All posts by Chris Moar Aguiar

Elephant Sport’s NBA Quarterly Report – Pt. 3

As we home in on the final months of the season, it’s clear that this NBA campaign has been one of sheer unpredictability. Perhaps not at the top of either the Western or Eastern conferences, but certainly elsewhere.

The trade deadline saw one of the biggest moves in recent memory, while other teams reinforced smartly ahead of the play-offs.

Without further ado…

Best Team: Boston Celtics

It’s bewildering how far the Celtics have come in such a short period of time.

At the start of the season, they were struggling to find consistency with Isaiah Thomas’ brilliance being tossed away by under-performing team-mates.

At this point, the Celtics are the best team in the NBA, not just a surprise package.

They are the only team that can step to the Cleveland Cavaliers in both the regular season, and the play-offs. They have offered the Eastern Conference, as well as neutrals, the hope of an upset in the road to the Finals.

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Little Isaiah floats a shot against 7ft Marcin Gortat

Thomas’ electrifying form is infectious, and has clearly spread to those around him.

Jae Crowder looks a man possessed, while Jaylen Brown is making a case for being one of the standout performers in his age-bracket.

Coach Brad Stevens has yet to manage a play-off game, so it will be interesting to see how his youthfulness and hunger translates to the biggest stage.

As of right now, his progression has been impeccable. Not only has he got the Celtics in 2nd place, two wins behind the Cavs, but he already has an All-Star game under his belt.

GM Danny Ainge’s reluctance to make a trade at the deadline could hurt this team in the play-offs, especially since their interior defence is non-existent.

But the percentages they are currently shooting at could see them blow out any team on any given day.

Worst Team: Brooklyn Nets

One has to wonder if copy and pasting part two of this quarterly report would suffice in this section. But, somehow, the Nets have worsened.

Not only did they make no significant push at the trade deadline, they allowed 3-point shooting maverick Bojan Bogdanovic to move to Washington for next-to-nothing.

Without a shooting presence, and an underperforming Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez, the Nets look nailed on for one of the worst NBA season records of all-time.

They were 8-33 when the previous report was written. 21 games later, they have only won two more. And only three of their wins have come in their own conference.

The Nets look a dishevelled franchise. Broken, unfixable and unwatchable. New York has become devoid of any team worth shouting over.

Most Improved Team: Washington Wizards

Not only are the Wizards the most improved team, they’re undoubtedly the most entertaining.

A backcourt comprised of John Wall and Bradley Beal has become one of the most talked about partnerships this season. Electrifying and productive in the clutch, these two have a genuine chance at making the conference finals this year.

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John Wall prepares to shoot a free-throw

They’re third in the conference, boasting 17 wins in their last 23 games. In the first quarterly report, we had them down as one of the most disappointing teams.

Right now, they look unstoppable. Whether that be going toe-to-toe with the Warriors and beating them, or taking the Cavs to overtime, the Wizards look like the real deal.

Wall is posting up career highs in points, assists and 3pt percentages. Likewise, Beal. Around them is a team made up of hot shooters and workhorses.

Otto Porter Jr. has the best 3pt shooting percentages in the entire league – yes, higher than Steph Curry and James Harden.

Kelly Oubre Jr. looks to be developing into a future star of this league, meanwhile Markief Morris is doing all the dirty work at both ends.

With the smart acquisition of Bogdanovic at the deadline, the Wizards have become even more of a sharpshooting team. This could be the key to any play-off upset.

Most Improved Player: Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic has gone from the typical brutish European centre to a player of immense, unplayable quality. He’s posted up multiple triple-doubles in the last 20 games, driving the Denver Nuggets from mediocrity to a near-lock for that 8th place play-off position.

He’s one of the league leaders in assists, and one of the most proficient passers around. A playmaking maverick, a rebounding machine and a point-hoarder, Jokic is utterly phenomenal.

Despite his bulk and height, he moves elegantly and to a level that we have never seen in the NBA. If there’s one player who deserves this award at the end of the season, it’s Jokic. From complete unknown to one of the hottest names around.

Best Trade: DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans Pelicans

I wanted to avoid the blockbuster move as much as I could, since I feel as though Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker to the Toronto Raptors is the move that most improves a team and equips them best for a play-off push.

But it’s DeMarcus Cousins. Moving away from the team where he’s spent his entire career and joining former college team-mate Anthony Davis.

This move was mind-blowing for the NBA. Not only do the Pelicans now have the two best big-men in the league, they undoubtedly have all the potential in the world to bring a ring to New Orleans.

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DeMarcus and Davis, reunited

Rebounding has long been an issue for Championship winners in the past; with the Warriors for example it’s been their Achilles heel this year.

The Rockets have the same problem; the Cavs sometimes struggle… the list goes on.

The Pelicans not only succeed in that area, they thrive and feed off it. Second-chance points are their best friend. If they can sneak into the play-offs this year, expect this blockbuster trade to upset the biggest of teams.

If not, they’re set to be the most anticipated team to watch for next season.

If they can acquire the right pieces to place around this titanic, unplayable frontcourt, they’re legitimate contenders next season.

Surprise Package: Miami Heat

The Miami Heat traded off Dwayne Wade in the summer, effectively leaving their team devoid of star quality. But the players who were nothing more than good, have now become great.

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Hassan Whiteside contests a call

After a shoddy start to the season, where they were rooted to the bottom of the conference for 30 straight games, the Heat are now one win from a play-off spot.

How they achieved such a feat is tough to explain. They registered a 13-game win streak – the longest we’ve seen this season from any team – including victories over the Warriors, Rockets and Cavaliers.

 

With the hustle, rebounding and blocking of Hassan Whiteside, the Heat are always a scrappy team to play against.

They’re physical and rough, with emphasis placed on bullying opposition teams off the court.

But, beyond that physicality, is a gorgeous style of play within their ball movement.

Players like Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters are facilitators of the highest order, creating space on the court, knocking down 3’s from improbable range and finding Whiteside in the paint for easy points.

This trio have brutalised opposition and dragged the Heat from misery to magnificence. It will be interesting to see how this young, untested team can cope in the play-offs, if they make it.

Offensive Play of the 3rd quarter:

Watch as LeBron James forces an entertaining game vs the Wizards into overtime with one of the craziest shots we’ve seen all season:

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Defensive Play of the 3rd quarter: 

LeBron’s so good, he becomes the first player in our reports to be awarded offensive and defensive play in the same quarter. This chasedown block on Courtney Lee is stunning:

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‘Surfing can ride the Olympic wave at Tokyo 2020’

Chris Moar Aguiar catches up with former professional surfer Sofia Marques to learn more about surfing becoming an Olympic sport and its long-term future.

