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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

King James Reigns in Houston (2006 NBA All-Star Weekend)

Note: This article was originally published on February 20, 2006 at HoopsHype.com but the link no longer works, so I have reprinted the article in its entirety below.

I began the final day of All-Star Weekend by attending the NBA Legends Brunch, which brings together an impressive array of basketball talent representing several generations of excellence. The National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) held the seventh edition of this event on Sunday morning at the Hilton-Americas hotel. Emceed by TNT Studio host Ernie Johnson, this year's brunch recognized Cynthia Cooper, Marques Haynes, Calvin Murphy, Kenny Smith, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. There was a moment of silence in memory of the 14 NBRPA members who passed away in 2005 and the issuing of Commemorative Championship Awards to the 1993-94 and 1994-95 Houston Rockets teams.

NBA Commissioner David Stern began his remarks to the group by saying, "It's been a spectacular week" and he praised the retired players for demonstrating their "commitment to community" by their actions during the week, including hospital and school visits and charitable donations. Stern said, "Respect for the tradition of the game is so important" and concluded by noting, "If you forget where you came from you will never get where you are supposed to go."

When Cynthia Cooper received her award, she emphasized the perseverance that carried her from growing up in Watts to 10 years of playing pro basketball in Italy before winning four WNBA titles with the Houston Comets. Cooper told me that the brunch "is incredibly special. Just being one of the honorees and being a part of the NBRPA is incredible. I grew up watching a lot of the veteran talent in this room." I asked her who in particular she admired as a kid and she enthusiastically replied, "Norm Nixon, Magic and Jamaal Wilkes--all of the Lakers. I was an L.A. girl and grew up as a Lakers fan. Oscar Robertson is so incredible. I feel incredibly honored to be part of such a talented group."

She is pleased to be on the same list with Murphy: "Calvin is a great guy. What happened is unfortunate but it's good to see him bounce back. It's so wonderful for the NBA and NBRPA to honor Calvin for his contributions to the sport of basketball--not men's or women's but basketball in general." Some players struggle to adjust to retirement. Not Cooper. "The adjustment was easy for me because I have twins," Cooper said. "They keep me pretty busy. I have boy-girl twins and I've always put family first, so it wasn't hard for me to make the decision or the transition to go from being an active player to a retired player."

Haynes, who received the Humanitarian Award, paid tribute to the Rens, the Harlem Globetrotters and other pioneering black teams of the early 20th century. He reminded the audience that his 1948 Globetrotters defeated George Mikan and the world champion Minneapolis Lakers, debunking the idea that the Globetrotters were merely showmen. This achievement paved the way for the eventual desegregation of the NBA. Haynes said that there must be a dialogue established with the NBA to create a pension program for Globetrotters players who were denied the opportunity to play in the NBA. Haynes' fascinating stories exceeded his allotted time, leading to an awkward moment when Ernie Johnson came back to the podium while Haynes was still talking.

I spoke with Haynes after the brunch and he told me, "I tried to say as much as I possibly could. They wanted me to keep it to five minutes." But the pension issue is so important that Haynes had to bring it up in the hope that he could generate some movement on that front. "We've been around a long time. We call ourselves 'the survivors.' We were denied the opportunity to play pro ball for the same reason the Negro Leaguers were--the color of our skin. This is something that could be rectified by the NBA instituting a plan similar to if not identical to what Major League Baseball did for the Negro Leaguers."

During his acceptance speech, Kenny Smith described the feelings of anger and helplessness that swept over him when Hurricane Katrina cut its path of devastation through the Gulf Coast. He decided to do something immediate to help the storm's victims and within four days he organized a charity basketball game that was televised on TNT and raised significant funds to help the displaced people. Smith insisted that each NBA player who participated must donate at least $10,000 in goods, services or products and that the player must distribute those wares personally, not via his agents or handlers.

