I'll be gone this weekend. Enjoy this special midweek version of the Reader.
What Happened To Him? Basketball Star Jonathan Hargett's Promising Career Derailed
The New York Times
No major news outlet crafts a long-form basketball melodrama quite like The New York Times. From the seminal piece on advanced stats that canonized the abilities of Shane Battier, to the delightful piece that explored the city's streets, neighborhoods and people through the lens of pickup basketball (a piece that still makes me want to move to New York), the Paper of Record really knows how to tell a tale about the roundball and the prisoners it takes. This is the latest entry to that lauded field. Pete Thamel tells the sad, yet predictable, tale of Jonathan Hargett, a talented guard who was high school teammates with Amar'e Stoudemire, Marquis Daniels and Jarrett Jack before a life of drug dealing, womanizing and bribe-accepting finally caught up with him. He's finishing up a five year sentence for possession with intent to sell, and with no chance of resuming a basketball career, has authorized this eulogy in hopes that others will heed the warnings. Of course The New York Times was happy to oblige. This is an oft-told tale about failed basketball glory, as well as the challenges of growing up black and poor in America, but a well-written one. Definitely worth a look.
What It's Like to Play Basketball with Obama
The big event of the Obama campaign this week was the "Obama Classic", which gave a lucky donor a chance to play some ball with the POTUS, as well as a few Dream Team and Cream Team members. However, before it took donated money and an extensive background check to share the court with Barack Obama, you could find him playing pickup ball with undergrads at the University of Chicago, where he was teaching. One of the guys who got to play regularly with Obama was Tucker Max, who is now a successful author. In this very entertaining piece, Max describes the nuances of Obama's game as a man in his mid-30s. According to Max, Obama wasn't good, but he wasn't bad either. Max remembers Obama as a guy who "knew the basics and could execute them, but his performance wasn't anything beyond that." He stood out as a professor who could play a little bit, and a person who, when things got heated (as they are wont to do; everyone who plays pickup ball knows this) "was always an adult." It's up to you if want to project his basketball game onto his White House game, but this piece from HuffPo is definitely worth a read.
- JGNew NCAA Standards Too Late
Yep. That's him. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, arguably the greatest center to ever play the game, and the NBA's leading scorer by far, weighs in on new academic requirements for the NCAA that requires a 2.3 GPA for "core classes" in high school in order to be eligible to play intercollegiate sports. While Kareem lauds the NCAA for adding some academic requirements, he asserts that the timing is off, considering what the NCAA has become. In Kareem's view, the NCAA season is essentially "a tryout for the NBA", where talented players show off their skills in order to get a spot in the first or second round of the draft, while the lesser talented players remain in college. Kareem argues that this is a condition created by the NBA with their age requirement provisions, and sees these new academic requirements as a hindrance for players to succeed in the NBA/NCAA one-and-done system. Moreover, college players are coming out of school very raw, and NBA teams must waste time teaching high picks basic fundamentals. Kareem makes a number of good points in this short piece.
You Either Smoke or Get Smoked: An Oral History of White Men Can't Jump
Though the basketball movie pecking order usually features some combination of He Got Game (phenomenal), Space Jam (also phenomenal) and Hoosiers (good, but I prefer Love & Basketball or Blue Chips), there's a soft spot in my heart for White Men Can't Jump. The movie features Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, Rosie Perez and an army of streetballers, D-I ballers and former NBA players. Though the film often is written off as a tongue-and-cheek commentary on an awkwardly accurate stereotype, it is funny, well-written, and very immersive when it comes to actual basketball. In this innovative article, author Thomas Golianopolous interviews a number of individuals involved with the production of White Men Can't Jump to record memories and broach some surprising subjects. Through the memories of White Men Can't Jump's cast and crew, we are able to see how the movie provided insight into the multiple stereotypes held by White and Black players alike, as well as exposure to street ball and the politics of pickup basketball. We also learn from multiple people that Wesley Snipes was an excellent athlete, but a very poor basketball player. Somehow I'm not surprised.
- JGCavaliers Creating Their Own Thunder
For every team that can't boast a major market to appeal to a Top 25 player's leisurely side -- so, every city that's not Los Angeles, New York or Miami -- the singular hope seems to be what is now known as "The Thunder Model". In the Thunder model, a general manager builds a contender by doing three things: stockpiling good draft pics, nailing all of the used draft picks, and freely exchanging the unused ones for valuable assets. Of course, it is much easier said than done to exchange Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis for picks that became Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and then use other picks (and some players) to get useful contributing players, but now that it's happened, everyone's drinking the Oklahoma City Kool Aid. According to Stephen Brotherston, only one team is actually doing the Thunder thing properly: the Cleveland Cavaliers. Brotherston shows how some out-of-favor veterans, favorable contracts and ample spending (both Dan Gilbert and Clay Bennett/Aubrey McClendon have deep pockets) have allowed the Cavaliers to put together a core that includes Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, while still retaining the services of Andy Varejao (Nick Collison, anyone?) and Alonzo Gee. While the Cavaliers probably won't be coming out of the East at any point soon, they are well on their way thanks mostly to the draft, savvy front office work, and an owner who is willing and eager to spend.