Sofia surfed in competitions for 15 years after mastering the sport on the beaches of her native Portugal. She’s lived for long periods in England and Australia, but now resides in a little apartment in Coristanco, Spain.

Catch the interview here:

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Elephant Sport’s NBA Quarterly Report – Pt. 2

A thrilling 2016-17 NBA season has thus far delivered entertainment, elite individual performances and plenty controversy.

But, best of all, we have only just reached the halfway mark. Allow Elephant Sport to run through some of the most exciting categories since our first instalment.

Best Team: Houston Rockets

Before even diving into the excellence of Mike D’Antoni’s team, we need look no further than the Rockets’ record during this half. Led by James Harden, they are sitting comfortably in 3rd seed with a 30-10 record. Add to this only two losses in 19 games.

If the Rockets were the most improved team in the first quarter, they are undoubtedly the best one in the league right now. This has been aided by the return of potential defensive all-star, Patrick Beverley.

A lot has been said about Houston’s lack of defensive prowess but, with the aforementioned point-guard back, many of the criticisms have been erased. Beverley is averaging more rebounds than any other player in the team. Meanwhile, the Rockets have climbed into the top 15 defensive sides in the league.

But beyond number-crunching, this is a team rich in chemistry and unity. In a recent match against the Dallas Mavericks, small-forward Trever Ariza got into a verbal altercation with Salah Mejri. At the end of the game, the entire Rockets squad waited for the Mavs’ centre in an attempt to confront him.

While violence is not to be condoned, especially in a professional environment, it’s refreshing to see the Rockets team stick up for one another when, just a few months ago, they had a lot of internal disagreements and issues.

The Rockets are flawed – they certainly struggle to close out games and protect the rim when Clint Capela is missing – but they are living and prospering by the 3-ball. It could very well see them usurp many teams in the play-offs come season end. 

Worst Team: Brooklyn Nets

Neither Jeremy Lin nor Brook Lopez can lift the Nets out of their current rut. Which is ironic, since an arrangement of both their names phonetically adds up to Brooklyn.

This pun is atrocious – much like the Nets have been this season. They are currently bottom of the Eastern Conference and, in 41 games, have yet to reach double digits in wins.

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Brook Lopez warming up

Where the Nets have struggled most is in the creative department. Lin has been underwhelming and inefficient when running the point. Even when he has been at his very best, he has a lack of sharpshooters to lay the ball off to.

On the other hand, Lopez has tried his hardest to deliver wins. But in the game where he dropped a mammoth 38 points – all from inside the post – his team still lost by a comfortable margin.

Perhaps the over-reliance on these two stars has created a pressure hard to overcome for the Nets. But what is certain is this: they have an inefficient bench unit and a non-existent supporting cast.

Sadly, they look to be tanking for the remainder of the season – a testament to how insurmountable they view a comeback or, at the very least, improvement. 

Most Improved: Utah Jazz

 The Utah Jazz were almost unanimously everyone’s sleeper tip going into the new season. Many suspected they would finish in the top four in the West and, while they are currently sitting in 5th, just imagining that would have been far-fetched 20 games ago.

After the first quarter, Utah looked devoid of confidence and quality. Despite the dominant play of Gordon Hayward and the robustness of Rudy Gobert, the Jazz were struggling to string offensive plays together.

Fast-forward to January and they are now one of the league’s in-form teams. While the aforementioned players have turned in titanic performances, it is in the coaching that the Jazz have seen the biggest improvements.

Quin Snyder has drawn up a variety of plays revolving around a combination of point-guard George Hill and Hayward that has led to some excellent ball circulation in recent weeks.

Whether it is the long-range alley-oop, or the bounce pass-to-scorer, the two have struck up a chemistry unlike anything Vivint Arena has seen this term.

Add to that Rudy Gobert averaging one rebound short of the number one spot and the Jazz finally look like that team everyone had expected them to be. 

Who Needs to Trade Immediately: Toronto Raptors

 The Raptors may be one of the finer teams in the league; in their conference, they are second to only the Cleveland Cavaliers. While there is no shame in being second to the reigning champions and LeBron James, there is shame in being miles behind them.

In the three times the teams have met up this season, the Raptors have been torn apart. Two of these games were in this highlighted half.

What the Raptors missed most was a dominant centre – somebody who could prevent Kyrie Irving from entering the pick ‘n’ roll with Tristan Thompson. Furthermore, they lacked a real presence on offence inside the paint. This isn’t a team that shoots outside the perimeter often, so their reliance on inside scoring requires a centre who can do it on both ends.

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The fans at Air Canada could do with seeing a dominant centre every other night

Unfortunately, there are very few centres that can dominate on both ends that are available. Certainly DeMarcus Cousins seems attainable but, since he seems closer to the Boston Celtics, it makes little sense to include him here.

There is, though, one centre who is most definitely attainable. While he may still be young, the potential is there to become one of the finest at the five spot. That player is the Philadelphia 76’ers Nerlens Noel.

The 22-year-old is up for trade now that the 76’ers are shopping for a point-guard. He is the unfortunate collateral damage of this search, since the franchise deems Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor to be more valuable assets.

But when Noel plays, he dominates on both ends. And he is a former Round 1 pick in the draft (2014).

Under the wing of the Raptors – an inside scoring and rim protecting team – he could come into his own.

This is a risk worth taking because it benefits the Raptors in the years to come. They may not be able to challenge the Cavs just yet but, if they can unite the right pieces, that could change in coming seasons.

Surprise Package: Memphis Grizzlies 

The Memphis Grizzlies were predicted to scrape the play-offs; a true bottom-of-the-barrel team. To say they have exceeded expectations is an understatement.

In just the last 20 games, Memphis have defeated the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Oh, and the former they crushed twice.

Mike Conley, a point-guard of immense quality, has been in and out of the team with injury. In his absence, they were unbeaten. Upon his return, they continued to win games.

In veteran centre Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have found a sharpshooting rim-protector. While that may sound like a preposterous hybrid, it is exactly what the Spaniard has become. He has hit game-winning 3-pointers and combined that with blocks and defensive plays aplenty.

As the focal point of their play, Gasol has carried Memphis to 6th in the West within a couple of games off 4th.

MVP at the Half: James Harden

Only one man seems worthy of the award as of this halfway mark. James Harden has dominated the NBA in recent months, breaking records and personal bests alike.

He carved out his highest points (51), assists (17) and rebounds (18) in a historic night against the New York Knicks on New Year’s Eve. He is the first player in NBA history to amass a triple-double of 15-15-15 or higher; he also leads the league in assists by a country mile.