Calvin Murphy's remarks were tinged with great passion and emotion. He lost his job as a Rockets broadcaster in the wake of some allegations that proved to be baseless and Murphy noted how much he misses being on the air talking about basketball, a job he held for 13 years after his Hall of Fame playing career. Before he went on stage, I asked Murphy what this award means to him. He replied, "With what I've just been through in my life, this is perfect timing--to be honored by your peers--people who believe in you and want you to know that they believe in you; this is the first day of the rest of my life."

Julius Erving said that Clyde Drexler had the complete package as a player and that Drexler was part of the showmanship lineage that began with Bob Davies and Bob Cousy and continued with Elgin Baylor and Connie Hawkins. Erving praised Drexler's "special flair and elegance." Erving played against Drexler for several years but they did not have a chance to interact much until Drexler invited Erving, who was by then retired, to a ceremony in Portland honoring Drexler. At that time Erving found out how much Drexler had always admired Erving and a big brother-little brother bond formed between them. Erving suggested that just as he played second fiddle to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Drexler was the second-best player in the game behind Michael Jordan and that there is no shame in that. When Drexler spoke he dismissed the notion that Dr. J played second fiddle to anyone, observing that every kid wore Dr. J shoes and wanted to be like Dr. J.

Olajuwon was unable to attend the brunch, so Yao Ming accepted the award on his behalf, noting, "Houston has always had a tradition of great big men." Next, Shaquille O'Neal spoke about the achievements of George Mikan, who passed away in 2005, describing him as the first great NBA big man. O'Neal said that he paid for Mikan’s funeral because that is what a son should do for his father. Rudy Tomjanovich, who coached the Rockets to titles in 1993-94 and 1994-95, thanked the NBRPA for honoring those teams and called to the stage several members of those teams who came to the brunch: Carl Herrera, Kenny Smith, Mario Elie and Clyde Drexler. The brunch concluded with a hysterical standup routine by Chris Tucker, who did impressions of O’Neal as a police officer, Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo and others.

Afterwards I spoke with more legends than I have space to quote here, but it is always special to hear from George Gervin. The Iceman was happy to see Murphy honored: "Murphy looked good. He has always been a strong individual. We all knew he would bounce back. It's so unfortunate that he had to go through things but that's what life is about: life is about recovery and he's doing that." With everything else that has gone on these past few days it is important to remember that All-Star Weekend does in fact culminate in the All-Star Game on Sunday night.

Some anticipated themes played out: the West players fed local hero Tracy McGrady the ball and for a while he was on pace to threaten Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star Game record 42-point outburst. As Fred Carter might say, when I was inquiring earlier in the week about the possibility of Kobe Bryant breaking that mark I was in the right church but the wrong pew; Bryant finished with eight points, although he did play a strong floor game with a team-high eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals. He also hit a spectacular fadeaway 20-foot jumper to tie the game at 120 with 32.3 seconds left.

East Coach Flip Saunders did put all four Pistons on the court at the same time on a couple occasions, with Paul Pierce in the role of "fifth Beatle." The West led by as many as 21 and McGrady seemed to have MVP honors sewn up, but the East, spearheaded by the Pistons/Pierce combination toward the end of the third quarter, made a spirited rally and eventually took the lead. Then, LeBron James took over, finishing with 29 points, defending McGrady's attempt to tie the game at the end and becoming the youngest All-Star Game MVP, surpassing Oscar Robertson.

In his postgame remarks to the media, James made a very candid statement about McGrady's shot: "On his way up, I got a piece of his arm and a piece of the ball, which made it short." Reflecting on winning the MVP trophy, James said that individual accolades are not as important to him as being on a successful team.

Starting the day talking with the legendary Marques Haynes and finishing the day watching a potential legend in the making in LeBron James is the perfect way to conclude an intense and wonderful basketball weekend.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:55 AM


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

Note: This article was originally published on February 19, 2006 at HoopsHype.com but the link no longer works, so I have reprinted the article in its entirety below.

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 sport. 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 Ollie 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."

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:30 AM


Honoring the Past, Anticipating the Future (2006 NBA All-Star Weekend)

Note: This article was originally published on February 18, 2006 at HoopsHype.com but the link no longer works, so I have reprinted the article in its entirety below.

