Calamity, Corruption & Collusion: Repairing The Fantasy Of Amateur Basketball

University of Arizona head coach Sean Miller (via Arizona Daily Star)

Don’t blame Dwane Casey. 

Casey, the Toronto Raptors’ longest-serving and winningest head coach, who is enjoying a notably good season. He recently celebrated his 300th win with the franchise and is seen by many as as a top contender for the NBA’s Coach of the Year. But at one point, he was an assistant at University Of Kentucky, where he had played for and captained the National Champion Wildcats under Joe B. Hall. Then a Fed Ex envelope addressed to a recruit split open mysteriously revealing $1,000. Though the University and Casey both denied that they had any role in this incident, the NCAA banned Casey for five years and he would spend his basketball exile in Japan, where he coached for 6 seasons all the while expressing no remorse, and claiming it was a set-up. Coaches all over the country took umbrage and most immediately took the opportunity to remind their base that “we do it the right way,” even as their top players tooled around campus in new luxury autos, including one notable freshman who arrived in a drop-top Ferrari, fully loaded with a sticker price of 89K and not an eyebrow raised.

Maybe it was Chuck Taylor, the great basketball player of the early 1900’s who would, after his playing career ended prior to the existence of the NBA we know today, convince a sneaker company to put his name and a star on the side of their shoes. He would become synonymous with basketball and one of the most recognized names in America as he spent the next forty years criss-cross in America selling sneakers out of his car to teams, while simultaneously running  clinics on each campus. What we know today is that Chuck used these clinics to develop relationships with the top high school athletes and coaches. Taylor became the de facto agent for these high school All-Americans, and if your University wasn’t wearing Converse, and running Chuck Taylor clinics annually, you had no shot at the top players. But don’t blame Chuck, I just like get to play the begat game, and Chuck fathered Nike, Adidas, and ultimately the seven figure shoe deal that provides generational wealth for the athlete whose skills and personality are marketable to a global audience of “sneaker heads” hungrily buying these iconic shoes via the Internet, and lining up hours before the shoe is released to drop a paycheck for them.

Lew Alcindor aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at Power Memorial High School (via Getty Images)

Pay to play, despite the phony outrage accompanying each new disclosure, isn’t new! We’ve all heard tales of families wooed by street agents when their teenager reaches 6’5″ in 7th grade. You’ve heard the rumors of certain schools who suddenly have a national ranking because of one amazing freshman who changes the arc of a mid-major school while everyone wonders why they chose Anonymous U. Think back to 1969, when a 7-foot phenom out of Power Memorial High School in NYC turned down a million-dollar offer from the ABA to sign the next day with UCLA. Yes, they had a incredible run of NCAA titles and the legendary John Wooden at the helm, but today we know that Sam Gilbert, a wealthy booster, matched the ABA offer to Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and had been doing so with other players throughout the course of the “dynasty” shepherded by the “Wizard of Westwood.” Not to single out UCLA, but just to point out the fallacy and fantasy of the “clean” and amazingly successful college program. Everyone is dirty. Believe it or not, they all cut corners, otherwise they wouldn’t recruit a player who they KNOW is only staying for a season, with no pretense of being a student-athlete. The entire team wouldn’t be wearing sneakers provided by one company in exchange for “promotional consideration” and coaches wouldn’t have contracts that are far more lucrative than the university’s president.

Meanwhile, the NBA sits atop this conspiracy. The collusion, calamity, and criminal acts committed along the way all have the same end goal. While we knew that the odds of all the manipulation, shenanigans, and flat out deceit that are perpetuated along the way are paying off at about a million to in, it hasn’t stopped it. In fact, the basketball community has mostly been able to turn their heads away as long they weren’t getting caught themselves. The NBA cannot. Their desperation to maintain control over the entry and distribution of talent into the league has been massaged, manipulated, and re-fashioned as they felt necessary to stay one step ahead of the courts. From the “hardship rule” of the 70’s to Moses Malone and Bill Willoughby coming straight out of high school, to today’s 2-round edition. The National Basketball Association has exhibited a deathly fear of a player challenging the draft’s legality, (highly unlikely, considering it would wend its way through the courts for years and an athlete would be finished by the time he won) and having their process abolished. What other professional cannot choose where they hone, or practice their craft? Engineer? Pharmacist? Sanitation Worker? Nurse? Nope. Their ability as a league to slot their picks and control their location and income is something most fans take for granted, but the league doesn’t. Not for a moment. The NBA owners, watching the cost of contracts skyrocket over the last 3 seasons to ridiculous levels, need desperately to control entry level costs. Which also drives the value of the first ten picks in the draft. It’s a complicated but simple machine that’s lead to where we are today. Kids, parents, coaches and hangers on committing criminal, selfish acts to preserve and further the NBA dream. Can it be fixed? Yup. I’ll do it now. Here at N THE ZONE NETWORK we play chess, not checkers.

