BECKHAM PUT GALAXY ON MAP,
STAYING THERE IS ANOTHER STORY
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - David Beckham’s extravagant arrival in Los Angeles 10 years ago was both a gift and a curse for the Galaxy, transforming the club into a global brand while leaving it dependent on star power as a blueprint for success.
When Beckham joined Los Angeles in 2007, amid flashing camera bulbs and a record media crush, he brought worldwide interest to the Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise.
The Galaxy sold more than 250,000 of Beckham’s No. 23 shirts before the Englishman even took the field. And with each sale, the Galaxy bought in to a philosophy built upon the names on the backs of their jerseys sustaining the one on the front.
“David Beckham was that tool that enabled us to open up the brand globally,” former Galaxy general manager Alexi Lalas told Reuters. “We knew we had the opportunity for a ‘plant your flag’ moment in order to build this brand that is the Galaxy not just domestically but internationally. We wanted the first club that you thought of when you thought about Major League Soccer to be the Galaxy. In one fell swoop we established that.”
The Galaxy have certainly reaped the rewards of becoming the league’s glamour team, winning a record five MLS Cup titles and getting the league to accommodate their roster ambitions through ‘Designated Player’ rules that allow star players to be paid mostly from outside the salary cap. The club’s courtship of headliners has permanently shaped the league and prompted a chain reaction of big-name players drawn to the North American league. Beckham was the first Designated Player on an MLS club; in 2016, there were 50 on MLS rosters.
But just as Beckham’s six-year run with the Galaxy, which featured consecutive MLS Cup triumphs in 2011 and 2012, provoked questions about his worth, there remain doubts about whether a star-based approach delivers sustained success or merely short-term buzz.
As perhaps the world’s most famous athlete, blessed with movie star looks and a celebrity wife, Beckham tested the old saying that no man is bigger than the team.
After a glittering career with Manchester United and Real Madrid, the then 32-year-old arrived in the U.S. to a king’s welcome, took residence at a Beverly Hills mansion and was a fixture at star-studded Los Angeles Lakers games.
The reception from his team mates, however, was not initially quite so warm, as he was sidelined by injury and then skipped several Galaxy games to play on loan with AC Milan in Italy.
American Landon Donovan relinquished his captain’s armband to Beckham immediately, but would later question his leadership and work ethic.
“I know we weren’t prepared for that type of hurricane (of attention), nor could we have been,” Lalas said. “Ultimately, it was incredibly successful.”
The Galaxy’s two-year title run in 2011 and 2012, when the club added Irish goalscorer Robbie Keane to form a deadly trio with Beckham and Donovan, set a standard for interest and excitement that the franchise will long be chasing.
The Galaxy still know how to lure big talent — adding the likes of Nigel de Jong and Giovani dos Santos — ahead of the 2016 campaign, but the club’s spotlight has gradually faded since Beckham departed after the 2012 season.
Keane and Steven Gerrard recently left, while long-time coach and general manager Bruce Arena departed in November to become the coach of the U.S. men’s national team.
The Galaxy will soon have to compete for market share with Los Angeles Football Club, a new expansion team that will join the MLS in 2018 at a $250 million (£206 million) stadium complex.
But mostly the Galaxy are forever contending with their franchise-changing signing of Beckham, an acquisition that put them on the map, but set a precedent that makes it difficult to stay there.
SIXERS' EMBIID THRIVING IN VILLAIN ROLE
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Philadelphia 76ers forward Joel Embiid has positioned himself as the NBA’s most charming villain: trash-talking, tweeting, and smiling his way to his own brand of entertaining dominance.
The Cameroonian seven-footer is as fleet-footed as he is quick-witted, and the lethal combination is ruffling feathers of opponents as he brushes past them en route to claiming his superstar status.
“There’s a mischievous side in Joel, and there’s surely a competitive side in Joel. That’s who he is,” 76ers coach Brett Brown told Reuters on Wednesday after Philadelphia defeated the host Los Angeles Lakers behind Embiid’s brilliance.
“He brings a cocky side and a swagger to the rest of his team mates that is priceless.”
Embiid was at his best as a good-natured irritant on Wednesday when he destroyed the Lakers by scoring a career-high 46 points to go along with 15 rebounds, seven assists, and seven blocks. It was one of the more memorable nights of the young NBA season, but his statistics played only a small role.
Facing a Staples Center crowd that booed the 23-year-old passionately, Embiid embraced the venom. He danced after scores, chatted with courtside fans and Lakers coach Luke Walton, and generally punished the opposition at every turn.
“Too bad there wasn’t any trash-talker out there. But I still had fun,” Embiid said following the 115-109 victory. “When I got going I just wanted to be aggressive. That’s my new mentality.”
Embiid punctuated the night with a move that has become as signature as his turnaround jump shots in the post: he sent a social media jab. Embiid posted a photo to Instagram of him scoring over high profile Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball.