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Harden playing some defence for Team USA

Why Harden instead of Russell Westbrook, some may ask? It’s simple. Westbrook is registering crazy numbers, too. But his team isn’t winning as often, or emphatically, as the Houston Rockets.

That plays a part in contention for the MVP award, particularly when The Beard’s team were ruled out of play-off contention by many punters.

Coach D’Antoni has placed immense belief and confidence in Harden – asking him to command the ball with more regularity and lead the team. This was something Harden had been criticised for in the past: leadership.

That, and defence. It would be an understatement to say he has quashed those criticisms this season.

Houston are winning and Harden is playing his heart out. If voting were to end today, the MVP of the 2016-17 season would be as clear as day.

Rookie of the Year at the Half: Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid is the first, and only, repeat appearance of this series. Yet that’s more of a mixed bag than a clear indication of Embiid’s annihilation of the award.

While the Cameroonian centre has undeniably been the best rookie so far, there is an argument to be made that nobody is actually challenging him.

Buddy Hield, for all his enthusiasm, has struggled to find consistency in New Orleans. Meanwhile Brandon Ingram looks far too meek for the NBA as of right now.

Perhaps Embiid’s dominance is, too, down to the fact that he is one of the oldest rookies in contention for the award. This, of course, is owed to his 26 month injury. But, on the flipside, for him to be playing at the level he is considering said injury is mind blowing.

He could genuinely get into the all-star team come February – he’s currently fifth in the West’s frontcourt voting (top 10 take part in the all-star game). The last rookie to achieve such a feat was Blake Griffin in 2011.

He’s also averaging 19 points and seven rebounds a night, despite a minutes restriction to prevent injury. 

Offensive Play of the Half: Larry Nance Jr. Dunk

This was the best dunk of 2016 – and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if it remained better than anything conjured up in 2017.

Larry Nance Jr. channelled his inner-Michael Jordon to throw it down on one of the better rim protectors in the league: Brook Lopez. A man four inches taller than the Lakers’ power-forward. 

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Defensive Play of the Half: Durant block to Curry 3

The best defensive plays either win you games or flip opposition possession into your own points.

Kevin Durant’s emphatic chasedown block, collected by Stephen Curry and dispatched for three, falls into the latter. And it’s a thing beauty.

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Venezuelan baseball vs the US influence

Venezuelan baseball players have slowly started dominating the Major League Baseball in North America. While many have been quick to attribute the successes of said Venezuelans to the US influence, baseball in the Latin American country has been carving out its own identity and style since 1941.

This video essay deconstructs the history of Venezuelan baseball, as well as its relationship with Cuba and the US. Featuring quotes from an original interview with writer and historian Milton Jamail.

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Elephant Sport’s NBA Quarterly Report – Pt 1

With every team in the NBA having reached a minimum 20 games, we have arrived at the second quarter of the regular season.

The first was enthralling, unpredictable and offered up many exciting moments. Elephant Sport breaks it down into some fun categories.

Best Team: Golden State Warriors

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Curry lets fly from three-point range

It’s hard to look past the Golden State Warriors for this one. Despite losing their opening game to the San Antonio Spurs, and then suffering defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers a few days later, many were quick to attribute issues of chemistry to this Warriors side.

After all, this was the team to beat prior to the season. But how do elite teams bounce back? By winning. Golden State went one step further, though.

They swatted each and every single opponent out of their sight, notching a streak of 12 wins before falling to the Houston Rockets on their 20th match. They are currently nurturing a 17-3 record.

Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, contrary to popular belief prior to the season, have grown a strong on-court bond together.

The former is posting up career-highs in every single department – not least of which, points. Meanwhile Curry has embodied the role of facilitator, aptly putting his ego to the side.

Worst Team: Dallas Mavericks

It’s tough to argue against a side who has only won four of their 21 encounters this season. Unfortunately, there have been two teams that have recorded an identical record.

The difference between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Mavericks? The former have at least looked entertaining and have some young stars that are lighting up the league, eg, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor.

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Dirk’s injury has crippled Dallas

The 76ers have also taken the biggest of teams to overtime and tend to lose by small margins. The Mavs, on the other hand, are completely devoid of any quality.

Dirk Nowitzki – their only star – has been injured for the majority of the season, which has exposed how frail and disappointing the Dallas side is without the 38-year-old.

The most disappointing thing about the Mavericks is that players like Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut – two former NBA champions – have turned in good performances sporadically at best.

Bogut has been inconsistent when protecting the rim and has fouled out twice already this season. Whereas Barnes is failing to dish out assists, averaging only one per game. By having the highest ball-usage on the team, he should be producing more often.

Most Improved Team: Houston Rockets

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Harden is producing his best numbers to date

The Rockets were lambasted in the off-season when they appointed Mike D’Antoni as head coach. This was seen as a signing that would continue to allow the Rockets to play shoddy defence.

But what most seemed to forget was that defence matters very little in the regular season, especially if you can create All-Star numbers on the other end of the court.

But, even then, many punters had the Rockets failing to reach the play-offs once the season ends. As of right now, the Rockets are sitting in fourth place behind only the Spurs, Warriors and Clippers – inarguably the three best teams in the Western Conference.

D’Antoni has assembled a team of cut-throat three-point shooters, including new boys Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon.

With this maximised potential on offence, the Rockets have broken two records already this season: most three-point shots attempted in NBA history (51) and longest streak of three-points made in NBA history (17).

James Harden is posting MVP numbers and very close to averaging a triple-double for the season. D’Antoni’s influence has allowed ‘The Beard’ to both orchestrate play and run it too.

The Rockets are currently 13-7 and are the only side in the league to have beaten both the Spurs and Warriors already; both on the road.

Who Needs to Trade Immediately: Boston Celtics

The Celtics are struggling more than most expected. Despite being third in their conference, a 12-8 record has been seen as a disappointment from inside the franchise.

Boston are in dire need of a strong rebounder – something they thought Al Horford could be. While Horford has been fairly good this season, his role seems to be more focused on getting points in the paint rather than winning possession off the board.

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The Celtics could prosper from a move for Cousins

With a consistent rebounder, the Celtics would lose a lot less. In fact, they currently lead the NBA in most second chance points conceded. This is, without a doubt, due to their lack of proficiency in the air when leaping for a rebound.

Who could they trade for? The Celtics aren’t devoid of pieces that they could put up. And they are also not a franchise unrecognisable to most.

With superstar Isaiah Thomas leading the floor, and a consistent army of good players surrounding him, now is the chance to join up with the Celtics.

In an ideal world, the Celtics move for Sacramento’s Demarcus Cousins. The often-aggressive centre is becoming disillusioned with what is shaping up to be another season of disappointment for his team.