Arizona freshman standout and potential #1 overall NBA draft pick DeAndre Ayton (via USA Today)

Here’s your solution. Thank me later.

Eliminate the fantasy of the “amateur” NCAA basketball player. The NCAA and it’s member teams are raking billions of dollars off the play of these teenagers. It’s time to compensate them, thus eliminating the possibility and/or necessity of them being corrupted. Here’s the scale. Pretty simply, each athlete on scholarship would receive a monthly stipend based upon the cost of living. THAT plus their academic scholarship would allow for a comfortable collegiate life equal to that of their on-campus academic peers. When they’ve graduated or completed, whatever commitment the player made to the university, they would receive a check equal to the tuition average of every member school on the NCAA times the number of years they spend academically eligible in school. This guarantees that every school’s compensation is equal, eliminating any incentive to go where the payoff is better. This ensures and encourages the kids to work towards a degree, while being able to do so without financial pressure. Simple way to finance. Each member school donates 5% of their basketball revenue to a pool. When a school wins an NCAA tournament game, 10% of their winnings go into the pool. Do the math. You could build a league. No one is going broke in this machine. Time has come to stop pretending and fix what has been broken for years on end. The NCAA also will contribute. The TV contracts are ridiculously lucrative. Thus, we’re going to need this association of dedicated institutions to kick in 5% of the TV money, and a share of the commercials featuring these kids in their promos. That money can buy an island and start a league now and no one has missed a meal. But we’ve gotta compensate these kids above the street money.

Here’s where the true payoff comes. Now that we’ve figured out how to pay the elite, and those who we know are in it only for basketball, let’s address the true student-athlete. Each member school will be required to maintain 4 roster spots for walk-ons. Those kids for whom a scholarship was not offered, who may never play but are more reflective of what the collegiate athletics experience is alleged to be. However, once this kid makes the roster he’s compensated the same as the McDonald’s All American. Graduates and receives the same check from the same financial pool as the kid who’s going first in the draft. Now we’re making progress.

Sports agent Christian Dawkins (via NY Daily News)

Finally, it’s time for the NBA to right their wrongs. Step in and help fix what’s so horribly broken. Here’s what the league can do. Expand the draft from two rounds to 7. Why? Because we’re going to open a true developmental league. I’m not talking about that “G” League that’s going now. But every NBA team will have a farm team. They can choose their geographical location. But the team must underwrite it 100%. Stop whining. The NBA’s new TV deal is worth 29 billion dollars over 8 seasons. That’s 3.5 billion per team spread over the length of the contract. That’s more than enough to stock, maintain and develop a roster of 12 “minor leaguers” and actually utilize the opportunity to refresh their talent pool from within, and just maybe find and build a late round gem instead of whispering “go to Europe, call me in 2 years, work on …….” Each player will receive 100k per season plus insurance and housing. This will prevent kids from having to schlep around Europe, China, and other foreign outposts to keep their NBA dream alive. The deals will all be uniform. Two years at 100k each, team and player option for year 3. I don’t see how this isn’t successful. Now we’ve provided a landing spot for all the kids dedicated to getting better over the course of their college careers and beyond, lessened the need to be “one and done” and disrupted the narrative that a player who stays four years in college isn’t NBA material. You can graduate from your school, play two years in a “REAL” developmental league and still be just 24 years old and ready to contribute to an NBA franchise. This is progress. Will it eliminate all the problems, kill off the parasites? Probably not.

Here’s the final step.

Keep it real.

Create a real ZERO tolerance policy in NCAA.

