Days before the highly anticipated Duke vs. North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, students were camping outside of the arena. Every year this game is major, but this year was going to be bigger.
North Carolina is one of the top teams in the country, while Duke has four players with NBA first round draft pick talent. These four came together to try to form one of the most unbeatable teams college basketball has seen in a long time.
One kid stands out above the rest, Zion Williamson. He is undoubtedly going to be the first pick in the NBA Draft this summer. But because of rules that are set in place by the NBA, he must play one year of NCAA basketball or be one year removed from high school (so playing professionally in another country basically).
But his choice to play college basketball could possibly cost him his future.
The anticipation to this game reached heights that were comparable to the Super Bowl. As far as ticket sales go, it may have been even bigger. Most tickets were going for a resale value of at least $2,000 and one ticket allegedly went for over $10,000. All to see Zion in person.
But just 30 seconds into the game, something unbelievable happened. As Zion went to stop, his massive frame proved to be far too strong for his Nike's. His foot literally broke through his shoe and it split in half. Because of this, it caused his other leg to twist in a way he wouldn't want it too and he ended up sustaining a knee sprain.
Needless to say, he would not return to the game. And all that money spent to see Zion was instantly vanished. Yet the monetary benefits for everyone, except the players, still remain.
This one broken shoe could change the landscape of this young man's career and the choices he decides to make going forward. As a college athlete with a scholarship, he can't accept any money or gifts of any kind while he is playing for Duke. This issue is one that may cause him to decide to shut it down for the rest of the season.
The only thing promised for Zion at this point is that is he definitely going to be the number one pick in the NBA Draft. That is, if he remains in good health.
It is vital for him to go into the league healthy. Not only for the fact that he needs to get on the floor as soon as possible, but also for his marketability. Every moment he plays for Duke is another second he is losing money. Had he been able to enter the draft straight from high school, he'd already be making millions of dollars. And his injuries would have been insured.
With the way the rules are currently set in place, he had to make a decision to help him get to the next level. But because of this one broken shoe, his decisions are now even more critical.
Let's say he decides to play, and play hard. Best case scenario is he helps win Duke a National Championship and he is known as the best One-and-Done player of all time. He gets drafted number one and becomes the most marketable young athlete in all of sports.
Worst case scenario, he injures his knee again and can't play the rest of the season due to a real injury. He now has a recurring knee injury for a kid who is over 275 pounds. Teams look at that, and now he goes somewhere between second to fifth in the draft. He is instantly put into a rehab assignment to get ready for the season.
So why risk it?
The answer is He shouldn't risk it. There is no winning in playing if you are Zion. The risk is not worth it. Winning a National Championship for college basketball does not mean what it used too, unless it's a group of kids that are all upperclassmen from a school that isn't able to get the top recruits.
Winning with four top recruits doesn't mean anything. And the NCAA is going to continue to benefit from him as long as he plays, yet he won't see a dime.
Zion, now is the time to shut it down. Pretend you're actually more hurt than you really are. Stop wearing Nike shoes forever. Become the number one pick in the draft and join James Harden, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Aaron Judge, Justin Turner, Marcus Peters, and Juju Smith-Schuster by signing the biggest deal Adidas have ever made.
College sports lives by "All for one, and one for all." But boy you gotta get to that paper! It's time to be "One for One."
Everything in basketball is about the narrative. What is going to be the story that is going to be written in the late hours of the night that will be ready for the morning? Writers probably have stories pre-written depending on how much work they believe they will have ahead of them.
The NBA All Star Weekend is an easy way to get ahead on some work. And the Three-Point Contest should've been the easiest article to pre-write.
"Seth Drops Seth in Battle of Curry's"
"Steph Continues his Dominance"
"Dirk is Revived"
"Devin Booker Goes Back-to-Back"
"Kemba Wins it for Charlotte"
Any of those would've been the easiest articles to write. But the outcome nobody was prepared for was the one that came to life.
"Joe Harris is Undefeated"
The man with just 40,000 Instagram followers stole the show. That's barely enough people to fill up two NBA arenas. The average NBA fan is guaranteed to not know Joe Harris. Even someone who watches every night may have a hard time recognizing him. Especially with such a basic name like Joe Harris.
Vegas knew who he was prior to this contest, they gave him the fifth best odds to win the contest out of ten participants. Had you put one dollar on Joe Harris, you would've made $6.50 which is pretty good return. But as they say, you can't make what you can't see.
The Brooklyn Nets have a whopping ZERO nationally televised games this season. If you were to ask the common fan to name players on the Nets, you might not get past D'Angelo Russel. You might even hear Spencer Dinwiddie because of his play the last two seasons. But you would hardly hear Joe Harris' name come out of anyones mouth.
This was the biggest stage that Joe Harris played on all season, and he applied all the pressure.
