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Friday, August 21, 2009
Jameer Nelson, Home Runs and Leadership


Remember Adonal Foyle, talking on video in the hallway of the Magic locker room, just after the Lakers had beaten them to win the title? He was sad. There could have been a hundred reasons: He wouldn't be getting a ring for instance, and the future of his career was in doubt.

But what he talked about was the fact that he was on a special team, where every player had same very clear goal all season long.

From training camp, he said, the whole roster had been on the same page: They wanted to win a title, and they didn't care what anybody else thought.

"To have 15 guys all believe the same thing," he says "it's truly special." 

Really? To us fans and outsiders, that sounds like a no-brainer. Why wouldn't every team feel like that?

The truth is that team-building, and leadership among players are, in my best estimation, really not at all like the movies. Everyone does not rally around selfless causes and team goals. Communication is not what you'd dream it would be, and trust is hard to build.

But there are plenty of exceptions, especially on teams that happen to have extraordinary leaders.

In Orlando, that guy is Jameer Nelson. Nelson is a leader in all kinds of ways, on and off the court, and it's no surprise that the Magic have blossomed in his time there. As you may have read in today's First Cup, for the last four years he has essentially run his own training camp for his Magic teammates. Nelson invites everybody to the Philadelphia, and they work and learn and play together. Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Rashard Lewis ... it's August, and there they are with Nelson, trying to hit homeruns (as you can see on video) in Phillies' batting practice.

"Given what has happened in Orlando, the stability and teamwork they've had since Jameer has been doing this, you'd think every team would be interested in empowering a player to bring people together in the summer like this," says David Thorpe. "I'm not seeing it, though."

NBA players aren't paid to work in the off-season, and teams can't compel them to do much of anything they don't want to do. So it's not a simple case of requiring players to show up. But enticing them, as Nelson has done, seems worthwhile.