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The next time you hear a basketball recruiting guru drooling over the latest high school phenom or broadcaster Dick Vitale blathering about his Diaper Dandys in college, think back to the 2007 NBA finals.

The Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James, anointed King James while in high school, and his American sidekicks are being dominated by the San Antonio Spurs, a team with three players who learned the game outside the U.S. system.

Forward/center Tim Duncan, raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands and a swimmer before he took up basketball in ninth grade, leads the Spurs with 22.7 points a game.

Point guard Tony Parker, who learned the game in France before joining the NBA, is next with 20.6 points a game.

Shooting guard Manu Ginobili, who learned the game in Argentina before joining the NBA, is third with 16.1 points a game.

Yes, I know Duncan is an American citizen who played college basketball at Wake Forest. But Duncan stayed for in college four years — unlike so many NBA players today who jumped from high school to pro ball or left college before they were ready for the NBA.

Duncan’s game wasn’t infected by the U.S. system of exploitive AAU tournaments, seductive shoe company camps and ESPN dunk replays that warp kids’ minds. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are good shooters as opposed to spectacular dunkers.

In fact, after the Spurs, the next two best teams in the Western Conference are the Phoenix Suns, led by two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, a Canadian, and the Dallas Mavericks, led by reigning NBA MVP Dirk Nowitski.

James is a special talent, but the best team in the NBA is led by three guys who didn’t learn the game within the current U.S. system.

Kids today want to mimic dunks replayed on ESPN.

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are more interested in playing a fundamental team game that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird played 20 years ago or Oscar Robertson and Jerry West a generation before them.


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