The triple-digit temperatures continue here in Texas, with no end in sight. Football maniacs are engrossed in the preseason, even if the outcomes rank as meaningless and vacuous. The jocularity involved in dissecting these jousts for hours on end causes both amusement and headaches.
The Lastros organization continues to disgrace Houston fans with the lousiest baseball in franchise history. No one can despise the poor kids on the bare-bones roster, which now features the largest collection of average AA talents masquerading as major leaguers in the world. Management and ownership allowed this train wreck to happen. The team’s win total compares to a solid MLB campaign’s worth of home runs and a box office flop’s weekend intake.
The Houston Rockets managed 43 victories in 82 tries with a 6’6” defensive specialist starting at center. The fire sale-crazy Astros struggled to top that mark in 162 attempts.
The soccer squad provides the lone respectable pro sports refuge in this city. Even then, the Dynamo have been a few games away from a playoff spot for most of the season.
What, then, is a hardcore hoops fan to do with both NBA labor parties still embroiled in a bitter battle? The lockout claimed the Las Vegas Summer League, the July 1 start of free agency, the rookie transition program and other summer milestones. Soon, the meat of the campaign will meet the fire.
Some, if not all, of it will cook. A hard-line group of owners will ensure catastrophe.
Pigskin supporters, devout college fans and residents lucky enough to live in markets with playoff-bound baseball teams will survive the work stoppage, no matter the fallout. The NBA, however, is my drug. I penned this piece for the fellow hardwood junkies stuck on my sinking boat.
I cannot bring you news of imminent, non-street ball competition in the U.S., but I can deliver the next best thing. Professional-level basketball commences this week in Argentina and Lithuania, and you should make the effort to care about the results.
These games matter. The players competing in them will exhaust themselves in inspiring and captivating ways.
The FIBA Americas and Eurobasket tournaments promise intrigue, plenty of sweat, slam dunks, gorgeous passing and seamless teamwork. The scope of the events will inevitably yield clunkers and stinkers.
Anyone who followed the 2010 FIBA World Championship, though, knows that such settings can produce nail-biting brilliance. The spirited tussle between Argentina and Brazil—the ending of which inspired Rockets GM Daryl Morey to tweet that Luis Scola had entered “video game god mode”—was one of the finest contests I have ever watched.
The prize for the national teams that finish first and second in each qualifier? A bid in the 2012 Olympics. The rest must qualify for London via last-minute tournaments next summer. The U.S. secured its spot by winning in Turkey the previous September.
This slideshow's title implores you to “follow” these events because NBATV and ESPN’s family of networks do not plan to broadcast any of the games. ESPN 3 might air a few, and the FIBA and individual tournament websites will allow you to watch the clashes for a fee.
Here are five reasons to at least skim the box scores beginning now. FIBA Americas starts today. Eurobasket begins Wednesday.
The following expected Eurobasket participants boast NBA experience or ties:
- - Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)
- - Chris Kaman (Germany)
- - DJ Mbenga (Belgium)
- - Goran Dragic (Slovenia)
- - Pau Gasol (Spain)
- - Marc Gasol (Spain)
- - Jose Calderón (Spain)
- - Rudy Fernández (Spain)
- - Ricky Rubio (Spain)
- - Serge Ibaka (Spain)
- - Tony Parker (France)
- - Nicolas Batum (France)
- - Michael Pietrus (France)
- - Boris Diaw (France)
- - Joakim Noah (France)
- - Ronnie Turiaf (France)
- - Zaza Pachulia (Georgia)
- - Luol Deng (Great Britain)
- - Ben Gordon (Great Britain)—will not play
- - Kousta Koufos (Greece)
- - Omri Casspi (Israel)—will not play
- - Andrea Bargnani (Italy)
- - Marco Belinelli (Italy)
- - Danilo Gallinari (Italy)
- - Andries Biedrins (Latvia)
- - Darius Songalia (Lithuania)
- - Donatas Motiejunas (Lithuania)
- - Nikola Pekovic (Montenegro)
- - Nikola Vucevic (Montenegro)
- - Marcin Gortat (Poland)—will not play
- - Andrei Kirilenko (Russia)
- - Timofey Mozgov (Russia)
- - Nenad Krstic (Serbia)
- - Hedo Turkoglu (Turkey)
- - Omer Asik (Turkey)
- - Semih Erden (Turkey)
- - Ersan Ilyasova (Turkey)
- - Enes Kanter (Turkey)
- - Mehmet Okur (Turkey)
- - Kyrylo Fesenko (Ukraine)
Some NBA-related names to watch in the FIBA Americas Tournament:
- - Andres Nocioni (Argentina)
- - Carlos Delfino (Argentina)
- - Fabricio Oberto (Argentina)
- - Luis Scola (Argentina)
- - Manu Ginobili (Argentina)
- - Anderson Varejao (Brazil)
- - Leandro Barbosa (Brazil)
- - Tiago Splitter (Brazil)
- - Andy Rautins (Canada)
- - Cory Joseph (Canada)
- - Joel Anthony (Canada)
- - Al Horford (Dominican Republic)
- - Charlie Villanueva (Dominican Republic)
- - Francisco Garcia (Dominican Republic)
- - Carlos Arroyo (Puerto Rico)
- - Jose Juan Barea (Puerto Rico)
- - Renaldo Balkman (Puerto Rico)
- - Greivis Vasquez (Venezuela)
Eric Musselman, who helmed the Sacramento Kings for a year, coaches Venezuela. Chris Finch, a D-League sideline chief-turned-Houston-Rockets assistant, coaches Great Britain. Kentucky coach John Calipari will direct the Dominican Republic. Mike “The Tsar/Czar” Fratello coaches Ukraine.