My first stop on Friday was the Hilton-Americas Hotel, site of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame press conference announcing the 2006 Finalists for election. Dick Stockton stood on a stage flanked by Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson, Bill Walton, Dr. Jack Ramsay, Gail Goodrich, David Thompson, Clyde Drexler and Moses Malone and read off each of the names of the 16 Finalists, followed by brief career summaries. Ten candidates were nominated by the North American Screening Committee--players Charles Barkley, Ralph Sampson, Chet Walker, Adrian Dantley, Joe Dumars and Dominique Wilkins, coaches Don Nelson and Gene Keady and contributors David Gavitt and Dick Vitale. The Women's Screening Committee selected coaches Van Chancellor and Geno Auriemma, the International Screening Committee chose coaches Pedro Ferrandiz and Sandro Gamba and the Veterans Screening Committee tapped player John Isaacs and contributor Ben Kerner. The final vote takes place later in the year and the results will be announced on April 3 during Final Four weekend; at least 18 votes from the 24 member Honors Committee are required to earn induction.

When Stockton concluded, Barkley came to the podium and addressed the assembled media, saying "Moses Malone was most influential in my career" while also acknowledging guidance provided by Adrian Dantley and John Drew. He thanked the Hall of Famers for taking the time to come to the event and offered much respect to Oscar Robertson, saying that there is a "short list" of players who can legitimately be considered for the title of greatest ever: Bill Russell, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson.

After Barkley's remarks, the Hall of Famers were available for media interviews. Barkley was the center of attention, attracting a media horde three rows deep packed tightly around him, jockeying for position and lobbing questions toward him. Asked about the difference between playing in the Olympics in 1992 and 1996, Barkley noted that in 1992 the players from other countries did not mind losing by 40 or 50 points as long as they received some signed jerseys or shoes but by 1996 the foreign players were telling Barkley where he could stick the shoes--the intimidation factor was gone and Barkley knew then that it was only a matter of time before the U.S. lost to a foreign team.

I asked Drexler if he thinks that Kobe Bryant has a realistic shot to break Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star Game record of 42 points. He thinks that this is very unlikely because of the energy expenditure it would require and because it is difficult for one player to cast up so many shots in an All-Star Game. When I mentioned that Michael Jordan once had 40 points in an All-Star Game, Drexler correctly noted that that took place in Jordan's home city of Chicago and that when you are playing in your home city, the other players are more apt to feed you the ball.

Next came the media availability sessions for the All-Star Saturday participants, followed by the All-Stars themselves. That rapidly turned into a three-ring--or, to be precise, dozen-plus table--circus. The crowd at Kobe Bryant's table dwarfed the one that had been around Barkley and some media members seemed to be employing martial arts maneuvers in an effort to cut in front of others and get better access. Of course, that meant that it was the perfect time to talk to other players.

Slam-dunk contestant Hakim Warrick told me that Dr. J was his favorite dunk artist as a kid; his pick among recent dunkers is Vince Carter: "He raised the bar," Warrick said. He noted that his Memphis teammate Shane Battier has been offering unsolicited dunk contest advice and claims to have won a dunk contest in the county where he grew up. Warrick agreed with me that he needs to see some footage of that before he listens to Battier, who is not known as a high flyer.

Shooting Stars contestant Steve Kerr has done no preparation for the event other than playing in some pickup games but believes that shooting, like riding a bike, is something that you never forget how to do. I asked him who he thinks will win the Three Point Shootout and he chose Ray Allen. Allen, however, does not consider himself the favorite and thinks that any of the contestants could be hot or cold on a given night. He told me that he does not have a strategy for the contest and does not consider contest shooting to be fundamentally different from game shooting, although he noted that some players rush because they don't think that they will have enough time to shoot all of the basketballs.

