They couldn’t be more worlds apart. One sport is played by lean, leaping giants, throwing a round ball into a small hoop with five-man teams running end-to-end on shiny wooden floor boards. The other is played by tough, rugged warriors trying to kick an impossible egg-shaped ball over a grass paddock 180 meters long through two big wooden sticks. These are my two favourite sports in the world, with the most unique athletes in the world, and the NBA and AFL are the leagues that showcase them. (For any non-Aussies wondering what AFL footy is, this classic ad featuring none other than Mr. Hakeem Olajuwon will give you some idea):
To me, basketball is a pure expression of athleticism. It is so simple – running, jumping and throwing – yet it yields the most spectacular results you can imagine. There may be a “court” but the game is played in the air. There may be “positions” but a player’s creativity is boundless. There may be “offense” and “defense” but each player is completely accountable for both – a principle that is lost on most other team sports (NFL, AFL, Soccer). I can think of no other sport where the best scorers in the game can also be the best defenders, yet the NBA is full of these candidates (Kobe, Duncan, KG to name a few). Why does this matter? You might think it doesn’t, but to me there is a level of competitiveness, a level of greatness, that is only achieved when a player is truly dominant in every aspect of a sport. That dominance may be more easily achieved in individual sports such as golf and tennis, but it’s rare in team sports simply because you normally have 4, 10, or 17 other team mates helping you out. There is a reason Michael Jordan is one of the greatest athletes of all time, and I believe this is the reason (as well as the fact he could fly and shoot free-throws with his eyes closed)
Secondly, the athletes in the NBA defy gravity and logic. Look at a guy like Tracy McGrady. At 6’8” he is tall enough to be an AFL ruckman, a towering fast bowler, or a serve-smashing tennis player. But these three examples share one thing in common – the ruckman, fast bowler, and big tennis player are all usually considered athletically awkward and immobile sportsmen (Peter Everitt, Curtly Ambrose, and Mark Philippoussis come to mind). Tracy McGrady on the other hand is one of the most explosive and fluid moving athletes you’ll ever see. I know we’re comparing apples to oranges, but can you imagine an AFL ruckman turning on a dime, driving baseline, launching himself at the ring then double-clutching as he goes off glass for the reverse? Can you imagine them doing this? Can you see Ambrose or Philippoussis moving like that? (and keep in mind they’re only 6’7” and 6’5” respectively).
While NBA players may be the most freakish athletes in the world, AFL players are without doubt the most skillful. There is a difference. AFL players use their hands for marking, handballing, and defending. They use their feet for scoring and passing. They are forced to run long distances while bouncing an oval shaped ball knowing that an opposition player can legally spear tackle them at any second. The game is played on the ground (diving for loose balls, tackling) and in the air (taking speccys, spoiling marks, ruck contests). The game is probably the most physical sport in the world where padding and helmets aren’t use – you need strength, skill and finesse, but you need to be able to survive a belting. Can you imagine an NBA player surviving this, let alone getting straight back up? In a nutshell, Australian Rules Football has to be one of the hardest sports in the world to play, if not the hardest. The average AFL player might be shorter, slower off the mark with a smaller vertical than an NBA player, but they are tougher, have brilliant foot skills, and far greater endurance. Of course there are always your outliers – Ben Wallace would be one scary centre half-back that could floor anyone in a tackle, while Iverson already rides enough bumps on the hardwood to slip into an AFL midfield. Which got me thinking… How would the most physically gifted athletes in the world adapt to the toughest, hardest sport in the world to play?
With the Grand Final just days away and the All-Australian team just announced, what better time to name my All-NBA AFL Team – the first EVER named team of NBA players to step onto the hallowed turf of the MCG, ready to tackle the Australian code of football.
Note: we obviously have to tuck away some skepticism here – NBA players do not kick the ball, nor are they used to an oval-shaped ball. For the sake of this blog (and some fun), lets assume they’ve got the kicking part of the game down pat.
