On January 24th, 2012, Obama delivered his third State of the Union address. TV announcers analyzed the prospective address as Obama emerged from a tunnel to meet applause from hysterical fans, and I couldn’t help but think the ways in which the event, and the issues put forth, mirrored aspects of the NBA. With the speech as inspiration, I decided to take a shot at how Obama might address the nation with a fictional State of the Union on the NBA and USA Basketball.
Good evening, players, owners, administrators, and, most importantly, devoted fans. Tonight, I am here to address you all on behalf of the NBA and USA Basketball–explaining where we stood, where we stand now, and how, from there, we will jump forward in the future of world-leading basketball.
Tonight’s speech will cover several important topics, and all of them were on full display on the special night that was Friday, January 6th. That night, I saw the Cleveland Cavaliers take on the home-team Minnesota Timberwolves, a basketball game that many Americans, and the world, for that matter, would find insignificant. The buzz surrounding that game centered on two rookie point guards: Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio. And while those rookies will make a great season-long duel in this year’s race to Rookie of the Year, they also exemplified the two qualities that make the NBA the greatest league in the world: Freedom and Equality.
I felt a peculiar pride on behalf of Kyrie and the NBA as I watched Mr. Irving dribble through the defense and score a spinning lay-up. In that moment, it dawned on me that Kyrie is emblematic of a player defying so many odds: he moved half-way around the world at age two, lost his mother at age four, suffered debilitating injuries in his sole year at college, and now faces the pressures of a #1 pick rejuvenating a cursed city. But, least importantly to Kyrie and most importantly to me and the NBA, Kyrie stands a mere inch taller than myself at 6′ 2″. Despite his diminutive height, he is now poised to win Rookie of the Year and it says something about the State of the NBA.
In 2004, during the dark days of stagnant NBA isolation offenses–we might as well call it a previous administration–two rule changes were made to encourage fluid player movement from the perimeter: the abolishment of hand-checking and the introduction of a defensive 3 seconds. Conservatives decried these changes as increased regulation, but make no mistake: by restricting the defense, the NBA became freer than ever before. Now we see the freedom of offense, the freedom of player movement, and most importantly the freedom of anybody, regardless of the cards he was dealt and the genes he inherited, to pursue the NBA dream. Change inspired hope.
The NBA’s success hinges on the fine balance between showing us feats previously unfathomed, such as Blake Griffin’s otherworldly dunks, and attributes we can relate to, like Rubio’s boyish looks and pedestrian physique. With no ill effects on quality of play, the NBA is now a place for the tallest of trees and the smallest of bees. One of those bees, Mr. Irving has transcended obstacles, and through it all, developed an uncanny comfort dribbling in the paint and finishing under the basket. I am proud to say that with its recent changes, the NBA has made it possible for him to display these skills for his team and for fans worldwide.
In addition to the success of shorter basketball players, the diversity of NBA players makes it easier for fans worldwide to relate to their idols. Rubio and Irving, and for that matter, fellow Cavs rookie Tristan Thompson, were respectively born in Spain, Australia, and Canada. Their success points to international players and their countries improving their basketball standing, and also to our successful foreign policy in the world of basketball. The NBA is a place where basketball fans, players, and owners from all corners of the world can unite under one Red, White, and Blue logo.
The NBA branches itself out to the world–the NBA Cares program touches the lives of millions worldwide–and also brings the world to the NBA; the league is as diverse and accepting as it has ever been. At the start of the 2010 season the NBA employed a record 84 international players hailing from 38 countries and territories. The league is a better place with Russian Mikhail Prokhorov as an owner and zealous Chinese fans who fill the All-Star ballots. In true American form, the NBA is a space where players from anywhere can climb the ranks to become an NBA champion.
With all that said, let me be clear: as an American ambassador of basketball, I also believe in building a better future for basketball right here in America. We’ve been a worldwide power, make no mistake: under the guidance of Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski, the USA Senior Men’s Basketball team went 36-1 between 2006 and 2008 and reclaimed the Gold Medal at the Summer Olympics in Beijing. On the world’s biggest stage, in its biggest country, our men exhibited the hard work, teamwork, and mettle that makes America great in its Gold Medal game versus Spain. The USA Basketball program we have built up is a fantastic start that has paid huge dividends in global competition. But, with all due respect to Spain, which develops phenomenal players and teams, USA basketball can, and should, reach even higher peaks in its return to basketball dominance!
