As a NY basketball fan and basketball referee, I watch, participate and discuss basketball a lot. I guess it’s the same for folks involved in any industry. Chef’s talk about cooking and enjoy a good meal cooked by someone else just as if they had prepared it themselves. With basketball fans, especially on the HS/AAU level the conversations often becomes, “What happened to NY basketball”. My answer is “Tad’s Steaks“. 25 years ago Tad’s Steaks was a restaurant “half way house” with menu items as inexpensive as $1.09. In those days I ate a lot of low end steaks for dinner at Tad’s on 34th St. after leaving my second job at Macy’s. NYC basketball has become mediocre steak. You can eat it but it’s tough chewing. Why is that?
Well, who’s demanding better? I’m a fan and in the “business” so I easily watch more that 200 basketball games a year. That’s not a lot, about 4 a week. but I can count the Smith and Wollensky steaks (rare gems) on one hand. If the best game in town is the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets what do you expect at a HS/AAU game? If you get a boring pro game, who do you blame, the players, the coach or both. We’ve been beating up HS/AAU coaches for years. Following the model of pro sports, it’s easier to blame the coach than criticize or get rid of players with endorsements, fan followings and multi-million dollar no-cut contracts. It’s the same on the HS/AAU level. No one wants to lose a potential Blue Chip. Maybe its not the coach’s fault, but players not putting enough on the table.
Players, on average, are better skilled than they used to be, but have they applied their greater skills to the way they play the game? The best players used to believe “A winner leaves nothing on the table and nothing in the tank“. Nobody dives for a loose ball anymore and no one asks them too. Few kids get to practice early to hit the weights or stay late to work on their off hand, free throws or get in 300 jump shots. They have lives and video games to get back to. Today NYC ballers are more 70-80% perspiration – 10% inspiration.
[Throwback moment] I’d get to the park early and work on midrange jump shots. The shoot around before the game was an audition. Every time I got a shot I needed to make several in a row just to get picked. I wasn’t going to get a lot of shots playing with the older guys so I tried to make every one I took nothing but net. It would take a lot of made in-game shots before they trusted me with a game winner, before someone had enough confidence in me to say, “Hit the kid. He can make that”. Were not talking Michael Jordan to Steve Kerr, but I had my piece of the game.
So, in NYC where you can slather steak sauce on a poor cut of meet and call it great, with a little spin underperforming ballers think they are on the top of the pile. The experience is the same for both: disappointing. What’s the fix? Demand more. Yes, it starts with coaches, They need to run better practices, more importantly, they need to push the right buttons. Kids don’t play basketball for exactly the same pile of reasons they did 25 years ago. Todays reasons are more like pick up sticks than planks of wood. Building better basketball in NYC is getting back that 5-10% lost player perspiration and potential.