Stateside: You don't need google to know the best players in the NBA

By Kris Shannon

Supremely confident Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters had a run-in with security guards on his first day at a new high school. Photo / AP
Supremely confident Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters had a run-in with security guards on his first day at a new high school. Photo / AP

The NBA playoffs are currently in full swing, with the best basketballers in the world battling in the first round.

Well, most of the best basketballers in the world. The (self-proclaimed) best player in the world is, like the rest of us, watching on from the sidelines.

And that's an altogether positive thing, both for the opposition, who are fortunate to avoid him, and for the rest of us, who are treated to the following.

In a piece he wrote for the Players' Tribune website - rather amusingly titled "The NBA Is Lucky I'm Home Doing Damn Articles" - Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters revealed the brash man behind the brash player.

It's an intriguing insight into the arrogance required to reach the top, an attribute hidden by most athletes behind a facade of faux modesty.

It's hilarious throughout and heartfelt in places, and begins with a wonderful story about Waiters being underestimated his whole life.

"I had just transferred over to South Philly High, and I was walking to class the first day when these two security guards came over to me," Waiters writes. "The one guard was like, 'Hey! Young boy! Hey!' They're questioning me, like, 'Hey, what're you doing here?

"So I pull the basketball roster out of my pocket, and I say, 'I'm Dion Waiters. I just transferred.' The guard says, 'Never heard of you.' So I say, 'Man, I'm committed to [play college basketball at] Syracuse!' The other guard starts cracking up. He goes, 'Son, you're not committed to Syracuse.'

"They're looking me up and down, like, Nah, you ain't sh**. So I say, 'For real! Google me!' Now they're laughing their asses off, right? The one guard goes, 'Ain't that some sh**? Google me! I am gonna Google this kid, too.' So they take me down to the office, and they Google me.

"Maxpreps.com. Dion Waiters. Committed to Syracuse. The guard goes, 'Man, you weren't lying!' I'm looking at him like, uh-huh. From that day on, every time I saw that guard in the hallway, he'd yell out, 'What's up, Google Me?'"

That was an appropriate nickname, given Waiters would rise to the NBA and become something of an internet star, beloved on social media for appearing to have far more faith in his own abilities than a player of his talent has any right to possess.

"I'm not a big internet guy, but I see things," he wrote. "I see what people say about me. They say, 'He never seen a shot he don't like', 'He's got irrational confidence', 'He thinks he's the best player in the NBA'.

"Hell yeah I do. I have to. Picture yourself walking into a South Philly playground at 12 years old, with grown-ass men, bleachers packed with people, trying to get a run in.

"You think you can survive in Philly without irrational confidence? You will never in your life hear the words, 'I can't' come out of Dion Waiters' mouth. I can. I will. I already did."

A true Gift for African baseball
If coming out of the mean streets of Philadelphia was hard, it's nothing compared with the journey just completed by the delightfully-named Gift Ngoepe.

The Pittsburgh Pirates infielder this week became the first African-born player to appear in Major League Baseball and, in his very first at-bat, became the first African to get a hit in an MLB game.

Ngoepe grew up in South Africa, a country not exactly known for its baseball pedigree, and fell in love with the sport the way many of us have all around the world: by watching the Yankees play the Red Sox.

"Me and my best friend at the time, he liked the Yankees for some reason and I knew there were huge rivalries with Boston so I took the Boston team, so me and him had a little bit of a battle going on," Ngoepe told Deadspin.

"Baseball would come on Sunday night and he would record it on his TV, when I guess the recording devices started coming out, so on Monday after school, we would go watch the game.

"That's how we watched baseball. And then if we were trying to watch the World Series, we'd have to stay up late, especially on weekends, that's the only time we could watch."

As a teenager, Ngoepe headed to Europe to attend a three-week MLB training camp, where he was discovered by the Pirates. But his journey was only just beginning, spending nine years in the lower levels of the organisation before finally reaching the big leagues.

So now the scorecard reads: MLB players born in South Africa, one. MLB players born in New Zealand, zero.

- NZ Herald

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