The Works: Team USA in the Key of B, Corporate Logo Creep, Iverson in China
But first, we insist this American squad continue to be called The B-team.
Alphabet Hoop: When you are derided as inferior, yet you overcome all obstacles to succeed, you are legally obligated to invoke the Law of Nobody Believed In Us!.
The 2010 incarnation of Team USA was certainly considered inferior, earning the moniker "The B-team" once every last member of the 2008 Olympic champion team opted out ahead of the World Championship this summer. The B-team, of course, did what the A-team couldn't in 2006: won the Worlds, a deeper, arguably tougher tournament than the Olympics. With the win, Team USA tripped a clause demanding the activation of the Law of Nobody Believed In Us!.
Kevin Durant is a stickler for regulations, so he ran with it, tweeting post-gold, "B-team huh?? Haaaaa we got it done... ." But all this passive-aggressive rage against the media ignores the very important reality that this really was a B-team. This was not a collection of the 12 best American NBA players. That was 2008. That was, essentially, 10 of the top 20 American NBA players on the planet, plus Tayshaun Prince and a guy dressed like Michael Redd. That was a true A-team ...
... which, when you consider Team USA wanted all those players (minus Prince, Redd and a retiring Jason Kidd) back for '10, and had to instead bring along largely inferior talent when the Redeem Team went M.I.A., lays it out pretty clearly: this is the B-team. Don't blame the media, blame Jerry Colangelo. This looks like a B-team because he really tried to bring back his A-team and failed. Everything is relative, and the talent base of the '10 team compared to the '08 team says the '10 team is inferior. The gold doesn't change that.
Think about it: who of Team USA 2010 would make the 2008 team outside of Durant? KD is one of the three best players in the world, and he'd take Prince's spot. Andre Iguodala showed he can be valuable when surrounded by offensive workhorses, and he'd replace Redd. Derrick Rose would probably replace Kidd, but wouldn't get any playing time behind '08ers Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Iguodala would be stuck behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade at shooting guard, and LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Durant at small forward.
No other members of the B-team are even sniffing the roster. Rudy Gay over 'Melo? Lamar Odom over Chris Bosh? Tyson Chandler over Dwight Howard? No, no, no. Outside of Durant, the 2010 squad more or less defines B-team. Gold doesn't make Stephen Curry better than Chris Paul, or Chauncey Billups better than Dwyane Wade. That's just not how it works.
That this B-team was able to win the Worlds is a testament to the importance of fit, the state of the competition in international play at this moment in time, and the remarkable brilliance of Durant. So while I respect the Law of Nobody Believed In Us!, I'm going to have to draw the line at rewriting history. (TZ)
What's in a Name?: When it comes to team success vs. individual success in a team sport, the voices of coaches ring in your ears.
"You don't play for the name on the back of your jersey," Coach X barks as he wells up with tears. After looking each of his players in the eye and pausing to catch his breath because his brilliance and depth of those words have taken that breath away, he continues.
"You play for the name on the front!"
Then, adding softly and with melancholy, "Yes, even you Maggette."
Could you imagine then how the tears would flow if a North American sports team in one of the Big Four sports sold the name on the front of that jersey to the highest bidder?
What if, instead of Lakers, that was SONY in Forum Blue and Gold? Or how about JP MORGAN CHASE in Knicks blue and orange? Or maybe the familiar Celtics green and white lettering replaced by the equally familiar green and white of Heineken? (On second thought, scratch that stuff (NSFW), Pabst! Blue! Ribbon!)
The NBA's recent $100 million deal with Spanish banking giant BBVA got us wondering if the inevitable was at hand. Yes, we know that the WNBA has four teams -- Phoenix, Seattle, Los Angeles and New York -- with "branded" jerseys. But the speed with which BBVA appeared on the Dream's jerseys (the day before the deal was officially announced) must have been truly frightening to uni traditionalists.
(Update: Yep, it was frightening.)
