Koebe Bryant high school
Kobe Bryant

The Players Tribune is a internet forum devoted to the athlete’s perspective. Hounded and misquoted by the press, Derek Jeter believed athletes needed a place for them to tell their story in their own words.

One of the features of The Players Tribune is Letter to My Younger Self, an opportunity for athletes to reflect on their youth, and what their current self would have told their younger self.

Kobe Bryant‘s advice to the high school prodigy that he was is interestingly of a financial nature, and somewhat insightful. He explains that giving your friends and loved ones things, nice things, expensive things, is not doing your friends and family a favor. In fact, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and five-time NBA champion, Bryant would tell his younger self that giving things away is an act of selfishness, and not a responsible way to take care of those you care for.

You love them, and they were always there for you growing up, so it’s only right that they should share in your success and all that comes with it. So you buy them a car, a big house, pay all of their bills. You want them to live a beautiful, comfortable life, right? But the day will come when you realize that as much as you believed you were doing the right thing, you were actually holding them back. You will come to understand that you were taking care of them because it made YOU feel good, it made YOU happy to see them smiling and without a care in the world — and that was extremely selfish of you. While you were feeling satisfied with yourself, you were slowly eating away at their own dreams and ambitions. You were adding material things to their lives, but subtracting the most precious gifts of all: independence and growth. Understand that you are about to be the leader of the family, and this involves making tough choices, even if your siblings and friends do not understand them at the time.

When you’re young, you’re care free and often pain free. But the aches and pains of the full-time athlete can take its toll. To world-class athletes, it’s often the mental stress that is the bigger test.

According to three-time Olympic medalist between 1996-2004, Brandi Chastain of the US women’s soccer team, and four-time Olympian, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, managing pain and injury is a key to maturing as an athlete.

Brandi Chastain portrait outside Spartan Stadium
Brandi Chastain

The mental and physical challenges of rehabbing your body will test your patience. Have faith in those moments — they will define your future perseverance. No athlete knows what’s on the other side of significant injuries. Live all of your questions and trust the process. You’ll return a better player, a better teammate, a better person. – Brandi Chastain in The Player’s Tribune

Yes, your leg will be black and blue, and the torn muscle will bring pain unlike anything you’ve ever felt before. Yes, you’ve never been seriously injured before. However, it will be essential that you listen to your physical therapist when they tell you that you’ll be OK. The only thing that will hold you back is a lack of mental toughness at the time.Jackie Joner-Kersee in The Player’s Tribune

And finally, if these athletes were to tell their younger selves to give pause, it would be for their parents, who unconditionally and thanklessly chauffeured them to practice and back, practice and back, practice and back.

Caroline Wozniaki
Caroline Wozniacki

2012 London Olympic semi-finalist, Caroline Wozniacki, wrote about the early morning drives to tennis practice, and how she wished she were more in the moment, more appreciative of those moments in the car.

He’ll wake up early to drive you to the tennis club at 6 a.m. so you can practice before all the matches start. Then, at eleven at night, he’ll jump back in the car with you and take you back to the club so you can practice after the day’s matches have ended. Appreciate everything your family does for you during your childhood. They will sacrifice so much for you. Do yourself a favor and make the most of those car rides. Soak in all the lessons and guidance that Dad provides you — and not just the stuff about tennis. Pay attention to what he is trying to instill in you about life. He and Mom will always stress the importance being a good person, of treating people right, of being respectful and kind. Let that sink in. Allow it to shape who you become.Caroline Wozniacki in The Player’s Tribune

Henrik Lundquist kid

My favorite player on my home team ice hockey team, the New York Rangers, is goalie Henrik Lundquist. The two-time Olympian and gold medalist from the 2006 Turin Winter Games, Lundquist also remembers the long hours his parents drove him through all kinds of weather so he and his brother could play hockey.

Starting tomorrow, your parents will begin their journey, too. They will drive you and your brother hours and hours across Sweden to play hockey. They’ll drive through huge snowstorms. They’ll drive after long days at work. And their reward at the end of those drives will be to sit in cold rinks for hours — helping you get dressed, then watching you play, then helping you get undressed. Years later, when you think back on this time in your life as a grown man with a child of your own, you will finally appreciate what an incredible sacrifice your parents made for you and Joel. – Henrik Lundquist in The Player’s Tribune

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Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics
Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics

For the hottest game on ice, the players and owners have entered into a cold war of sorts. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently told the press that no meetings have been arranged with the International Olympic Committee regarding the possibility of NHL players competing in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in early 2018.