USA basketball hit its lows during the early and mid 2000’s, and there is no one person or factor to blame. Countries were rising while we remained stagnant, or worse, declined. Personnel and strategy disappointed during these years, and while America has rebounded, in more ways than one (insert: endearing smile to the crowd), we need to look beyond our results and examine our process. We need to institute a system and a culture of American basketball that is built to last. This goes beyond USA Basketball, a program reserved for an elite few. No, this won’t be easy, but we need to target the roots of American basketball through an increased emphasis on quality basketball education.
To win the future, we need to teach the future how to win, and specifically how to win in the future. This means getting back to basketball fundamentals as well as supporting research into the sport’s evolution. Let us return, once again, to January 6th. In watching Kevin Love mix fundamental box-outs and shooting form with unconventional ball-tipping, floor-spreading, and positional redefinition, I knew I was witnessing the future of basketball.
Believe me, I enjoy HoopMixTape and BallIsLife YouTube videos as much as anybody, but in order for the future generations to succeed, we must emphasize more substance in our youngsters. This means supporting traditional values–footwork, boxing-out, chest-passes–as well as progressive ideas such as one-handed bounce passes, unconventional rebounding, three-point shooting, and, dare I say, using the backboard as a teammate. As a nation of basketball players, America has made great progress in the past five years. We must channel this hard work and rededication with forward-thinking strategies that will allow us to remain ahead of our competitors.
Watching Kevin Love, the league’s most successful Caucasian American in quite some time, reminded me of how I overcame stereotypes and doubters en route to my presidency. This league, as I have been saying all along tonight, is not reserved for any one type of person: people of different heights, nationalities, classes, religions, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations all participate in this beautiful game of basketball, and thus, should be able to do so in the NBA. Perhaps, one day, we will even diversify gender in the NBA.
To end tonight’s talk, I’d like to emphasize that leveling the playing field is as important for the NBA’s teams as it is for its players. Despite my loyalty to a successful, big-market franchise, the Chicago Bulls, I have small-town roots and will fight to create equal opportunity for small-market teams. Let us, for the final time, turn to January 6th, when I saw two teams from my beloved Midwest proudly represent their small-market cities. Never mind that neither franchise has won a title in their respective histories, or that last season those teams won a combined 36 games, a number lower than any single playoff team’s win total. These teams played inspiring and innovative basketball, and most importantly, they gave their fans something to believe in.
With superstars joining forces in Miami, New York, and Boston and dominating headlines, we mustn’t overlook the increased parity and success of small-market teams that has helped define this season. In the East, the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic are playing winning small-market basketball. And it says something that Cleveland can rebound from a historically bad season and compete with popular and historic franchises such as the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, and soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets.
The Western Conference is even more impressive than the East. A small-market, recently relocated team built from the ground up holds the #1 spot (Oklahoma City) and a small-market team that recently lost its franchise player is #2 (Denver). The historic doormats of the NBA reside at #3 (LA Clippers), and they represent freedom not only with their red, white and blue colors, but also the freedom of player empowerment in their ability to attract Chris Paul. With the exception of Dallas, small-market teams exclusively make up the #4-#8 spots in the West’s standings: San Antonio, Utah, Portland, and Memphis. And speaking to the NBA’s parity, the #10 Lakers are a mere 4.5 games behind the #1 Thunder! Teamwork is prevailing for superstar-less teams, and with that, this season has brought a new definition of equality and fairness to the NBA.
This teamwork, fairness, and equality is vital to the survival of the NBA fan, the NBA team, and the NBA as an organization. Mere months ago, many people predicted the demise of the NBA during its tumultuous lockout. “Nuclear Winter” and “systemic collapse” were often times paired with “the NBA” in discussing the trajectory of American basketball. Two parties, the Players Association and the NBA’s group of owners, were blinded by ideologies in their attempt to form a new CBA and lost sight of the reality that everyone was losing money by delaying the return of NBA basketball. In the end, however, they put their differences aside and both sides, along with the citizens of the world, came out on top.
Fast forward to the present and you’ll see we are in a new year amidst a new season. Evolving players are defining a transformative era of basketball. Teams from every kind of market and players from every kind of background are pushing forward an improved brand of NBA basketball. It all comes back to January 6th: Like Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio, and Kevin Love, the NBA is defying the odds with successful attendance and viewership. The NBA is back, and anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone tells you that the NBA is in decline, or that its influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the State of the NBA and USA Basketball will always be strong.
Thank you, God bless you, God bless basketball, and may God bless the United States of America.
Did we capture Obama’s essence? How about the essence of today’s NBA? Let us know in the comments section or email us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on twitter and to “Like” us on Facebook.