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Friday, February 10th, 2012 at 10:40 am  |  15 responses

Heaven is a…

What has happened to the city game?

by Dave Zirin | @edgeofsports

In writing a different article for a far inferior publication to SLAM [aren’t they all?—Ed.], I was confronted with a stark reality that sent shivers up my hoop-loving spine: The last NBA All-Star to truly come out of New York City is a 32-year-old man who played at La Salle Academy named Metta World Peace. Yes, the defensive specialist and role player formerly known as Ron Artest, who was an All-Star one year with the Pacers, is the last one. (And in case you’re saying, “What about Carmelo?” Mr. Anthony might have been born here, but the guy is a product of Baltimore’s basketball scene, no matter what that billboard outside of MSG says.)

I went back to the archives to make sure I wasn’t forgetting somebody. After all, this is New York City! The Mecca! Home of The World’s Most Famous Arena! This is the city that gave us Connie Hawkins and Kenny Anderson; the King brothers and the Marburys. It gave us the Rucker Tournament and Heaven is a Playground. We can thank New York for basketball played outdoors, the blacktop and a center named Lew Alcindor. All these parts of our rich basketball mosaic that we take for granted found ample soil in the place that inspired The City Game.

And yet today, NYC is an afterthought for scouts and colleges alike. If you were to do an all-NBA team from New York City, it would have solid but unspectacular role players such as World Peace, Lamar Odom, Taj Gibson and Sundiata Gaines on it. Somewhere along the way, we lost our ability to dazzle and translate the hours on the blacktop—the Bobbito Garcia-style flair, the ability to re-imagine what the game could be—to the big stage.

The question is, Why? The answer lies on numerous fronts. The first culprit in my eyes is the professionalization of youth sports. Today, if you show an inkling of the height, strength, speed or skill needed to become an NBA player, off to the boarding school, private school, specialized coaching school of your choice, you go. Even LeBron James, born into poverty in Akron, OH, by virtue of his mighty skill, went to St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, a private, upscale institution. No longer does great talent develop on the blacktop. The days of college coaches making their way uptown and to Brooklyn to watch run to see which teenager has the raw, unmolded skill to make it to the next level are gone. Today, everyone’s already being molded by the time they hit puberty, and blacktop is bad for precious ankles.

Then there’s the fact that the New York game has become a victim of its own success. You don’t need to be from New York anymore to have that New York style. The style is to be found on YouTube, and the urban has been suburbanized to a remarkable degree. Look at the best American-born players and where they’re from. Kevin Durant’s from the Maryland suburbs. Kevin Love went to Lake Oswego High School in Oregon. Dwyane Wade, who grew up in Chicago, was sent out of the city, to Harold L. Richards High School in Oak Lawn, IL. The suburbs is the new city, and if you’re not from the suburbs, you will be sent there.

Finally, there is the globalization of the game. Every team in the League is now a tapestry of international talent. At the risk of offending, that talent doesn’t play “an Argentinian style,” a German style or a Serbian style. From Rubio’s slithering bounce passes to Manu’s derring-do in the lane, it’s just New York City rebranded. The fact is that the city has changed. I went up to the court where I played forever growing up, and it’s been turned into a soccer field. The youth leagues have been whittled down. The community centers have shuttered. The public money for coaches has dried up as well. Our city is all spectacle: no cake, just frosting. To find its legacy, leave town and find a spit-shined, suburban AAU league near you. The legacy will be waiting for you, but not the balls.

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  • sammy ETO’ONAIL

    LOL

  • burnt_chicken

    and, travelling back in time, we can plainly see that guys like the Pistol and Meadowlark were also NYC, prebranded. wah.

  • onions baby onions

    Dave Zirin speaks the #Truth

  • http://slamonline.com Eldon Khorshidi

    I’m still holding out hope for Lance Stephenson and Terrell Holloway. But that’s just me.

  • V

    Great read. Big cosign.

  • JB

    it’s the NYC HS coaches who are not developing these kids…they let the HS stardom get to their heads

  • SwaGG_SeaN

    I cosign this article, I remembered not too long ago when I were a young teen playing ball, your success as a baller was defined by the success you had on the blacktop. The blacktop was where you develop and refined your game, your identity as a ballplayer was created on the blacktop. Today I don’t see that anymore, I don’t see these younger kids striving to be the next best themselves(I see a few but not too many) everyone wants to the next commercial bullcrap; the next lebron or whatever and its crazy because I remembered every summer back when I was a kid, summer time was the time you develop your and compete and showed what you could do now its different. The NBA for all its popularity has had an adverse effect on the streetball culture particarlly the blacktop its now kinda soft everybody now wants to just look good and not be good, everybody wants to now join some kind of league the culture of the blacktop isn’t there anymore I miss the days of AND1

  • SwaGG_SeaN

    I cosign this article, I remembered not too long ago when I were a young teen playing ball, your success as a baller was defined by the success you had on the blacktop. The blacktop was where you develop and refined your game, your identity as a ballplayer was created on the blacktop. Today I don’t see that anymore, I don’t see these younger kids striving to be the next best themselves(I see a few but not too many) everyone wants to the next commercial bullcrap; the next lebron or whatever and its crazy because I remembered every summer back when I was a kid, summer time was the time you develop your and compete and showed what you could do now its different. The NBA for all its popularity has had an adverse effect on the streetball culture particarlly the blacktop its now kinda soft everybody now wants to just look good and not be good, everybody wants to now join some kind of league the culture of the blacktop isn’t there anymore I miss the days of AND1

  • http://getwisenyc.com Christian Wise

    Great piece.. Joakim Noah still keeps that NY flavor alive tho!

  • Dave Zirin

    C-Wise – with all due respect to Noah, being the internationally raised son of a tennis/music star and supermodel, and rolling through private schools, kind of makes my point. That’s the new New York.

  • Yep

    jesus shuttlesworth?

  • shawnkemp4prez

    Typical NYC narcissism. You do not own basketball, you never have. It was not created there, not “perfected” there as you believe, and it doesn’t deserve to be the kingpin. Basketball belongs to the city kids just like kids from the country, the ‘burbs, and other nations. Get over yourself, NYC

  • http://www.twitter.com/hurstysyd Hursty

    Kemba Walker is from NYC.

  • http://anyoldthing Ugh

    I was with you up until the last paragraph. You don’t think fundamentally sound, jump-shooting, wraparound passing seven footers isn’t a style of play developed independant of NYC?

  • blakos

    egocentric waffle

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