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BASKETBALLMUCH MORE THAN JUST A GAME
By LARRY A. McKENZIE
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Larry A. McKenzie
All right reserved.
With all the hoopla and excitement, one topic that is often lost in the discussion of the game of basketball is its economics and the fact that it is a business. Like many of this country's early inventions, it has experienced many transformations.
As a young man growing up, basketball for me was just a game, no different from duck-duck, goose or rock, paper-scissors; it was something that brought friends together for fun and laughter. It was something that I could do alone, always imaging hitting that winning shot or free throw as the clock was winding down: five, four, three, two, one!
It was an opportunity for bonding with my dad, who always shared his old school tricks, or my younger brother, by playing one on one, and, of course, I always won.
We played two on two, three on three, four on four or five on five, always on asphalt or concrete and without adult supervision. We played half court or full court, and we organized the games and called our own fouls.
My greatest childhood memory is playing hustle, or twenty-one, as it is known today, on a dirt patch next to a train track surrounded by mulberry bushes with a bike rim nailed to a light post. That could never happen today.
It was about having fun, competing, playing hard, and just simply trying to be the best player I could be. Your reward was respect and being picked first when you returned to the court. Traveling basketball for me growing up was going from Liberty City to play a team in Overtown on Dorsey Park.
Modern basketball is played with uniforms and always in a gym with two or more courts, organized by youth sports organizations and supervised by adults, who decide when, where, and who can play.
We picked teams by the first two players making a shot from the top of the key; today teams are picked by moms and dads, who usually include their son or daughter, their kid's best friend, and three others that can afford to pay the fees.
The game that I once played for fun has blossomed into a multibillion dollar industry where kids are used like chess pieces so that adults can be crowned kings or queens.
The business of basketball includes selling sneakers, specialized training, traveling basketball, recruiting services, youth associations, and more, but it strides on selling pipe dreams through the magic of smoke screens.
The 5th Dimension used to sing, "You don't have to be a star to be in my show." Today everybody has to be the star!
Most recently I was reminded by a mom that her son was ranked as one of the top players in his class and that he averaged thirty points a game on his other team, so "if he wasn't going to be allowed to shoot when he wanted to, he wouldn't be playing anymore."
It preys on adults who live vicariously through their kids; "I didn't make it, but you will." Those whose careers were ended by that vaunted knee injury, or otherwise they would have played in the league, believe that their son or daughter is the ticket that will allow them to escape poverty or simply upgrade their lifestyle to that of the rich and famous. They believe that their son or daughter is the next Big Ticket (KG) or Candace Parker. Finally, it's a chance for them to redeem the injustice of the coach who said they couldn't play or weren't good enough, and to lay down the burden that they've had to carry over the years.
It begins with the innocent mistake of purchasing that Nerf ball and the minihoop that many of us proud fathers buy within months of our children's birth. We proudly watch and proclaim the great potential exhibited by our sons and daughters.
For me it started with the purchase of a pair of fifty-dollar Jordan shoes for my three-month-old son. It continued with anything advertised or worn by Orlando Magic and Penny Hardaway.
Like so many parents with dreams of their kids getting a free college education or playing at the highest level, we begin to invest thousands of dollars in chasing the dream. You eagerly spend money on personal training, tryouts, traveling expenses, and summer camps. But so often the return on your investment is not what was hoped for.
The business of basketball sucks us in, just like the bright lights of the big city. No matter what age or level you are playing at, make no mistake, it is all about business.
Look around your community, and you will find some type of youth sports organization or association. They operate under the premise of promoting good sportsmanship and quality athletic programs, but what they really are, organizations run by youth sports entrepreneurs, and every entrepreneur I know is focused on market share and making a profit. Many of them have salaried staff and require membership fees.
They are the creators of pay to play, organizing leagues and tournaments or private teams, through which they generate millions of dollars. These major events become our family vacations, which generate dollars not only for the organizers but increase revenues for hotels, restaurants, and malls. It was reported that one small town in California hosting an AAU event generated a million dollar windfall, and the event sponsors made $45,000 in just tournament fees from one hundred teams.
When was the last tournament your child participated in a program that offered workshops on the ACT or SAT? Maybe it included a seminar on the ends and outs of recruiting or on how to deal with the media?
Let's really ask the question. Are these organizations about benefiting kids or about turning a profit?
But it doesn't stop there. What city or town doesn't have a gym or facility that is run by a former player or coach who also is a sports entrepreneur offering specialized training?