It goes like this. If you get caught cheating, your basketball program is closed for three seasons. Period. That’s progress. This is my solution and I believe it is viable. Simple, yes, but that’s just what we need to create an umbrella that protects everyone, establishes an environment of healthy sports at the collegiate level and not a dumpster fill if used up broke 20 year olds wondering “what’s next for my life if the NBA can’t use me.”

Your thoughts are as always welcome, but that’s my theory and I’m all in with it…..

Follow me on Twitter @MtAiryPhil

Healing Philadelphia (The Miracle Of Dougie P. & Nick)

Nick Foles scoring on The Philly Special

@MtAiryPhil

In the beginning they were one. They came from the industrial hardscrabble streets of Kensington, from the heavily Italian enclaves of South Philadelphia, some walked up from the North Philadelphia communities of the “Valley,” Brewerytown and Nicetown, others arrived via the trolley’s that connected West Philly to Lehigh Avenue via Girard Avenue and the Strawberry Mansion Bridge. They gathered on Sundays to watch their Philadelphia Eagles at the old Baker Bowl in 1933, Municipal Stadium in 1935 and on to Connie Mack ’40, Franklin Field ’58, Veterans Stadium ’72 and finally their current sparkling state of the art home, Lincoln Financial Field in 2003. They were one, and they expected their team and the players who donned the Kelly Green and White to reflect the personality of the city. Tough and gritty, unyielding, never too tired or busy for a good fight win or lose. That the Eagles did. While not always aesthetically successful, (aside from the 48-49 consecutive NFL Titles and the 1960 team that conquered the young dynasty of the 60’s Packers), the Eagles were a celebration of mediocrity. Still the city gathered en masse to root as one for their Philadelphia Eagles.

I don’t know when the poison set in. I don’t know why the great divide. I can point to many reasons and we’ll examine those. Suffice it is to say, the fan base that turned on their TV’s Sunday night for Super Bowl LII, the faithful that traveled to the frostbitten mecca of Minneapolis and those Philly expatriates who viewed from afar were no longer the unified base that represented EAGLES football and swore undying allegiance. There were fractures, formed of years of just not being enough, unable to take that final step, to stand along side their NFC EAST DIVISION RIVALS on the grandest stage clutching Mr. Lombardi’s trophy. But this fan base needed healing, and for this surgery to be successful, and unification to occur, it was gonna take a championship. Nothing less would do.

What is this poison you ask?

It’s not always apparent. Difficult too to recognize the symptoms. Yeah, you’ll hear the delightful, often drunken recitation of the fight song, iconic in and of itself, sung with fervor at ANY event or venue in and around Philadelphia at any moment. It sounded of unity and never felt divisive, and nationally the Eagles fan base was viewed as a singular gang of things, not to be tarried with, but there was ALWAYS an underlying air of division borne of memories of past disaster, terrible draft picks, bad management, near bankruptcy, and the Andy Reid Era that begat Chip Kelly and bubbled over into a schism that would rival Game Of Thrones for it’s complexities.

There was the House of “Tradition.” Those Eagles lifer’s now creeping up on their 9th decade who remember Pete Pihos, the consecutive NFL Title shutouts and clung to the idea that this Eagles team and it’s players didn’t appreciate the opportunity the NFL afforded, seeing today’s players as ungrateful mercenaries bonded only by paychecks with the same signature.

There were the Rozelle Kids, those who watched the legendary Chuck Bednarik level Jim Taylor and deliver the NFL title to Franklin Field in the fall of 1960, still lamenting the trade that dispatched Hall Of Fame QB Sonny Jurgensen to the Washington Redskins and began a spiral of losing that would last over a decade and accompany the franchise to their beautiful new Veterans Stadium home, illuminated by “Snowball Santa” as the legend goes and a 42-3 Monday Night Football loss memorable only for the fact that the Eagles actually faced a 3rd and 49 and graced by fans circling the Vet carrying an inflatable dog bone to let the team know exactly how they felt about current roster.