The NHL schedule and the Winter Olympics schedule overlap every four years. In order to convince he NHL to release its players in the middle of the NHL hockey season, the IOC agreed to pay for the insurance, travel and accommodation of these professional hockey players. The insurance is a key component because it protects the NHL teams against an injury to a star player who could impact team success and/or team revenue for years to come. For the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the IOC sent some USD7 million to the NHL, something the IOC does not do for other sports leagues. The IOC has done so for the past five Winter Olympics since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, but this year the IOC announced they would not pay the NHL for players to come.

Bettman stated that without IOC financial support, it’s unlikely the owners would support. “We don’t make money going [to the Olympics]. I can’t imagine the NHL owners are going to pay for the privilege of shutting down for 17 days. I just don’t see that.”

However, the star players in the NHL view the Winter Olympics as a matter of prestige and pride. The very best players like Canadian Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Russian Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals have said they intend to go, Ovechkin going as far to say he would go without the NHL’s permission. And as mentioned in this Ottawa Citizen article, the owners will listen to their stars.

When Alex Ovechkin said he was going to the Olympics, with or without the NHL’s blessing, it didn’t take long for Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis to stand behind his star. And why wouldn’t he? Ovechkin is the face of the team. He not only helps the team win games, he puts fans in seats.

Major League Baseball stands in contrast to the NHL. Currently, the World Baseball Classic, an international baseball championship series taking place in March, 2017, has the full commitment and support of MLB. And while the major league players from big-time baseball nations of Japan, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Korea are heavily involved in the World Baseball Classic, Team USA is bereft of its stars. In contrast to the NHL players, the Americans have little to no interest in participating.

Now, the World Baseball Classic is not the same at the Olympics. And when baseball returns to the Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will likely want to ensure his league’s best players are at the Summer Games. Growing the international market for baseball will be a big priority for Manfred. But he has yet to gain consensus with team owners on how to make it work for the MLB when the Olympics will take place in the middle of the 2020 MLB season. Injuries and lost revenue to lost games will certainly be in the minds of the owners.

Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner
Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner

According to this Sports Illustrated article, there are two possible options to make it work: allow the season to continue without interruption, and just free up the players selected to their respective national teams, or shut down the MLB season for, say two-and-a-half weeks, like the NHL has done in the past.

The NBA, on the other, other hand, has had the distinct advantage of holding a primarily Fall-Winter-Spring season, while the Olympics tend to fall in the summer, the basketball off season. Traditionally, the NBA has promoted its brand and players globally, and have been a model for building a global business. Their commitment to the Olympics is thus considerable. The issue has been ensuring that the richest and greatest athletes in the world stay motivated enough to train and risk injury during their time off.

The US men’s team took bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and were dubbed “The Nightmare Team”. It didn’t bode well when the superstars of the league, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett begged off of the team, and Ray Allen and Jason Kidd were out with injuries.

After the team’s embarrassing finish in Athens, Team USA appointed Jerry Colangelo to take charge of team selection. His job was to persuade the NBA’s best American players that it was their duty to restore pride and glory to men’s basketball in the international arena.

Colangelo convinced such stars as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade not only to join Team USA for the 2008 Seoul Olympics, he got them to commit to playing together for three years leading up to the Olympics. Under Colangelo’s leadership and the coaching of Mike Krzyzewski, Team USA dominated at the 2008 Seoul Olympics to easily win gold. They’ve done so ever since.

Summary:

  • NHL: League and Owners not committed; Players committed
  • MLB: League committed; Owners not yet committed; American players not committed, but world players committed
  • NBA: League committed; Owners committed; Players committed

NCAA-March-Madness

It’s March Madness in the United States, which means that basketball fans all over the country have filled in their brackets, and are moaning over the college teams that let them down, or the ones who have won to live another day.

While high school superstars at times skip college and go straight to the pros (ie: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James), many great ones make their mark at the university level, and a few go on to win an NCAA championship. Both my neighborhood college, St John’s, and my alma mater, University of Pennsylvania, have made it to the famed Final Four, but neither has won an NCAA championship.

After all, only one team can be champion….which makes this list absolutely amazing. Only seven people in history have won championships at the NCAA level, the NBA level, and at the international level, i.e. The Olympics.

