By Cub Buenning
I have questions.
For one of the NBA Finals’ preeminent characters to hail from a country that is simultaneously hosting the world’s largest sporting event, the timing could not have been worse. How much run was the Teutonic 7-footer’s jaunt to the brink of an NBA title getting through out the European continent? Was his 50-point undressing of the Phoenix Suns in the all-important Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals hailed as something akin to a World Cup hat trick?
In a country that has not experienced an event of this magnitude since the 1989 collapse of a certain 96-mile slab of concrete, barbed wire, and rebar, the World Cup dwarfs the NBA Finals. It makes the Super Bowl look more like Arena Bowl.
Not only has the month-long event spread its wings over the entire nation, with games in 12 cities, but it just so happens that the host nation happens to be one of the tournament’s favorites. While the Cup games get crackin’ here stateside around the 9AM hour and continue through the morning and afternoon—7AM for us in the Rockies—coverage of the series between the Mavericks and the Heat wasn’t making it to German television until the 3 AM hour. Does the German/European sports fanatic have the energy to party all day long for 3 to 4 matches (Sidebar—I spent the first two weeks of the ’98 Cup traveling France and attending games, believe me, it’s all day—) and still have the energy to hoist a few early morning liters for Dirk and the Mavericks? Does the casual sports fan in Germany care a great deal about their prodigal son playing for the title of Basketball World Champion, when Ballack, Klose, Schweinsteiger, and the boys go undefeated in group play?
Last winter I penned a piece on two high school-aged guards from Germany for SLAM #94. With the Cup still some time away, each mentioned the importance of Dirk to the nation’s basketball community, however, both players and coach found time to express their excitement over the impending Weltmeisterschaft.
The past decade has seen an enormous global expansion of not only game, but the L itself. The last few years, in particular has seen a huge bump in the South American product, thanks in large part to Manu Ginobili’s involvement with the Spurs two championship runs. Not coincidentally, teams have begun stockpiling talent from the region, including Brazilians Nene and Anderson Varejao, and two of Ginobili’s countrymen in Carlos Delfino and Fabricio Oberto.
With another European player slated to be the top pick in next Wednesday’s draft, the state of the game in Europe is obviously solid. But, did the league miss out on some 12-year-old 6’5” German kid that opted for the beautiful game instead of “our” game? Peep the German backline, some of those cats could fill out an NBA jersey with no problem.
I would be curious to hear from our German readers out there. I have questions.
By Cub Buenning