Vince Carter likes Josh Smith's chances to defend his Slam Dunk title, but he added that he thinks most people do not really know how well Nate Robinson can dunk; Carter played against him in the preseason and was very impressed. One reporter noted that this was his first All-Star Weekend and asked Carter, a veteran All-Star, to tell him one "do" and one "don't." Carter's "do" was to see the Slam Dunk Contest in person to fully appreciate it. He drew some laughs when he hesitated before offering his "don't," finally saying, "Don't try to go to every party because you might miss the game." Rasheed Wallace likes Warrick, who he calls "my Philly boy," to win the Slam Dunk Contest.

Now that it is all but impossible for Detroit to win 70 games, I asked Detroit assistant coach (and a player on the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team that won a record 72 games) Ron Harper if he thought that any team would ever win 70. He doubts it, saying that the Pistons faltered because too much was made of it too soon. He thinks that it just has to happen, that you can't set it as a goal at the start of the year. I also asked him to name some players who simply have to be on TNT's Next 10 List (a supplement to the 50 Greatest Players List from 1996) and he chose Bob McAdoo and Dominique Wilkins. He also mentioned Sidney Moncrief.

At 5 p.m. the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania and the Lithuanian National Men's Basketball Team Foundation held a "Lithuanian Basketball Party" at the Hilton-Americas. The back wall featured a big screen showing footage of great Lithuanian stars, many of whom are quite familiar to American fans, including NBA players Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis (the first Lithuanian in the NBA) and Sarunas Jasikevicius.

The wall to the left as you entered the party had giant posters of numerous Lithuanian stars with NBA ties plus one of Donn Nelson, son of Hall of Fame Finalist Don Nelson, who has worked with the Lithuanian national team since 1992. Regimantas Silinskas entertained the partygoers by playing a traditional Lithuanian instrument known as a skrabalai (wooden bells), which bears some resemblance to a xylophone that is standing upright instead of flat. Later, Zilvinas Zvagulis and Irena Starosaite performed Lithuanian folk music.

NBA Commissioner David Stern and NBA Vice President for International Basketball Operations Kim Bohuny each received The Cross Commander of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. Both gave brief speeches discussing the longstanding ties between the NBA and Lithuanian basketball. Bohuny recalled that she brought Lithuanian sharpshooter Rimas Kurtinaitis to the 1989 All-Star Game in Houston for the Three Point Shootout. He was jet lagged and fared poorly in the event, but when the two of them went to a bar afterward no one knew who he was and they played Pop-a-Shot for drinks, wiping out everybody in the place. Detroit coach Flip Saunders, Dallas assistant coach Del Harris, Donn Nelson and Rolando Blackman and TNT's Craig Sager were among those in attendance.

Blackman's favorite All-Star moment is obviously his two free throws with no time left in regulation to send the 1987 game to overtime. Isiah Thomas memorably tried to distract Blackman before he went to the free throw line; Blackman told me that Isiah was just messing around but to him those free throws were "life and death." He believes that making them was a big milestone in his career. As he declared while the ball was going through the hoop, "Confidence, baby, confidence."

Many people wanted to get their picture taken with Manute Bol when he arrived. He walks with a cane now but seemed to be in good spirits, particularly when he exchanged a warm greeting with Marciulionis, his Golden State teammate.

It is only a short walk from the Hilton-Americas to the Toyota Center and I easily arrived in time to see the Rookie Challenge. Andre Iguodala offered a possible preview of tomorrow's Slam Dunk Contest, delivering nine dunks en route to 30 points and MVP honors in a 106-96 victory for the Sophomores over the Rookies. In his postgame remarks, winning coach Del Harris noted that he was pleased not only with the victory but the fact that this contest more closely resembled a real game than many previous Rookie Challenges, which have all too often degenerated into sloppy play. Harris noted that this is one of the few times that a team has been held below 100 points in the Challenge.

After the game I headed over to the 1001 McKinney Building, site of the Air Jordan XXI Launch Party. In honor of the 21st edition of Air Jordans, Michael Jordan brought in three-time Grammy winner John Legend and a host of other performers to entertain some of the most well-known figures in sports and entertainment. At the end of the evening, a special auction of items--including a rare set of one pair of each of the 21 Jordan shoes--was held to benefit Habitat for Humanity Relief for Hurricane Katrina.

