Book Review: Boys Among Men

Don’t sleep on this guy just because he looks like Eli the Rapper’s older brother. Jonathan Abrams is one of the best NBA writers in the game right now. He asks the questions that somehow escape other writers; creating story angles that provide different player narratives than the ones most mainstream outlets whiff on. Also, did I mention that he is thorough?

Jonathan Abrams is a USC graduate (boo!) who worked at both the L.A. and New York Times. When he wrote for the now defunct Grantland, he would pop up with a feature on players like Harrison Barnes, Andre Miller, Zach Randolph, J.R. Smith, and Greg Oden, or write about random journeymen like former Jayhawk great Thomas Robinson, Paul Milsap, and other players who find a way to fly under the radar of the national media.

It was always exciting to see his columns pop up on the Grantland homepage because you were guaranteed a quality piece (not always a guarantee on that site) on a player that would make you reexamine the way you originally thought about them. Abrams even had me halfway considering not hating on Austin Rivers, a guy who was a perennial “Buster of the Week” nominee the past 2 NBA seasons. That’s how good of a writer Jonathan Abrams  is.

At least once a month I’d hit someone with the “Abrams has done it again” text after reading one of his “Oral History” columns; the most notable ones being the “Malice at the Palace” and Lakers-Kings Western Conference Finals. Word on the street is that he is currently  working on an oral history of famed television show, The Wire.

“Abrams is the rare reporter who unearths new details about the most famous prep-to-pro stars, like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, and tells the complex stories of those who didn’t make it in the NBA. A must read for any basketball fan.

Earlier this year, Abrams blessed the game with his book, Boys Among Men, an examination about the “Prep-to-Pro” phenomenon that started in the 70’s and hit its apex  in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

Abrams opens this examination with a chapter that reflects on players like Bill Willoughby, Darryl Dawkins, and Moses Malone; players from the 70’s who made the jump when the NBA was operating under a different financial landscape. Rookie contracts weren’t the financial windfall that the 90’s players landed (indirectly leading to an NBA lockout in 1999) and the risk was much greater for these prep pioneers who made the jump for various reasons.

Abrams goes into great detail about the situations that each Prep-to-Pro player faced when making their decision. Whereas Kobe Bryant (who people forget was a late lottery pick who had to prove himself) came from a privileged upbringing, guys like Amare Stoudemire and Lebron James came from impoverished backgrounds.

Abrams interviews general managers and other front office heads who were behind the scenes of these historic drafts. They detail the reasons why players like Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, and Kobe Bryant succeeded in contrast to players like Korleone Young, Kwame Brown, Leon Smith, and Lenny Cooke, who didn’t quite pan out. There are no what if’s in these books, because the why’s are all laid out for the reader.

One of the biggest questions that gets raised (but isn’t quite answered) is if the rules the NBA implemented to keep high school seniors from declaring for the draft are fair. For players experiencing economic hardships, these rules seem harsh–especially for those players who are equipped to handle the process as mature adults. Despite the cautionary tales of the players who should have gone to college (or overseas like Brandon Jennings), it seems to me like the rules were implemented to save the NBA owners from themselves.

After the success of Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, the pressure to not miss again on young, but high level prospects,  was just as immense as taking a flyer on a high school player and blowing a year’s worth of draft picks. On the surface it seems like an unconstitutional rule that could be fought by the NBA players union (especially considering the league instituted a rookie cap after the first lockout in 1999).

Jonathan Abrams does extensive interviews throughout, with players’ family members, AAU coaches, friends, and agents and gives a behind the scenes look at what happens on draft day for these franchises and the young players they are taking. The book lends a better understanding of the various factors that go into a player’s successes and failures, and sometimes the only thing separating this outcome is a little bit of luck.

Sometimes it is a matter of landing on the right team and getting a support system that isn’t there for some players; whether that be coaches, other players, or “sponsors” who happen to work within the organization. While sometimes it is matter of performing in front of the right people at the right time.