He’s averaging over 10 rebounds per game, which should ring shouts of excitement in the ears of Boston. After all, how hard could it be to tempt a disillusioned player away from his suffering franchise while he’s in his peak years?

Sacramento needs picks in the draft to start building for the future. Boston could offer a pick or two, along with outcasts such as Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk. It makes sense.

Surprise Package: Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers at Wizards 12/2/15
Julius Randle, at just 22, is having a fine season

The Lakers post-Kobe Bryant were supposed to be an incoherent mess on the court. Plays on offence were going to diminish, meanwhile defensive presence was to continue being non-existent at best.

Having finished bottom of the West in the previous season with Kobe, one would be forgiven for thinking this season would be worse. Except they are already seven wins away from bettering last season’s measly 17 victories.

They are also one win away from a play-off spot already.

This is the first quarter they have had to play without Kobe’s influence in over 20 years. And they couldn’t look freer from his shackles.

Offensive play has been smooth, with sophomore D’Angelo Russell facilitating play from the point-guard position. His rotation partner, Jordan Clarkson, has also been posting up monster numbers from the bench.

Nick Young, often ridiculed for being a veteran with a kid’s mentality, has won two games for the Lakers with buzzer-beater shots and is leading the team effortlessly.

And then you have Julius Randle – by far the Lakers’ finest player this quarter. The 22-year-old has already registered a triple-double this season and is averaging 13 points and nine rebounds per game.

A supporting cast of Lou Williams and Timofey Mozgov has enabled the Lakers to flourish and, with a 10-12 record, they look like a dark horse for a play-off spot in a season where everyone expected the franchise to hit rock bottom.

MVP at the Quarter: Russell Westbrook

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Russ is clinching historic numbers

Many predicted this, but nobody quite predicted the enormity of Russell Westbrook’s play.

Following the departure of Oklahoma team-mate and long-term friend Kevin Durant, it was expected that Westbrook would play out of his skin in every game to compensate for the fact that he is the only remaining superstar on the Thunder.

Fast-forward 20 games and the point-guard is averaging a triple-double per game, including six in a row, which has equalled and bettered greats such as Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson.

With his outstanding play, Westbrook is now averaging a monster 31 points per game, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He has single-handedly dragged a quality-depleted Thunder side to fifth in the conference with an admirable 13-8 record.

James Harden seems like the closest contender but, if Westbrook does not slow down, elite names such as LeBron James, Curry, Durant and Chris Paul won’t even stand a chance next to the 28-year-old.

Rookie of the Year at the Quarter: Joel Embiid

Can anyone genuinely look past the eccentric 7’0″ Cameroonian centre?

After two long years of injury, nobody expected Embiid’s first NBA season to be one of such pure dominance on both ends.

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Joel Embiid warms up with a dunk

Despite being restricted to just 23 minutes per game, Embiid is averaging 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

Consider the fact that he is only appearing in half of every match, this is a fascinating return for the 22-year-old.

While honourable mentions such as Pascal Siakam and Jaylen Brown look impressive, they are nothing in comparison to the 76ers behemoth.

He moves as though he is several inches shorter on offence, and operates as a man possessed when protecting the rim on the other end. His entertainment factor is sky-high, often lighting up what is a very poor Philly side.

He already looks like an All-Star in the making.

Offensive Play of the Quarter:

A game-winner? Some fancy handles? A three-point shot?

How about all three combined into one smooth play by the Rockets’ James Harden against the Utah Jazz:

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Defensive Play of the Quarter:

Two plays rolled into one, watch as Kristaps Porzingis cements two monster blocks deep in the fourth quarter and OT to deliver the New York Knicks a victory against the Charlotte Hornets:

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Elephant Sport will be continuing this four-part series throughout the NBA season at every quarter. 

Review – Book of Isaiah

Picture being 5’9” in a sport where the average man towers over you with a seven-inch advantage. Now picture being one of the best players in your position, despite that height differential. That’s Isaiah Thomas. 

‘Book of Isaiah’ is a documentary that gives a voice to the Boston Celtics’ elite point guard who this season has averaged NBA career-highs in points, assists, rebounds and steals.

For a player of his size, Thomas’ average of three rebounds per game is staggering. Even a glance at his 26 points per game, in a sport where the man guarding him is always a stronger and more imposing physical specimen, is bewildering.

But this is a testament to the man nicknamed the Conductor’s hard work and growing appreciation for the game – something this documentary explores effortlessly.

The start

One of the most regularly searched things on Google regarding the 27-year-old is: ‘Are Isaiah Thomas and Isaiah Thomas related?’ For the uninitiated, this documentary – right from the get-go – answers this question once and for all.

While the Celtics’ point-guard isn’t related to the hall-of-fame Detroit Pistons guard, it is revealed that Thomas’ father named him after the legend due to losing a bet with a friend.

Perhaps, as the film suggests, Thomas was always destined for success in the NBA – regardless of his height.

In school, Isaiah was often the smallest kid on the court. In college, the smallest on the team. Now in the entirety of the NBA? He’s the smallest in the league.

Humble beginnings

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Thomas (right) and his childhood hero Allen Iverson

Some stock footage of Thomas’ college years is inserted into the second act of the documentary, which helps to establish the chip on the shoulder of this outrageously gifted guard.

It’s easy to see him dominate in the NBA and just accept it; but true appreciation grows when one sees his humble beginnings and how he has always been at a disadvantage in any tier of basketball.

“I just want to be the modern-day Allen Iverson,” Thomas states. Hall of Famer Iverson is someone that Thomas admired when growing up, particularly in his formative years as a college superstar.

This is due to the fact that Iverson, in his day, was also the smallest guy in the league. But he was also one of the most mercurial point guards, inventing various dribbling moves to size-up his towering opponents.

In that regard, Thomas is the same. When you spend all game struggling to see the basket over the man guarding you, you have to develop special moves to give you some sort of an advantage.

Development

“This kid spends so much time in the gym just inventing the sort of handles that I have never seen before,” says Celtics coach Brad Stevens in ‘The Book of Isaiah’.

The images support that quote, too. The documentary is shot and promoted as a quasi-motivational video. Scored by a collection of Thomas’ favourite hip-hop tracks, most of the runtime is dedicated to 27-year-old just straight-up training.

In said training, his handles are revealed. Some of the moves that Thomas pulls off are mindblowing, purely because they are born from the need to succeed in a sport where his height should see him rejected immediately.

“This kid spends so much time in the gym just inventing the sort of handles that I have never seen before.”

At one point, assistant coach Jay Larranaga says: “First in the gym? Isaiah. Last in the gym? Isaiah! Last year he called me on Christmas day to come and watch him practice his core.”