MY ALL-NBA AFL TEAM
(click for full-sized image)
The final line of defense in Aussie Rules, the backmen match up against the opposition’s best forwards every week. These are the most defensively minded players on an AFL field. They rarely move beyond the defensive 50, they don’t kick goals – they only stop them.
Gerald Wallace: Here is your flying fearless full-back, willing to throw himself into any contest, quick off the mark and mercurial in the air. Gerald Wallace probably owns the record for “Most self-induced injuries as a result of complete disregard for personal bodily harm”. The guy tries to block every shot even if he ends up blatantly fouling the guy or getting dunked on. He goes for every steal even if it means over-playing his man. He launches himself for rebounds, put-backs, and dunk attempts when he has no right to. His defensive recklessness reminds me a bit of Steven Silvagni, a rubber-man who managed to get his hands to every contest even if it meant going to hospital (this clip is both sickening and hilarious). Wallace is big enough (at 6’7”) to take on the likes of Fevola, Rocca and Lloyd in the air and fast enough on his feet to deny them open space – plus you just know he’d be a fan favourite with that classic porn-star ‘mo. Unfortunately I can just see him launching over every pack for the big spoil or mark, leaving his opponents to easy pickings on the ground. Still, he’ll be helped out by his two trusty back-pocketers…
Ron Artest: You have to include Ron Artest in any All-NBA AFL team for two reasons: 1) You won’t find a more physically aggressive and angry man in the NBA (which sane person would challenge Ben Wallace to a boxing match?) who can channel his energy into completely shutting down his opponent and 2) If Ron Artest found out there was an All-NBA AFL team and you didn’t pick him, he’d come and pound your face in. If Gerald Wallace is the Silvagni of the team, Ron Artest is the Glen Archer. He is tough, he won’t take shit, and he will get in your head. You might think having two 6’7” guys in the backline is unnecessary, but with most forward lines these days having the option of two bigs (Gehrig and Riewoldt, Franklin and Roughead, Mooney and Ottens, etc.) it would be an absolute luxury having these two. By the end of the game I guarantee you that Artest would have either punched his opponent, frustrated his opponent into getting punched himself, or punched a fan for throwing an empty beer cup on to the field. Either way it’s entertaining footy.
Raja Bell: With Artest and Wallace intimidating the big forwards, who is going to man up on the pesky little goal sneaks? The Stephen Milnes, the Jeff Farmers, the Shannon Grants of the league? The perfect man for the job is Raja Bell who happens to excel in getting under the skin of goal sneaks (such as Kobe). At 6’5” Bell would still be classed as a “big” defender, but having guarded the likes of Wade, Iverson and Parker, clearly foot speed is not an issue. He is quick enough to stay with the forward pocket players, and more importantly, has that nasty streak of self-pride – you just know nothing would eat Raja up more than seeing a fist-pumping Stephen Milne after fluking a boundary line snap. He’s a born defender, and he would do anything in his powers to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The half back line breeds a very different type of player to the classic full backs. While the likes of Wallace, Artest and Bell can afford to be more one-on-one defensive players, the half backs play the linking role that turns defense into attack.
Ben Wallace: Hard to go past this hulking brute of a man for the centre half back position. At 6’9” (2.06m – taller than most ruckman in the AFL) Big Ben would be big enough and strong enough to take on the likes of Pavlich, Brown and Barry Hall (the thought of a guy bigger and stronger than Barry Hall is a bit scary). Ben is deceptively quick off the mark and for years was used to trailing the fast break in Detroit and finishing with the ferocious put-back slam. Obviously he won’t be suited to the smaller, more agile forwards but you could easily switch him into the ruck if there were match-up problems. Everything about Ben Wallace is defensive – he probably boxes-out his children at the breakfast table – but just like in the NBA, it’s his attacking skills that would let him down. If anything, Ben is a centre half-back who would be hesitant to drift forward, and this could be exploited by someone like a Jonathon Brown who likes to move up the ground.