If you’ve ever wondered why a guy like Tyson Chandler is still in the league as a veteran while Eddy Curry was not able to live up to his “potential” then this is the book  for you. Boys Among Men gets an A + . Hiring Jonathan Abrams was a HUGE get for The Bleacher Report .




Lovable Losers: 2002 Sacramento Kings

Recently the 2002 Western Conference Finals was commemorated with an oral history by the people closest to the action.
A lot has happened in 12 years and there was so much I’d forgotten or just plain missed during that epic series. I wanted so badly for the Kings to dethrone the champs that I’d forgotten how lousy the officiating was for both teams throughout that series. I’d forgotten how poorly the Kings had played besides Bobby Jackson (why didn’t Rick Adelman give my boy more burn during crunch time?) and Mike Bibby (who was absolutely clutch). Let’s not waste anymore time, here is a long overdue, installment of “Lovable Losers”–an homage to the 2001-2002 Sacramento Kings.

Head Coach: Rick Adelman

Record 61-21

Starters: C Vlade Divac, PF Chris Webber, SF Peja Stojakavic, SG Doug Christie, PG Mike Bibby

Key Bench Players: C Scot Pollard, SF Hedo Turkoglu, PG Bobby Jackson

Were it not for Lebron James ascent into basketball royalty, the Eastern Conference would still be a doormat. Besides the Heat, there isn’t a team in the east what could beat any of the top Western Conference teams twice in a 7 game series. After Michael Jordan retired, the Eastern Conference became a doormat and once the Lakers grabbed the mantle away from the Bulls, the NBA Finals was about as entertaining as a community pick up game. The New Jersey Nets were atrocious and everyone knew that whoever won the West would take the title. The kings won 61 games that year, had home court advantage and looked primed and ready to finally give the Lakers a run for their money.

Well what happened? Why did they lose? The Kings had one of the most entertaining teams around. They played good enough defense. They were easily the best passing team in the NBA at that time with a legitimate point guard taking over the duties from Jason “White Chocolate” Williams. Chris Webber (a human highlight reel all by himself and Vlade Divac were two of the best passing big men around. Bobby Jackson was an electrifying spark plug that came off the bench (he won the sixth man award that year). Peja Stojakavic and Doug Christie were bombing 3 pointers from the wings and the corners. They also had one of the loudest arenas around (Think OKC’s Chesapeake Arena but with Cowbells). Watching the Kings play at home was about as good of a basketball watching experience as you could get back then. Just hearing the crowd go apeshit to Rock N “Roll part 2, after a back breaking 3 pointer, would get me and my brother hype. “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!” I’m serious. I thought 2001 was the year. They had a better team than the Lakers from top to bottom, but a lot of things conspired to happen to keep that from happening (we’ll leave the refs out of it this and only discuss the things that were in the Kings’ control).


Most players will tell you that Rick Adelman is a “player’s coach” and great to play under. He is a great offensive mind who has gotten multiple teams deep in the playoffs. However, no coach has cock-blocked Adelman’s path to the title more than the Zen Master, Phil Jackson. Jackson had Jordan when the Trailblazers ran into the ’92 Bulls, and ten years later he had Shaq AND Kobe Bryant. What the fuck you supposed to do with that? Outside of the Spurs and Kings, nobody could give the Lakers any run, and that was at Shaquille’s absolute peak as a player, and Kobe had barely scratched the surface of his potential. Phil was always a step ahead of Adelman, and Adelman’s failure to give Bobby Jackson any meaningful minutes (in game 7) when the rest of the players were nutting up, was a gigantic coaching error. Doug Christie was chucking up bricks, and Peja was shooting air-balls. I’m saying though.

Bench and role players

The Kings had no bench really. They only went 8 deep. Los Angeles had chess piece upon chess piece. Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, Brian Shaw chipped in just enough to help out Shaq and Kobe. Scot Pollard was good for committing fouls on Shaq, and offensively he was good for rebounding, or passing.