Technical 

By allowing Thomas and those around him to almost dictate the story on camera, ‘Book of Isaiah’ becomes a documentary that is held back by a lack of insight. It feels more as though a piece of work that announces Thomas’ hard-working nature, rather than one that relentlessly focuses on why he’s had to work hard.

There are sporadic mentions of his struggles, but these are more visual aids than anything spoken to camera.

This is frustrating since anyone familiar with the point guard’s life knows that he struggled to find a college team due to his size, or even the fact that he was the 60th pick in round 2 of the 2011 NBA Draft – again, a downside to his height.

As a side note, that was the final pick of the draft. Essentially, the league had told Thomas he was the worst player out of a possible 90 candidates.

Thomas is now one of the top five point guards in the league. Those above him have a solid five inches extra of height to work with. The fact that this is sporadically explored makes ‘Book of Isaiah’ a disappointing watch for those looking to learn about his struggles.

Verdict

What grows throughout the runtime of Book of Isaiah is a genuine admiration for the Celtics’ point-guard.isaiah

Regardless of the fact that it is a self-loving and clearly biased documentary that focuses not on negatives, it is still incredibly inspirational.

A true testament to the fact that physical difference shouldn’t matter if one works hard enough and develops ways around their size.

If one is looking for an insight into the psyche of a hardworking man with a clear chip on his shoulder, then ‘Book of Isaiah’ is a must-watch.

Otherwise, you have to be pretty crazy about basketball – or the man himself – to wholeheartedly enjoy it.

Encouragement

Iverson called up Thomas after the documentary ended and, allegedly, spoke just one sentence to the guy who has idolised him his entire life: “Keep doing your thing. I’m watching.”

Except now the entire NBA is watching. Thomas could very well, if he keeps these numbers up, enter the all-star team for the first time in his career. He would be the second smallest player of all-time to do so behind Muggsy Bogues.

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A brief showing of Thomas’ aforementioned handles and how exactly he manages to dominate in a sport where he is always at a disadvantage

How a pursuit of mastery turned Osipczak away from the UFC

It’s June 20th, 2009. ‘Slick’ Nick Osipczak forces Frank Lester to tap-out in the first ever UK v US Ultimate Fighter series in the United States. His unique submission move sees his name echo around the MMA community and reach the ears of the UFC.

Despite not making it past semi-finals of the competition, more performances in a similar vein to the one against Lester earn Osipczak a UFC contract.

Fast-forward a few months; Osipczak wins his first UFC fight and goes on to compete in four more after that until November 2010. That was his last fight in the UFC – a split decision loss to Duane Ludwig.

But why exactly did the British welterweight of Polish descent, who showed such promise, just vanish? After all, his combined MMA and UFC record was a positive 6-3 (as per Sherdog).

The decision

Nick recounts his first ever UFC win: “I just found myself in that situation [winning a UFC fight], it wasn’t a lifetime goal or anything like that.

“In fact, I would more likely have been thinking to myself around that time, ‘how did I come to be here, doing this?!’. One thing for sure is I knew I wouldn’t be like the majority of fighters who would compete continuously for as long as they could until their bodies gave up on them and had taken too many head shots.”

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Nick pounds on Matt Riddle for his second UFC win [image courtesy of Dave Mandel]
But the question remains – why did he just disappear with such a promising career beckoning? He makes a revealing comment.

“As UFC is first and foremost an entertainment business, it’s difficult to train optimally when you have to answer to their beck and call,” said Osipczak.

The key word in that sentence is “optimally”, as it helps explain what happened next.

Upon leaving UFC, Osipczak embarked on a journey to learn and master the internal arts – or more specifically, Tai-Chi Ch’uan.

This spiritual martial art that focuses heavily on mind, body and soul is one of the most demanding arts in the world and demands pure dedication from its students.

What began as a hobby has now consumed Osipczak’s life as a fighter – not only is he still a student, but he also teaches.

“We [students] are drawn to the feeling of ‘oneness’ that is experienced during complete presence of the moment.” says Osipczak. “For me, the Internals are a more direct route towards understanding the essence of the inter-connected workings of the mind, body and spirit.”

His devotion to learning the craft and its inner-workings is rare to see in someone previously involved in an activity which, by his own admission, was part of the entertainment business but with real blood.

“Cutting weight, fighting when and where they say, and doing the promotion side of things – it’s difficult to balance,” he said.

“For me, mastery is a life-time pursuit, whereas you only get a few shorts years to compete in the Octagon. I cannot say anyone has or will stop me from achieving mastery of the Martial Arts – the choice is mine.”

Tai-Chi Ch’uan

Osipczak is seen as one of the first fighters to develop the art of Tai-Chi within professional MMA, which has been showcased in his most recent fights outside the UFC.

Although Nick has been fighting professionally on and off since 2015, he isn’t tied to one specific competition or industry.

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Nick demonstrates some moves [image courtesy of Raised Spirit]
Carrying an entire art in a professional environment is an achievement that brings with it a lot of pressure for someone still trying to master the craft.

“Of course it [using Tai-Chi professionally] means there is a great responsibility on my shoulders, should I chose to contemplate that side of things too much,” Osipczak says, laughing.

But behind the laughter is someone with a deep respect for Tai-Chi and a hunger to absorb every part of its wisdom.

Tai-Chi Chu’an is said to have been created in 12th century China by Zhang Sanfeng and has since become one of the nation’s five most important martial arts, along with the likes of Kung-Fu.

The modern day version is practiced both as a means of self-defence but also for personal health, as it is viewed as a way of loosening muscular and bone-related pains, and burning fat.

Accuracy

There is a misconception that Tai-Chi is a martial art that is trained leisurely – something that pensioners incorporate as part of their daily stretching routine – but the execution of the art as self-defence can be brutal.

The focus is on eliminating the distinction between offence and defence, with each movement being powerful and all the while remaining rooted and balanced.

Essentially, that can make a fighter far more efficient inside the octagon – giving them an advantage over their opponent.

“I do not believe any one style or system holds a monopoly on knowledge. However, compared to my training before embarking on my Tai-Chi journey, more emphasis was given to the ‘softer’ side of training, with balance always at the forefront of the mind, and longevity as one of the primary goals,” said Osipczak.

When speaking, Osipczak gives off a vibe of gentleness and intelligence rare in sporting figures. He speaks like a master of the arts; a quote-machine in his own right.

Better fighter

While the 31-year-old values personal development over a career with the UFC, it was interesting to hear how he rates his previous career.

“Iron sharpens iron, as they say. I was only 3-0 as a professional fighter when I entered the UFC, and had only been training in MMA for four years. Being thrown in with the sharks is a good way to learn how to swim,” he says.