Josh Smith: Josh Smith epitomizes everything that a half-forward flanker should be. More than any other NBA player, Josh Smith launches defense directly into attack – and in style. Whether it’s the big block, defensive rebound or steal, it will usually end up with Smith putting someone on a poster at the other end. His footy alter-ego would undoubtedly be “Leaping” Leo Barry who makes the big defensive stops and then just runs like a homeless guy at a buffet. Smith would provide that run and probably end up attacking a little too much judging by his finishing ability on the fast break. He has the size to be switched on to the big centre half forwards and adds a little more athleticism and speed than Ben at that position. And as for his leap? I can only imagine what it looks like to see a 6’10” guy mark a footy fifteen feet in the air. “Leaping” Josh Smith indeed.
Shane Battier: There are only a few guys in the NBA who I would say are already built as AFL footballers. Shane Battier is one of them. He’s got that barrel-chested, stocky build that makes you think he’d be great on a pub crawl, and even better in a pub brawl. I reckon he’s been secretly downing the VBs in the off-season while racing greyhounds at the Memphis dog track. Probably not, but he’s one hell of a defender in the NBA, and he could put that solid frame to good use in the physical game of AFL footy. With a lower centre of gravity than his half backline counterparts, Battier gets the job on those half forward flankers who like to run and goal. The only problem is he wouldn’t quite be quick enough – I can’t see him chasing down a Corey Jones or Alan Didak as they stream into goal. That is probably a criticism that can be leveled at all these NBA defenders – while they’d be good leapers, strong in one-on-one contests and quick off the mark, but they’d struggle with the sustained running that AFL footballers do in their sleep. With the exception of Bell, most of these defenders would lack the ground skills once the ball hits the deck (it’s a long way down from 6’7”) and a team loaded with quicker, small forwards (i.e. the Doggies) would exploit this weakness. But that’s what the interchange is for, and the All-NBA AFL Team does have a couple of pocket-rockets sitting on the bench.
It’s the middle of the ground so it has the most traffic going through it. These guys might be called upon to drift back in defense, kick goals running forward, or tag an opposition superstar. They are play makers who can break a game open with their dashing run or use their creativity to set up teammates. There’s a reason why guys like Adam Goodes, Scott West and Simon Black are legends of the game and Brownlow winners – they are centres and they get a lot of the ball. (One could argue they’re ruck rovers but there isn’t much of a difference these days – the rovers tend to stay close to the stoppages; centres, or midfielders, will usually hang off the play a little more).
Allen Iverson: Here is your archetypal AFL midfielder; a fast and fearless runner, a clever distributor of the ball and dangerous going into attack. Out of all NBA players Iverson would adjust quickest to the AFL game – he actually quarterbacked his High School’s football team to the State Championship, which they won. You cannot overlook these qualifications when choosing an All-NBA AFL team. The kind of vision and anticipation you need over the 50-100 meter distances on an AFL ground is enormous compared to the confined boundaries on a basketball court. Iverson would have that vision, and combined with his bursts of speed and natural goal-scoring instincts I can see him rounding into an Akermanis-type midfielder. He even has the crazy facial/head-hair combo thing going on. Iverson is one of the most durable NBA players and has taken a beating more than any other guard over the last ten years. But if he did need a break from the rigors of the Aussie Rules midfield, you could easily accommodate him in the forward pocket where he’d have plenty of chances to snap those freaky Akermanis goals we love to see (and knowing AI, he’s probably got the hand-stand down pat too).
Andre Iguodala: There is a type of centre-man who has evolved in AFL footy over the past five or so years – the taller, stronger, more athletic midfielder whose combination of size and speed means they can play virtually anywhere on a footy field. These are the Adam Goodes, Brett Burtons, and Anthony Koutoutfides of the world. The All-NBA AFL team’s answer to this role is Andre Iguodala, a jack-of-all-trades on the basketball court with an almost surreal athletic ability (does any one dunk the ball harder than Iggy?). While he may not have the playmaker instinct that Iverson does, he wouldn’t really need to. Iguodala is there for the quick bursts of speed out of a pack, the footy palmed in one hand, the other fending off his would-be tacklers (tell me you can’t imagine him actually doing that in the AFL?). Like Goodes and Kouta you can stick him on the half-back line where his natural defensive instincts would thrive, but he’d also be handy in the goal square for the hanging speccy. Andre Iguodala is in that class of NBA players “too freakish not to have on your team”. Proof of that is he stuffs the stat sheet every game – he averaged 18-5-5 last season and was 4th in steals – yet some people still don’t think he’s that good. It’s almost too easy for Iguodala to rack up those numbers – in the AFL he’d be a possession winning machine.
