Thursday, February 11, 2016

J-Speaks: NBA Midseason Classic North of the Border For First Time

This weekend, the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend is going to be very special. Not because the 24 best players voted by the fans and coaches will be putting their out of this world skills on display in the 65th Annual NBA All-Star Game this Sunday night. Not because some of the greatest past, present and future will be on hand, but that the NBA unofficial mid-season classic will be taking place for the first time outside the United States of America. On top of that, it will take place where basketball was first conceived and where the game has really risen thanks to some first generational folks from its country.
The 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend will be taking place in Toronto, ON in Canada. This was where Dr. James Naismith in 1891 invented the sport of basketball, hanging up the a peach basket, which came out of an order from Dr. Luther Gulick, the head of Springfield YMCA Physical Education that he had 14 days to create an indoor game that would provide an “athletic distraction.”
That game, which was spelled back then “Basket Ball” became the sport that many youth to golden age folks play to this day and what collegiate used as a vehicle to become pros and make their wildest dreams come true. It also made Naismith a Hall of Famer several times over.
On June 6, 1946 in New York City, the then Basketball Association of America (BAA) was founded and the first ever NBA game.
The first ever NBA game was played on Nov. 1, 1946 in Toronto, ON where the Toronto Huskies hosted the New York Knickerbockers at Maple Leaf Gardens. The first professional basket was scored by Queens, NY native and Long Island University All-American swingman Ossie Schectman of the Knicks.
Fast forward to today, the game of basketball has become very popular not just in the states, but across the globes, even in Canada, which has been mostly known for cold sports like hockey.
That has changed today, thanks to an influx of players north of the border like forward/center Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers; 2015 Rookie of the Year and No. 1 overall pick in 2014 forward/guard Andrew Wiggins; Boston Celtics’ forward Kelly Olynyk; guard Nik Stauskus of the Philadelphia 76ers; forward Andrew Nicholson of the Orlando Magic; center Joel Anthony of the Detroit Pistons; rookie forward Trey Lyles of the Utah Jazz; guard Tyler Ennis of the Milwaukee Bucks and forward Josh Powell of the Dallas Mavericks.
To put this into perspective, of the 27 Canadians that have ever played in the NBA, 12 made their entrance onto the biggest stage of basketball the past five years and has made Canada the world’s leading exporter of NBA talent. No one understands the rise of basketball in Canada than Howard James “Jay” Triano from Tillsonburg, ON, who spent a great deal of his youth in Niagara Falls, ON, which was a world away from hoops aspirations. There were many times he had to cross the Canadian border to just find a pick-up game.
“It seemed like for Canadians who wanted competition, you had to go South of the boarder to get it,” the former assistant then head coach of the Toronto Raptors and current assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers said to NBATV’s Matt Winer on last month’s “Beyond the Paint.”
Triano’s basketball journey would lead him to being a part of his country’s National team and in 1983, he led them to a Gold Medal at the 1983 World University Games in Edmonton, Alberta (AB), the western province of Canada defeating the U.S.A. team led by Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Charles Barkley in the Semifinals and the Yugoslavian National Team led by the late Drazen Petrovic.
In the 1984 Olympics, Canada finished in just fourth place.
Nearly two decades later, basketball has become very popular thanks to NBA bringing pro basketball North with the Toronto Raptors back in the 1995-96 season and the then Vancouver Grizzlies, who now reside in Memphis.
The Raptors have been especially great this season with a record of 35-17, which is second in the Eastern Conference behind the defending conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers (38-14). They have won 14 of their last 16 games, which also included a franchise record 11-game winning streak from Jan. 6 to Jan. 30.
To key cogs in the Raptors success, which could see them win 50 games for the first time in franchise history and baring a mega collapse, their third straight Atlantic Division title, their starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who will participating in the All-Star Game this Sunday night on the Eastern Conference squad.
“It’s a blessing. It’s great for the city. For this organization. It’s big,” DeRozan said to NBA on TNT sideline reporter and co-host of “NBA Inside Stuff” on NBATV Kristen Ledlow after the Raptors 103-93 victory versus the New York Knicks (23-32) back on Jan. 28. “We’re going to go out there represent the organization best we can and this whole country.”
Two players in particular really gave many young Canadians inspiration in All-Star lead guard, two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer in British Colombia native Steve Nash, who played 18 seasons with the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers and the high flying All-Star and 2000 Slam Dunk champion in swingman from Daytona Beach, FL and North Carolina in Chapel Hill Vince Carter, who these days plays for the Mavericks.