“I have started to see my career more in terms of how many people can I have a positive effect on during my lifetime”

“In terms of professional fighting, competing for the UFC is widely acknowledged to be the pinnacle. However, how well I did battling other men will carry little weight as I approach my death bed, and so I have started to see my career more in terms of how many people can I have a positive effect on during my lifetime.”

But, the million-dollar question remains: will the fighter formerly known as ‘Slick’ Nick ever return to the octagon?

“I don’t know. I feel I am still a few years away from reaching my peak. I am happy with the rate I am currently improving, and am putting a lot of my time and energy into raising my family and teaching workshops.

“If I do return to competition, it will be to represent the Internal Arts, and demonstrate their superior efficiency,” he asserted.

Teacher

Tai-Chi Ch’uan’s health benefits mean it is growing in popularity in the UK. But Osipczak is not one for forcing it on people.os

“I try not to see things in terms of what people should or shouldn’t do – simply, when the student is ready, the teacher appears,” he says.

“But I’m sure Tai Chi will explode in popularity over the next few years, not too dissimilar to the way yoga has done before.”

Osipczak also admits that teaching still the best way of learning, which is why both are so important to him.

“Much of my enjoyment and fulfilment comes from furthering my competence of Tai-Chi Ch’uan, so for me it is a bonus that I can share the benefits of it with so many others,” said Osipczak.

Supernova

supernovaIn his first career, the 31-year-old was known as Slick Nick. But now, he is looking to develop a new persona and nickname for his on-going journey representing the Internal Arts.

“When I returned to competition after a five-year break, I knew I was a completely different fighter to the one that had competed before so ‘Slick’, no longer seemed appropriate.

“I knew a new one would pop up organically, and the day before my fight, I saw the photo hanging in my hotel room, labelled ‘Supernova’ – I knew a fit had been found.”

Much like a supernova, Osipczak will be hope his career continues to shine with unparalleled brightness.

You can find Nick’s classes here [http://raisedspirit.com/index.html]. He will also be hosting workshops in Goa (February) and Oxfordshire (June).

 

 

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Top five worst officiating decisions in NBA history

In light of the recent drama between the Toronto Raptors and the Sacramento Kings, Elephant Sport decided to take a look at some of the worst decisions of all time in the NBA.

5) Raptors’ Ross Robbed

On November 21 2016, Terrence Ross silenced the Sacramento crowd with a clutch three-pointer on the buzzer to take the game to overtime. Or so he thought.

Amidst ruckus and exuberant celebrations, the home sector started to cheer. The referee had spotted a tip from Demarcus Cousins in real time.

The officials proceeded to confer in the replay centre and, in the end, decided that Cousins had tipped the ball. This, effectively, meant that the clock should have started when Sacramento’s centre touched the ball, not when Ross collected it. In essence, the buzzer should have sounded before Ross shot.

But a recent Twitter investigation saw a user splice the clock when Cousins touched the ball, which dramatically revealed that Ross had released the ball before the buzzer even with Cousins’ interference added to the timer.

This controversy has led to the Raptors making a formal complaint, hoping that overtime will be replayed in a one-off encounter vs the Kings at a later point this season to decide a victor.

But there have been worse decisions in the NBA, surprisingly (or unsurprisingly for the unabashedly critical fans of the sport…)

4) Joey Crawford Calls ‘The Worst Foul Ever’

Perhaps the most comical and least serious of all the other moments on this list, Joey Crawford whistling for a foul on Steve Nash is still one of the most ridiculous bits of officiating in sporting history.

Halfway through the third quarter of a play-off game between the Portland Trailblazers and the Phoenix Suns in 2010, Nash releases a pass inside the D and draws a foul… according to Crawford.

In the midst of it all, Marcus Camby was awarded his fourth foul of the game. The issue with this? Camby was nowhere near Nash. If he were to have jumped at Nash, fully outstretched and possessing the superhuman abilities of Mister Fantastic, Camby still would have failed to touch the point guard.

Nash made both of the subsequent free-throws, effectively knocking Portland out of the series in the first-round.

3) The First Phantom Foul

Picture this: there are 27 seconds left on the clock, the Detroit Pistons lead by one point against the Los Angeles Lakers. The latter have the final possession of the game and decide to storm into the paint.

This is Detroit’s chance to win their first ever NBA Championship, leading the 1988 series 3-2. In 24 seconds, providing they can defend a Lakers play, the Pistons win the title.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar receives a pass in the post and challenges Pistons centre Bill Laimbeer. The towering giant jumps to contest Jabbar’s post-hook and forces the superstar to miss. At that point, the Pistons were champions.

That is, until, the officials decide to call an illegal foul on Laimbeer for his jump on Jabbar. The replays still to this day show no such illegal play whatsoever.

Jabbar stepped up, knocked down both free-throws and the Lakers went on to tie the series, force a final game and win the championship.

A fight broke out at the end of the game between both teams due to the absurdity of the decision.

2) Hue Hollins Prevents The Bulls From Making History 

The second phantom foul on the list but, undoubtedly, the worst.

This was a Chicago Bulls team without Michael Jordan, who had spent the entire year on a hiatus playing baseball; this was a Bulls team with only Scottie Pippen remaining.

Pippen was the supporting star to Jordan’s excellence. But he became the leader in the 1994 NBA Finals. By the end of it, referee Hue Hollins had reduced Pippen to a loser.

With three seconds left on the buzzer, the Bulls were close to clinching a spot in the NBA Finals. The New York Knicks had to draw up a three-pointer to win the game and force a final match for the series.

Hubert Davis chucked a three from improbable range which Pippen attempted to contest. “Attempt” being the operative word; the small-forward jumped but failed to touch Davis, who ended up missing.

Hollins blew the whistle and awarded Davis three free-throws which, essentially, knocked the Bulls out of a potential historic NBA Championship and prevented ‘Pip’ from becoming a bona fide superstar.

1) The Biggest Fix in NBA History?

In game six of the 2002 NBA finals, Sacramento were one win away from being crowned champions for the first time in their history.

Playing to a level of quality never before seen in the city, the Kings side led by all-star power forward Chris Webber received a level of officiating that, to this day, stands as the biggest travesty ever witnessed in an NBA game.

Playing on the road at the LA Lakers, the Kings had four legitimate blocks called as illegal fouls. From these fouls, the Lakers collected eight points.

Sacramento then suffered three offensive fouls, wrongly called as both were clear blocking interferences from the Lakers (two by Kobe Bryant, one from Shaquille O’Neal). In the following possession of each foul, the Lakers drew up a three-pointer and two mid-range jumpers for a seven-point play.