Does this mean the end is nigh for NBA unis as we know them? After all the WNBA and the NBA D-League, which is also covered in the BBVA deal, are often used as R&D labs for the NBA.
"We are always watching the WNBA and the NBA Development League to see what works and what may be an applicable business practice," Mike Bass, the NBA's senior vice president of marketing communications, said in an e-mail to The Works. "That being said, the value proposition to include branding on the NBA game uniforms has not yet presented itself."
So, yeah, the NBA checks out stuff in their minor leagues, but, no, you don't need to worry, if we stick to local corporate entities, about the cruel irony of the "Sonic Drive-In" Thunder just yet.
Still, should we worry? Better yet, should you be shocked and saddened if and when it does happen?
We've long since passed the days where we bemoaned the prostituting of our athletic cathedrals. Only five NBA arenas -- Madison Square Garden, the Bradley Center, New Orleans Arena, The Palace of Auburn Hills and the Rose Garden -- lack corporate sponsored-names. Hell, the Sixers' home since 1997 has had four names already. (Welcome to the CoreStates-First Union-Wachovia-Wells Fargo Center!)
Across the pond, the English Premier League, which rivals the NBA as the world's most popular, has had "branded" kits for more than two decades, and the fans have managed to identify with their favorite teams. With the NBA's growth overseas (Da! This is the Moscow office ... ) it's probably only a matter of time before we see a "branded" NBA jersey. It may start small, maybe with a patch. Yet, if the NBA were to place an expansion team in Europe, where branded jerseys are de rigueur, what would stop them from doubling-down and placing a sponsor front-and-center on a London team jersey?
You could even argue that the New Jersey Nets are the true test for the NBA. With an eye on Brooklyn and a two-year layover in Newark, the Nets removed "New Jersey" from the front of their unis last year. Who do they represent? Not Newark or New Jersey. They represent the corporate entity that is the Nets. When they finally get to a New York city borough, other than the name "Brooklyn" on the front of their new jerseys, just what is the Nets' identity?
Then again, jerseys with "Brooklyn" splashed across the front should fly off the shelves. Here, in North American sports, places still have cachet. They occupy spots in our hearts and in our memories and some things, such as the uniforms representing those places, will -- and should -- remain sacred to many.
It's easy to believe, however, that a corporation's name gracing the front an NBA uniform is ultimately inevitable. After all sports and the television that broadcast them are the most perfect vehicles ever invented to move merchandise. Despite our Puritanical quest to make sure uniforms stay pure, if product push comes to kick tradition to the curb, I'm more inclined to root for the "Miller" Bucks if they stay in my hometown of Milwaukee than if they become the Las Vegas Bucks. (RP)
Far Out: Reaction to the news Allen Iverson might join Stephon Marbury in China has ranged from pitied laughter to outright mental distress. The Answer holds such a special role in the hearts of so many American NBA fans that the thought of him hustlin' for dollars in Guangdong is much more troubling than the thought of him retiring from basketball completely, as if Chinese basketball is so substandard it sullies the names of those who participate.
This stance ignores that A.I. has done a pretty decent job sullying his name already, with the Pistons' flameout, the Grizzlies' flameout and the 76ers' flameout. There's a reason no NBA team dares invite him to training camp; even star-obsessed NBA GMs know when to quit.
More than saying something about Iverson, this outlines how little we still think of China. No, Chinese basketball isn't particularly competitive. There's a reason Starbury is an All-Star over there. But denying the sociopolitical importance of China in the 21st century is as myopic as setting up a pinochle game on top of railroad tracks. The NBA has a foothold in China the other major American sports do not. Exporting an aging but still extraordinarily relevant player, one like Iverson, is good for the growth of the sport there.
So don't view Iverson's potential Eastern sojourn as a sad finish to a star-crossed career. Consider it an unofficial goodwill tour on behalf of Commissioner Stern himself. (TZ)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be available this October.