Steve Nash: If Iverson is the Akermanis of the team and Iguodala is the Goodes, then Steve Nash is the Scott West of the All-NBA AFL Team. The resemblances are uncanny. They were both born in 1974, Nash has been named to five All-NBA Teams – West to five All-Australian Teams, Nash leads the NBA in assists while West leads the AFL in handballs, last season they were both heralded as being in “career best form” despite their age, and they both have the exact same number of letters in their name (9). More importantly, they both play the game in the same way. They are unselfish players with a sixth sense for reading the play, they aren’t athletically gifted yet are still better than most young guns at their position, and they’re both very humble, unassuming characters on the field. Nash’s one weakness would be his fitness; he struggles with 40-45 minutes of court time so I doubt he could run all day like Scotty West can. But his smarts and passing ability would be too valuable to leave off the field – I can imagine him pottering around the packs and setting up play with the sweeping handball similar to Greg Williams later in his career (who barely did any running). Oh, and did I mention that Nash was an excellent soccer player early in his career? He was named British Columbia’s Most Valuable Player when his college soccer team won the provincial championships. An ex-champion quarterback AND soccer player in the same team? This midfield has it all.
The traditional centre half-forward was once thought to be the most important key position on the footy field. But they’ve become a bit of a dying breed, as Vossy wrote back in July: “Most attacking sides will try to open it up [the centre half-forward position] as much as possible, either for the deep leading forward to work into or for the midfielders to run through. Most defensive sides will try to clog it up as much as possible.” It’s true that the lines between forwards and half-forwards have been blurred over the recent years, but the criteria for your half-forward line is still obvious: the center half-forward needs to be a strong mark and can comfortably kick goals from 55m out, while your half-forward flankers need to be effective at goaling on the run – that much is clear from the Johnson-Brown-Harvey half-forward line from this year’s All-Australian Team.
Kobe Bryant: You knew Kobe was going to get a guernsey somewhere. The most talented player in the NBA (and in my opinion, of all time) would probably adapt to any sport – indeed, he grew up in Italy playing soccer and would have tried to go pro if not for moving back to the states and falling in love with basketball. What makes me think Kobe could adapt to the AFL? The Challenge. Kobe is the most intensely competitive sports star I’ve come across (along with Jordan) who never backs down from a challenge – quite the opposite, he thrives on it. It’s no coincidence that his four-straight 50 point game outburst came after the media questioned his fair play on the basketball court and started to label him “dirty”. It’s no coincidence that after throwing up those three airballs against the Jazz in the ’97 playoffs he subsequently went on to become one of the most clutch players of all time. It’s no coincidence that when he flew back from Colorado during the rape trial and arrived just before tip-off in Game 4 of the ’04 Western Semi Conf Finals, running on no sleep, he went on to score 42 in a performance that prompted Shaq to say he’s “probably the best player that ever played the game”. So if you told Kobe there was no way he’d learn to play the game of Aussie Rules Football, he’d go out and practice his ass off until he became the best footy player you’d ever seen. I put him on the half-forward flank because it allows Kobe to demonstrate his natural attacking ability, but also gives him more of a chance to create than a forward-pocket role (plus you just know Kobe would love the idea of being able to score beyond 50). Kobe is a big guy by AFL standards (at 6’7”) but he moves like a cat and would give his tall defenders real problems. I can see him as a slightly taller Buddy Franklin, with a better vertical. Scary.
