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Nets coach Lionel Hollins favors NBA's international reach

The Nets introduced new head coach Lionel Hollins

The Nets introduced new head coach Lionel Hollins during a press conference at the Barclays Center on Monday, July 7, 2014. Credit: Richard T. Slattery

The images of Paul George being wheeled out of the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on a stretcher Aug. 1 are lasting, particularly with the Pacers star likely out until the 2015-16 season because of the compound fracture in his right leg.

It spawned conversation wondering if it’s time to eliminate NBA players from the pool of USA Basketball talent. But Nets coach Lionel Hollins is among those who don’t want people to rush to judgment because of George’s grisly injury, and he doesn’t envision a scenario in which the league pulls the plug on NBA players suiting up for Team USA in international tournaments.

“First of all, my condolences go to Paul George,’’ Hollins told Newsday from Africa, where he’s participating in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program designed to foster the sport’s growth internationally at a grassroots level.

“I saw him. I was in Vegas and it’s definitely an unfortunate injury. But those things happen no matter where you are, when you are participating. The way it is, there’s always going to be debate about whether you should or shouldn’t, and everybody has their opinion about it. But I think the game has grown globally because of our participation in the Olympics and I don’t foresee any change in that. I think it’s a great opportunity for our players to go and participate internationally.’’

Hollins, 60, witnessed firsthand how the NBA’s reach has extended overseas in the last two decades. From the initial popularity gained by the international marketing of some of the league’s biggest icons of all time, such as the 1992 “Dream Team,’’ leading all the way through initiatives such as Basketball Without Borders, there’s been no shortage of NBA exposure worldwide.

Hollins and Nets forward Andrei Kirilenko currently are doing their part to further the league’s brand internationally, spending this week in Johannesburg, South Africa, at a camp for the top 60 African-born players age 16 or 17. The overall aim is to teach and instruct the youngsters about things on and off the basketball court.
One person who recently benefited from the camp? How about 76ers rookie Joel Embiid out of Kansas. Embiid, who was born in Cameroon, was drafted No. 3 overall, the highest anyone who’s ever participated in BWB Africa has been selected.

Hollins has been involved extensively in the NBA’s international outreach for years.

“I’ve been here, I’ve built houses, Habitats for Humanity,’’ he said. “I’ve been at an AIDS orphanage, I’ve been out to Clifton [South Africa] and to the orphanage that’s there. The opportunity to interact with the different culture and to show the community as the NBA has gone global, we are not just global from a perspective from basketball, but we are also trying to contribute to the communities and enhance those experiences as well.’’

If anyone can appreciate the camp, it’s Kirilenko. He recalled the time a particular Lakers star came to his native country, something that still brings a smile to his face to this day.

“Twenty years ago, I was in the same situation: 14 years old in Russia,’’ Kirilenko told Newsday. “We have a basketball camp and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was hosting this camp. I was 14 years old watching that camp and participating, wore like special shoes, and I was the happiest kid in the world. And like four or five years after that, I was drafted by Utah.

“I had a chance to kind of share my experience with kids who are in this camp, kind of give them information and share experiences which I had heading to the NBA, heading to the draft or what I did at their time. And that’s what’s so interesting because a lot of people have different life stories. Dikembe [Mutombo], he talked about his story. He came to the United States to be a doctor but became one the greatest centers of all time in basketball. That’s crazy.’’

In two months, Hollins and Kirilenko will find themselves abroad again representing the NBA. The Nets are scheduled to play two exhibition games against the Kings in China during training camp, giving fans in Beijing and Shanghai an up-close look at NBA talent. Just the way it will be for those attending the FIBA Basketball World Cup beginning in Spain later this month, which is the way Hollins prefers to see it.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our players to go and participate internationally and have the experience of going around and meeting new people, and experience different cultures,’’ he said.

“The NBA is so international with all of the international players that we have, so when you meet these players and play with them and then you go and compete against them in the Olympics and sometimes they’re your teammates, you get to see the places.

“I think it’s all good. There’s nothing negative about it and the [George] injury is always unfortunate. It’s always going to bring out people debating whether you should or shouldn’t. But I think it’s a good thing for the players and for the league.’’

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