No doubt they realize that parents are willing to spend thousands of dollars in the pursuit of creating that superstar. They offer weekly sessions one to three times a week at a rate of twenty to one hundred dollars an hour; some willingly set up sessions for kids who really have little chance of ever being more than a recreational player.
I once witnessed a coach laughingly say to a parent that his son " was getting better," only later to describe him as his automated teller machine (ATM) and admit that the kid had about as good a chance of playing high school basketball as he did of walking on water. Of course there are some benefits in specialized training. As a coach and parent, I certainly see value in specialized training and have been fortunate to work with really good personal trainers—guys who took extreme pride in their work and cared about really helping kids get better.
But the training has to be about developing the kid's skills and not be strictly a business relationship.
But so often I have seen parents investing in training when they should be investing in a tutorial course for reading or the standardized tests. The belief is that if my child improves that jump shot or increases their vertical, that D1 scholarship will be obtained and maybe, just maybe, one day his or her name will be called in that NBA or WNBA draft.
There are three hundred D1 basketball schools, most with a rotation of no more than nine players who actually play, which totals twenty-seven hundred potential NBA draft picks. The NBA drafts only sixty players each year, with a limited number actually making the team. Your odds are just as great playing the Mega Millions or the Powerball on a weekly basis and winning as they are of playing in the NBA or WNBA.
The reality is that only two out of every one hundred high school athletes will ever play in college, and only one out of every twelve thousand high school athletes will ever become professional players.
Because specialized training has a small profit margin, many of these facilities sponsor traveling teams. How can we talk about the business of basketball without discussing traveling, AAU, and grassroots basketball?
Traveling basketball is the trap that has parents believing that if their kids don't start playing at four or five years old they will fall behind their peers. It's pay to play basketball, writing a check so that my kid can be on a team, and you are darn right I expect him or her to play!
People confuse AAU basketball with grassroots basketball; the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) is one of the largest sports nonprofit organizations in the United States. Founded in 1888 with the purpose to establish standards and uniformity in amateur sports, it administers thirty-two different sports. However, it is estimated that 50 percent or more of its more than 1.1 million members participate in basketball. Although it encourages participation at an early age, with the AAU national championships starting at eight and under, the AAU attempts to regulate teams through its national office, sanctioning all AAU basketball teams and events. Proof of grade and membership are required.
So while people refer to the summer basketball circuit, or circus, as "AAU basketball," only a small percentage of the summer events are actually sponsored or affiliated with the AAU.
Grassroots basketball, now that's a horse of a different color. For the majority of high school coaches, it's their worst nightmare. It has as much regulation as a dogfight in a dark alley. It has been described as being much like the subprime mortgage market, making up the rules as they go along, and always in the interest of making a dollar. In 2006 at an NBA finals press conference, Commissioner David Stern described it as exploitation of amateurs and perpetuation of poor fundamentals. The former NCAA president, Myles Brand, describes it as the dysfunctional world of youth basketball.
At the heart of grassroots basketball is the shoe war. Basketball historians credit or blame (you can choose for yourself) Sonny Vacaro, the former Nike, Adidas, and Reebok shoe executive.
In my era Chuck Taylor's was the shoe of the trade. If you played the game of basketball you wore Converse; that changed in 1984 when Sonny Vacaro signed the then twenty-one-year-old NBA rookie Michael Jordan to an endorsement deal. It began the declaration of war amongst the sneaker companies as they all began pursuit of the next Jordan.
It was Vacaro who revolutionized the game by paying college coaches to use Nikes as their team shoe, later adding team gear. He was the first shoe executive to pay grassroots and high school coaches money that sometimes reached six figures, and he is the creator of the now popular elite basketball camps.
TV analyst Len Elmore, who played college and professional basketball, graduated from Harvard, and is now the executive of Ihoops, has been quoted as saying "that shoe companies' spending has thrown youth basketball into turmoil."
Vacaro refutes his critics, saying, "No matter which shoe company I've worked with, I've never said we weren't in business to make money."
Others say that the NCAA should share the blame for what happens with grassroots basketball because of its restructuring the recruiting calendar and putting emphasis on summer basketball over traditional high school.
Grassroots basketball is certainly a hot topic amongst high school coaches. The question of who really has the player's best interest at heart and who works at developing his skills creates a real tug of war between high school coaches and grassroots coaches. Many believe that AAU and grassroots basketball are ruining the game by emphasizing an individualistic style of play.
Its run-and-gun style of play is in complete opposition to concepts of offense and defense emphasized by the high school coach.