Lebron James: This is your man at centre half-forward. So far this All-NBA AFL team has a good mix of athletes, distributors, and muscle-men. Lebron James is all of them rolled into one. Right now he’s only 22 years of age, and judging by his physique I think he learnt to bench-press before he learnt the alphabet. Along with Battier and Ben Wallace, James is one of the few NBA guys that might come off best from a hip ‘n shoulder. To give you some of idea of his size, he’s a couple of centimeters taller than David Hille (who is one big dude) and five kilograms heavier. But he doesn’t move like David Hille (check this – #6 is ridiculous). At centre half forward I expect Lebron to provide a strong marking target – he’ll probably get the opposition’s best tall defender which just makes Kobe’s job easier. But unlike Kobe, Lebron has a far more selfless attitude so I’d expect to see a lot of handballs and goal assists – he’s basically the opposite to Scott Lucas who would shoot for goal even if Godzilla was standing in the goal square eating his team mates. Lebron is young and fit, meaning he can move his defender up the ground giving his full-forward more room to lead in to (and what a full-forward that is). Just like in the NBA, Lebron doesn’t need to be scoring a lot of goals to be effective – his physical presence and team attitude alone would be invaluable.
Tony Parker: You know the Stall Gift sprint that is run at the ‘G’ on Grand Final day? The one that Fevola somehow won last year? If the All-NBA AFL team had to register a player for this event, it would be none other than Tony Parker. Often quoted as being the quickest player in the NBA, Tony Parker can run a basketball court, while dribbling, in about four seconds. According to my calculations that means he could run from the backline to the forward fifty in under ten seconds. That is quick, Aaron Davey quick. Every half-forward line needs a lightning fast runner who can stream through the ground and goal on the run – Parker is that player. His speed combined with his smarts (he is a point guard remember) means TP has the ultimate balance of attack/create that most goal-hungry little men lack. This gives the coach the luxury of playing Parker further up the ground or on the ball (like Davey sometimes does) where his vision and unselfish instincts can help kick start his team’s offense. You’d basically need to tag him no matter where he plays. Thanks to his European background Parker was brought up playing soccer so you just know those foot skills are waiting to be reawakened. What’s that I hear you say? TP would get knocked around like a pinball in the AFL? He may appear tiny amongst NBA giants, but Parker has 11 centimeters and 15 kilograms on Aaron Davey (his build is actually more similar to Simon Black’s, who is a decent sized AFL player). What’s more, you just know Sam Newman would have a ripper one-liner (or two) ready for Eva’s debut appearance on the Footy Show. Yep, lets get TP down here.
It’s the glamour position on the AFL field. The position where goals are scored, speccys are ripped from the heavens, and game-winning plays are made. It’s everything an NBA shooting guard would love, and you don’t even have to play defense. I can hear Vince Carter signing up for the Blues as we speak…
Manu Ginobili: Tell me Manu Ginobili isn’t the exact NBA alter ego of Alan Didak? They look the same, both play in the same black-and-white jerseys, both have that freakish ability to bend and weave with the ball, and both have the talent to make ridiculous plays that will genuinely piss off opposition fans. Didak does it with his miraculous boundary line snaps and almost spookish goal sense, while Ginobili does it with his crazy circus shots and deceptive hang-time – this is still one of the most underrated dunks of recent history (watch it in real time, it’s more fun). Ginobili has that rare (and flat-out weird) talent of being able to move sideways just as fast as he moves forward. As if he wouldn’t be the hardest guy to tackle on an AFL field? I’m telling you, I want Ginobili on my All-NBA AFL team. I want him for those Daicos moments, those highlight reel plays, those tackle-evading sneaky snaps. If he’s as good at those as Didak is, I’ll be a happy man. And that is saying something because I hate Alan Didak.
Amare Stoudemire: Ok I said Ben Wallace was a “hulking brute of a man”, that Iguodala was “too freakish not to have on your team”, that Kobe was the “most talented” and that Lebron was everything rolled into one. But like I said in my Dream Team blog a few days back, Amare Stoudemire is another breed of human. I struggle doing comparisons for Amare Stoudemire… I think I stopped in his rookie season. If you put Shaq in a vice and squeezed him down to 6’10”, injected his legs with Flubber and taught him to shoot, then fed him Viagara for ten days while he was locked up in solitary confinement I think he would come out looking like Amare Stoudemire – a bouncing, raging ball of power and fury. Amare sits #1 on both my ‘Dunks to officially signal the end of a player’s career’ and ‘Dunks with best team mate reaction’ lists for this monster. I know Olowokandi never really did anything up to that point, but since that dunk I think he actually disappeared. Does anyone know where the Kandi man is these days? Seriously, if you do then please call his folks because they’re worried.
