My 2012 Beko BBL Allstar Reflections And Schaffartzik And Gaffney Speak The Same Language Stealing The Show
After the brutal 78-65 Fraport Skyliners loss Friday night against the LTI Giessen 46ers in the Hessen derby which is about as tough to digest for Frankfurt fans as it is for Celtic fans if Lakers coach Phil Jackson catches an errand pass on the sideline in Boston and heaves up a shot from the bench seeing nothing but net to put more salt into a Celtic loss, Tom Brady having to survive a second loss to Eli Manning in a Superbowl or for the families of 911 victims having to hear the comments that actor Mark Wahlberg made stating he could of fought off terrorists in one of the 911 terror flights and landed the plane safely if he had been on one of the hijacked planes as the Lti Giessen 46ers snapped their nine game losing streak against Frankfurt dating back to their last victory in 2007 on a Rouven Roessler buzzer beater. What better way then to jump in a car 16 hours later and to visit the 2012 Beko BBL Allstar day in Ludwigsburg to get the daily team basketball(Fraport Skyliners) out of your mind and just enjoy a day of high class basketball festivities with the best players in the top German league. In January each year, the Beko BBL steps aside one weekend from the top level competition and gives the fans the chance to get close to their stars and just be spoiled with an NBBL game touting the best young German kids playing against each other, a three point shooting clash, an always exciting and spectacular slam dunk contest, fun with the team mascots and to close out the day with the Beko BBL Allstar game in the evening.
This was the seventh Beko BBL Allstar game that I have visited and fifth different venue. The first few years where I was able to experience the glitz of the Beko BBL was in Cologne and Mannheim from 2006-2009, where it was held in giant arenas, but all in all the atmosphere in the 15,000 plus filled places was not able to be felt as they were less than filled to capacity. In 2010, the Beko BBL decided to shift the event to smaller arenas and in my opinion it has been the right decision as the atmosphere has been right on the last three years in Bonn, Trier and in Ludwigsburg. The Ludwigsburg arena may only have seated 4,200, but it was sold out and the place was loud and the players defiantly felt it while the game was being played. Even though the biggest spectacle and climax to the day is the Allstar game at 8.30, if one is a real fan and wants to absorb all facets of the event, one has to come early and just enjoy how the arena gets fuller and fuller. As a journalist, it also doesn´t hurt to come early, because one is able to see many familiar faces and just continue to make those valuable basketball contacts. I was in the Ludwigsburg arena at 3:15 and right away was charmed by the grand hospitality of the Beko BBL and was pleased by the top service. It was no secret, that media seats were limited and as a writer for top European basketball site Eurobasket and broadcaster for Radio Fortuna, I was more than pleased and humbled when I found my spot in the first row as the press seats were elevated a bit, but the view was superb as I was between the press speaker of the German basketball federation and a representative of the well known German sports website Spox. I have to add though, that some arenas in the Beko BBL don´t have the luxury to much space or room, but as a basketball fanatic, those are things that one has to accept. The area in the press boxes were so tight, that I really felt like I was reliving the trash compactor scene in the Star Wars movie or being a Boston Bruin crammed in the penalty box in the old Boston garden. The hospitality and hard work and effort of Beko BBL press secretary Dirk Kaiser is always immaculate. At that time, the arena was still as good as empty, but one already was having basketball thoughts dancing in the mind as to how the festivities could look like in the next hours.
The next order of business on the schedule in the Ludwigsburg arena was the autograph signing which started at 4:00 pm. This is a great time for the young kids to come face to face with their basketball hero´s, pose for photos and get that autograph that they may not have gotten after a loss since the player snuck out to the bus. Just seeing that special glow in the eyes of some of the seven and eight year olds can be a Kodak moment. It may be silly as an adult myself and knowing a majority of the players personally anyway to stand in line, but in that respect the kid in myself comes back to life as I was a fanatic autograph collecter as a kid and can totally remember how exciting it was waiting for players after games or in front of the team hotels to get that signature. The format in the Ludwigsburg arena was very relaxed as a round type of table was set up so two to three players could be present. Some players already had their cards signed while other players was signing them as the patrons were coming through. It is always nice to have a short friendly mingle with the players and get a feel to how they are enjoying the attention at that moment. The players were relaxed and seemed to be enjoying the attention. The most active table was with Bamberg players Marcus Slaughter, PJ Tucker and ex NBA player Bobby Brown. Slaughter and Tucker were the loudest joking around already ready for the slam dunk contest that was following. Not only the players are the stars, but also the team mascots are starting to get on the bandwagon with emphasizing publicity as Oldenburg mascot Hubird was also signing autographs on his autograph card. The 2011 Beko BBL MVP Dashaun Wood should have been next to teammate Derrick Allen signing autographes, but he was no where in sight. The news soon came that he was in Berlin nursing a minor injury that he had sustained in the Eurocup game loss in Treviso, Italy. Other guys like David Holston and Ricky Paulding were more reserved and were just sporting their big smiles as they could easily moonlight for Crest or Colgate commercials.