I received a media credential for this event. Unfortunately, most of the attending players and celebrities chose not to be interviewed by the assembled media, which would seem to defeat the purpose of assembling us there in the first place. As a writer for People Magazine commented to me, no one wants to read an article listing the names of a bunch of people who refused to talk. I'll leave it to People to list their names if they so choose.

I did get a chance to ask Antoine Walker some questions. He told me that the All-Star event that he is most looking forward to is the Slam Dunk Contest. He expects Josh Smith to repeat as champion but added, "Don't sleep on Iguodala." Walker had just seen Iguodala's Rookie Challenge performance and was very impressed. As for the Three Point Shootout, Walker said, "I've got to go with Chicago--Quentin Richardson, the defending champion.”

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:24 AM


Observations from Barkley and Naismith (2006 NBA All-Star Weekend)

Note: This article was originally published on February 17, 2006 at HoopsHype.com but the link no longer works, so I have reprinted the article in its entirety below. 

All-Star Weekend actually began several days before most of the players, celebrities and fans arrived in Houston. The NBA Read to Achieve Caravan, led by Bob Lanier, conducted Reading Timeouts at three Houston elementary schools on Monday. Three Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA fitness clinics were held on Tuesday and on Wednesday the NBA and NBA Players Association partnered with Habitat for Humanity to break ground on the first of two houses that they will build this week. Thursday activities included an NBA Cares hospital visit and the eighth National Wheelchair Basketball Association All-Star Classic at the NBA All-Star Jam Session, which is located in the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The 13th NBA All-Star Jam Session opened to the public at 4 p.m. on Thursday and it will be open daily starting at 9 a.m., Friday through Monday. It features clinics, contests, basketball collectibles for sale and the opportunity to get autographs from NBA players and legends.

Thursday night it was also the site for TNT's studio show featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller and Kenny Smith (who left after the halftime of the first game to go host his party). Fans ringed the set to take pictures and get autographs. After the halftime show for the Chicago-Philadelphia game, I had the opportunity to speak with Barkley as he and the rest of the TNT group relaxed in their trailer to watch the second half of the game.

I had introduced myself to Barkley a few minutes before the interview, but wasn't sure that he heard what I was saying with all of the Jam Session commotion, so when I came into the trailer I introduced myself again. Barkley, looking serious, remarked that I had just told him that a minute ago and he hadn't forgotten my name. When I mentioned the noise outside, he retorted that he had read my name tag also. Then he paused a beat and said, "Relax, man. I'm just messing with you."

With my "initiation" out of the way, I asked Barkley what he is most looking forward to this weekend. He answered, "I get nominated for the Hall of Fame tomorrow, so that makes it a little bit more special for me. I would be disingenuous if I said that I am thinking about something else. I am really honored and flattered. It's going to be pretty special. This is the first time that I've been eligible and when my name is mentioned tomorrow it’s going to be special."

I said that I thought that his induction is a foregone conclusion and Barkley replied, "That would be cocky of me to say. This is the first time that I've been eligible and when my name is mentioned tomorrow it's going to be very special. Obviously I feel good about my chances, but it's a long, drawn-out process. I don't even know when they do the voting, but everything starts tomorrow."

Ernie Johnson walked by and deadpanned, "You didn't hear?" and Barkley quipped, "Me and Dominique both got left off?"

I asked Barkley what his favorite All-Star memories are and he said, "The first time that I played, in Seattle, that's special--the first time is always special--and the time that I received the MVP (1991)."

Naturally, Barkley can't reveal who TNT's "Next 10"-–their additions to the 50 Greatest Players List--will be but I asked him to speak a little about Bob McAdoo, the subject of my recent HoopsHype.com article and a teammate of his in 1985-86. Barkley said, "I can't remember, but I think that I put McAdoo on my next 10...He was nice and quiet. I grew up watching him as a little kid. He was a prolific jump shooter. It's pretty cool to play with somebody you watched as a little kid."