Embiid had sparked a feud with Ball, and more specifically his bombastic father Lavar Ball, over the summer when he tweeted to team mate Ben Simmons and told him “Please dunk on him so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him.”
Lavar returned verbal fire and Embiid was later fined by the league for using inappropriate language on social media.
But Embiid’s brashness is no longer confined to the internet. As the 76ers (8-6) rise with Australian rookie sensation Simmons and second-year Embiid, who is now averaging 23 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, the big man has expanded his audience.
Embiid exchanged tense words with NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant during a matchup with the reigning champion Golden State Warriors on Saturday, and two days later butted heads with the Los Angeles Clippers as he taunted and stared his way to 32 points and 16 boards.
“To me, he doesn’t cross the line,” Brown said. “If it got to the stage where I felt he is hurting the team I’ve got to do my job. But it’s really never been that. He is fun, he wears his heart on his sleeve.”
Embiid opened the season with a minutes restriction due to foot injuries that caused him to miss the first two seasons of his career. But the young man who calls himself “The Process” in reference to the franchise’s rebuilding process, appears to have removed all reins from his game.
“He’s a beast. I’m just throwing it to him and letting him do his thing,” said Simmons, of Embiid. “He’s getting better every game.”
Embiid is also getting louder, and more difficult to ignore as he instigates a unique kind of loveable hate.
THE GARY PAYTON EXPERIENCE
By the time you meet Gary Payton you already know him. He’s imposed his impression before you can form one. You tell him you’re from Seattle to break the ice, but there’s no ice to be broken. Gary is already comfortable. Gary is Gary. He’s as advertised, fresh out of the hardened 90s NBA packaging and he doesn’t have to be on the court to be holding it. The setting is irrelevant – crowded restaurant, or Dew NBA 3X tournament in Santa Monica where you meet him in a back office of the The Barker Hangar. Wherever he is, Gary is at home and everyone else is visiting.
“SEA-TOWN! THE 206!” He announces in homage to the city you have in common.
After a quick introduction you lob him an alley-oop question about the tournament and his sponsor which leads to reminiscing about his playground days in Oakland. See, even the most perfunctory of questions somehow leads to gold. One of the all-time alphas of the NBA, Gary point guards the room. He talks, and you listen. And you want to listen because hearing GP ramble is a first-class trip through the NBA of old and new; from short shorts to skinny jeans.
On Jason Kidd, whom he mentored growing up in Oakland: “He played with us a little but he wasn’t old enough. We used to kill him. I used to beat up on him all the time. But he got that toughness being there. He took it on the court and he was a beast.”
On defense: “When I was (at Oregon State) we used to have contests on how many times you could make a ball handler turn his dribble before half court. One time I turned a guy 10 times. Now it’s about scoring. You knew the game was changing when they started converting two guards to ones – James Harden, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook …”
On being nicknamed “The Glove”: “I held Kevin Johnson to (13 points) in the (1993) conference finals and when I got back to my hotel my cousin Glen King said ‘you had KJ like a baseball in a glove.’ We started a glove wear line. Everyone caught on, now it’s like one of the best nicknames.”
John Stockton being the toughest player he ever guarded: “Because he had the ball 90 percent of the time. People ask ‘why wouldn’t you say Michael Jordan?’ Jordan would play defense and run down the floor. Stockton always had the ball. You had to pressure him, and when you crossed half court he put you in the pick-and-roll. If you mess up he’s going to hurt you. He shot about 10 times and made nine. He’d go to the free throw line 10 times and make nine. He’s setting picks and making things happen all the time. Now you tell me – who’s the toughest?”
Golden State Warriors, D Wade and LeBron: “(They’ll be fine) if Kevin Durant comes in and does what the hell he’s supposed to do. That’s not his team. That’s (Stephen Curry), (Klay Thompson) and Draymond Green’s team. He’s supposed to follow suit. That’s what I didn’t like about Miami – when LeBron went there D Wade changed his whole game. I raised that boy. I saw what he did when we won a championship (with the Heat) in 2006. Then he took a step back. They won a lot of championships because they were better but I don’t like when players do that. It’s your team. Let that man come in there and be a part of the team.”
The new era of superstars teaming up: “This is a different era. These guys live together, their wives go on vacation. They wear skinny clothes together. They call each other talking about what hat and pants they wear together. We don’t do that sh&%. That’s their era. It is what it is. I don’t hate on Durant at all if that’s what he wants to do. LeBron did it. He won some championships and went back to his home town. If that’s what it takes …”
On joining super team with Lakers in 2003: “(Karl Malone) and I weren’t in our prime. We were like 35 – we were old. In my prime, I never would’ve did it. Ever. Never in my prime would I go to a team with Jordan, Malone, Stockton. None of them. When we lost to Chicago in the 1996 Finals my contract was up. I wasn’t thinking about going to no God damn Chicago! I was thinking ‘I’m coming back to Seattle’ to beat them.’ That was our era.”
