Kevin Fixler
    Sport Matters

25 June 2015

Devin Booker aims to do what his father Melvin couldn’t – star in the NBA

On the eve of the 2015 NBA Draft, where franchises each year attempt to choose the next sure-fire stars and unearth diamonds in the rough, the selection of one particular lottery pick is actually a generation in the making.

That’s because University of Kentucky guard Devin Booker, like his father Melvin before him, is a basketball prodigy and a product of tiny Moss Point, Miss. But come Thursday night in Brooklyn, Devin will undoubtedly do something his dad, a standout at Mizzou in the early-1990s, was never able to accomplish – being drafted into the world’s premier professional basketball league. The younger Booker, the SEC Sixth Man of the Year and an All-SEC Freshman Team selection, is in the discussion as the class’s best shooter and may even go in the top-10 picks. No matter the differences, father and son will both anxiously await the commissioner reading the surname they share.

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5 June 2015

Is Australia basketball’s next powerhouse?

If you turned on the TV Thursday night for the first game of the NBA finals, you witnessed an event happening for the very first time: two Australians competing against each other in the championship series. Specifically, that’s guard Matthew Dellavedova of the Cleveland Cavaliers and center Andrew Bogut of the Golden State Warriors.

There are seven Aussies in the National Basketball Association—a record number of Boomers, as members of Australia’s men’s national team are called. With the San Antonio Spurs’ consecutive title appearances in 2013 and 2014, which included guard Patty Mills and forward Aron Baynes, Australians are fast becoming a staple of the NBA postseason. While Australia’s rise may look like a recent phenomenon to the more casual basketball enthusiast, it’s actually the result of a steady growth model three decades in the making.

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19 May 2015

Draymond Green adds toughness to Golden State Warriors finesse

The Golden State Warriors’ dream season speeds forward into the Western Conference Finals, and Draymond Green continues to be the team’s driving force – no matter if he’s out on the floor or on the bench.

Averaging a hair over 37 minutes per game throughout this postseason, the versatile forward is rarely out of the game. Even with big numbers – 14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals per contest – his impact on the outcome is at least as forceful in his role as head cheerleader. Just watch a game. While teammates sit and rest, the 25-year-old is often the only player standing at the edge of the baseline, towel draped over the shoulders of his bench tee, incessantly rooting and rumbling over the on-court action. And he’s at least as animated and energetic after the game’s final seconds have ticked off the clock as well.

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1 May 2015

The Atlanta Hawks’ Understated Superstar

Filed under: The Sports Fix — Tags: , , , , , , , , — kevinfixler @ 8:00 am

For Al Horford, the moment could have played out so differently. During what would become a double-overtime victory for his NBA team, the Atlanta Hawks, Horford stretched out his right arm to block a pass — then grabbed near his shoulder in obvious pain. With his pectoral muscle completely torn, he missed the rest of that game, two-thirds of last season and his team’s run in the playoffs. Worse yet: That wasn’t the first time he ripped a pec. “It’s only happened in pro basketball three times,” Horford tells OZY, “and it’s happened to me twice.”

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10 March 2015

Scoring high with the Skyhook

There he stands — all 16 feet and 1,500 pounds of, well, not him, but a bronze replica of him, anyway: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His likeness is a permanent fixture outside the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles where the Lakers play, depicting what he’s best remembered for: his storied skyhook.

Abdul-Jabbar — who entered the NBA in 1969 as Lew Alcindor, the much-heralded first overall pick out of UCLA — was a spindly, 7-foot-2 force at the center position who had led the Bruins to three straight national titles, as well as 88 victories in 90 games. And yet, for all his talent and natural gifts on the court, he also possessed a single tool — his trademark hook shot — so dominant that rivals simply prayed that he would miss.

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21 March 2014

Bob Kurland, first player to dunk, a pioneer for big men

Long before the existence of bracketology, the First Four and even the field of 32, let alone one of 64 or 68, the NCAA tournament began in 1939 to minimal fanfare, and much, much less attention than it receives today. There was no “March Madness.”

The name Bob Kurland will mean little to most who are salivating at the prospect of the next 12 over 5-seed upset, or exhibiting actual anxiety that their office — or this year, billion-dollar — bracket might go bust. But even after his passing last September from long-standing health problems at age 88, Kurland was a living legend whose existence has been overlooked, largely because, unlike contemporaries such as George Mikan, he chose not to play professionally.

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31 January 2013

Hall of Famer Rick Barry explains technique of his signature underhanded free throw shot

The free throw. It’s either a basketball player’s best friend or worst enemy.

While shooting percentages of the uncontested 15-footer have steadily increased since the beginnings of the NBA—the league average is better than 75 percent in nine of the past 10 seasons—some of its best players still struggle with the shot.

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13 December 2012

Shooting for Perfection

The free throw is nearly as old as basketball itself. The shot dates almost as far back as when rules were first recorded at a gym in Springfield, Mass., by the game’s creator, Dr. James Naismith, in 1891. Added to the sport just a few years later, the shot was initially taken 20 feet away from the basket, before the distance was reduced to 15 in 1895. The rules governing perhaps basketball’s most idiosyncratic shot have gone mostly unchanged since.

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19 June 2012

The Fading of Giants: The Disappearance of the Traditional NBA Center

For avid readers, as well as those who just love the traditional NBA big man, here is the “director’s cut” of my story about the mystery of professional basketball’s disappearing center, which originally published via The Atlantic last month.

On a Saturday morning last October at a small, strip mall fitness club in Sonoma, Calif., former NBA center Clifford Ray sits on a metal bleacher watching a hodgepodge of mostly over-the-hill baby boomers labor up and down a basketball court. The group of males has shelled out a couple thousand bucks of disposable income each to take a weekend’s worth of instruction at Hall of Famer Rick Barry’s annual fantasy camp in Northern California wine country.

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15 May 2012

The Mystery of the Disappearing NBA Center

Alright, boys and girls, it has been a little while since I posted something. So today, I’m coming at you in a big way, with a piece currently making waves in The Atlantic! Enjoy.

For much of the NBA’s history, dating back to its formation in 1946, the league has been dominated by centers. Legendary big men like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were nearly unstoppable: players with the height and reach to block shots, capture rebounds, and score nearly at will. Since then, contemporary names like Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Yao Ming have taken their place. Lately though, these impact centers have all but vanished. Duncan is at the end of a distinguished career, while O’Neal and Yao retired last year. Today, only two players—the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard and Los Angeles Lakers Andrew Bynum—among the league’s 30 teams are widely viewed as conventional bigs. And the numbers are not improving.

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