Perhaps the worst and most frustrating refereeing decision made on the night was when Kobe attempted a mid-range jumper and elbowed Mike Bibby in the face.

Bibby fell to the floor with an assistant referee staring directly at the play. He called for a foul… against Bibby. Bryant knocked down another two points from the subsequent free-throw which wrapped up the game late on for the Lakers.

Ex-referee Tim Donaghy later alleged that Dick Bavetta and Bob Delaney – officials in this particular game – had fixed the outcome of the tie.  Both they and the NBA denied the claims.

An investigation ensued, but no wrongdoing was ever proved, however that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theories abounding even to this day.

The Kings went on to lose 106-102 on the night and in the final game, too.

Q&A With Di Stéfano author Ian Hawkey

Ian Hawkey has recently published his second book, Di Stéfano, following the critical success of his debut outing Feet of the Chameleon. 

Elephant Sport caught up with the esteemed author and journalist to talk about the book.

First of all, congratulations on writing one of the best sports books of the year. How different was the writing process of this in comparison to your debut book, Feet of the Chameleon?

The subjects were very different. Feet of the Chameleon was very wide-ranging, covering a continent, Africa, and well over a century of football there, so in some ways I had to be more selective from the start in that.

A biography is a different beast, although Alfredo Di Stéfano led such a full, varied and fascinating life that I also ended up with more material than there was space for.

That’s a good position to be in, in many ways, of course, but it means one of the challenges is to decide what’s most relevant to the way the man was, his circumstances, his influences, his habits, while giving the right weight to his achievements, which were phenomenal.

You are the first person to publish a book on Alfredo di Stéfano in English. Does that come with a lot of pressure? To get his story right; to enlighten a bigger audience?

I certainly thought there was a gap, in that a book on Alfredo Di Stéfano didn’t exist in English.

He is arguably the greatest individual in the world’s most popular sport, and the other candidates for that status have all been written about extensively in books in English (Pele, Johann Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi).

As for pressure, any biographer – and every journalist, I hope – feels a duty to represent their subject fairly, so that’s a pressure in a way, but the process of discovery is very rewarding.

If you could pinpoint one exact moment where you thought “I need to write about Di Stéfano,” what was it?

I suppose it was when I first met him. I was working in Spain, covering Real Madrid a lot and, although he was in his 70s, he still had a huge influence on the club because he had lifted it to greatness, and set standards that every generation since of Madrid players, coaches and fans measure the club by.

He was the honorary president in those years, and though he wasn’t always that approachable, he was fascinating to talk to, and very in touch with modern football.

He had done so much to shape it, I soon realised, which drove me towards the idea of an in-depth book about him. Happily, Ebury, my publisher, shared that idea.

In the book, we learn about Di Stéfano almost as a celebrity – one of football’s first. The parties he held at his house were one of the many indicators. How do you feel he would have settled into this age of modern football?

bookThat is a very good question. In many ways he was the first global superstar of the sport, I would say, in that he had this instant recognition – we can call it celebrity – outside the pitch and well beyond the borders of wherever he was playing.

Much of what he did on and off the field broke the mould of how football worked in his era.

On the playing side, he did things tactically that were very innovative and he had all the physical and technical assets to shine in any era. I think he’d have been a star in the 21st century on par with a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Messi.

He could be confrontational off the field, standing up to his bosses, and certainly having a clear idea of his value.

Footballers in his era were certainly not the multi-millionaires that so many are today, but his challenges to what he perceived as an unfair balance of work-and-reward in favour of those who ran the game and not those who played it had a long-term effect in terms of making the player more free to choose his employer and to earn more.

He also did things in terms of advertising and marketing that hadn’t been done before. Put it this way, if Di Stéfano was around now, you’d see his image on all sorts of things, from Playstation to the latest boots, to various fashion accessories.

What is it about Di Stéfano that makes him such an interesting character to write about? Is it the success? The goals? His family life?

I think with all very successful individuals, there’s always a curiosity about what drives or drove them. Sometimes with sports people, it’s hard to specify beyond their exceptional physical gifts.

With Di Stéfano, he had a fierce competitive impulse, and when I say fierce, it could be quite alarming, even for seasoned professionals who played alongside him.

He also had that creative imagination that captures public interest, the ability to improvise on the pitch, and thrill a crowd.

“Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Messi influenced the way football is played as much as Di Stéfano. He was as brilliant as any of them, so, with his legacy taken into consideration, he’s number one.”

That takes a certain non-conformist attitude to achieve, I think, and that’s fascinating to understand. He was charismatic, too, even if he could be a bit grumpy sometimes.

In his life he faced a number of setbacks and seeing how he responded to those was one of the main points of interest.

His professional training didn’t prepare him for many of them – for events like being kidnapped by guerrillas in South America for example.

It may be blasphemous to some, but do you think we will ever see a player of Di Stéfano’s ilk again? Someone with a rebel-streak who is also outrageously gifted and successful?

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Ian Hawkey

That’s a very good question. There is a tendency these days to believe there is something a bit robotic about very successful modern footballers, or maybe all elite athletes in team sports, and maybe because of that to romanticise the flawed geniuses of the past, like Maradona or George Best.

I suppose you might characterise a footballer like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, because he is outspoken and sometimes anti-authoritarian, in that ilk, although Di Stéfano was a better, more influential player than Ibrahimovic, I would confidently say.

You travelled around South America when working on the book. Did you at any point get any ideas for a different book? Perhaps a different player, maybe?

It’s hard to be around South American football and not recognise hundreds of great stories that would make a book!

Certainly, in the period that Alfredo Di Stéfano was playing there – in Argentina in the late 1940s and in Colombia until the early 1950s – it was turbulent, often brilliant and gloriously unpredictable.

The whole episode of the rebel Colombian league, which, out of nowhere, brought in some of the best players in the world, including from Europe, in the late 1940s, would make a great book.

Pele said Di Stefano was the “greatest” player of all-time. What does Ian Hawkey himself think? Is he the “greatest”?

This will sound like a fence-sitting cop-out … but, it is genuinely hard to compare across eras.

Watch the footage of Di Stéfano’s Real Madrid of the 1950s and 1960s now and you can appreciate why they were setting new standards, but you also note how slow the pace of their games are compared with modern elite football.

Now, I believe Di Stéfano would have had no difficulty living with that speed, assuming he trained like a modern player, well into his 30s. More than that, he’d have thrived in it, because he was so quick-minded and for most of his career, exceptionally quick on his feet and as strong as an ox.