On the footy field Amare would have plenty of chances to unleash his fury without having to worry about flagrant fouls, ejections or Joey Crawford. At 6’10” there is no full back in the AFL big enough to handle him – you’d double-team him with your ruckman and hope for the best. Similar to his NBA counterparts, while Amare seems to explode on the court in bursts (oh c’mon I’ve put the Viagara jokes behind me) this loses effectiveness over the dimensions of an AFL field. He would be your sit-in-the-goal-square full forward, Tony Locket styles except black with more height and less mullet. The one other reason why Amare will feast on goals every week? His main-man and basketball bride Steve Nash will be delivering the ball. We’re not in Phoenix anymore Amare… but it’s close.
Stephon Marbury: When picking my All-NBA AFL squad I wanted it to have some character, as well as all-round skill and ability. The kind of character the Blues have when Lance “Titnall” Whitnall stumbles out of the backline, or when Russell Robertson tries to make a speccy out of absolutely nothing, or when Richo spits the dummy at his delinquent team mates (which by the way our household has enshrined with a “Richo Wall” – a memorial dedicated to photos of Matthew Richardson looking really upset or totally fucking up, of which there are plenty). In short, I needed Stephon Marbury. I needed a guy who will go spouting to the media “I am the best point guard in the league” or “I’m going back to being Starbury” (both of which are comments Marbury actually made). I needed a guy who can walk around with an ego twenty times larger than his skill, but still have enough skill to make the big plays when it matters. I needed a guy who will go right up to the opposition crowd and stick it to them with a completely over the top post-goal victory celebration. You could argue I’ve been describing Jeff Farmer, and that is exactly what I need. I want the NBA’s equivalent of Jeff Farmer, and I want him in all his fist-pumping, bad-mouthing, nightclub-fighting glory. Imagine Marbury in a role where he doesn’t have to pass to team mates, doesn’t have to be a leader, doesn’t even have to play defense. That right there nullifies Marbury’s three terminal weaknesses on the basketball court. Plus he gets to start fights whenever he wants to (there’s a reason why he’s in the forward line and not down back near Artest) so it’s really the perfect role for him. I think Stephon Marbury would love AFL footy.
The engine room of an AFL team, the Ruck features the “followers” who funnily enough, follow the ball around the ground. Traditionally these positions are called the Ruckman, Ruck-rover, and Rover though the distinction of the later two has been blurred over the years.
David Lee: A ruck contest is one part of AFL football that has a direct counterpart in the NBA – the jump ball. While obviously not as physical, the ability to leap and tip the ball to a team mate would not be lost on most NBA players. And what better NBA player to have in your ruck contest than the tip-in master himself, David Lee. I can hear you asking “Has RobD lost his mind? What about Dwight, or Camby, or KG, or someone who actually has a vertical leap?” All those players crossed my mind, but Lee edges them out for the following reasons:
1) As mentioned he is the tip-in master, not only because of his buzzer-beater but because he does that stuff all the time. There was a time last season when a lot of people thought he was the best rebounder in the league – I asked Eze on the podcast (Episode 1) and he put him behind only Howard. But there’s a difference between a Dwight Howard rebound and a David Lee rebound. Dwight snatches rebounds like a lean tiger striking its prey in one swift blow. Lee snatches rebounds like a drunken buffalo ramming its prey head on. The buffalo scenario works better for AFL.
