If you want to learn more about pro basketball, Sean Deveney is about as knowledgeable as they come. The longtime NBA insider has covered the league for two decades. He was formerly with The Sporting News, and now writes for Heavy.com. Deveney has a new book coming out Nov. 1: The History of the NBA in Twelve Games: From 24 Seconds to 30,000 3-Pointers.
That book looks at 12 games that helped shape the NBA. This is Deveney’s list. Some of his choices are not obvious ones. But these are the games that he found most significant.
Awful Announcing caught up with Deveney (seen at left above in a May 2022 Heavy.com video) to discuss his book and the 2022-23 season, which tips off next month.
AA: Why write this book?
Sean Deveney: “It seems to me that the history of the NBA isn’t talked about very much. So, I wanted to do something that would get into that. I wanted to reach back with some of the people I know, some of the players I’ve talked to over the years, and put together something that people might enjoy.”
AA: Was it hard to pick 12 games?
SD: “The easy way is to pick the games that everybody knows: the triple-overtime game Suns vs. Celtics (in the 1976 NBA Finals) or when Michael Jordan scored 63 in a playoff game (in 1986). I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to pick influential games, games that sort of set the league in a certain way down the line. That had an impact on where the league wound up going. It was tough to do that, to find those kinds of games rather than what you’d see on NBA TV Hardwood Classics.”
AA: Are these regular season or playoff games?
SD: “One is the opening game of the 1954 season. That’s the first game with the 24-second clock. At the time, I don’t think people understood what an impact that was going to have in terms of where the league had been and where it was going to go. But certainly, there are a lot of playoff games. There are a lot of Finals games. But there is also an exhibition game from September 1997 that was played in Germany where a lot of NBA players, including Charles Barkley, had their first look at a skinny teenager named Dirk Nowitzki.”
In 1997, 18-year-old Dirk Nowitzki participated Nike Hoop Heroes in Germany.
Dirk got 52pts and roasted Scottie Pippen 1v1.
Charles Barkley in shock, said, "Dude, who the hell are you?" pic.twitter.com/WeFszrksyJ
— Oldskoolbball (@Oldskoolbball2) September 20, 2021
AA: What’s the most recent of the 12 games?
SD: “Steph Curry in February 2013 when he went to Madison Square Garden and scored 54 points…. His career up until that point was a bit of a mess. He showed a lot of talent, but the Warriors were a mess. There was the [perceived beef] with Monta Ellis. They had a change in ownership. They made the Andrew Bogut trade. And he had ankle injuries. He didn’t look like a guy who would be durable enough to play in the NBA for a long time. He goes against the Knicks, the team he thought that was going to draft him in 2009, and he was just unbelievable. That’s when the world said ‘Steph Curry, we have to start paying attention to this guy.’ Everything took off from there.”
AA: Who won the offseason?
SD: “If anybody won, it’s probably the Warriors, because nothing too crazy happened that’s going to knock them from being the favorites. You have to be excited for Cleveland and what they’re going to do with Donovan Mitchell. I think that’s a great fit for them. They have a great starting five. Those are probably the two teams that stand out.”
AA: Does LeBron James have a shot at another championship?
SD: “I think he’s good enough to lead a team to the NBA Finals. The Western Conference is not as tough as the East. Certainly, if there’s an injury on someone else, the Warriors or the Suns, then I could imagine the Lakers being a contender. If you look at the numbers, everything is there. Can he stay healthy? Can he stay on the floor?”
AA: How is the NBA going to be different 5 years from now?
SD: “I think we’re going to see a little bit of a snapback away from the 3-pointer, away from the spread floors. Defenses are starting to find ways to react to that…
“You’re going to need more defenders who are versatile, who can contest 3-pointers and still recover and guard the lane. The explosion of the 3-point shot, it’s not going anywhere, but I think it will at least plateau or go down a little bit. In terms of basketball strategy and seeing more intricate plays called, I think that will be good for the game”
AA: What did you think of Winning Time?
SD: “My reaction was: this is a cartoon. This is not how (it was). Jerry West was known to be somewhat grouchy, but the way they portrayed him was just off the charts. It was ridiculous. If I wanted to watch a cartoon, I’d turn on Ren & Stimpy.”