Collective conscience in NBA ‘bubble’
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 6, 2020 - 12:00am

Dallas Mavericks scout and former PBA TV analyst Jim Kelly is confident the NBA “bubble” won’t burst at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista, near Orlando, because of the “collective group conscience” that binds the league, players, coaches and everyone involved in the season restart.

Kelly spoke about the “bubble” from a first-hand viewpoint during a recent Sports Page appearance. Sports Page is aired every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 6 p.m. on TV5 and 7 p.m. on ONE Sports. Sev Sarmenta anchors the program with alternating co-hosts Chiqui Roa-Puno, Dominic Uy and Charlie Cuna.

Kelly is well-known in Philippine basketball circles. Aside from doing PBA TV work with Vintage, he was also a coaching consultant with the Great Taste franchise. His wife Lucy is a Filipina from Olongapo and he’s Ray-Ray Parks’ baptismal godfather. Kelly played at Central Connecticut State where he earned a Master’s degree and toured the world as a coach before landing a scouting job with the Milwaukee Bucks from 1988 to 1991. In 1984, Kelly piloted Solent Star of Southampton to the English league title and the next year, steered Bayer to the German championship. He also coached in Greece.

Kelly’s big break came when he was hired by the Toronto Raptors as a scout in 1994 even before the team held its first training camp. He stayed with the Raptors until 2012-13, leaving as senior director of player personnel. The next season, Kelly moved to the Mavericks where he’s in a six-man scouting staff with NBA veterans like Kevin Stacom, Eduardo Najera and Darren Tillis. At the FIBA World Cup in China last year, Kelly was in the stands checking on Dallas recruit Boban Marjanovic of Serbia and 7-1 teenaged prospect Olek Balcerowski of Poland. He met up with old PBA friends, including Japeth Aguilar’s father Peter, during the competition in Foshan where Gilas played.

In the “bubble,” Dallas is off to a 1-2 start with every game a cliffhanger. The Mavs lost to Houston, 153-149, in overtime and to Phoenix, 115-112 then bounced back to trim Sacramento, 114-110 in overtime. Dallas now has a 41-29 record and in 7th place in the Western Conference. The Mavs are led by Slovenia’s Luka Doncic and Latvia’s Kristaps Porzingis who’re averaging almost a combined 50 points a game. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Steph Curry’s brother Seth are also major contributors. Every player in Dallas’ 16-man “bubble” roster is wearing “Equality” at the back of his jersey, including translations in Latvian, Spanish, German and Slovenian.

“I think the league has done a good job of becoming partners with the players,” said Kelly. “When one or two players go out and they break this bubble atmosphere, you have a chance of bringing the whole thing down which would affect every player and every team. So there’s a little bit of collective group conscience. I’ve been impressed with the quality of play. Teams had four plus months off but the players came back in better than expected shape.”

Kelly’s good friend and Meralco coach Norman Black was also a guest on “Sports Page” and spoke about collective responsibility. “This is a situation where you don’t want to be that person who breaks the protocol and you’re the person who bursts the bubble and has the whole thing falling down,” he said. “So you’re going to have to be disciplined. Sacrifice for your teammates, sacrifice for the league for this to work.”

Postscript: PBA commissioner Willie Marcial clarified yesterday that players with experience in Filipino pro leagues who apply for the PBA draft are not eligible for Rookie of the Year honors. Exempted are players who’ve seen action in foreign leagues like the ABL. It’s the reason why MBA veterans Dondon Hontiveros, Romel Adducul, Rudy Hatfield and JayJay Helterbrand were not considered for Rookie of the Year when they joined the PBA. Chooks To Go 3x3 players, now licensed pros with the GAB, will also not be in contention for Rookie of the Year if they enter the PBA. Former MPBL players are qualified for Rookie of the Year because the MPBL is not classified as a pro league.

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