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Di Stéfano and Pele

The other issue is that we don’t see that footage very often, whereas we still get exposed regularly to colour television images of Pele, Cruyff, Maradona exhibiting their brilliance.

It’s that above all that maybe makes them more appreciated than Di Stéfano, who had the other disadvantage, usually for reasons of bad timing, to have not played in a World Cup.

And, in my view, none of Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Messi influenced the way football is played as much as Di Stéfano. He was as brilliant as any of them, so, with his legacy taken into consideration, he’s number one.

Elephant Sport would like to thank Ian Hawkey for his time. Di Stéfano is published by Ebury Press, hardback £16.59. For more details, click here.

Gentrification and its impact on youth sports in Brixton

Take a stroll through Brixton and you’ll notice boarded-up shops and evidence of protest in this culturally diverse corner of  south London.

In early 2016, many social housing estates in the area began to undergo a remodelling and rebuilding process, paid for in part by property developers keen on reaping the dividends of Brixton’s proximity to the city centre.

While residents were forced to relocate and scatter around London, local businesses were also in a state of upheaval.

“Many local people believe it’s about making Brixton more marketable to those far wealthier than its current inhabitants”

In February, the council alerted a host of small shops and companies near the railway station – primarily in Atlantic Road – that the area was also to undergo a transformation under the auspices of Network Rail.

Independent business owners were told that they had four months to close down and move away. Some have said they won’t be able to afford the rents set to charged for the railway arches once they have been refurbished.

Many local people believe the reason for this shake-up is to improve the look of Brixton, essentially making it more marketable to those far wealthier than its current inhabitants.

In other words, the area is being gentrified, creating a sense of alienation and resentment among many long-time residents.

Now in November, the entire railway road is one lengthy board of black with white graffiti reading ‘SAVE BRIXTON!’

How is local sport affected?

Behind the boards, the remnants of businesses past: a Portuguese butchers that offered imported delicacies, an independent Jamaican music store run by a father and his teenage daughter, and a small taxi company that transported people from Brixton to Heathrow and Gatwick.

But, perhaps the most important of all, was a modest space for children to congregate after school. One 4 All, the name of this independently-run company, would organise trips to the local leisure centre, just on the opposite side of the railway.

It was at this leisure centre that I spent most of my days as a kid – and it is at this leisure centre that many children of today can no longer take part in sports.

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Grafitti protesting the evictions on Atlantic Road

Due to the closure of One 4 All, there is no longer a middle-man between the visiting children and the centre.

This means no supervisors or carers which, in turn, means a decrease in attendance after school.

Parents would often entrust the workers here to look after their children while they work – mine most certainly did. It was almost free childcare.

For kids, it was the chance to visit the coveted leisure centre. At Brixton Recreational Centre, you can try your hand at basketball, futsal, badminton, table tennis… the list goes on.

Introducing Robbie

Speaking to basketball coach Robbie Sugg – affectionately dubbed ‘Uncle Robbie’ by many kids – I realised that the atmosphere at the Recreational Centre is somewhat gloomy in the wake of gentrification.

The 57-year-old, who has spent around 17 years working as a coach at the centre, said: “I used to have 20 to 30 kids come in here every single afternoon once school finished. They’d all walk in, pick up the basketball and shoot some hoops.

“Now? I’m lucky if I get five kids. And they’re no longer the same faces.”

What does Sugg think of Brixton’s transformation?

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The main area for kids at the Recreational Centre

“Listen, I can understand how the government will defend this as well as the local council,” he said.

“They will say it’s about making Brixton a more pleasant place. But what they’re doing is making people angry. The more money that gets put into Brikki, the less diverse it will become.”

‘Brikki’ is an affectionate moniker used by those who have some sort of connection to the district. Sugg has been a resident of Brixton his entire life, living just a few minutes from the recreational centre, just west off Electric Avenue.

He continued: “Now you tell me how parents can afford to send their kids here to have some fun after school? They can’t scrape together money for the membership which One 4 All were covering. ”

“You’ll have more little youts (patois for youth) running around causing trouble because they don’t have an escape.”

His concerns are genuine. The more children he can work with and introduce to sport, the fewer there are on the streets potentially getting into trouble. Especially with the angst-riddled atmosphere currently circling around Brixton.

“The only people I see here nowadays are adults. That’s fine, but I don’t see kids no more. Those kids that called my Uncle Robbie. The only kids I see are unfamiliar faces that come and go. The sense of community is disappearing, man” said Sugg.

An alternative voice

After my chat with Sugg, I proceeded to a local coffee shop to get the other side of the story from a council spokesperson.

Susan McRae arrived, sat down and quickly began to talk about the benefits of gentrification. It symbolised the divide between council and community – neither side is completely right, but neither wrong either.

“People have to trust us and believe that we won’t neglect the current community for a newer and more wealthy one”

“Obviously it is sad for the people who feel like their community is being broken apart, but people have to realise that this is for their benefit,” she said.

“More money entering Brixton isn’t a negative. After all, you have to consider just how many outlets kids will have for sporting engagement.”

While there are no concrete plans yet for any official sporting playgrounds, McRae confirmed that it is possible.

“We obviously understand the pull of the skate park and the leisure centre. Maybe we will build a 3G pitch for football – it’s something that has already been discussed.”

I relayed my interview with Sugg to McRae who had some sympathy for his frustrations.

“Sport obviously plays a key part in the growth of a child, especially in communities such as Brixton. People have to trust us and believe that we won’t neglect the current community for a newer and more wealthy one.”

McRae admitted, however: “It’s true: kids don’t really have an outlet in Brixton once they finish school. The Recreational Centre is somewhat off bounds now unless the parents can afford the membership, and the skate park is dominated by adults which can be intimidating.

“At the moment, there is nothing that the council can possibly do aside from asking the kids to be patient.”

Finding middle-ground

As a resident of Brixton, and someone who grew up there, it’s possible to understand both arguments.

I grew up during the riots that saw Brixton literally on fire. One can side with the idea of gentrification when casting an eye back at those times.

save
One of the first businesses to fall victim to the evictions

But I have also grown up in a community that unequivocally offered me this: sport at no cost.

The skate park was always my stomping ground, the Rec Centre a chance to flex my skills across heaps of sports.

It’s undoubtedly a concern that the lack of sporting outlets could see children turn to mischief and become disenfranchised from sport – seeing it only as something they only do at school.

But if the council decide on building free sporting complexes, then it may be a win-win situation for the community. Better housing and sporting facilities? A lot of people would jump with joy at that.

It’s a fragile time to be from Brixton – a district that once lavishly celebrated its mix of communities, now reduced to graffiti and protests which speak of distrust and disenchantment.

And the kids still don’t have a viable place to partake in their sports…