I’m not entirely one for social media offseason content. I’ll glance, but it’s not like I’m vigorously trawling live feeds for photos of James Harden deadlifting or of milkbods-before versus skim-milkbods-after.
Rico Hines and his NBA summer pick-up runs, though, are different.
Maybe it’s just my Old Millennial-self that didn’t really appreciate the existence of this content. Or, maybe, my hunger for the NBA, generally, and the Toronto Raptors, specifically, has grown so fiendishly that I’ve begun salivating like Pavlov’s dog at the mere mention of a morsel of NBA hoops – disgruntled player drama doesn’t count.
Either way, thank goodness for the Rico Hines runs.
If you still don’t know – you’re forgiven – Rico is a player development coach who – I’m sure he’s renown within inner professional basketball circles for other specialities – is best known to us content-craving fans for his summer pick-up games with NBAers.
He is also now, officially, a Toronto Raptors coach.
(BY THE WAY: Chalk one up to Raptors executives…again.
With a simple signing, they:
A. Overtook one of the bigger pick-up scenes in the NBA offseason.
B. Got their brand out there in a major way – Rico was handing out Raptors Ts like he’s a Red Bull promoter babe. And,
C. Most importantly, got all their players, prospects (Banton, DJ Wilson, Champagnie, Koloko, Gabe Brown, and Jeff Dowtin), and prospective prospects (Jarrett Culver, Jalen Harris…Jake Layman[?]) to hoop with the likes of Steph Curry, James Harden, and Paul George.
Now, before you lecture me like “dude, don’t overreact about some stupid half-assed runs. Just cause Koloko’s running P&R with Sweat Pants Freddy doesn’t mean he’s gonna be in the rotation.” I know, okay.
Just cause I watch elves leap tree to tree in Lord of the Rings doesn’t mean I think they’ve got a whole civilization thriving in the nearby rainforest. (Though, I really like how Scottie’s dribbling squared-up has gotten tighter, and did you see Koloko block a hundred people, Oh, and Gary looked like he might win 3-point champion this year…and, when are we going to sign Jarrett Culver already…!?).
And David Thorpe, another player development guru, of TrueHoop, had similar harrumph sentiment when, on The Raptors Show with Will Lou, Thorpe explained he’d rather his players do high-intensity drills than play haphazard pickup games where no one’s going 100%. He’s concerned that should they succeed too much, their motivation to work harder would diminish.
Alright, Coach and Oren, do we think, maybe, we’re overreacting a bit too much to the overreactions?
I think there’s something to be said for testing out newly-acquired skills and newly-grown physical traits in a live setting against peers – whether that’s 75% or 90%. These guys know it’s different in the League; I’m not sure they’re out-of-touch enough to think that should they dominate summer games they’re suddenly finito for training.
This is a place to experiment outside of a vacuum and get a feel for some of the game speed and physicality. Nothing more. (In fact, in the last video below, Earl Watson addresses that concern quite vigourously).
But that’s neither here nor there.
BECAUSE I AM HERE FOR THE CONTENT ANYWAY.
One. How fun is it to see NBA players quazi-behind the scenes? To watch them hoop entirely removed from their celebrity.
With NBA games, it’s like watching actors in a movie. They might as well be playing in a far and distant realm. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. They’re just so goddamn good and big and popular, I see nothing of myself in them – keep your jokes to yourselves, readers.
But here, in these runs, they’re more like us. They get up, eat some random shit in the fridge, throw on some random gear they think looks fresh, fart, head to a local gym – maybe carpool – pick teams, and game.
In these moments, whoever and wherever we are, we’re all just hoopin’.
And I love that.
Which leads me to point two.
Rico is a patron saint of hoops. Players make pilgrimage to his games; he blesses them with every hoarse yell of encouragement and loving pat on the bum. His joy intrinsically tied to their success and their success intrinsically tied to his love.
It’s not just Rico’s leadership that they – and we – get to rejoice in.
Post-runs, come the speeches. Rico’s first. He dolls out a whopping scoop of “tough love”, barely – he talks tough, but he can’t help smile and hug everyone when it’s all over with. When he’s done gushing, no-bullshit Earl Watson comes in hot, waltzing in for a post-game soliloquy that sends everyone home with a fire in their belly.
Exhibit A: Earl comes outta thin air spicier than when you forget you sliced a jalapeño and then wipe your eye or, worse, go for a pee…:
Exhibit B: I freaking love when he shouts out “Wall” at the end to honour John Wall’s return from a much too long hiatus that included a lot of physical and mental challenges along the way. (Also, stick it out to hear from cutey-pie, shy Pascal).
Exhibit C: Another goodie.
Again, why I love these. It’s rare to get to see an NBA coach give realtalk. Stupid corny coach soundbites on cable is STUPID.
Earl gives it straight. Rico does too: he tells some dudes “don’t come back [to the runs]”. Then Lou Will gives props to a Wizard prospect who I don’t recognize, then Rico gives the prospect props, then takes it away, then says you gonna be “alright”. It’s all raw.
Man, it also shows you what these players go through and how important leadership and honesty and support is along the way. Another fun, little tidbit – pay attention players and coaches – Earl explains why they play to 7, 1’s only, in the runs.
Following that up, you get the vets talking.
That’s one of the greatest value ads these runs give players – and that neither Oren nor Coach Thorpe talk about…dooo theyyy?
First, you play against special dudes like Trae, Steph, and Pascal and tough son-of-guns dudes like Dray and Pat Bev. And then you get to hear from them all afterwards.
You see leadership in all its colours: Pascal is all mumble and humble; Paul George straight and encouraging; Dray is, well you know…Dray (poor, Gabe Brown, a fellow MSU alum, gets called out explicitly); Steph educational; Pooh Jeter, who you may not know, is a testament to the grind in all its horrible glory; you even get sage wisdom from former NBA great, Baron Davis.
I ball and I coach because as much as I love the sport itself, I’m enlivened by the way it brings people and me together. I’m no social ladybug fluttering from one shoulder to another. I rely on the environments where everyone has gathered for the same purpose and with, more or less, the same values.
Hoops is my mycelium network. It’s where we understand one another. Where we nurture one another – by teamwork or by competition. And where we grow together.
Runs like Rico Hines’ – or at the local park or the nearby gym – is where the sport’s foundation is built and where it flourishes. That’s why I love these videos. Cause I’m a sappy, hooper.
Welcome to Toronto, Rico.
On the note of love and hoops and togetherness.
The Ringer’s NBA writer, Jonathan Tjarks, was diagnosed with some horrific, unremitting kind of cancer a while back. After surgery and treatment, he’s now entered hospice.
For those of you who did not read or listen to Tjarks, he’s a freaking basketball genius. His knowledge of college and the NBA made The Ringer NBA content a must-consume. He was steadfast in the positionless game of hoops before it was realized as the real deal and was caustically-silly and analytically-precise. I miss reading his stuff a lot.
Send out your good vibes to him and his family. If you want to do more, they’ve set up a GOFUNDME for donations.
Love to you all.