I’m going to name off these names and you tell me if any of these guys scare you:

Mateen Cleaves
Lawrence Funderburke
Jabari Smith
(a young) Gerald Wallace
Brent Price
Chucky Brown

That is what Adelman had to work with. When it came down to crunch time, the starters were tired. Christie was asked to guard Kobe Bryant on defense and then was expected to create shots on offense. Hedo Turkoglu was still green. Vlade was banging with Shaq the entire game, and Chris Webber preferred to get his teammates involved rather than take over (Bill Walton would call out Webber time after time saying “Chris Webber needs to take over this game”). Webber made great passes, they were just to people who didn’t want the ball in crunch time.


The Lakers had been there. Let’s face it. Experience is a motherfucker. Think about the first time you fell in love. Shit was overwhelming wasn’t it? All these hormones and feelings that you had never felt before. Some people got it right the first time, and said and did the right things. Often times this is not the case. More often that not, the flubs and mistakes from that first serious relationship are the reasons why you make things work the next time around. The Kings had never made it this far, and the Lakers were two time defending champs. Being down 3-2 did not scare them in the least bit. I remember in one interview Kobe said that “was looking forward to the challenge.” That was when I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy (though I still thought the Kings would win). The Lakers never blinked while the Kings traded haymakers with them. Any other team would have folded like lawn chairs in an overtime game 7 on the road. Not the Lakers. They stayed focus, climbed on the back of the Big Diesel and pounded their way into the NBA Finals against the putrid New Jersey Nets.

So did the Kings choke? Was there a conspiracy in game 6 to give the game to Lakers? Was Rick Adelman just a basketball version of Buck Showalter (the classic good enough coach to get you there but not good enough to win)? Or were the Lakers just the better team? Maybe it was all of these things, maybe it was none, or maybe the results speak for themselves. The Lakers were good and the rest of the NBA was really bad. It’s hard to call a team that won 61 regular season games and the only team that gave Los Angeles any type of run, a loser.

Maybe they were losers,but they were a fun team to watch, and if they were losers, then what does that say about the rest of the NBA at that time? San Antonio was winning championships back then, but no one outside of south Texas would pay to watch them play. I lived in Texas back then (in Austin) and their style of play put me to sleep. I’d have rather watched those Kings play and lose, than tune in to the Malik Rose, Speedy Claxton, slow it down Spurs of 2002. It just wasn’t entertaining. Maybe we all lost when the Kings were knocked out of the playoffs back in 2002. You’ll never convince me otherwise.

Low Seed For Embiid [Originally posted on 2/15/14]

[This post is predicated on the possibility that Joel Embiid leaves for the NBA after his freshman year. I personally don’t believe he will go. Embiid has said himself that he doesn’t believe he is ready to leave school yet for many reasons;one of them being that he doesn’t even know how to drive yet. Taking into account how taxing an 82 game season (plus travel) can be on a player, it is hard to see an already “beat up” Embiid making the jump.But for the sake of this column to work, let’s pretend he is leaving.There are three categories: “Absolutely opting out of my rookie deal”, “this ain’t so bad but I’m gonna have to explore my options”, and “let’s talk about an extension already”]

“Absolutely opting out of my rookie deal”


Let’s just say there is a reason the act of giving someone a “steamer” is forever linked with the city of Cleveland. Were the Native Americans wrong when they dubbed Cleveland the “mistake by the lake?” Is it an accident that all the franchises are snakebitten? There are just some places should never be inhabited by people. I believe Cleveland is one of them. Lebron didn’t waste any time high tailing it out of there, and you will see the same thing when its time for Kyrie Irving to hit free agency. Its a hard place to run a professional franchise because no one would choose to move there unless they were paid gobs of money–and sometimes that isn’t enough. It is kind of a catch-22 for the city because I don’t believe the chances are high for a successful professional franchise, however; it would be even more of a depressing place to live if there weren’t any sports teams there. Just dissolve the city already and find better places to live why don’t you? Then again…..the city just gave us Bone Thugs N Harmony and this moment.


One day they may have a good team again. Gordon Heyward may leave or get traded this year. Trey Burke is an interesting player, and Joel and Burke could be an interesting tandem. But its Utah and he’s African. I know they love their basketball in Utah, but I’ll pay you 20 dollars for every black player outside of Karl Malone who enjoyed living in Salt Lake City. It’s not Cleveland but its not much better either.


