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Basketball is THE game as far as I’m concerned. My mom says she remembers me bouncing an orange ball from the moment I started to walk. When I was 6 years old, Julius Erving – the legendary Dr. J. – came on a visit to Israel and as the son of a basketball reporter, I was selected to be on the welcoming committee at the airport. The photo of me shaking hands with Dr J. was published in all the Israeli newspapers and even in a couple of American ones.
Turned out that I had some talent for basketball – I became captain of the school team and the star of the children’s teams in my area. But as I grew out of childhood, the wunderkind was no more. I did play pro basketball for four years and even made it to Israel’s national basketball team at the first ever championship for players under 6’ 2” in Boston in 1996, but it wasn’t the real deal. By the time I finished university I had given up on playing.
Then I entered a partnership with a book publisher who specialized in sports books. We thought I should write a novel that focused on basketball and so, in 2007, shortly after the birth of my oldest daughter, Tamara, my first book was born. “David’s Miracle” is the story of a boy who is too short to be accepted into the school basketball team and establishes his own team. To my astonishment, the book was a success – such a success that I followed with a whole series entitled “The Dream Ten.”
What about Steph?
After success in Israel it was obvious to me that the world is waiting. I decided to take my talent to the United States. This was a few years before the Israeli David Blatt was signed on as coach in the NBA but exactly like him, I was sure that my David was going to teach the Americans a thing or two about basketball.
I read an article about the success of independent e-books on Amazon and thought I’d give it a try. I had the book translated into English and chose the pen name A.D. Erving, my initials with a homage to the idol of my youth. An old acquaintance who reemerged on Facebook, a former basketball coach who now develops websites, suggested that I join forces with him and an internet marketing guy. I knew nothing about the internet but trusted my gut instinct.
I suggested that we should try and team up with an NBA player to endorse our project. They went quiet and then the internet expert exclaimed, “That’s a game changer, a completely different kettle of fish!” The website builder mentioned Michael Jordan and the marketing expert tended toward Magic Johnson. My guy in the United States, a former Israeli player in the NBA and a friend of a close friend, who had offered to help me, went in more logical directions. We reached out to Doc Rivers, the former head coach of the Boston Celtics. He agreed in principle, but negotiations fell through. The next name was that of Shane Battier from the Miami Heat, who liked the book, but by a cruel twist of fate, was about to write his own book.
More and more names from the benches of the best league in the world were thrown out until, in the end, someone suggested a new name: Stephen Curry. It was 2012. Google revealed that Curry had just finished an injury-filled season and that his career was at a crossroads. But his biography indicated that he was perfect for our small project.
His personal story and the way he emerged onto the international stage basketball were similar to that of the protagonist of the first book in the series: a short, skinny kid whose father was a former basketball player and who nobody believed in. Here was a guy who would understand the educational message of my story.
“Isn’t he too unknown for us?” wondered my partners when I brought up his name. But I knew better. “He’s our guy,” I told them with the confidence of a seasoned agent. “And also, I have no other ideas.”
The email I received shortly after was brief: “He wants to do it.” A contract was signed during the 2013 All-Star season, where Curry was only competing in the Three-Point Contest. A week later he scored 54 points for the Golden State Warriors against the New York Nicks at the Madison Square Garden. I bought a Stephen Curry jersey for my 3-year-old son, who probably became the first Israeli to wear jersey number 30. The future was looking very bright.
But, truth to tell, something wasn’t right from my side from the beginning. In the words of a sports’ commentator, when the real game began, I stank: I simply wasn’t present on the court. An appointment was made to shoot video and stills of Curry for the website. I was unable to be there for family reasons, and had to supervise from afar. But when we got the photos of our star we were stunned. The photos looked horrible, and the sound on the video was unintelligible. We had to scrap the material. Furthermore, the two internet marketing whizzes who had joined the project from the start turned out to be totally inexperienced in matters of e-books and Amazon. When I eventually hired the services of an American PR company, I spent a few thousand dollars and all I got was a few short items on American radio stations, including an exclusive (!) telephone interview that I gave to the student campus radio at the Nebraska University in Omaha.