Nick Foles and head coach Doug Pederson calling for “The Philly Special”

Then there was the Era Of Hope, those of us who met Dick Vermeil and his “rah rah” college coach enthusiasm that would infect the Delaware Valley and the locker room. That would carry a group of overachieving athletes to the brink of the world championship in 1980, only to experience that joyless Sunday in New Orleans that saw Ron Jaworski throw three beautiful passes (albeit to Oakland defenders) on the way to a heartbreaking defeat to a team they had defeated just weeks earlier. The Vermeil era would end with him crying “burnout” amidst an aging locker room and a roster mostly bereft of talent and not enough resources (due to trades for veterans) to replenish. This calamity would be further exacerbated by the near loss of the franchise to Arizona when the team’s owner and shepherd, Leonard Tose, would gamble away his fortune in Atlantic City and narrowly avoid legendary infamy when Norman Braman bought him out with a pledge to keep the team in South Philly.

See where I’m going with this? Enough scars yet?

Well, this patient is going to get sicker and the symptoms more dramatically visible as the team would move into the era fondly known (by some) as “Buddy Ball.” Nothing Philadelphia had experienced in sports had prepared us for James David Ryan. Blustery, boisterous, and braggadocios, Buddy arrived to take over a moribund talentless roster that he would mold into arguably the NFL’S best defense of it’s time, accompanied by the mercurial talent of Randall Cunningham at QB, yet this team would not win a playoff game despite all the accolades Buddy would receive, and he would be ignominiously sacked in ’92 for Rich Kotite and the spirit would begin anew and with the birth of sports talk radio, create a further and deepening fissure among the fans that had begun to wonder, “will it ever be our turn” and now had an outlet to place blame, excoriate management almost daily and vocally, and finally, denigrate each other for their thoughts, ideas, and reasons why we hadn’t reached the promised land of Mr. Lombardi’s trophy and the accompanying parade.

These factions were dug in now, and the pain and division would deepen as a procession of great players abandoned ship in the 90’s led by Hall Of Fame DE Reggie White, perennial All-Pro’s Seth Joyner and Keith Jackson, and lesser lights yet major contributors like Clyde Simmons, Eric Allen and Keith Byars made their departures without either compensation or replacement.

There was a light at the end of the ’90’s tunnel however, his name was Andrew Walter Reid, and he arrived along with the new QB Messiah, Donovan McNabb, to breathe life into this city. Andy Reid would ignite the fuse of the football fury with repeated forays deep into the NFL playoffs, yet would start the worst fire among the fans with his seeming unwillingness to yield to the obvious, his intractable nature and style would create the biggest and most visible wound in Eagles Nation to date. I won’t tell you how it ended. You already know if you’re reading this.

Pain and suffering.

Sleepless nights after burning and inexplicable, very often unexplainable losses versus lesser opponents, most of them at home that often left the city stunned and defeated as yet another dagger was driven deeply into our collective sports psyche, hearts, and minds. Some will say that the loss in Jacksonville at SUPER BOWL 39 was the backbreaker, the moment the fan base went into total divide as the EAGLES stood frozen in time and memory watching the clock ticking away on a season and game that seemed destined to bring home the title so thirsted for by the faithful.

I won’t go into the debacle that was the brief yet memorable reign of Chip Kelly. By now you’ve probably thrown you’re IPAD, chucked the newspaper, cancelled your subscription, and are wondering why I’m reminding you of the pain of this journey to Super Bowl LII and the miracle of Nicky Football, the football David who slew Goliath, squashed the dynasty of BELICHICK and BRADY, destroyed the Evil Empire of The House Of Kraft.

Yes, there was a healing Sunday night. Dougie P and “The Prodigal Son” Nick Foles performed a surgery unseen before in the history of this world. They reunited a fractured, wounded, often left for dead city of Eagles fans and their communities. There is no way to devalue what Doug Pederson and a stand-in QB accomplished in Minnesota. Today, we are one. No more sleepless nights. No more taunting by fans of the other NFC EAST franchises. Stand down, all of youse! Today, we are one. Doug Pederson and Nick Foles healed 58 years of suffering with 3 hours of unmatched tenacity, daring, and fearlessness that can’t be quantified in words.

But you can feel it. The city feels it. We can breathe. Today we are one. Again.

