International star, at age 35, coming off a championship and linked to an overseas move to a lesser league offering lesser competition.
No, this isn’t about Lionel Messi, who is not coming to Inter Miami CF any time soon (or maybe at all) and won’t soon be playing in a warehouse district in Fort Lauderdale alongside I-95 and an executive airport.
And yet, the concept itself is not nearly as far-fetched as it sounds.
It, in fact, has happened, with a South Florida connection of its own.
“Now,” the voice on the other end of the phone said, “I’m not sure we’re talking the exact same thing. But I can understand the thinking.”
The voice belongs to Bob McAdoo, the former NBA scoring champion and NBA Most Valuable Player who now serves as scout and community liaison for the Miami Heat.
At 35, as in the same age where Messi stands, when he felt he still had plenty to offer the NBA, with a recent championship hardly in his rearview mirror, McAdoo took what many viewed as a step down in competition by moving his career to Italy . . . and lived to relish every moment.
“It was basically the best time of my life,” McAdoo said. “Those were six of my favorite years of my career.”
Like many, McAdoo saw the reports during the World Cup of Messi perhaps moving on from Paris Saint-Germain to possibly join David Beckham’s Inter Miami CF at Fort Lauderdale’s DRV PNK Stadium.
No, Major League Soccer is not France’s Ligue 1, let alone Europe’s Champions League. Not close. Certainly not where you would expect an immediate touch down from a player who just won the World Cup with Argentina.
But Serie A basketball in Italy hardly was or is the NBA, and, yet, there was McAdoo, in 1986, just over a year removed from a championship under Pat Riley with the Los Angeles Lakers, continuing his career in a league and country that most viewed as below his pedigree.
The difference at the time, McAdoo said, was the notion then that by their mid-30s athletes were aging out of their prime. Indeed, no less than Pele, at 35, went from the heights of his career with Santos in Brazil to the nascent North American Soccer League in 1975 and New York Cosmos.
“We’re 30 years later, and the thinking has changed,” McAdoo said. “No one is looking at Messi as being too old. You look at LeBron [James, at 37], and he’s showing you can be productive at that age. Tennis players, [Roger] Federer and Serena [Williams] are 41 and they still can play. That wasn’t the attitude 30 years ago.”
And, yet, there still was an element of the current Messi uncertainty with McAdoo those 36 years ago, when he made the decision to move on to what would become an enduring and fruitful career with Olimpia Milano.
“Once I got over there, Philly called me and wanted me to break my contract and come back,” he said of the 76ers, who at the time were fielding a team that included Julius Erving and Charles Barkley. “And I said, ‘No go.’ I ended up in Italy six years and it ended up being basically the best time of my life. I won EuroLeague championships. I won Italian championships.”
And, McAdoo said, became a better person for the experience.
“Both of my kids are fluent in Italian now, as grown ups,” he said. “It was a hell of an experience in my opinion. It makes you more well-rounded as a person.”
The Messi-to-Miami conjecture likely will resurface again, as it has several times the past few years, in part because Messi is a frequent visitor to South Florida, with a home in Miami.
And if he comes to stay, McAdoo said, it can be rewarding in its own unique way, even if not necessarily on the world’s greatest stage for his sport.
“When you do something like that,” McAdoo said, “you have to do it with full intensity. I think that’s where a lot of older players make a mistake.
“Of course, it wasn’t as strong as the NBA when I went to Italy. But it was strong. To me, it was just as exciting, because everywhere our Milan team went, and everywhere we went in the European championship, we had packed houses. We were the team to see. So it was a challenge. You don’t go over to lay down and collect a check. I went over there and played with full intensity.”
Since then, McAdoo reunited with Riley as a Heat assistant coach, sharing in the team’s three NBA championships. Now living in Boca Raton, “I’m still involved with the game, still scouting.”
And, at 71, still proud of his Italian job, naysayers be damned.
“When I went into the Hall of Fame,” he said of his 2006 induction, “they didn’t mention Italy. I said, ‘No, that has to go in there, too.’ That’s a big part of me.”