Joe Harris has been the hidden gem hiding in plain sight. Among the participants in the contest, Harris has the best three-point percentage on the season with 47.1%. And it's not like he is shooting this crazy percentage in limited minutes. He has started every game he has played this season, and he has only missed 5 games due to injury.
And it's not like he is barely shooting the ball. He has made at least 3 threes in 28 games this season, and shot over 50% in all but 5 of those games. He hit 17 threes over the final four games leading up to the All Star break. Including his biggest game of the season where he splashed 7 threes in a half against the juggernaut Toronto Raptors.
So how did nobody know his name?
With the luck of the draw, Joe Harris went first in the contest. He set the bar high with a first round score of 26, which was accompanied with everyone in the basketball world tweeting and texting "Who the hell is Joe Harris?!"
Every other shooter took their shots, and the only participants to outscore Harris were Steph Curry and Buddy Hield. Joe pretty much stole Seth's brother privileges from him.
Even heading into the final round with those two, it would've still been easy to write him off against those two sharpshooters. But Joe Harris was the one who raised the stakes and dropped 27 in final round to force Curry and Hield to go damn near perfect from the field. Even with Steph hitting his first nine shots, it still wasn't enough to overcome the score that Joe Harris had put up.
The trophy was now Harris' to keep for an entire year. And as he so quietly came onto the scene, he accepted the trophy in the same fashion. Barely cracking a smile, he stated that it was an honor to compete and that he would be gifting the trophy to a local college for letting him practice prior to the contest.
So next time someone asks you who this guy is, don't make a joke and say he looks like the dude who does your taxes. Say his name, Joe Harris. And let them know that for now, Joe Harris is undefeated.
From 2013-2016, the Philadelphia 76ers very carefully configured the worst possible rosters the league had to offer. Thus giving them the opportunity to lose a lot of basketball games. This was no accident. The construction was all the idea of the team's General Manager Sam Hinkie.
This man had a vision for the Sixers, and that was to create a title contender in the most frowned upon way; Lose on purpose. This gave the team the chance to garner assets from contending teams, add value to their own assets, and put themselves in the best position to draft the world's best young players.
Hinkie was criticized relentlessly, while living through the motto "Trust The Process." But he knew what he was getting himself into. His job was to go in there and be the one bold enough to put this plan into fruition. He was the sacrificial lamb.
It's April 13th, 2016 and the Sixers have just finished their season with a 10-72 record. They lost 27 of their last 29 games to put one final beautiful disastrous bow and the finishing touches on the end of an era.
Three months later, with the first pick in the draft that they had so rightfully (yet so wrongfully) earned, they added one final piece to their broken puzzle. After stockpiling top picks and taking their chances in the draft, they added Ben Simmons to go along with Joel Embiid. Creating a bright future, and a glimmer of hope for all of those who stuck around through all the losing.
Although Hinkie's tenure had ended, his work was not done. Every choice he made ultimately lies within Joel Embid. Hinkie drafted Embiid while he had a broken foot, knowing that his potential could change the future of the team forever. He is the reason they lost on purpose. He is the one piece they were looking to start their rebuild around. He is The Process.
Through all those years of losing, many critics believed it was not the way to build a contender. A culture of losing will only create more losing. Losing on purpose was irresponsible, and cowardly. Not putting yourself in the best position to contend every year was a slap in the face of the NBA. There's no way it was going to work.
Markelle Fultz was supposed to be the team's bad karma. He was supposed to be the big swing and miss that would derail all of the work that Hinkie had created. But the team's new General Manager Elton Brand could see this situation for what it was; Fluid.
In one of his first interviews in his new position, he was forward and honest about his role throughout the entire process. Which clearly began when he was brough back as a player just 4 years ago.
When Sam Hinkie took me to breakfast and said he wanted me to mentor some of the younger guys on the team, I saw something special. I wanted to be a part of that. I was allowed to be a part of that, and it's turning out just as I thought it would.
This was the plan from the beginning. Hinkie showed Brand the ropes, and now he is the one orchestrating the future of the process. This is what they did it for. This moment.
There has been no better time for the Sixers to create a contending squad than right now. They have an All-Star in Ben Simmons, who is averaging nearly a triple-double, has an extremely high field-goal percentage, and has over 30 double-doubles on the season. They have Joel Embiid who is an All-Star starter, an MVP candidate, and the best big man in the game. The window to get to the championship is right now.
Brand knew the team needed to add a third star in order to be taken seriously as a contender. He traded two fan favorites in Robert Covington and Dario Saric to bring their star in Jimmy Butler to the squad.
Then he had the blockbuster trade to land another budding star in Tobias Harris. He has only been the leading scorer for a Western Conference playoff caliber team in the Los Angeles Clippers while shooting with incredible efficiency from three-point range.