I don’t believe we’ll ever sink again to the depths that Dougie P and Nicky Football rescued us from. Hopefully not, that took nearly 60 years to accomplish. All I know for sure is that today, we are one. Wishes do come true. Even in Philadelphia, where for 58 years, our football dreams came to die. Thank you Doug. Thank you Nick. Thanks to my compadres amongst the faithful who rode this thing we live “til the wheels fell off” and beyond. Welcome to the recovery room. The surgery was successful. Let the healing begin.

@MtAiryPhil

“The Philly Special”

 

The King of Mt. Airy – 02-24-17

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@MtAiryPhil

PHILADELPHIA, PA

In the end, Sixers’ boss Bryan Colangelo was stuck. The thought of waking up Friday the 24th with both Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor was just too heavy a burden. Who would face the fanbase and explain how this all went astray (again)? What message would it send to the players whom you’ve openly and very publicly shopped and showcased for the past month 76ers’ games?

That scenario, as horrific as it sounds to you and I, is exactly what Colangelo saw, and that’s the number one reason Nerlens Noel now plays for the Dallas Mavericks, Okafor remains a 76er, and this team STILL has a bagful of unanswered questions.

Let’s start with. That’s the best you could do? While Nerlens Noel has an expiring contract, it still allows the team who owns it to express a qualifying offer and match any potential free agent suitor that offers the (eye roll) Mavericks center. Then there’s this if that’s all you could get for Noel, and you felt that the better tender than any offer for Jahlil Okafor, we have the wrong leadership. Nothing could have driven Okafor’s trade value down further than the manner in which they handled the entire process. Colangelo, and to a slightly lesser extent, Brett Brown for his collusion on the whole insane circus, which culminated in Okafor being left off the team plane, and told a deal was imminent, then two days later flown halfway across the country because a deal was not. Jahlil Okafor has to take a hit here too. His lazy, disinterested approach to the defensive end of the NBA floor is a huge part of the reason teams weren’t knocking down the Sixers doors. Heartless at times, and blatantly invisible at most others, Okafor still possesses a huge set of offensive skills. Now the question is, does he grow a heart? Has the prospect of being traded lit any spark under a player one year removed from being the 3rd overall selection in the draft? Could be the Sixers just parked him until draft day, and with the prospect of Joel Embiid missing the next four games, they’ll allow him to display exactly why he is the player the 76ers chose not to move.

Back to the management though. They’re may not be a more mismanaged situation in any sports front office history. The debacle of the silly benchings, and banishment from the rotation of both Okafor and Noel was embarrassing to this franchise. The truth is too easy for Colangelo. He could have easily shaped this so that it appeared that he was moving Okafor only to free money to extend Noel. Instead, he drove the value of both players down through his inept and dopey press conferences where he played “I love you, I love you not” with both players over the past two months, and the openly and very publicly declared that Noel was the 76er who would stay, further burying any possibility of getting equal value for Jahlil Okafor.

Final question for the Sixers….

This REALLY the guy who is going to manage the assets you lost 200 games over the past three seasons to acquire?

Hit me up, Sixers fans. Even if you’re not a Sixer fan and just love basketball, I want to hear from you. Drop your COMMENTS below and find me on Twitter.

 

 

 

N The Zone Philly w/ The King of Mt. Airy 02-18-2017

FB_IMG_1458263571898New episode of N The Zone Philly available for you. In this edition, I talk more on “trusting the process” for the Sixers plus some possible moves for the Eagles. Also, plus I touch on some pop culture w/ the Mt. Airy Assassin on New Edition vs Straight Outta Compton flicks. Which was better? Who gained more money? More attention?

I welcome your comments below at this page and on our network Twitter. You can always find me on Twitter as well at @MtAiryPhil.

N The Zone Philly w/ The King of Mt. Airy 02-18-2017

N The Zone Philly Debut

FB_IMG_1458263571898N The Zone has landed it’s next flag in the great city of Philadelphia! I, Phil Allen (@MtAiryPhil) aka The King of Mt. Airy bring you N The Zone Philly! Whether it’s the beloved Sixers, Eagles, Phillies or Flyers, I will bring the HEAT to the fans! In this edition of the show, it’s “The Evolution of the Sixers.” The time is now for the Sixers to get back to playoff glory. Check out the show below.

N The Zone Philly Debut

You can also catch the show on I-Tunes and Player.FM!