domingo, 29 de mayo de 2011

J.J. Barea: A Puerto Rican basketball success

(This column was published on the printed edition of the "Puerto Rico Daily Sun" on Friday, May 27, 2011.)

By Rafael R. Díaz Torres

The recent accomplishments by Dallas Mavericks’ point-guard José Juan Barea are also the successes of Puerto Rican basketball programs. The young player from Mayagüez could become the first “Boricua” to receive a championship ring from the most prestigious basketball league in the world. Carlos Arroyo came close in 2005, but his Detroit Pistons team lost to the San Antonio Spurs in a seventh and decisive game.

While some people argue that Barea would be not be the first Puerto Rican to win a ring, no player who was previously developed in the programs sponsored by the island’s basketball federation has become part of an NBA championship team. In 1981, former Team Puerto Rico player Alfred “Butch” Lee earned a ring with Los Angeles Lakers. However, Lee was not activated by his team during the finals and most of the 1980-81 NBA season.

Barea has the unique opportunity of winning his first professional basketball championship. In 2006, he made it to the Puerto Rican Superior Basketball League finals as a member of the Santurce Crabbers. His team lost to the Caguas Criollos as part of an exciting series that featured two point-guard promises on the island: Barea and Filiberto Rivera with the Criollos.

The versatile player from the Mavs has also been recognized for his outstanding participations with his national basketball team. After not being drafted by any NBA franchise, Barea was invited to several summer camps with different league teams. Despite this golden opportunity, his commitment to Puerto Rico encouraged him to abandon a training camp to join the island’s national team for the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games in Cartagena, Colombia. He risked his NBA goal to make his dream debut with the Puerto Rico men’s national basketball representation. The sacrifice was well paid in the end. Team Puerto Rico beat Panama in the gold medal game and Barea was the hero of the match after making a sensational three-point shot in the final seconds.

Now as a recognized NBA player, Barea has expressed interest in representing his people in the upcoming 2011 FIBA-Americas Olympic qualifying tournament to be held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in August and September. For him and the rest of the Puerto Rican national players, the goal is clear. The island’s basketball programs should be redeemed and the first step towards that goal is by qualifying for the 2012 London Olympic Summer Games.

But before that, the Mayagüez native is focusing on his most immediate task: winning a championship for Dallas and all of his fans. Once again, Puerto Rico is being paralyzed by an athlete who succeeds abroad. José Juan Barea has become an integral part of his nation’s sports flag. Boricuas on the island and abroad celebrate and unite around their new national hero. Number 11 is on the rise and Puerto Rico is the big winner.

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