I once toyed with the notion of a nation turning its lonely eyes to an obscure biscuit chucker from the Ukraine. In truth, his spirt orbits ever further from this eponymous journal. There’s a new generation that barely remembers him - actually they never knew him at all. A short career, never a starter and so resolute in Garbo solitude that he’s basically gone and got himself erased. Woo-woo-woo.
Dennis Rodman’s solitude came masked with boas and industrial chrome - his final abortive seasons turned to ash while Slava was still balling for BC Kiev. He was one of the transcendent athletes of our times, a complicated man-child with kaleidoscope hair, flying level to the ground after loose balls, tracking rebounds like a bat, drinking oceans into pale morning light. TV watchers saw his HOF speech last Friday as cathartic, a revelation. Some in attendance, smiled sadly, knowingly - they’ve lived his breakthroughs and breakdowns for too long. There’s a thing about people who talk about not being around much longer. Sometimes they aren’t.
The finals ended only two months ago but it feels like a far-off hiding place. Usually, we’re joking away the days, secure in the summer league and crazy trade machines. Not now, this is a grim march through dying cities, it’s fans arguing over business models when even the owners and players won’t argue over business models. It won’t always be this way. Ten years goes by in the blink of an eye. The landscape will change with a new CBA but it will be the norm for a whole new crop of players.
Evaluating the prospects of pedigreed McDonalds All-Americans like Austin Rivers and James McAdoo, isn’t brain surgery but when you start counting backwards it gets a lot more dicey. The kiddie-wars of basketball range from pageant to street ball - most of today’s locked out stars got their starts on the AAU circuits but it doesn’t necessarily follow that any of the swaddling-cloth contingent below, will ever tread the NBA hardwood.
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Plano, Texas is about as deep a red as you’ll get on the nation’s weather map. Mike and Mickey shoot hoops inside the family livingroom - their parents put up baskets on opposite ends. The Mitchell brothers are being double-recruited in football and basketball but Mickey’s the one with the most national heat - he’s a 6-7, 212 lb wing with unbelievable passing and dexterity skills. He’s been ranked in the top 3 by most known authorities throughout middle school. He enters highschool in the fall.
A recent story by WSJ’s Scott Cacciola concerns the poignancy of father/son bonding in sports. Jerry Love was running a hair salon in the Bronx when he noticed 9 year-old Jerron’s mad dribbling skills. Jerry admits he knew nothing about the sport but it didn’t stop him from making scads of YouTube videos and DVDs starring his kid. Jerron continued to develop as a player and Jerry continued to promote him with a level of aggression that made the most hardened AAU sharks blanche. The senior Love created his own website, Middle School Elite, and managed to burn about every known bridge on the east coast circuit. He’s now moved the family out to Fresno, CA, for "better opportunities".
It seems ridiculous to refer to any 8th grader as a beast but Kejuan Johnson, a 6'6, 225 lb small forward out of Atlanta, Georgia, is a banger and finisher. The kid’s ranked at or near the top of pretty much every poll around and was putting up 62 points at the nationals when he was 10 years old. He’s being heavily scouted and recruited. Check out footage from this summer’s John Lucas camp.
Steven Zimmerman’s another one of these "#1 prospects" - he’s 13 years old, plays out of Las Vegas, NV and already has an offer from UCLA. Reason being that he’s 6'10. That’s right. And he’s got size 19 feet. He looks like a stretched-out Gumby version of Justin Beiber. Did I mention that he’s 13 years old? There’s tons of YouTube available.
Finally, what would this post be without some hyperbole about the best 10 year old in the nation?! Jaylin Fleming’s actually eleven now, he got an insane amount of press last year after being hailed as the top overall fifth-grader (Beasely Academic Center, Chicago). He’s shot up to about 5-4 and has been profiled by ABC World News, Yahoo Sports and the Chicago Tribune among others. He’s appeared in a McDonald’s commercial, has been on George Lopez twice, recently wrapped a movie and naturally, has an agent. Plus, Derrick Rose is a fan! Witness the mighty-mite.
I have no idea what the nexus between Dennis Rodman and young Jaylin could be but it’s been a strange hot summer and there’s got to be something else to write about besides Commissioner Stern and whether Kobe Bryant will or will not, play in China. For every NBA success story there’s a polar opposite and there’s no greater cautionary tale than that of Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell, a contemporary of Gary Payton, Jason Kidd and Brian Shaw, raised on the hard streets of Oakland, California. His mother was a prostitute and his mentors were guys who would reward his jams with crack. Long before Blake Griffin won the dunk contest, Hook was soaring over cars.
Here’s some footage from a great documentary on Hook. It’s a better wrap-up than anything I could write.