The entire project turned out to be a catastrophic combination of professional incompetence, budgetary constraints, limitations caused by the physical distance and a bit of bad luck, and I found myself unable to stop the snowball effect.
I decided to try a more personal way, of working with our talent. I decided to send my star some souvenirs from the Holy Land. Steph is an observant Christian and his mother, I heard, had even been on a visit to Israel five years earlier. What could be better than a few lucky talismans from the Middle East, a set of candles, a bottle of sand from the Holy Land and a picture of Jesus Christ that I purchased at one of the churches in Jerusalem for an exorbitant price? I packed it all up and sent it to Stephen via a 24-hour door-to-door service and then waited in vain for an excited thank you email for the gift in which I had invested so much thought. Puzzled, I enquired at the post office whether the package had been delivered. Three months later, our very efficient post office officially admitted that the package had gotten lost, and sent me a check to the amount of $52 in compensation.
Two lots of bad news in one day
Insofar as Stephen was concerned, he kept up his side of the agreement. He was photographed with the book, tweeted about it several times, wrote a few posts on Facebook and distributed hundreds of copies of the print version of the book at his summer camp. Meanwhile, his career was on the rise. At the following All-Stars event he was enlisted as one of the players in the Western Conference. In celebration, he even distributed some digital copies of the book to his followers on Facebook. Although it is true that Steph’s team was eliminated in the semifinals of the Western Conference at the end of the season, Steph himself had a great season and, just as I was beginning to despair of my project, commentators were claiming him to be one of the 20 best players in the world.
Although the book reached first place in some categories on Amazon and the reviews were good, the sales were far from what I had hoped for, and far less than the amount sold in Israel.
Time passed, and two years later, in March 2015, my historic agreement with Steph Curry expired. That evening, at exactly 10.20, the fax signaling the end of a contract period arrived. It was Election Day here in Israel and the exit polls announcing the renewed hands-down victory of Benjamin Netanyahu had just emerged. But for me the election results were the second-worst news that evening.
How’s your friend Steph, Dad?
Steph’s agents are now dealing with other brand names that are probably more fitting to a player in his current status. I’m still a little hurt. I was sure Steph would never manage without me, that he had reached his peak during our period together, that we had been the ideal couple, the Splash Brothers on the scene of international literature. He was, a mere two months later, proclaimed MVP and then immediately after that, won his first championship. Meanwhile, his daughter became one of the most adorable and famous people in North America and Steph became one of the President of the United States’ regular golf partners. As for his exploits on the basketball court this year, what can I say?
A year later, I keep abreast of all his success and am truly happy for him, but have an enormous sense of missed opportunity. It is not the lost financial opportunity but a feeling I get sometimes when my son opens his eyes in the morning, wearing his favorite No. 30 jersey and asks whether Golden State won last night’s game and how my friend Steph did, and when we are going to meet him. Try to explain to a five-year-old that his father didn’t even get to meet the great hero, not even once.
I often find myself brooding and thinking, for example, about how nice it would have been to be friends with Stephen. You know, one of those friends you can go and visit in Oakland from time to time, to cheer him on when he’s playing at the Oracle Arena, to sit with him over a beer and talk. Maybe I could even suggest ways to improve his amazing crossover dribble and his quick shooting release. And in the background, my son Gur and his daughter Riley would be busy on another routine play date.
So in the end, the skinny, curly-haired boy who had sat on the bench for years did not score the winning basket with a brilliant assist from the genius from Oakland. Not in this round. But I learned my lesson: Life is a series of experiences that we collect over time. Some are great, others are not so good. At the end of the day, this story is, from every point of view, entirely mine. And what other writer can tell a story in which the best basketball player in the world really was the spokesperson for his book?