To those basketball fans who admit they don't like things as they are but concede that "old school" coaches and their methods must bow to today's coaching style and AAU-dominated philosophy:
The game isn't as good as it used to be. Yes, there are more good athletes. But they aren't better prepared, fundamentally or technically or mentally or emotionally or academically. Teamwork has been replaced by selfishness. Dunking, not pure shooting, is praised as an art form.
Remember when the Chicago Public League featured iron-willed coaches who taught fundamentals and discipline and teamwork and defense?
Remember Larry Hawkins, Bob Hambric, Spin Salario, Luther Bedford, Lee Umbles, Jim Foreman, Charles Stimpson, John Schultz, Frank Hood, Herb Brown, Bill Warden, Landon Cox, Frank Lollino, Roy Condotti, Willie Little and Jim Brown?
Perhaps a history lesson is in order. The AAU or summer coaches and the shoe companies long ago realized that they had what it took -- national exposure, free trips from coast to coast, free sneakers and other merchandise and easy access to college coaches -- to wield more influence over 17-year-olds than their parents or high school coaches.
It all began in 1981 when Sonny Vaccaro, Dick Vitale and the late North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano met at a New York City airport. Vaccaro, armed with a suitcase that included a sample pair of Nike shoes and separate endorsement checks payable to Valvano and Vitale, forged a business relationship that would prove to be pivotal in the launching of their star-studded careers.
It also established a dominance of exposure for college basketball teams on the East coast, with the able assistance of ESPN.
Chicago television personality Merri Dee came up with the idea of organizing a program for inner city athletes to obtain better educations. But soon after the ground-breaking program was launched, it was stolen and re-packaged in the form of the AFBE camp.
In 1982, Vaccaro met with 34 of the nation's most influential high school coaches in Santa Monica, Calif., to discuss a way in which he could help them be competitive with Converse, then the dominant shoe company. The coaches emphasized that a support system had to be established that included free shoes, apparel and guaranteed invitations to the AFBE camp and the Dapper Dan all-star basketball game.
The plan, as Chicago-based writer C.J. Jackson outlines in his forthcoming movie project, called for using the evolution and the ills of single-parent homes in urban communities across the country as a platform to make the coach, particularly African American coaches, more of a surrogate father figure and provider.
"This was, and continues to be, a strong reason why the demographics of the high profile high school coach changed from the Irish and Italians to African American coaches," Jackson said. "Vaccaro understood the streets and knew it would serve him and his agenda better for the long haul to give certain coaches an edge, such as Bob Wade in Baltimore, Perry Watson in Detroit and Landon Cox in Chicago."
In 1991, Vaccaro and Nike CEO Phillip Knight came to a parting of the ways when it was revealed that Vaccaro apparently didn't trust coaches of color and sponsored many of the more well-financed clubs on the West coast where he could observe them more closely. African American coaches soon learned of what Vaccaro was doing.
Soon after, when Vaccaro moved to Adidas, the bidding wars over players and coaches of influence began between Nike and Adidas, resulting in mostly inner city players being showered with free shoes and summer travel, even Kentucky-style Fed Ex packages. And comes coaches reportedly received $100,000 stipends.
"The real issue is that none of this destruction would be possible if it was not financially viable," Jackson said. "Our kids have been exposed to illusions of grandeur by masked shoe pushers sporting sheepish smiles that appear as protectors or providers of opportunity to kids without experienced adults to identify these wolves.
"Besides, many school administrators have no interest in interrupting this influence because it pays the bills that matter. So we continue to point to fathers that are not providing instead of looking closely at the agenda of those who stand to benefit from this exercise of exploitation, the people who make the rules and those who are charged to enforce them."