Michael Hyde, of St. Andrew's School (Middleton, Delaware) is quoted in Winning Hoops magazine as saying:
"It is a fact that for most elite players, summer basketball has become more important than their high school team. Grassroots coaches are viewed as having more influence than the high school coaches. Some assistant say that recruiting elite talent would be almost impossible without strong ties to grassroots programs".
Back in the day, as the kids say, high school coaches used to have a relationship with their players, and they were seen as the gatekeepers. It's been awhile, but I made it a habit to be involved with my players' recruitment along with their parents. However, in the ten years I've been coaching, that has changed.
Parents, particularly single mothers, seem to be mesmerized by the charm of dashing young men who could sell sand on a beach, and really believe these programs have their kids' best interest at heart. Players today have street agents and large posses that influence their decisions—people pulling them in all kinds of directions.
I constantly told my players that they really needed to assess even those that really love them; which of course is a difficult challenge for kids. As a smart athlete you must be willing to ask yourself this questions: Do those claiming to care really have my best interest at heart?
No matter who you want to blame, there is plenty of blame to go around. When P. T. Barnum proclaimed, "There is a sucker born every minute," who knew it would one day pertain to those in pursuit of basketball?
While grassroots basketball benefits the top-tier basketball players, it's the ones who have no chance of being in that top 3 percent that goes on to play college ball who are being sold pipe dreams.
Every season I watch the top grassroots coaches and program directors as they attend high school games like major college scouts trying to find the next John Wall. Some are respectful enough to make sure coaches are aware of their interest in a certain kid, while others have no regard for the coach or the fact that the team still has half of its season left to play.
Summer basketball is really spring ball, as tryouts are held when the final whistle is blown for the winter basketball season. Kids and parents excited about being called elite are usually charged for the opportunity to wear snazzy uniforms and to "get exposure," which I find interesting, since the NCAA has almost eliminated the April recruiting period, allowing a minimal number of days out, and for the most part coaches are not allowed out until the July recruiting period.
Most but not all tryouts are shams, because most of the time the teams already know who they intend to keep and who doesn't have a chance. They have recruited who they wanted.
The best kids usually play for free, and others pay thousands to finance the team with hopes of being seen by North Carolina, Kentucky, or Duke. One of the funniest stories I heard was from a parent whose son was on a team with some very elite talent, players who no question were the type that big-time programs would be recruiting. He bragged that Bill Self, Roy Williams, and other top-tier coaches had been in the audience to see his son. His son was on the team with four top one hundred players. Who do you really think they were there to see? But parents are foolish enough to believe that if their kid plays on an elite grassroots team, they are guaranteed to play D1 or in the NBA.
How about parents who travel the country with sixth-grade teams for exposure? What college coach whose son or daughter is not playing wants the assignment of evaluating sixth-graders?
You think Eminem could have possibly been thinking about grassroots hoops when he wrote the real Slim Shady? It does seem to have its seedy characters, scams, and scandals. You hear stories of guys like Myron Piggie, the legendary Nike grassroots operator who gave thousands of dollars to kids in the St. Louis area, or the Wisconsin operator that happens to run a scouting service on the side, charging kids to be ranked.
Its by-products include stories like O. J. Mayo, who some say started receiving money from agents as a seventh-grader, and Renardo Sidney, who at one time was thought to be the best player in his class and future number one draft pick of the NBA. He played for three high schools and three summer teams in two states. His dad, Renardo Sr., was paid $20,000 a year as a Reebok "consultant." He also coached the LA Dream Team, sponsored by Reebok. Clark Francis wrote, "Sidney could be the poster boy for the things that are wrong with grassroots basketball and is the perfect example of just how bad the sense of entitlement among many of these players has become."
Excerpted from BASKETBALL by LARRY A. McKENZIE Copyright © 2011 by Larry A. McKenzie. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Business....................1
Chapter 2 Appreciate....................13
Chapter 3 Student-Athlete....................21
Chapter 4 Knowledge of the Game....................31
Chapter 5 Enjoy....................39
Chapter 6 Teachable....................47
Chapter 7 Believe....................53
Chapter 8 Attitude....................59
Chapter 9 Love to Live....................65
Chapter 10 Live to Love....................69
About the Author....................75
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is the bomb! Or, in other words, the basketball book of osumness(awesomeness).The coach shares some of his childhood basketball catastrophes and some of his run-ins as a basketball coach. Those of you who love basketball more than a lot of things or as much as me then you should get this book. (O'_'O) epic smiley face
While this book has a great message and I think it would be a valuable read for any young athlete, it also contained a number of grammatical and punctuation errors that took away from its message.