Sunday, July 3, 2011

The European Prospect Story - ANGELO LAWFORD 7-3-2011

Definition of Soft: The European Prospect Story 
Written by: Angelo Lawford

Date posted: 7-3-2011

When I was observing local media coverage of this past NBA draft and who was thought to be in the Rockets best interest to draft, I was kind of confused because I wasn't certain if I was listening to draft coverage or discussions about an old comic book volume of Captain America vs. the Red Skull. 

With Daryl Morey's tendency to be attracted to European players, discussion of European prospects was rampant and the sentiment of being anti European player was common place among the local media. No matter the dynamics of the European player prospect being discussed for the Rockets or for any other team, discussion about any European player was always prefaced with how soft the "Euros" are.  What I can't understand is where this sentiment comes from. The NBA has a long history of European born players being integral parts of contending teams or reaching elite player status individually. 

Whether it was Detlef Schrempf, Rik Smits, Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic, Arvydas Sabonis, Tony Parker, or Dirk Nowitzki, there is enough tangible success experienced by European players to refute the notion of European players as primarily being "soft". What I also need clarity in understanding is what constitutes as being soft. What is the criteria? Is softness only an attainable goal for a European born player? 

Tim Duncan (Virgin Islands - European Territories)
Is softness a title given to them in response to the perception of their athletic abilities, or their character, or our opinion of the European cultures in general? It is curious to me as to how the media arrives at this conclusion about prospects, especially when the majority of the media has never had the opportunity to see any of these prospects personally outside of a small amount of video footage. How are they getting their information to determine these potential prospects to be soft? Regardless of what the media knows or thinks they know about the European player, what does the NBA decision making fraternity know about the European player that the media is not able to grasp? Is the media inadvertently the sounding board of the plea of the domestic born player whose most affected by the European player NBA surge? 

The more European born NBA players drafted means less American born players representing the NBA in the future. Is it an insult to the domestic born player whose grasp of fundamentals has been questioned in recent years and as a result, the inquiry into the European fundamental basketball technique therefore increasing? Is it an insult in extension to the media that thinks they know what is best for the game when the decision making powers that be in the NBA are taking their talents to Normandy?
I'm still astonished as to how an NBA draft can potentially be so culturally divisive. By way of the potential prospects and how they integrate in the league and the culture off the court and by way of perception by the media. In some regard, the depiction of the European basketball player is reminiscent of the black athlete when the domestic leagues started to integrate long ago. Obviously it is not apples to apples in comparison, but the current sentiment is related. The times have changed, so it doesn't look the same. The nuances of the cultural division are more subtle. Still what rings true in the NBA given the current media climate and perception is the hardest obstacle to overcome for a European to succeed is simply getting over the fact that they are actually European. 

No matter what Dirk Nowitzki did before he just won the NBA title, he never lived down being a soft European. His status as a European was more influential in perception in comparison to his status as an actual NBA player. In fact, when the local media tried to rank him as an all time great based on this playoff run that he just experienced, the consensus was that he might not be a top twenty player of all time, but by George, he certainly is the best European that has ever played in the NBA.

 I don't hear people say that Hakeem Olajuwon was the best African/Nigerian to play the game in cherishing his all time great status. I don't hear anyone claim Steve Nash is the best Canadian to play the game or that Eduardo Najera was the best Mexican to play the game. Why then the bias against the European player?
 I write this in search of that answer in hopes that there is someone out there that can enlighten me. Am I wrong? Am I seeing something that really isn't there? Is this another overreaction on my part? I just decipher the information that is provided by the media. At least that is what I hope I do. I just don't think that an NBA draft in this current social climate should be covered in the same fashion that the national news media covered the Cold War. You shouldn't have to feel the need to bring an American flag to an NBA draft party. But maybe that is just me.

Angelo Lawford
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