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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Spud Helps Nate Steal the Show (2006 All-Star Weekend)

HoopsHype.com Article

Spud helps Nate steal the show
by David Friedman / February 19, 2006

Saturday began with the Eastern and Western Conference All-Stars practicing at the George R. Brown Convention Center. As Rasheed Wallace told me, All-Star practices are “for the fans. They get to see us do some dunks and hit some half-court shots.”

The Eastern Conference took the floor first. Coach Flip Saunders had the players do the three-man weave, after which he split the team into two groups for a series of shooting contests to see which team could be the first to make 10 shots from various spots: the elbow area next to the free throw line, the baseline just inside the three-point line and then three-pointers from the wing. Next he walked the players through some basic screen/roll sets. Paul Pierce teamed with the four Piston representatives at one basket. I asked Rasheed Wallace if Pierce will be the “fifth Beatle” during the game or if he just randomly ended up teaming with Detroit’s finest and he replied, “It was pretty random, but it worked out.”

The East practice concluded with the traditional half-court shot contest. LeBron James, Jermaine O’Neal and Richard Hamilton each made one half-court shot. Then the West All-Stars took the floor and the media availability period commenced.

Like yesterday, Kobe Bryant was swamped, but I managed to obtain “pole position” and ask a few questions of the NBA’s leading scorer. The first thing that I wanted to know is if he thinks that he can break Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game record of 42 points. Bryant said, “In these games I just come out and read the flow of the game. The object is always to win, so whatever that means for me to do is what I’m going to do.”

Bryant added that he was made aware of Chamberlain’s record recently: “Yeah, someone asked me about that a couple days ago in L.A. I think that he has a story that he wants to write on Monday, so he’s trying to lead me to get 43.”

Since Bryant was criticized for his early departure from his 62 point game against Dallas and then also criticized for staying in the Toronto game to get 81 points, I asked him if he felt like he was in a no-win situation: “No, that’s the essence of the spot. You can’t please everybody. The people who like you are going to like you and the people who criticize are going to criticize. So it’s important to just go out and be yourself and do what you think is best.”

I suggested that since he received flak either way that perhaps the next time he has a big scoring game he might consider staying in and getting as many points as possible, but Bryant disagreed: “No, I do what I think is right. When I checked out of the game I didn’t do it because I thought people would like it. I felt like it was the right thing to do. The game was in hand and we had another game coming up. There was no point in risking injury or tiring my legs out. I do it because I feel it’s the right thing to do. I couldn’t care less what anybody else says.”

Chris Bosh told me that the best thing about being a first time All-Star is “getting to play with everybody, getting to see everybody and joking around. I’ve been dreaming about this a long time and it came true.”

When the media availability period concluded, coach Avery Johnson and the West All-Stars began their practice session. Johnson explained that he was not going to put in anything too complicated but that he just wanted to make sure that there was “some organization” to what the team does on Sunday.

He walked the team through some basic, standard NBA sets. If you see Steve Nash or Tony Parker flapping a hand over their head while dribbling downcourt then the West is going to run “floppy up” or “floppy down” (depending on whether they point their hand up or down). Floppy up means that when the baseline screens are set the two players that are using the screens will emerge from opposite sides, while in floppy down the players will both come out on the same side, one after the other.

The West also had several shooting contests and the mood was more lively than it was during the East’s practice. First team to make 11 shots won and the contests pitted the starters versus the reserves. Locations included the elbow area, a bank shot contest from the mid post (Johnson called this the “Tim Duncan” drill and, appropriately enough, Duncan and the starters won that one) and a baseline shot inside the three-point line. Then Johnson involved the crowd, assigning one side’s fans the responsibility of counting out loud for the starters’ makes while the other side kept track of the reserves’ progress. The reserves won two out of three contests in this format. Johnson also walked the team through some basic pick-and-roll defenses and two out-of-bounds plays – one to set up for an open two-point attempt and one to spring open a player for a three-point shot. Johnson announced that he plans to play a lineup of five seven-footers for a couple minutes, possibly when Saunders puts in all four Pistons so that Chauncey Billups has to guard one of them.