“Steve Nash was a huge idol of mine,” Olynyk said.
“Vince Carter was a highlight all the time. The success that he had and doing it in the city of Toronto and now all the kids who couldn’t afford hockey equipment, who didn’t like the sport of hockey had a different outlet,” Triano said.
“Definitely Vince Carter. Vinsanity. The excitement he brought to the city. He definitely paved the way for Canada.”
The other key to the sport of basketball flourishing up north is the due to the relaxation of immigration laws that were passed in the 1970s.
That has been a big help to the likes of Wiggins, Thompson and former No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft out of University of Nevada, Las Vegas Anthony Bennett, who now plays for the Raptors after cups of coffee with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Minnesota Timberwolves are a few pro basketball players that are second generation Canadians. There is no one more proud of this uptick than Nash, who said as much this past Thursday night during NBA on TNT pregame “NBA Tip-Off” presented by Autotrader.
“I don’t think I can take credit for that either, but it’s been an incredible transformation” Nash, who is now the general manager of the Canadian National Team and a Player Development Consultant for the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors (48-4) said to Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. “When I came into the league, Rick Fox might have been the only Canadian…Now a days to see we got half the World Team on the rookie squad tomorrow night I think. We got 12 NBA players under the age of 26. It’s been a revolution. It’s been a great source of pride for me and excitement.
The next step in the evolution for the Canadian National Team is to make it to the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro this summer. They will attempt to qualify for this summer’s games in July.
They missed out on their first opportunity to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 2000 last summer when a controversial foul call in the Semis prevented Canada from advancing past Venezuela in The International Basketball Federation (FIBA).
This time around though, the team that will be assembled will very likely have nearly 50 percent of its roster will be sons of immigrants.
“It’s a program now,” Triano said to Winer. “We’ve got our pool of players.”
Having Nash at the head of the program, when he was tapped to be the GM in 2012, he instantly brought credibility to a team that won a Silver Medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, where basketball and handball made their debuts in the Olympics as outdoor sports. Basketball since then has moved indoors.
“The journeys great, but ultimately we want success” Nash said four years ago. “We want to be in the hunt for medals.”
Triano understands the mission for his country’s team and he especially understands the necessary focus, sacrifice and pedal to the metal mentality it will take to reach that goal.
In between stints as Canada’s head coach, Triano was an assistant under Hall of Fame head coach of Duke University Mike Krzyzewski, who helped to guide a resurgence for Team USA to Gold in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics; in the 2010 and 2014 FIBA World Championship and the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship.
Triano also likens Nash’s influence to that of Team USA Basketball Managing Director Jerry Colangelo.
“When Steve Nash knocks on the door and you’re a Canadian athlete, it’s pretty hard to say no to him,” Triano said to Winer.
Winer also asked Triano how far is the Canadian National Team away from being a serious contender to medal in a major competition on the international stage.
Triano answered by saying, “We think that the next Olympics when our best players Cory Joseph and Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk. They’re going to be in the prime of their basketball careers and as much competition as we can get them internationally, that’s going to be to our country’s chance at seeing what we can do as a basketball nation.”
Before taking center stage on the world level, Canada will be front and center this weekend for the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend, which begins Friday night at 7 p.m. EST with the 2016 All-Star Celebrity Game at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto on ESPN, presented by Mountain Dew. That will be followed by the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge from the Air Canada Centre on TNT. On Saturday night, it will be All-Star Saturday Night presented by State Farm with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. EST on TNT with the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, followed by the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and ending with the Verizon Slam Dunk. The weekend concludes with the main event, the 65th NBA All-Star Game from the aforementioned Air Canada Centre with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. EST on TNT.  
Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of 1/19/16 11:30 p.m. edition of “Beyond the Paint” on NBATV with Matt Winer; 1/29/16 8 a.m. edition of TNT’s “Inside the NBA” on NBATV with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal; 2/11/16 7 p.m. NBA on TNT pregame "NBA Tip-Off" presented by Autotrader with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal;;;;;;;;;

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