10 octubre 2006

Will 2007 be the year of basketball?

Translated into English by Allison Abramson

Pepu Hernández said it clear in the celebration in Plaza de Castilla: "BA-LON-CES-TO" (BAS-KET-BALL). Twenty two years earlier, Diaz-Miguel´s national team was awarded the Olympic silver medal in Los Angeles after losing by 31 points against the hosts, whose rosters consisted of some college athletes by the name of Jordan, Ewing and Mullin. At that time, Fernando Martín, Epi, Corbalán and De la Cruz had to look up to the Americans from the step below. In the recent World Championship Finals of 2006, the FIBA deprived our team of that great pleasure by allowing the pseudo-‘dream team’ to leave Japan before the award ceremony took place. The early mornings of 1984 (eager Spaniards cutting their sleep short to watch the game via satellite) signified the jump-start of basketball in our country: the recently born ACB league, the two foreigners per team rule, the basketball sportscasts on the radio, etc. The growth of the national competition ran parallel to the stumbles and disappointments of the national team, culminated by the disaster against Angola in Barcelona ´92. That disappointment marked the end of the boom until the appearance of the Juniors de Oro (the Golden Juniors) -with Gasol on the bench!- which gave us new hope. Until now, only the national team has succeeded in crossing the barrier that separates the lifetime fan from the general crowd, that crowd that is so necessary for the professional league to regain its status.

Four Spaniards will play in the NBA next season. Gasol and Calderón will be joined by Sergio Rodríguez (Blazers) and Jorge Garbajosa (Raptors), while in Spain, the rosters are filled with foreign players that come and go, causing the fans not to be able to identify with their own teams. The Spanish headcount in the NBA could have been five if Barcelona had not held on to "La Bomba" (The Bomb) Navarro, who will have to wait one more year before he can step foot on the NBA court. Next year could be Rudy´s turn, without forgetting that he could be joined by players like Scola or Splitter, for example. In the U.S., the Spaniards will be a small part of the growing foreign legion and, of course, they will have to pay their dues: getting use to a more physical and individual style of playing; being a ‘no-name’ in a competition where the hierarchy are over-respected; adjusting to life in a country very different from their own, continuously travelling, etc.

Meanwhile, in terms of technique, the European and South American players have nothing to envy of their North American colleagues. However, in regards to the level of organization and publicity, we continue to be light-years away from the U.S. league: the national & international European leagues have nothing to offer the spectators to get them hooked… and the escape of talented athletes does nothing more than aggravate the problem. For European basketball—and consequently for Spanish basketball—there’s only one alternative on the horizon—the creation of a true, professional, continental league, or better yet, the integration of a European division in the NBA.

At the height of the new course of basketball, Eurobasket 2007 will be celebrated on Spanish soil. Let’s hope that this European appointment will confirm the basketball ‘boom’ and that, once again, Pepu Hernandez can count on his best players. Someone seems to have clear intentions, thinking the same today as he thought yesterday, despite the desires of ‘politicians-of-the-day’ taking advantage of the success of the sport. Perhaps in 2007, the ‘bad boy’ in the recent commercial, will be kicking the little angel off of the basketball court.

Original article published in Libertad Digital (October 4th 2006)

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