Bryant was the only West All-Star to make a half-court shot before the practice ended.

During the time between the end of the All-Star practices and the beginning of the All-Star Saturday night contests, I was able to walk through the Jam Session and see some other exhibits. Artist Kelly Sullivan has a “finger smear” painting display consisting of huge basketball themed drawings that were commissioned by Radio Shack, a Jam Session sponsor. Fans can dab paint on a finger and take part in finishing the artwork. She explained to me that “finger smear” is less intimidating to some people than trying to paint with a brush. Ian Naismith stopped by her exhibit earlier and participated in the project, signing his name by his “finger smear.”

I’ll go light on describing the All-Star Saturday night action since TNT and SportsCenter are providing saturation coverage. The Spurs won the Shooting Stars contest in a record 25.1 seconds. Their secret weapon? Steve Kerr was wearing his 13-year-old son’s LeBron James shoes because he forgot to pack his own sneakers.

Dwyane Wade outdueled James to win the Skills Challenge and Dirk Nowitzki won the Three Point Shootout, defeating Gilbert Arenas and Ray Allen in the final round.

Slam Dunk Contest judges Elvin Hayes, Kenny Smith, Rudy Tomjanovich, Moses Malone and Clyde Drexler worked overtime because Nate Robinson and Andre Iguodala battled to a tie and had to decide the title with the contest’s first ever “dunk-off.” Iguodala scored two perfect 50s in his first four dunks, but Robinson won 47-46 in the “dunk-off” and is the 2006 Slam Dunk champion. Iguodala’s best dunk came when teammate Allen Iverson tossed the ball off the back of the backboard and Iguodala swooped in, caught the ball and soared underneath the backboard for a reverse dunk; Robinson electrified the crowd and forced the “dunk-off” by leaping over Spud Webb for a powerful slam.

Next I headed to the Houston Marriott-Medical Center, site of the second annual ABA “Ole School” Reunion. I wrote about the first ABA Reunion last year for HoopsHype and when I arrived I saw several familiar faces, including organizer Fatty Taylor, “Goo” Kennedy, Warren Jabali and Al Smith. I also had an opportunity to speak with several ABA players who I did not get a chance to meet before, including Gus Gerard, George Tinsley and Ollie Taylor. Gerard played on the 1974-75 Spirits of St. Louis team that pulled off one of the great upsets in pro basketball history by defeating Dr. J and the defending champion New York Nets in the 1975 ABA playoffs.

Tinsley is a successful entrepreneur who runs a chain of food and beverage franchises in Florida. He told me that he is the “unofficial secretary” between the National Basketball Retired Players Association and many retired players who are not active in the group. He conveys to them information from the NBRPA and relays their feedback to the group. Tinsley also has worked as a coach, both in his native Kentucky and in Florida; two of his former players are Darrell Griffith and Tracy McGrady.

Before Taylor said anything about his own career, he had a very important message to convey: “The ABA existed before Spencer Haywood, but the storyline really begins with him because he was the first one to challenge the undergraduate rule, paving the way for all these guys who are high school players or undergraduates to come into the NBA and make the kind of money that they are making. Spencer went through a lot of stuff that people don’t realize – escorted off of the court, being locked out of the arenas and stuff like that (while his case was making its way through the courts and various injunctions restricted him from playing). Spencer was only 19-20 years old and going through a real trauma in his life and questioning whether or not he should continue to battle. He’s not a guy who’s going to toot his own horn but, when you see the story of ‘Glory Road,’ that’s one story but there is another story and it is a very important story because eventually the ABA became the cornerstone for the NBA. The dominant players after the merger were ABA players – George Gervin, Dr. J, Artis Gilmore, Moses Malone. There is a real, untold story there and I don’t think that many people realize that.”

David Friedman’s work has appeared in Hoop, Basketball Digest, Sports Collectors Digest and Tar Heel Monthly. He wrote the chapter on the NBA in the 1970s for the anthology Basketball in America: From the Playgrounds to Jordan's Game and Beyond (Haworth Press, 2005). Check out his basketball blog at 20secondtimeout.blogspot.com

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:27 PM

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