  • Quinn Buckner: Olympic Champion: 1976, NCAA Champion: 1976 (Indiana University), NBA Champion: 1984 (Boston Celtics)
  • Magic Johnson: Olympic Champion: 1992, NCAA Champion: 1979 (Michigan State University), NBA Champion: 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987-88 (Los Angeles Lakers)
  • K. C. Jones: Olympic Champion: 1956, NCAA Champion: 1955-56 (University of San Francisco), NBA Champion: 1959-66 (Boston Celtics)
  • Michael Jordan: Olympic Champion: 1984, 1992, NCAA Champion: 1982 (University of North Carolina), NBA Champion: 1991-93, 1996-98 (Chicago Bulls)
  • Clyde Lovellette: Olympic Champion: 1952, NCAA Champion: 1952 (University of Kansas), NBA Champion: 1954 (Minneapolis Lakers), 1963-64 (Boston Celtics)
  • Jerry Lucas: Olympic Champion: 1960, NCAA Champion: 1960 (The Ohio State University), NBA Champion: 1973 (New York Knicks)
  • Bill Russell: Olympic Champion: 1956, NCAA Champion: 1955-56 (University of San Francisco), NBA Champion: 1957, 1959-66, 1968-69 (Boston Celtics)

And if you look closely, you’ll see that K. C. Jones and Bill Russell played together on championships teams with the University of San Francisco, the US Men’s Olympic squad in Melbourne, as well as 8 championship seasons with the Boston Celtics. On top of that both won two championships each with the Celtics as a coach.

And one more amazing fact: On that 1963-64 Boston Celtic team – the one that defeated the San Francisco Warriors in 5 games – three of these seven immortals played together: K. C. Jones, Bill Russell, and Clyde Lovelette.

1964 Boston Celtics

barkley and johnson draped in american flag
Picture of Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson with the American flag draped over their shoulders to cover the Reebok logos on their jacket. Barkley and Johnson had agreements with other footwear brands. John Stockton and Chris Mullin, 1992 Dream Team teammates, look on.

Here’s a fascinating article from Yahoo Sports about the sports footwear industry and the NBA, and a few facts:

Fact #1: Only 10 NBA players currently have their own “signature shoe” with a US-based brand. In case you’re interested, they are: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at Nike; Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony at Jordan Brand; Derrick Rose and Damian Lillard at adidas (James Harden’s shoe will launch in 2017); and Stephen Curry at Under Armour.

Fact #2: A shoe deal for an NBA lottery pick (a person who is in the top 5 or 10 of the NBA draft of high school, college or available international players) could mean earning from USD200 to 700K per year. The article points out that Andrew Wiggins, who signed a 3-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers for over USD17million, also signed a 5-year agreement with adidas for another USD11 million.)

Fact #3: Every player in the NBA has a relationship with a sneaker brand; even the benchwarmers, players looking just to make a training camp roster, can get what is called a “merch” deal. Such an agreement with a footwear marketer gets them a free allotment of footwear for practices and games.

Fact #4: Sneaker brands scout out basketball prospects at the college and high school levels, just like basketball scouts do

Fact #5: Nike has dominant share of the NBA player market, as 68% of the 300+ players wear the Swoosh. Adidas is number 2 at 15.6% with about 70 players wearing the three stripes.

For past stories in “The Sneaker Wars” series, see below:

What would a blog be without a list! Here is my countdown to the Top Fifteen Sports Stories of 2015. Over the next five days, I will share three stories each day that involved the Olympic Games, Olympians or Olympians to be. Here are number 13 – 15, featuring Mayweather, Rousey and Kobe.

Manny Pacquiao-vs Floyd Mayweather-2015-Fight-of-the-Century

FIFTEEN – Olympian Floyd Mayweather Defeats Manny Pacquiao: In the long-awaited match in May, Mayweather won the welterweight championship fight in a unanimous decision over Pacquiao. Mayweather is a bronze medal winning champion at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.

Ronda Rousey Holly Holm tale of the tape

FOURTEEN – Olympian Judoka Ronda Rousey loses to Holly Holm: In an attempt to defend her Ultimate Fighting Championship, Holm ends Rousey’s streak of 12 victories in a row in November. Rousey won a bronze medal for the United States in judo (-70kg).

Kobe Bryant USA_Basketball_Dunk_Wallpaper_Olympics

THIRTEEN – Two-time Olympian Kobe Bryant Announces Retirement: Bryant won gold with the US Men’s basketball team in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012.