August doesn't belong solely to the Nets
Your faithful correspondent is on a decent run this month, too, which will at last include a live look at the international tournament that was so pivotal in my career
NEW YORK — Amazingly I have never attended one of the most important basketball tournaments of my life. I am so, so overdue to see a EuroBasket in person.
Watching the 1989 edition on television while visiting family in Israel was an unexpected game-changer for me. It provided my introduction to a gangly, pass-first Serbian center named Vlade Divac whom I otherwise had no way of seeing in those days. Divac was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers two days after a still-unified Yugoslavia beat Greece in Zagreb to win the Euro crown.
Coming home with some knowledge about Divac's game and backstory was the clinching piece that helped convince The Orange County Register to let me cover my first NBA summer league at Loyola Marymount while I was still a college student myself at Cal State Fullerton.
Divac wound up appearing in only a couple games for the Lakers that summer, directed instead by the team to focus on work with a personal trainer and pickup games at UCLA, but I was designated as a Divac beat writer that July and August.
Actual beat writers in those days, you see, rarely covered summer league, especially those constantly traveling with the Lakers on a grind that typically lasted all the way through June throughout the 1980s. Further proof: Assigned by the rival Los Angeles Times to cover a potential David Robinson vs. Divac showdown that got scuttled when the Spurs abruptly pulled their team was a young Times intern named Dan Le Batard.
It was likewise left to trembling me, rather than an OCR vet, to phone then-Lakers general manager Jerry West at home — on a weekend — to get his official comment on a wire report detailing the supposed refusal of government officials in Yugoslavia to let Divac out of his required military service to become a Laker. I still get nervous about dialing those digits just thinking about the call.
Decades later I can unequivocally say it was watching that incredible team — starring Dražen Petrović, Dino Radja, Toni Kukoč and my beloved Žarko Paspalj in addition to Divac — and then covering Eastern European pioneers Divac, Paspalj and Alexander Volkov at summer league that cemented my love of the international game. I've written this before, but it bears repeating as EuroBasket 2022 draws near: I've been seduced ever since by the prospect of any basketball trip that requires a passport ... in part surely because I started traveling internationally so young for family reasons. My three favorite sports — basketball, soccer and tennis — are all ultraglobal, but Olympic and FIBA ball hold their own brand of mythical status in this funky brain.
It's thus very pleasing to share that I will finally get to see some EuroBasket action LIVE. I am currently based in Manhattan for my annual US Open excursion, but this year's ride at Flushing Meadows will be contained to the qualifying rounds. I amended my travel schedule so I could get to Cologne for the forthcoming retirement of Dirk Nowitzki's German No. 14 jersey and catch a decent glimpse of France, Slovenia, Lithuania and the rest of Group B.
No longer can I claim to be enjoying August more than the Brooklyn Nets. Not after this Newsletter Tuesday.
The Nets are suddenly having a great month if Kevin Durant is blessing a team statement that indicates he is no longer demanding a trade … barely two weeks removed from calling for the ousters of GM Sean Marks and Coach Steve Nash.
There's no telling how long this freshly called truce in Brooklyn will last, but that's a subject for fall dissection. All I can proclaim at the moment: My August will not have been too shabby, either.
The Stein Line is a reader-supported newsletter, with both free and paid subscriptions available, and those who opt for the paid edition are taking an active role in the reporting by providing vital assistance to bolster my independent coverage of the league. Feel free to forward this post to family and friends interested in the NBA and please consider becoming a paid subscriber to have full access to all of my posts.
As a reminder: Tuesday editions, on this and every Newsletter Tuesday, go out free to anyone who signs up, just as my Tuesday pieces did in their New York Times incarnation.
I promised (I mean warned) you in July that there would be copious amounts of sports tripping for your faithful correspondent once we got past the hectic first couple weeks of free agency in July.
So after a couple soccer excursions to see Manchester City in Houston and London, I was back at my favorite sporting event on American soil when the Nets abruptly announced Tuesday that a peace with Durant had been negotiated: Tennis' US Open.
Instinct tells me that the photo selection is bound to be more robust from EuroBasket, when I'm attending an event that holds such strong appeal throughout our community, but it would be a Newsletter Tuesday violation if I didn’t share some meaningful snaps from my latest travels.
I attended my first US Open as a fan in 1986 and then covered my first US Open as a member of the credentialed media in 1992 for The Los Angeles Daily News. This, then, is an anniversary Open for me. And I am deeply grateful to have found this replacement lapel pin on eBay recently after losing my original somewhere along the way. I wasn’t a lapel pin fanatic in my youth, but I am now.
Panoramic shot from my first day on the grounds of the National Tennis Center on Sunday … on a practice court with my pal Dudi Sela (competing in his 15th and likely last Open) with the majestic Arthur Ashe Stadium in the background.
One of the absolute sinful treats on any trip to New York: Getting served a throwback deli-style glass bottle of Pepsi. (Thanks much, Avra Estiatorio!) Oh how I wish there was a way in the Amazon era to be able to order these for home delivery.
After a dining expedition at Hudson Yards, cutting down 33rd Street to reunite with this place is a slam-dunk must … even if it’s just the exterior facade. Especially at night! There’s nowhere I’d rather watch a game.
Only three unrestricted free agents have signed deals worth at least $100 million this offseason: Washington’s Bradley Beal and Chicago’s Zach LaVine to stay with their current teams and Jalen Brunson in leaving Dallas for New York. The full list of this summer’s free agent signees via Spotrac is enclosed here.
The NBA has more than doubled the amount of baseball-style series from last season’s schedule as part of its push to reduce travel from roughly 43,000 air miles per team last season to the 41,000 range. Home teams are 120-94 in those two-game sets over the past two seasons for a winning percentage of .560.
For those questioning why the Knicks appear on the Christmas Day schedule, New York’s 2022 home date against Philadelphia will mark their league-high 55th game on Dec. 25. It’s a tradition akin to the Detroit Lions, as good or bad as they are, playing on Thanksgiving in the NFL.
If you include NBA TV, more than half of Golden State’s regular-season schedule in 2022-23 will be nationally televised:
If LeBron James is active for the Lakers’ Dec. 25 visit to Dallas, he’ll break a tie with Kobe Bryant for the most Christmas Day games played by moving to 17. That game will be only the second time in franchise history that Dallas is the home team on Christmas. The Mavericks hosted Miami on Dec. 25, 2011, in a rematch of the 2011 NBA Finals. It’ll also be the Lakers’ 24th consecutive Christmas appearance.
Charlotte is the only team in the league that has yet to play on Christmas. The next three longest droughts for teams omitted from the Christmas Day schedule, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press, belong to Sacramento (dating to Christmas in 2003), Indiana (2004) and Detroit (2005).
The Spurs were still playing in the Alamodome when I broke into the league as a beat writer in February 2004. We used to call it the Alamodoom on the Laker beat because the Lakers seemingly could not win (or shoot) there. As part of the franchise’s 50th anniversary season, San Antonio will host mighty Golden State in that cavernous building on Jan. 13 next season and will try to make a run at exceeding the regular-season attendance record of 62,046. Don’t know how feasible that is with a rebuilding team … but I know that I plan to attend.
Udonis Haslem's announcement Sunday that he intends to play one more season with the Heat in 2022-23 will make him the third player in NBA history to play at least 20 seasons with only one team, alongside Dirk Nowitzki (21 with the Mavericks) and Kobe Bryant (20 with the Lakers).