchise and deter its stars from jumping ship.
If it doesn't, all but about eight teams in the league will be just like teenage Sam, sitting on the sideline hoping to get into the game, but not being given a chance to so.