IN THE LANE
GOING RATE: With the New York Knicks docked a second-round pick this past week for premature free-agency contact regarding eventual acquisition Jalen Brunson, just as the 76ers were earlier this year for their wooing of former Heat power forward P.J. Tucker (and as the Heat were in 2021 for their perceived premature pursuit of Kyle Lowry), the going rate clearly has been established. So the question becomes whether any of the penalized teams, including the Chicago Bulls in 2021, who received a similar penalty for their free-agency timing with Lonzo Ball, would have balked at tossing in a second-round pick to complete their transactions. The answer is a resounding no. Unless the penalty changes, if you aren’t jumping the gun in free agency, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
EDDIE HOUSE’S BIG THINGS: He may not have invented the Sam Cassell celebratory (and since-deemed-worthy-of-a-technical-foul) large-pair dance, but former Heat guard Eddie House wasn’t shy during his playing career when it came to similar gesticulations. Now a Boston Celtics studio commentator, that hasn’t changed for the Heat 2000 second-round pick. So in the midst of a two-game Celtics series against the Orlando Magic, House, still without filter, opined on air of the Magic, “They’re still garbage. They’re still not a good basketball team. They won’t make the playoffs. They won’t be in the play-in.” Duly noted by the Magic, who then won the second of the consecutive meetings, as well. “I’d be lying if I said we didn’t see that,” Magic rookie Paolo Banchero told the Orlando Sentinel. “It definitely lit a fire under some of the guys, and the team in general. We just want to earn the respect of the league. It’s clear that a lot of people still don’t respect us.” The first of the Heat’s four games against the Magic is Jan. 26.
NUANCED TANKING: In an interview with Sports Illustrated, former Heat guard Dwyane Wade, now a Utah Jazz part-owner, offered a nuanced view of the Jazz approach this season in the wake of the offseason roster selloff of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, and the departure of former coach Quin Snyder. “I was on a team, we won 15 games and I wasn’t a part of all 15 wins. You want to talk about a hard year of life? That was hard,” Wade said of the 2007-08 Heat. “It was two years after winning my first championship. But yeah, I mean, listen, tanking is a media conversation, right? Tanking starts in the media, and you look at an organization and kind of see where they are headed in their future. We don’t look at it as tanking. We look at this as we’re reshaping our team.” Hmm, so “reshaping” has become the new tanking . . . as long as it winds up leading to the preferred endgame. The Heat face Wade’s Jazz (still sounds weird) on New Year’s Eve in Utah.
SPEAKING OF: In the wake of Wade being announced as a candidate for the 2023 Class of the Basketball Hall of Fame, former Heat teammate Goran Dragic quipped: “I think Dwyane is going to make it.” In a more serious vein, Dragic, now with the Bulls, told the Chicago Sun-Times, “When I came to Miami, you’re kind of scared to play with those kinds of players because you don’t know how they’re going to accept you on the team. But he was awesome, not just to me, but to everyone. Whenever you needed a bucket he was going to find a way to deliver.’”
COSMOPOLITAN OUTLOOK: In a league that includes outposts such as Oklahoma City, Sacramento and Memphis, there was one particular element of last weekend’s Heat-Spurs game in Mexico City that players embraced when it came to the venue. “It seems like there is stuff to do all over the place,” Spurs guard Tre Jones said. “It would be one of those cities like Toronto, Miami. I think it would be very important for the NBA to try to branch out here a little more, try to get Mexico City involved a little more, and hopefully get a team here one day.”
23. Career double-doubles by Nikola Vucevic against the Heat, including Tuesday night’s 29 points and 12 rebounds in the Bulls’ victory, tied for the third most by an opponent over the Heat’s 35 seasons. Dwight Howard has the most, at 36, followed by Patrick Ewing, at 31. Vucevic’s 23 are tied with Tim Duncan. Vucevic’s total includes 15 points, 17 rebounds in the teams’ first meeting this season, with the Heat and Bulls to conclude their season series March 18.