I noted some roster fixtures that will not play. Several others from the above lists may skip the tournaments because of injuries, contract insurance issues or other reasons. Try not to deride me if I omitted a recognizable name or added an inactive one and did not denote it. The roll call merely demonstrates the caliber and quality of the competitors.
Team USA’s second redemption quest, 16 years in the making, hogged the headlines here during the FIBA World Championship. The Kevin Durant-led squad provided NBA fanatics with a compelling reason to catch some of the action.
The prestigious tournament, though, was noted as much for the absences of Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and numerous other international mainstays.
This week’s crop will not disappoint. The labor stalemate provided an extra incentive for several All-Stars to represent their countries, provided they could secure the necessary insurance from governing bodies.
Argentina and France, in particular, came through for their best players. Ginobili and Parker no longer need to worry about voided NBA contracts should they suffer injuries abroad.
Spurs fans anxious for more glimpses of 29th pick Cory Joseph can measure his progress as a key cog for Canada. Leo Rautins, Joseph’s coach, spoke very highly of the rookie in a recent Toronto Star interview. San Antonio supporters would love to see Tiago Splitter’s body cooperate, so he can ameliorate his rugged interior game as a starter for Brazil.
Jazz fans get a sneak peak of third selection Enes Kanter, a dynamic center with the potential to do big things in Salt Lake City. Minnesotans still interested in the Timberwolves can shadow Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio.
A future Hall of Famer will lead the charge for a prestigious program on its last legs when Plata Del Mar hosts the FIBA Americas tournament.
Argentina’s impressive, experienced core must soon bow to Father Time’s ruthless reign. Luis Scola is 30 and Fabricio Oberto (who will not play this week, despite plans to compete) is 36. Ginobili, the engine behind the country’s remarkable successes in the 2000s, turned 34 this year.
Team USA boasts ready replacements in its talent pool if LeBron James or anyone else says “no thanks” to London. Argentina, despite its laudable basketball development in a futbol-first nation, cannot rely on that luxury.
This event and the 2012 Olympics represent perhaps the final two times hoops enthusiasts can witness one of the most cohesive rosters in the sport’s history. Prepare for a heavy dosage of Ginobili-to-Scola pick-and-rolls. Delfino, for his part, tends to shine on the international stage.
If your heart does not race watching Ginobili throwing himself all over the court and attacking the basket with reckless abandon, get a pulse check pronto. One of the NBA’s most enthralling figures is a chief reason to follow the FIBA Americas qualifier.
The coaching regime has changed since 2004’s surprise gold medal run, but the club’s dedication to podium finishes has not wavered.
Mark Cuban’s qualms with NBA employees competing for their national teams have their merits. It is fair to wonder why reigning Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki should play pro bono for Germany when the Mavericks cut the checks that allow him to make a comfortable—understatement alert—living.
Yet, Cuban should understand two things.
One: He was born in America, a country with a population that largely values its individual or hometown teams over a national product. A Green Bay resident may root for a U.S. figure skater or a track-and-field star in the Olympics, but does that come close to equaling the passion he or she exudes for the Packers?
In Argentina, Spain and other countries with powerhouse basketball programs, it means a lot when the stars represent their homelands. The intensity and fervency ramps up about 10 notches for futbol, of course.
Two: Most players participate in street ball or recreational scrimmages anyway, so they might as well burn calories and risk injury in a controlled environment with team doctors nearby and a noble purpose guiding them.
Parker has never competed in the Olympics. Ditto for Noah, Luol Deng and many others. You better believe this means the world to them. Since they cannot look forward to organized NBA activities anytime soon, they will give everything they have and more for this cause.
Come mid-September, the fans that did not heed my advice to soak up these tournaments in whatever way possible will feel miserable when they realize they might not see pro-level action until 2012.
Get it while you can. This beats the tar out of the barn burners in the Drew and Goodman leagues. Those ballers play for entertainment and respect. These guys are representing their countries.
The labor impasse threatens to wipe out the entire 2011-12 campaign. Even a fantastic Argentina-Brazil rematch featuring reloaded squads cannot replace the tantalizing empty promise of a Christmas Day showdown between the reigning conference champions.
Imagine life without this tournament as an option. Yucky, huh?
FIBA and U.S. sports networks have not made it easy to follow what starts today. Do it anyway. Scope a box score. It’s basketball, and it’s better than nothing.