And finally, getting rid of the bad karma in Markelle Fultz in exchange for future assets and a strong bench player in Johnathan Simmons. The fact that he is now someone else's problem allows the Sixers to focus on the task at hand; getting to the NBA Finals.
The new criticism for the Sixers is that they are wagering their future on the backs of Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and JJ Redick. What if they all leave in free agency? What if only one wants to stay? What if this plan blows up in their face?
We already know what Ben and Joel are capable of, and having them both in the youth of their prime is time that can't be spent wasted on kicking the can down the road. By creating a starting five as potent as this one, they now have the chance fulfill The Process.
The future of the team is no longer in the equation. They lived in the "Play for the future" world far too long. This is what all of that losing was for. The future is now for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Boston crowd is stunned. Rajon Rondo is being lifted in the air by Lebron James. Both players winning once again on Boston's floor, but together this time. And both donning the Los Angeles Lakers jerseys of all things. They are joined in celebration by the same group of players who started the season with them as the trade deadline passed just hours before game time. They all look happy... for now.
So how did we get here?
When Lebron James made his announcement to join the Los Angeles Lakers, he was going to make sure they became the best show coming out of Hollywood. We knew this was going to be the case, but we still weren't prepared for everything that has happened throughout this season.
Starting the season 0-3 the questions began to arise very early. Does this team have the talent to make the playoffs? Can Lebron raise the level of play amongst the Lakers youth quickly? Will they ever win a game?
They got their first win against the lowly Phoenix Suns. A win is a win as they say, and they say many things. The Lakers didn't get above .500 until 13 games into the season. But once everyone began to learn their roles on the squad, they hit a bit of a hot streak.
They began to climb the playoff ladder, and found themselves looking at possibly having home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They went 18-9 over a stretch that started on Halloween and ended on Christmas. And what would follow would be more tricks than treats, and a lot of coal on their stockings.
Lebron James sustained a "minor" groin injury on Christmas Day. But I always says that for a man, there is no such thing as a "minor" groin injury. His team went on to demolish the Golden State Warriors in front of 20,000 stunned Oakland fans. And with the entire world watching, they brought the drama to everyone's television screens.
But without Lebron, the team would simply be full of guys probably feeling like they were the stars of The Truman Show. Every player was evaluated relentlessly. Each night, the question was who was going to be the hero or the scape-goat. Who was going to be the player that separated himself from the rest of the pack? Who was going to prove to Lebron that they were deserving of remaining off the team until past the trade deadline. And then... it happened.
Rich Paul, (Lebron's best friend slash agent) spoke on behalf of his client Anthony Davis and requested for trade from the New Orleans Pelicans. The Los Angeles Lakers were the obvious desperate trade suitor. With nobody on the team proving anything other than the fact that they are good enough to play on a mediocre team with a 7-10 record, we assumed that nobody on the team was safe...
*Deep narrators voice* Because they weren't.
It is easy to imagine what was going on through these guys' minds every single day. Knowing that their career as a Los Angeles Laker could end at any given moment. Knowing that their play on the court was being evaluated so meticulously not only by their own ownership, but other team's ownership, and everyone in the basketball world.
The game before the trade deadline may have been the most telling of them all. Lebron's teammates kept their distance from the thrown, and came together as a group to form a mutiny so strong that it catapulted them to Lebron's worse loss of his career.
A 42-point blowout by the Indiana Pacers seemed to be the final stamp on this group. With less than 24 hours to go on the trade deadline, each player probably had their minds prepared for any possible scenario. But what would happen next would be the biggest plot twist of them all.
The trade deadline came and went, and not a single Lakers starter was traded. In fact, besides a couple of small moves, the Lakers remained relatively quiet at the trade deadline. So naturally, with all of these questions finally being answered, the next question would be... Will it work?
They had a date with the Celtics in Boston, and there could have been a million different ways this could have ended. The Lakers could have gotten blown out in a second consecutive game, and everyone would've continued to question the management. They could have found a way to lose a tough game, and someone other than Lebron would have been the one to blame. But the way it actually finished seemed like planned chaos.
The final two minutes of the game were intense, and both teams had a counter for every jab. With no timeouts remaining and the Lakers down by one, everything that had gone on over the first half of the season was forgotten.
Rajon Rondo caught a loose ball out of the air and elevated in slow motion, much like he used to for all of those years in Boston. He created a moment so ironic, that it defined the entire Lakers season. The ball went through the net as the time expired, and the entire Lakers teams came together as one to celebrate the victory. For a moment, they looked like a team with the same goal in mind; Win.
And while their season has been like a bumpy old-school wooden roller coaster, we can now see that best television is yet to come. The Los Angeles Lakers are captivating, and if you blink you might miss something.