Category Archives: Hoops

My entries that refer to basketball

U.Va. hoops: Not boring!

I like seeing defensive basketball played well, and the University of Virginia men’s team has been doing that frequently recently. The team stakes its game on intensive defensive pressure, often holding opponents to fewer than 50 points and sometimes even fewer than 40 points in games. The local crowd applauds blocks, tips, and steals vigorously and gets really loud when the defense forces the opponent into the last 10 seconds of the shot clock.

Over a couple of weeks, there was a flurry of discussion about whether the style of play constituted boring basketball. The coach dismissed the criticism and the team seems to enjoy the crowds’ enthusiasm for its defense.

I was just looking at the changes in U.Va.’s offense and defense over the past three coaches.* I noticed that the defense has, indeed, improved in recent years, as reflected in Ken Pomeroy’s opponent-adjusted points allowed per 100 possessions. The trend is clearly that the recent U.Va. teams are giving up fewer points. And, the trend is that U.Va. is clearly scoring more points per 100 possessions, too. So, how boring is that?

Of course, the tempo at which Tony Bennett’s teams play (adjusted tempo is Mr. Pomeroy’s metric; possessions per 40 minutes adjusted for opponents) is markedly lower than the pace at which previous teams have played. Why is the recent trend toward slower play? Virginia does not often race the ball up the court after other teams’ made baskets or after gaining possession via a rebound or steal. The team runs a set offense routinely. But, remember, Virginia is a team that forces the other team to use a lot of the clock, and that reduces the number of possessions, too.

With a win Monday night, this not-so-boring-to-me brand of basketball would make U.Va. the first school outside of North Carolina, Duke, and N.C. State to win consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference regular season titles outright.

*For 2015, the data reflect only the first 28 games.


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I saw a wonderful photo by Timothy Clary of Julius Erving, Oscar Robertson, and Bill Russell at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on 14 February 2015. Seeing Mr. Clary’s photo in a newspaper, I pretty much immediately thought, “I’d take these three guys against just about any other three guys who ever played the game.” I’ll start with a couple of interesting match-ups, just for grins. Feel free to put your own in the comments:

  • Magic Johnson, Michael Jordon, and Wilt Chamberlain
  • Jerry West, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Adbul-Jabar, Jerry West, & Oscar Robertson from KAJ's Twitpic

Currently I’m reading The Big O and I recently I read West by West. Not long ago, I reported about reading The Rivalry and The Inside Game. So, to those who recognize the subjects of those books, it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed stumbling across this photo in Mr. Adbul-Jabars’ Twitter pix. These are four of the guys whom I’d want in my all-time seven- or eight-man rotation.

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Sir Charles on gays in the locker room

On 17 May, Washington Post columnist Mike Wise published a report about an interview he conducted with Charles Barkley in which Mr. Wise described Mr. Barkley’s views about the unnecessary focus on sexual orientation in professional team sports. According to Mr. Wise, “Charles Barkley is sick and tired of hearing how the sanctuary of the locker room is not ready for a male athlete in a major team sport to come out to his teammates, how awkward everyone would feel after they heard a teammate say, ‘I’m gay.'”
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Bill Russell Honored

Let’s get this straight: I’m a Lakers fan, which has certain implications about my regard for the Celtics. O.K.? Now, here’s something that I’m really happy to note.

William Fenton Russell received recognition that was very much deserved yesterday when US President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. Mr. Obama noted that Mr. Russell, the leader of the Celtic teams that beat the Lakers frequently during my formative years, describes himself not as a basketball player, but as a man who plays basketball. “Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” Obama said. “He marched with King; he stood by Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players, and made possible the success of so many who would follow.”

Mr. Russell’s extraordinary personal strength and resilience was tried repeatedly. He persevered, as too many people had to persevere. John Taylor documents some of this in The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball (see here). He is far, far more than a basketball player. Even if he was 5’9″ tall, people should look up to Bill Russell.

I linked the image here to a snippet of video published on YouTube by CBS News. The White House has published video of the full ceremony.

By the way, here’s a belated doff of the cap to Mr. Russell, who shares 12 February as a birthday with Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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Filed under Civil rights, Hoops, News, Notes and comments

Hat tip to Ron Artest

Over on EBD Blog I have an appreciation for the mental-health awareness works of LA Laker Ron Artest. It’s nice when my hoops and my professional interests intersect!

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High-spring shoes

Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated has a column entitled “Can special basketball shoes really make you jump higher?” about sneaks for basketball that are supposed to add several inches to one’s hops. His lukewarm first-person review leaves one wondering about the benefits of the shoes (and, personally, I’d bet on his recommendation that it’s likely to be more beneficial to bite the proverbial bullet and invest in working out rather than seeking an artificial, quick fix for jumping woes).

But here’s what caught my interest about this story: There was no mention of Sax Elliott, the 1950s-60s basketball coach whom I remember hearing had created or at least talked about creating shoes with springs in them for his players. I didn’t find additional reference to Mr. Elliott’s innovation in a quick search of the Internet, but I wonder if any readers might have heard this story, too.
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