The 1996 Finals vs. the Bulls: “I didn’t guard Jordan until Game Four, then I started locking him down. And I went at him the same way on offense and he couldn’t guard me so then they switched (Scottie) Pippen on me. I knew I had him but we didn’t beat them. I think we could’ve won (had I guarded Jordan from the beginning). (Coach George Karl) was coaching to not lose the series. ‘Let’s not get blown out’ – and it backfired. I don’t regret nothing. I don’t care about it. We didn’t play the way we were supposed to and they beat us. No excuses.”
Trash-talking Jordan: “It was X-rated. I didn’t give a sh**. I said anything I wanted to him. And that’s why he respected me so much, I stayed in his face. I didn’t give a sh** what he was talking about. Everyone says ‘he’s a great player,’ well I’m a great player, too. He might have been better at the time to them but not to me. I didn’t think anyone was better than me when I played. I just went at them. I’m not going to be on the court saying ‘ohhh, ahh, that’s Michael Jordan.’ Fu&^ you. I’m Gary Payton. I don’t care about that. That’s my mentality.”
Former teammate Shawn Kemp: “Great player. I hate that he left me (in Seattle). I think if he wouldn’t have left me we’d have a dynasty like John Stockton and Karl Malone. I think he’d be in the Hall of Fame, too. Some players can’t get away from their Batman or Robin. I wish he would’ve stayed with me, it would’ve been a different story.”
The Sonics returning to Seattle: “It’ll still happen. We have to get an arena down there. (Commissioner) Adam Silver is working with us really tough. He wants us to have a team, he knows we deserve one. But we have to get an arena to sway them and show them (what’s possible). Then we have to see what team is going to come up for sale and dangle the fish. See what white bass we can get out there and give to them.”
The P.R. person standing in the way of complete organic conversation between you and G.P. interjects to let you know you have one final question. It’s the first time you’ve been cognizant of the the game clock, and as it winds down you feel a semblance of pressure to get off a quality final shot. You settle on: “What’s the greatest moment of your career?”
The banal question brings Gary as close as he’ll ever come to cliché.
“I always tell people, it’s when I went to play for the Olympic team (in 1996 and 2000). When you think about guys dying for us for free. They’re representing the U.S. and they’re not getting any medals. When I bowed my head down and they put the medal around my neck – that was the greatest moment of my career.”
The response screamed for a follow up: was Gary alluding to Colin Kaepernick? You could’ve squeezed the question in at the buzzer, but frankly it wouldn’t have done the topic justice. Besides, Gary doesn’t allude. You know that by now.
D'ANTONI'S FIRED-UP PHILOSOPHY HAS ROCKETS REVVED UP
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - From basketball innovator to coaching flameout, Mike D’Antoni has survived the roller coaster of the NBA and landed back in the league’s good graces.
The transition has come almost as fast as his new team, the Houston Rockets, launches three-pointers.
D’Antoni’s coaching philosophy has always been a simple one: “Shoot it. Shoot it quickly.”
He has lived and died by the creed, winning fans and style points before stalling during stints at high-profile franchises.
D’Antoni, 65, is back in his sweet spot as a first-year coach in Houston, revving up the Rockets’ offense to new speeds.
“I’m just happy to find a team where everybody is on the same page,” D’Antoni told Reuters prior to Houston’s contest against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. “You do that and you can find success. I’ve been lucky to find a spot like this.” The Rockets and D’Antoni have happily found each other, embracing the run-and-gun pace that is becoming the league’s norm.
Houston (43-19), third in the Western Conference, leads the NBA by a long shot in both three-pointers made and attempted as they fire off more than 40 a night.
“We’re going to shoot them, that’s what we do,” said Rockets leading man James Harden after the team made 20 three-pointers in routing the Clippers 122-103.
Added Rockets forward Ryan Anderson: “You don’t really realize how many (three-pointers) we’re taking until you hear (about it), because it’s so naturally the way we play. It’s fun basketball.”
At his best, D’Antoni has always put the ‘fun’ in basketball.
As a player, he enjoyed a short tour of the NBA before becoming a standout in Italy for Olimpia Milano where he won multiple titles and was idolized by a generation of youngsters that included Kobe Bryant, who was living in Italy at the time. D’Antoni’s first NBA head coaching job came with the Denver Nuggets in 1998-99. By the time he burst onto the scene with the Phoenix Suns in the early 2000s, his style of quick shots and heavy pick-and-rolls was cutting edge.
D’Antoni won the 2004-05 Coach of the Year Award, and the Suns became an NBA darling, inspiring a book, “Seven Seconds or Less”, which characterized the coach’s offensive mindset.
But D’Antoni’s brand of basketball took a hit when the Suns did not reach the NBA Finals, and he subsequently failed during coaching tenures with the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, who both rejected his concepts.
“The Mike system needs the right system around him. It’s clear that when he has the right players his system is really good,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told Reuters.
Today’s NBA offense features much of the pace, space and perimeter shooting that D’Antoni long preached, bringing the coach a measure of validation.
“You want to not be totally (viewed as) crazy,” he said.