2) Lee is ambidextrous, and the ability to use right or left hands in an AFL ruck contest would be invaluable. Most ruckmen have a favoured hand which means they can easily get caught out of position when grappling at a ball-up. Combining his right-left versatility with his size (6,9”, 250 pounds), it would be tough to move David Lee out of position
3) He has one of the weirdest “tribute videos” i’ve ever seen
4) He looks like an AFL footballer. I can just see him on of those highlight vids from the 80’s hosted by Rex Hunt. He’s got a bit of fight in him, he’s one of the best hustle players in the league, and you just know he’d love laying tackles. He may not be a high-flyer by NBA standards, but tell me you’d want to see David Lee running at you full speed when the umpire bounces the ball to start play. I know I wouldn’t.
Rip Hamilton: One of the prerequisites of a rover is supreme fitness and endless running ability; an AFL on-baller can run over 10kms through the course of a game. When thinking of extremely fit NBA players who never stop moving, the player that immediately came to mind was Richard Hamilton. I still don’t think Rip would have anywhere near the endurance to run out an AFL game, but I don’t think any one else would come closer. Just as important as his fitness is the fact he never stops moving – he is widely regarded as being a brilliant off-the-ball mover (translation: he runs around a lot of Rasheed Wallace screens) and he has the best mid-range game in the league. That means he’s used to navigating through lots of traffic, making space for himself, and used to getting a lot of hands-on attention by opposition defenders (taggers) – these are all skills an AFL rover needs. Some might point to the fact that Rip is skinner than a bean pole and would snap in half soon as someone tackles him, and to those people I’d say “you’re right”. Rip is too skinny to be an AFL footballer, but he’s no different to a rookie coming into the AFL who needs bulking up. And besides, Rip would be more your “receiver” type rover than your “hard ball get” rover. He will be the guy circling the packs, or looking for the tip down from Lee. He won’t be the guy last to get up off the turf when fifteen players jump on the ball. That job is saved for the next guy…
Deron Williams (C): Deron is another one of those NBA players who looks built enough to survive the bumps and bruises of the AFL. In these last playoffs he did his Mike Bibby ala 2002 impersonation and proved himself as a gutsy, big-time performer who won’t back down (when it looks like most of his team mates were). From reading my playoff blog you probably got the idea that I jumped straight on the DW bandwagon and you’d be right. I didn’t notice him all that much throughout the regular season, I knew he was a solid contributor, but when the playoffs came around he stepped it up big time. This is why I want him on my team. I need a fearless competitor as an on-baller, with the vision and play-making ability to break a game open, and the poise and finish when crunch time comes. With Nash and Iverson already in the midfield, we have enough finesse and style running through the ground. DW is the diesel engine, the guts of the team, the no-nonsense footballer who leads by example. For this reason he gets the nod as Captain for my team, the same reasons as another famous AFL on-baller. Michael Voss never had the silky skills of Simon Black or the flair of Akermanis. But when it came to that crucial hard-ball get, that courageous spoil, or the inspirational goal, Vossy always delivered.
In other words, the bench. But an AFL bench is more important than an NBA bench because in the NBA your tenth, eleventh, and twelfth players might not get a run; in footy you need every interchange player to get out there.
Andrew Bogut: I think it goes without saying that Andrew Bogut has to be on this team, simply because he’s an Aussie and has probably kicked a footy more times than the rest of his team combined. Bogut would probably get the gig as a backup ruckman for Lee. He has already proved himself to be one of the better big-men passers in the NBA, and his natural ability to read the play would serve him well in the ruck. I can’t see him being athletic enough to play any other position, but as the sole Aussie on the team the crowd would be right behind him and that could make a difference if this team was to come up against actual AFL footballers (which would be a terribly one-sided affair).
Stephen Jackson: You have to include “Wacko” Jacko in this squad for the same reason as Artest: if he found out they were recruiting NBA players for a sport where you can shirtfront people and get away with it, and you didn’t pick him, he’d knife you. I mean, look at him. Look at that photo. Tell me the man isn’t insane. Tell me Jacko wouldn’t try and clobber you when the umpire wasn’t looking. He’s already done it to NBA fans that looked at him the wrong way – why not footballers on a footy field? He would be the niggly, in-your-face protagonist that tries to physically intimidate you at every chance he gets. He would be Dermie when running through the Cats squad in ‘99. He would be Alistair Lynch when he went apeshit on Wakelin. He would be Richi Vandenberg when he gets that “I’m going to kill someone” look on his face. He would be Hardwick at the ball-up of the ‘04 Granny. In fact he would probably just be like Hardwick most of the time. And that is ok, because it’s footy.