The Beko BBL Allstar game isn´t only a place to see the basketball stars and see their magic, but also a place to see people involved in the basketball world and be seen. As 5pm rolled around, more and more fans were entering the arena as well as more and more basketball personalities and people in the basketball scene were making their presence. It is always nice seeing people you might only see once or twice each season at the two games that are played between two teams. It was no surprise that players of EnBW Ludwigsburg would be in the arena. I spoted Alex Harris and David Mccray making the rounds in the arena as well as Jerry Green who made a visit in the press room shortly before the start of the Beko BBL Allstar game at 20:30 to grant a interview request. Dragon Dojcin made the long journey form Trier to root on his teammates Maik Zirbes and Philipp Zwiener. Ex Artland Dragan manager Marko Beens was mingling despite having left the club to become the CEO of the German Vollyball league. EnBW Ludwigsburg sport director Mario Probst was sporting a huge smile despite the current woes of the club and the announcement that center John Bowler is lost for the season due to a knee injury didn´t sweeten the excitement of the Allstar game either for him. Members of PRO A team Crailsheim were in attendance as well as Mitteldeutscher BC manager Martin Geissler that continues to do what he can to bring the Wolves back to the Beko BBL next year. 1993 European champion Hansi Gnad was high up in the rafters enjoying the festivities as well es ex LTi Giessen 46er sport director Vladi Bogojevic. NBC head coach Derrick Taylor was sporting his big smile and was watching his son David Taylor in the NBBL game. Despite the extremely difficult season of BG Goettingen who are suffering as badly as if Skyliner mascot Dunking Kong was being held captured in the dungeon of Toby the Dragan are in 18th place,but CEO Marc Franz isn´t sinking his head and continues to bleed the purple colours of his organization as he was not difficult to spot with his purple sport coat. Ex North Carolina star Ademola Okulaja was in attendance as was Skyliner legend Pascal Roller who drew the 2012 Beko BBL cup games before the game. A guest that never misses an Allstar game is ratiopharm Ulm manager Thomas Stoll who was flattered by my persistent lauding of the success of his team, but knowing his love for the game, there is no basketball team official in the Beko BBL that is more on top of the world than him right now. He was there with head coach Thorsten Leibenath who was busy scouting the NBBL Allstar game and his player Andreas Wenzel. Henrik Rodel was also watching the kids show their talent as was FC Bayern Munich sport director Marko Pesic. Darius Hall was running around the arena being his usual jovial self and seemed perplexed when three little girls asked him three times who he was even though he kept saying Darius Hall. He also was putting bogus rumors into the world over the Beko BBL twiter account, but soon the secret was lifted as a gag.
The NBBL Allstar game followed at 5:00 pm. I couldn´t follow it, because I was doing interviews with players, but the South prevailed 58-51. Top scorer of the south and one of the biggest talents in the game with FC Bayern Munich player Bogdan Radosavljevic with 12 points and seven rebounds. Paul Zipser who is another one of those German players that has a big career in front of him contributed 12 points as well. Top scorer for the north team was Leon Tolksdorf with 11 points, 11 rebounds and four steals. Derrick Taylor son David finished with six points, two rebounds and two assists and 18 year old German point guard talent Dennis Schroeder that is getting minutes with the New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig produced six points , two rebounds and three assists. The shooting was mediocre for both teams under 40%, but one can´t expect too much from this game simply because for many of the young players, it is the first time that they are presenting their goods on such a huge stage and so many important basketball figures from teams watching that nerves can play a significant role.
The three point shooting contest followed. This was a very interesting competition as it had some strong sharp shooters including a former winner with BBC Bayreuth guard Osvaldo Jeanty as well as 2004 Detroit Pistons draft pick Rickey Pualding who seems to have more of a knack for hitting three pointers with a hand in his eye, always dangerous sniper Johannes Strasser, former Jon Leuer teammate at Wisconsin Keaton Nankivil who recently hit a back breaking buzzer beater against FC Bayern Munich and former Chevon Troutman teammate at Pittsburgh Donatas Zavackas. I would of put my money on Jeanty, but one should never count out a guy who has a home game which Zavackas had. In the final round, the competition was tight, but Zavackas kept the title in Ludwigsburg as he won it on the last try netting 17 three pointers from downtown.