Even white dudes don’t like playing in Minnesota. Kevin Love wants sunshine, and an organization that has some sort of plan. That ain’t Minnesota.


Ask Kareem how much he enjoyed living there.

Washington (Chocolate City)

Socially this could be interesting for Embiid. Unfortunately the Wizards have been a mess since Gilbert Arenas decided to reenact the “Guns of Navarone” with Jarvis Crittendon.

Detroit No way this happens, because Joe Dumars would probably get fired faster than you can say “Matt Millen.” They have too many big men on the roster already (I’m doing my best to not shoehorn a Big Lebowski/Karl Hungus “log jamming” joke in here–let’s just move on).

“We’ll have to explore our options at the end of my contract”


I could see Michael Jordan wanting to create a twin towers with Al Jefferson and Joel Embiid. Throw in Kemba Walker and you have interesting nucleus. The problem is that you never know what the Bob–err Hornets will look like from year to year. They have been the epitome of an unstable franchise since they got a team again. It could work but I doubt it.


Another franchise without a long term vision. They are in constant transition–a a revolving door of GM’s and head coaches. Denver could be fun for Joel. I hear there are a lot of Jayhawk fans there. Someone could introduce him to that medical if he is vulnerable to migraines (to push the Kareem-Embiid corollary even further).

New Orleans

Pelicans……… this could be interesting if Anthony Davis and Embiid had a point guard. The jury is still out on this franchise. Who knows– they could be in Seattle in 3-4 years.


They already have the building blocks with Oladipo, Jameer Nelson (however long he stays) and Arron Afflalo. Embiid would be a nasty addition. In the weak East, a team like this would be a couple of moves away from making the playoffs. Plus no state tax in Florida; which would mean more money in Joel’s pocket. He could be the third high impact big man to start his career in Orlando only to leave for Los Angeles as soon as his rookie deal was expired.


New Life or stale breath? The jury is still out on Sac-town. Boogie Cousins should have been an All-Star. Ben McLemore has yet to assert himself as an integral player. Derrick Williams and Rudy Gay have contributed at times. The Kings would be a really fun team on NBA 2K14. The problem is that most video game rosters are terrible to watch in real life. A competitor like Cousins could bring out the Embiidst mode in Embiid. I read a great article a few weeks ago by Jonathan Abrams about Cousins that confirmed a lot about what I already suspected. Cousins seems a lot like Rasheed in terms of talented but misunderstood “head cases”. This could be an interesting mix–especially with Shaquille helping out in the front office. He could pull Embiid’s coat tails and hip him to a thing or two about being an NBA big man.

“Let’s just sign an extension already”


What bad back? Phoenix has the best medical staff in the NBA, just ask Steve Nash and Grant Hill. Embiid, the Morris Twins, Jeff Hornacek, Eric Bledsoe and Dragic makes this an intriguing destination/outcome. Instant league Pass favorite. Am I right?

Los Angeles Lakers

It’s Los Angeles and he’d have to either learn how to drive or hire someone to get him around town. L.A. loves their big men and he’d usher a brand new era in Lakers’ folklore. Throw in the rumors of Westbrook and Kevin Love reuniting as Lakers, and suddenly the buzz is back in Tinsel town.


Quality general manager in Danny Ainge, and a promising young head coach. If Boston keeps Rondo, and gets another couple pieces via the draft, then suddenly the ceiling in Beantown gets raised faster. A green and white number #21 Boston Celts jersey would be pretty ill. Plus I hear Boston is nowhere near as racist as it used to be.

So there you have it. Boston and Los Angeles could very well end up with Embiid. I can hear the conspiracy theories already. But would that necessarily be bad for the league? For selfish reasons of course, I’d like to see him stay one more year to develop. We’ll see what happens. As of today, he is sitting out against TCU for rest, and the Bucks say they would take him at #1 if they got the lucky ping pong ball. Maybe we should pump the brakes on our “Low Seed for Embiid” chants.