Barkley had not seen Michael Jordan's new shoe commercial, so we stopped talking when it came on the air. Before it came on, Miller told Barkley that it was good and that Barkley should watch it. After seeing it, Barkley agreed and added that he is not a big fan of the "LeBrons" commercial: "Let him talk and show his personality. I don't know what they're doing with his commercials--he's dressed up as his grandfather. He needs to showcase his personality. He's a terrific player (but) when you are out there to represent your league and sell products you have to let people get to know you."

Barkley is a fan of Bob Lanier, another player who did not make the 50 Greatest Players List but was nominated for TNT's Next 10: "I know Bob personally. He lives in Arizona. Obviously, he was a great, great, great player, but the one thing that I'll say about Bob is that Bob is one of the nicest men I've met in my life, period. He's a wonderful person. You can look at his stats and the fact that he's in the Hall of Fame and see that he was a great player. Living in Phoenix, I've gotten to know him really well and he's just a wonderful person."

After talking with Barkley, I walked through the Hall of Fame exhibition at Jam Session, which displayed items ranging from a 1974-75 ABA basketball to a pair of Dr. J's shoes to a photo of Michael Jordan playing against Chris Mullin in the 1982 Hall of Fame tipoff classic and much more.

My next stop was a display organized by the Naismith International Basketball Foundation. Sitting behind the counter was none other than Ian Naismith, the non-profit organization's founding director and the grandson of Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Ian Naismith opened up a bulletproof briefcase and showed me the original 13 rules of basketball that were typed up by his grandfather. The Foundation is offering the document for sale, but with some important stipulations: the buyer must donate it to the Smithsonian Institution and the funds must go to support children's charities.

Naismith told me that he gets varying reactions when people hear his last name, depending on how well versed they are in basketball history. My first thought was to wonder if he had a chance to talk to his grandfather about inventing basketball.

This is what he told me: "I was born in Dallas, Texas and my grandfather lived in Lawrence, Kansas for 41 years after he invented the game. When I was born he took a train from Lawrence, Kansas to Dallas and baptized me. He stayed for three days with my parents and then he went home and passed away three months later. I didn't get to know him, but he baptized me, which is very important to me. He put his hands on my head and the family joke is that he called me the first dribbler."

Naismith is conducting a 43-city tour to spread the word about his Foundation and to promote good sportsmanship. He feels very passionately about how the game should be played and since 1998 the Foundation has honored individuals and groups who represent the game positively. Michael Jordan was the first player who won the award; winners are selected by a nine-member committee whose names are not divulged to the public. The Naismith Good Sportsmanship Tour is in its fifth year and has made stops at each All-Star Game and Final Four during this time. Over 1.5 million visitors have seen it. Naismith says that his grandfather stood for "respect, dignity, positive role-modeling and teamwork. Sportsmanship was his biggest thing." He cited Steve Nash, Tim Duncan and John Stockton as three players who embody these traits.

I couldn't have asked for a better start to All-Star Weekend than talking to Charles Barkley and Ian Naismith. Here are some things that I am looking forward to seeing during the rest of the weekend:

*The moment when Flip Saunders puts four Detroit Pistons on the court at the same time facing off against the Western Conference’s best players.

*Watching 5-9 Nate Robinson in the Slam Dunk Contest. Many people are down on this event, saying that it is played out, but Robinson will almost certainly bring the fans out of their seats. It is unfortunate that we won't get to see Kobe, Vince or LeBron but Andre Iguodala, Hakim Warrick and defending champion Josh Smith are all outstanding dunkers.

*Will Kobe Bryant make a run a Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star Game record of 42 points?

*Watching Ray Allen in the Three-Point Shootout. Allen has the game's sweetest, most effortless looking shooting stroke from deep--it's like watching a healthy Ken Griffey, Jr. swing a baseball bat.

*A moment or play that no one predicted--and no one will ever forget.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:54 AM