Next on the bill was the highly anticipated slam dunk contest. The judges were 2008 cup winner with Artland Darius Hall, 1993 European champion Stephen Baeck, EnBW Ludwigsburg coach Steven Key and Ion Nicolau who was the first coach of the first ever Beko BBL Allstar game in 1987. Telekom Baskets Bonn forward Tony Gaffney was quite confident an hour before the show as he told me that he had something crazy planned with Heko Schaffartzik who was his teammate last season with Turk Telekom. However Gaffney had no idea who Salu Benjamin Tadi was who was the amateur that had won last year. Also in the competition was Marcus Slaughter, amateur Stephan Mueller and Isiah Swann and Maik Zirbes who had to jump in for TBB Trier guard John Bynum and EnBW Ludwigsburg guard Mark Dorris that had to cancel due to minor injuries. It is always refreshing to witness innovative ideas with the dunks as well as with the dunk costumes. Maik Zirbes got the crowd going early as he took the mask/head of the TBB Trier mascot Aggi Mock and dunked. It wasn´t easy with the weight, but he did a good job. Slaughter had some entertaining dunks with help from teammate PJ Tucker giving him crisp lobs. Amatuer Stephan Mueller had his problems, but it was all in good fun and the crowd got a laugh as fake angel wings were plastered on his back to help his dunking. Slaughter had showed some crashing dunks this season, but was unable to reach the final. In the final were Tadi, Swann and Gaffney. Gaffney might not have won the dunk contest, but he stole the show a bit from Tadi with two spectacular and creative dunks. The first, he flew over Heiko Schaffartzik like his favorite college player back in the day would have with Marcus Camby as the German was sitting on a chair reading a newspaper. However his next dunk stole the show as Schaffartzik went about 15 rows up in the stands and lobbed the ball on the court and the American took the first bounce and jammed the ball at home. Little kids got big eyes when they saw Schaffartzik climbing high into the stands with the basketball and the only thing missing was for the little ones to do the Kevin Home alone crazy look. However there was no getting by Tadi who dunked over five kids and as an encore had a kid have the ball like on a servers dish and Tadi flew over him taking the ball and jamming it home for his second win in a row.
At 20.30 started the 2012 Beko BBL allstar game. It was my seventh live radio broadcast and calling a game like this is always a lot of fun since there is no pressure for a team to win, but every one is just having fun somehow hiding that competitive spirit just a little bit. The Beko BBL decided to go back to an old format of having Germany play against the international stars. This time, one could of called the game Germany against USA as no other international player from another country was chosen. S.Oliver baskets Wurzburg center Jason Boone was speculating with a good game for Germany having the edge, while John Bynum and Dane Watts were going with the Red, white and blue. This format had only taken place three times from 1996-1998 and each time, team international won, but the games were always close and were decided in the three games by only a total of 22 points. If anyone was expecting a romp by team USA , they were in for a big surprise as it was team Germany that dominated the game from the get go that had comfortable leads throughout until the third quarter where team USa tied the game at 73-73. Even though team USA had been practicing distinct plays in the morning shoot around, team Germany were just laughing around and staying relaxed, but it was team USA that seemed nervous and almost afraid of losing during the game. For Team USA to have lost would have been a big embarrassment and for long stretches it seemed like Team Germany would prevail and have bragging rights for a whole year. Team Germany played very intelligent team basketball while Team USA seemed lethargic at times having big problems finding a flow and rhythm. An entertaining moment in the game was when ratiopharm Ulm teammates Per Guenther and John Bryant made back to back baskets. In the days leading up to the game there had been friendly trash talk by the two players seen on videos, but during these two plays there was only smiles and brotherly like love. Guenther posted up against Bryant and either knew a secret how to be successful that no one else knew in the arena except for the basketball god or was just totally outright crazy. However the young German national player made a running hook shot over the big man that would have made former Skyliner Ilian Evtimov proud who had practiced that shot with ease in his Frankfurt days. On the next play Bryant came back and dropped a three pointer over Guenther. However, even though the game was tight and Germany seemed t be in control, it was team USA that had the better nerves and luck in crunch time to get the win. Chris Fleming took the needed timeouts to give his team the right advice and might even have gotten something vital from his dad who was sitting by his side on the bench sporting a matching outfit that Fleming and his assistant Arne Woltman had on. Down the stretch, it was John Bryant that took control getting big buckets and just showing his beast self under the boards. German national player Heiko Schaffartzik kept team Germany in the game with some of his usual crazy big bombs, but Team USA closed out the game with a 5-0 run as the game was tied at 84-84 as ex Toronto Raptor PJ Tucker hit a jumper and put icing on the cake with an ally-op stuff sending the fans home with one last dose of sweetenss. Team USA was led by 2012 Beko BBL MVP John Bryant who had 23 points points and nine rebounds. Chevon Troutman added 15 points and nine rebounds. PJ Tucker had 14 points and Bobby Brown chipped in with 13 points. Team Germany was led by Heiko Schaffartzik with 15 points, seven assists and four rebounds. The two big men Maik Zirbes and NBA draft pick Tibor Pleiss added 14 points a piece. Germany played a very spirited game and have nothing to hide. Despite losing in the last minute, all one can say is, wait until next year. It was bitter though that Germany gave up such a big chance not to beat Team USA which would have been a giant accomplishment to brag to their grand children one day. All in all, it was another great show put on by the Beko BBL and one can only look forward to the 2013 game which I hope will be in the new ratiopharm Ulm arena.