Saturday, 30 July 2011


The following introduction was was written by John McClure on his website where my article first appeared:

You know those internet quizes with improbably fantastic prizes, indecently easy questions, and apparently ludicrous chances of winning? The ones that are really only there so that some marketing company can get hold of your email address and overload your account with advertisements for products you don't (and will never) want? Did you ever know someone who won one of the prizes?

I did. Will Clapton, a good friend and former colleague, is the biggest basketball fan I know. He can quote you stats about college and high school players you've never heard of, but who will be household names in ten years. He knows the history of the game inside out and has been a devoted follower (albeit from the wrong side of the Atlantic) for many years. 
He entered an online competition with no real hope or expectation of winning. But he did win, and I for one can't think of anyone who would have enjoyed the trip to the All Star game in LA at the weekend more than Will. I asked him to write me something about it that I could post on here, and he obliged. I think you'll agree that his passion shines through. In the spirit of the All-American razmataz implicit in the All-Star game, I'm going to have to ask you to "give it up" for Mr Will Clapton.


Did you notice the bewildered and confused expression on your granddad’s face when you tried to persuade him that the internet is a more useful resource than a library? Or that sending an e-mail is better than writing a letter? That was the look on Ian Naismith’s face as hundreds – if not thousands – of fans queued up to get an autograph from Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis at the NBA Jam Session basketball convention in Los Angeles on All-Star Saturday.

Just metres (and yet whole worlds) apart, fans clamoured to meet Davis while Naismith sat behind a table cluttered with old grainy photos of basketball pioneers, hoping to educate the public about the history of the sport.

After all, his granddad, James, invented it.

Nobody cared. Big Baby was in the house!

A lot has changed since Dr James Naismith, in 1891, brainstormed the rules of a game that has since morphed into an extravaganza watched in 215 countries around the world – as was the case during Sunday night’s All-Star Game at the Staples Center.

Benny the Bull, Bieber fever, Barkley’s Birthday cake, Boston being booed, Beyonce’s bling.

The game is nearly unrecognisable since the days of peach baskets and set shots. And didn’t Ian Naismith’s face show it.


“They’re just the same as you and me”, declared my taxi driver, referring to the NBA All-Stars. “Just with more money”, he clarified, as he drove me to LAX for a flight home to the UK after a weekend spent at the Staples Center enjoying the spectacle that is All-Star Weekend.

Tim Duncan sure didn’t look the same as me when I met him a few days earlier. Despite his naturally stooped stance, his seven-foot frame still towered over me as he clasped my hand. Duncan is a self-aware man; he knows the impact he has on mere mortals when he clasps their hand. He knows fans look up to him – literally and metaphorically. He is one of the basketball Gods.

That’s how far basketball has come in the last 120 years. Players no longer shoot set shots; they dunk over cars while gospel choirs sing “I believe I can fly” and fans go ape shit. They do things that mere mortals can only dream of doing.

They’re nothing like you and me.


Ian Naismith, so angered by the profit-driven changes to his granddad’s beautiful game, recently sold the original rules of basketball for $4.3 million – a record amount for a sports memorabilia auction. He did so in protest and donated the funds to his family’s humanitarian charity – the James Naismith International Basketball Foundation – aimed at promoting good sportsmanship, positive role models and services for underprivileged children.

But should he be so disgusted by the changes to the sport?

The All-Star Weekend was a celebration of the game. Fans in attendance were breathing the same air as basketball legends, Hollywood stars and Grammy award-winning artists.

Dr James Naismith invented basketball to keep young men out of trouble, active and – most importantly – indoors during the cold winter months.

If he were alive today, surely he’d have been pleased to see hundreds of kids excitedly waiting for Big Baby’s autograph?

He’d have taken a tour of the Staples Center and felt privileged to stand on the same court that would later be played on by so many legends.

He’d have waved a “10″ poster in the air as Blake Griffin leapt over a car in the dunk contest.

He’d have laughed at Serge Ibaka succeeding in using his teeth to rescue a little boy’s cuddly toy from the rim of the basket – before slamming home the ball – in one of the NBA’s more entertaining dunk contest entries.

He’d have marvelled at Rihanna’s legs – and crotch-clutching antics – at the half-time show.

He’d have felt the emotion of seeing 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell – a recent recipient of the Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama – hold aloft his medal during a break in Sunday’s game.

He’d have been in awe of Kobe Bryant’s swooping under-the-basket 180ยบ dunk in the All-Star Game.

He’d have then voted for Kobe Bryant as the Most Valuable Player of an All-Star Game celebrating everything that is right about the game of basketball.

And, finally, he’d have taken advantage of the free food and drink at the NBA’s post-All-Star party and enjoyed the performance of Bruno Mars and Lenny Kravitz.

At least, that’s what I did.

Thank you, NBA.

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