For the last week, a public relations war has raged between the family of Jaime Nared, a phenomenally talented middle-school basketball player, and The Hoop, a privately-run, Beaverton-based basketball gym, over The Hoop's refusal to allow Ms. Nared to play in one of its boys leagues. Ms. Nared and her family have taken her case to the media, receiving national coverage on Good Morning America, hoping for Ms. Nared to be allowed to play in the boys league. The Hoop has stood firm by its (until recently unenforced) policy to reserve the right to run boys-only and girls-only leagues.
I'm not the type to get too worked out of shape over Title IX type debates and my first instinct is simply to applaud Ms. Nared's parents for doing such a good job of drawing media attention to their daughter's basketball talent and, more directly, to applaud Ms. Nared for her supreme basketball abilities.
My second instinct is to ask, "What the heck is this family thinking?"
Don't get it twisted - I'm not confused by the family's desire to seek out better competition by entering their daughter into a boy's league... I'm confused by her family's apparent blindness to the fact that this boy's league isn't doing their daughter's game any favors. Check the GMA video above for yourself: Ms. Nared is the tallest, fastest, strongest, quickest, most-skilled player on the court - and it's not even close. If it wasn't uncouth to poke a few jabs at the basketball skills of sixth graders, I would crack the punchline box wide open. The Hoop is right: Jaime Nared does not belong in that league. But they are also wrong: it's not because she's a girl, it's because she's too damn good.
Losing hurts. Losing by 90 points in a recreational league hurts even worse. I certainly don't blame the parents of the losing teams for complaining about Ms. Nared's presence. I suspect that most of the parents, in fact, weren't complaining that Ms. Nared was a girl; they were complaining because it was demoralizing watching their children get their butts kicked.
What's worse: such blowouts necessarily do a disservice to Ms. Nared's game; it's hard to get outside your comfort zone and develop new skills when your teammates are looking on in awe and defenders are cowering in fear.
In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell famously asserts that our intuition is often able to unearth complex truths in a split second. I assure you: it didn't take more than 15 seconds of watching Ms. Nared play basketball to realize she is supremely gifted, WNBA gifted. It's scary to even type this sentence about someone her age: she has the potential to become the best female basketball player ever to come out of Oregon, Braxtons included.
With that said, I'm reminded of Bobby Fischer's Queen Sacrifice against Donald Byrne in 1956's Game of the Century. At the age of 13, Bobby made arguably the single greatest series of chess moves in world history, defeating a more accomplished opponent that was twice his age. Of course, Bobby's brilliancy wasn't solely the product of an incredible in-game cascade, it was the culmination of years of challenging himself against equal competition, without regard for age. Indeed, the genius he exhibited in 1956 would have been utterly impossible against someone his own age. Playing against other 13 year olds simply wasn't worth his time.
Queen sacrifice. Crossover dribble. Different games. Same story.
It should be clear to Ms. Nared's family that both battling The Hoop and entering their daughter in its boys league is a waste of her daughter's time and considerable gifts. There's a great article by Chris Ballard in Sports Illustrated this week that details Kobe Bryant's competitive drive: at age 11, while living in Italy, he was challenging professional basketball players to games of one-on-one (and winning). Exhibit B: OJ Mayo, one of the top prospects in the draft this season, was playing high school basketball by the time he was in the 7th grade. We've been discussing "Basketball Truths" today on Blazers Edge and here's an old one: to become the best, you need to beat the best. Clearly, this is not happening at The Hoop.
Next year, with any luck, Blazers fans will be treated to the arrival of Spanish star Rudy Fernandez, a man who will have turned down millions of dollars in guaranteed money and the adoration of his home nation to come play basketball in the NBA: on the largest stage against the greatest competition. He will do so, primarily, because he wants to be challenged. At his core, as an athlete, he wants to see where he stacks up.
As for Ms. Nared, we already know where she stacks up: at the head of her class. So consider this article a memo to her parents: Don't wait! Move her up a year or two (or three). Get her on an AAU team. Get her a private coach (as long as it's not Howard Avery). Make a call to Kathy Adelman-Naro over at Jesuit and pick her brain for how to develop this amazing basketball gift. In a few years, Ms. Nared will be a high school freshman playing against seniors- starting her out now against the older, more experienced players will do her game wonders. After all, it's her game -not the league - that people should be talking about.
It's her game that everyone will remember.
-- Ben (email@example.com)