Carlos Boozer: Boozer gets a guernsey for three reasons:
1) He’s built like Barry Hall only he’s got more tattoos and incredibly offensive facial hair that make him scarier
2) His name is Boozer which would make him an instant fan favourite amongst VB-swelling Aussies (as if you can’t see him appearing on an add with Boonie and Big Merve?)
3) You could put him in the backline, forward line or ruck and his presence would make an instant difference. This guy is all about “presence”, the kind of presence Jonothan Brown has. You always know when Browny is on the forward line, or on the ball, or within twenty meters of it. You don’t have to see him, you just sense it. Or in Boozer’s case, you can smell it.
Ben Gordon: The bench is always going to have guys that get little burn on the field, maybe 15-20 minutes at most (which is not much for an AFL game). You want to be able to bring these guys on at the end of a game, when your players are feeling the pinch in the legs, and have them make an impact. With that criteria in mind, you can’t go past Ben Gordon. He’s made a living out of carrying the Bulls over the line with his late-game heroics. In his rookie year he turned in 21 double-digit 4th quarter performances, a ridiculous feat for a rookie, and only topped by Lebron James with 22. How is this relevant to the AFL? That big-game, clutch mentality isn’t lost when you change sports. It’s built in to the guy. I don’t care if BG does nothing for me over the first three-quarters of my footy game, because I know he’ll turn it on when it matters. That will most likely involve kicking goals, so Ben would probably end up in the forward line as a small-forward alternative to Ginobili or Marbury. This is a perfect spot for him because he a born scorer, a fairly lousey defender (sorry Bulls fans but he is), and he has considerable upper-body strength for a guy his size – at 6′3″ he’s one of the smaller guys on the team.
Shaquille O’Neal: Five years ago Shaq would have been picked in an instant as a starting ruckman because, to quote Rex Hunt, he’s built like a brick shithouse and moves faster than most people half his size. Now he gets picked simply because he’s built like a brick shithouse. Shaq is big, real big. He’s got over 40 kg on Tony Lockett and stands taller than anyone who’s ever played the game of AFL. I shudder to think what would happen if you ran into Shaq, let alone if he hip n’ shouldered you. Remember when he swung that punch at Brad Miller a few years back but it missed? That is one of the most fortunate things to ever happen in Brad Miller’s life. He went on to become an All-Star after that, but if Shaq had have connected he might be dead now. Of course I don’t want Shaq to be out on the football field swinging punches – I’ve already got Artest and Jacko for that – but he falls into that “presence” category on a scale never before seen. Unfortunately he can’t really run any more and with the modern game of AFL played at such a fast pace he would be somewhat of a liability. I can see him being useful parked in the goal square as a diversion for his smaller, quicker team mates, and he could relieve Lee or Bogut in the ruck if the opposition decided to field a rhino. But other than that it really just comes back to the brick shithouse thing.
There you have it. The first ever All-NBA AFL Team and perhaps the last. I don’t know if such a useless excercise in sports hypothesising has been done before – perhaps next I’ll work on my All-MLB Bob Sled Team. But it was still fun. How would this All-NBA team fare against an actual Aussie Rules team? Well, they’d be slaughtered, without question. But if you trained them up for a year, improved their endurance, and taught them how to kick then the end result would be quite interesting. I think athletes like Lebron, Kobe and Iguodala would totally revolutionise the sport as we know it. How do you stop someone as big as Barry Hall but who moves like Gary Ablett? Could you ever hope to stop him? These are questions we’ll never know the answers to… or will we? The game of Australian Rules Football is gaining momentum in the United States, as indicated by the vision of US Footy. It may not be too far off in the future when we have a truly international Aussie Rules tournament. Maybe some day the next generations of Kobes and Lebrons will be drafted out of high school by the Geelong Cats and not the Charlotte Bobcats? I’d like to see that.