We all come from someplace. From the very first, when all that exists for us is our mother and us, to when it includes daddy and sibs and neighbors and schoolmates and other schools we play our games against to summer camps to select teams to college, way up to the NBA itself, no matter how far we ascend, we all come from someplace. We know our origins, we are fond of our origins, we honor the people who made us who we are, and we are thankful, nostalgic, and even patriotic about where we come from.
Me, I'm still a sucker for Philadelphia, even though I've lived in Berkeley for 45 years. Philly is where I grew up, where I had my first hoops outside my house, who knows why my Mom insisted that we have hoops outside our houses, but we did, all three of them, each one higher than the last, up to 10 feet finally. Philly is where I finished my homework by 8 o'clock so I could watch the Big 5 compete on Channel 12 from Wilmington in black and white. God, I loved Guy Rodgers and Temple, and St. Joe's! And my high school teams, you probably heard about my high school, Lower Merion. I tell people that my own crossover move, copied through the years at LM, is what later sent Kobe on his way. It's a nice joke.
While my first hero was Joe Fulks, and then Paul Arizin, the overriding superhero of all was, of course, Wilt, from Overbrook High, just northwest of me when I lived in West Philadelphia, and just southeast of me in Lower Merion. Wilt, the God. How strange it seemed when he up and left for Phog Allen and Kansas for college! What was he doing in those cornfields? Especially a black guy? And then the Globetrotters as he waited to come to the NBA. In those days the college game was bigger than the NBA, and truth to tell, there were a bunch of Jewish guys and other what we would now call “minorities” or “ethnics” who were trying to create and sell the pro game. So they knew that guys like me knew who “our” guys were. They were the guys who came from where we came from.
So, to promote interest, the owners laid claim to their own guys, guys who grew up there, or at least went to college there, which was frequently the same thing. Thus was born the “Territorial Pick” in the draft. The Philadelphia Warriors got a bunch of guys that way – Arizin, Rodgers, Ernie Beck from Penn, Tom Gola from LaSalle, and then Wilt. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NBA_territorial_pick.) You can look it up. Our guys were our guys, and we cheered for them, and loved them.
Philly-ball was different from New York-ball, from Chicago-ball, from Indiana-ball, at least that's the way it seemed, and our guys were our guys. Sometimes you still hear in interviews with the players how they heard of other guys growing up, how they played with and against them, how they still have that sense of where they're from. Now that the NBA is so big, so worldwide, they don't need that localism anymore. Now that free agency has been established – a good thing – and now that fantasy teams are so popular that the NBA GM's and even the players themselves play it with real teams like Miami and the Warriors, we're used to non-localism. But, that doesn't mean that localism is dead. At least I don't think it is. Especially in my mind, it isn't. I still sit and watch, me in my chair and Ann on the couch at 90° on the other side of the side table from me, and I'll say – “He's from Philadelphia!” And, from another sport, every time Hallie Jackson or Jake Tapper says something about the Eagles, I say, “Eagles!” and Ann grins and puts her hands over her eyes as if to say, “Oh, no, Philadelphia again!”
All of which is a long-winded way of getting around to my very practical suggestion. The league has wisely tried to make All Star Weekend an entertaining event time, with the three point contest and the dunking contest. All that's missing is the players game of Horse – hey, come to think of it, wouldn't that be great??? Or Team Horse??
But I digress; that's not my suggestion. My suggestion goes back to localism. What I'm proposing is this: a 3 on 3 Territorial Pick Tournament. 3ON3TPT – why not? Here's how it would work:
The teams would consist of players who grew up in the same place, specifically, where they went to high school. Each team would have an organizer, which could be a retired player or a current player, and they would choose five players a piece, three starters and two subs. The games would be 15 minutes long, half court, and the subs could come in only once. Retired players would be eligible – if Wilt were still around, he could have played until age 70. It would be The Chicago Guys vs. Philly Cheesesteaks; Bay Area Bombers vs. LA Slugs; North Carolina Stalkers vs. Indiana Larrys. The Serbian Sluggers. Maybe have 6 or 8 teams a year with single elimination.
It could work lots of ways, but you get the drift. Bring back Where You're From, back from the chaos of free agency and fantasy leagues. We all have a sense of where we're from. That never goes away.
Tell me that wouldn't be a winner!