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Saturday, September 13, 2008

"1, 2, 3, Cancun": The Real Story Behind Nick Van Exel's Famous Chant

In the course of researching a post about funny NBA quotes, I stumbled upon an interesting story pertaining to Utah's sweep of the L.A. Lakers in the 1998 Western Conference Finals. At the end of a Lakers' practice during that series, the team gathered together for the usual "1,2,3, team" chant--but Nick Van Exel ad-libbed "1,2,3, Cancun," in reference to the team's impending summer vacation. That quip has often been cited as evidence that Van Exel quit on the team, an impression reinforced by the fact that the Lakers soon traded him to Denver. However, prior to Van Exel's first game as a Nugget against the Lakers, he insisted that his famous line was a joke, not a surrender: "I say things all the time as far as, 'Well, this is my last game with you guys. See you again when I come in here with 40,' just to keep guys loose and laughing. It’s just when things are going wrong, somebody says something wrong, especially me, it seems to be blown out of proportion and people get to finger-pointing. Everyone who was in that locker room with me knows I’d never give up on the team. But finger-pointing happens. I never meant anything wrong."

Van Exel voluntarily gave up his starting spot to Derek Fisher late in the 1998 season, a move that was also interpreted in some quarters as a sign that Van Exel was quitting, a charge that Van Exel emphatically rejected: "Well, I’m sure they’re going to look at it as far as trying to get me out of there, blame it on me as excuse. Derek, throughout the season, his confidence was going up and down, up and down. So I figured if he was starting, his confidence would be up...I’m always going to have confidence. I guess they didn’t see it that way. I guess they felt I was giving up."

Van Exel did not come close to scoring 40 points in his first game against the Lakers; he had nine points and 10 assists in a 103-98 Denver loss. Less than two weeks later, he had 16 points and 13 assists in a 117-113 Denver win. Van Exel dropped 41 points, nine assists and eight rebounds on the Lakers in the third meeting of the season between the teams but Denver lost 117-104.

Van Exel ranked in the top ten in the NBA in assists each of the first three seasons after the trade but the Lakers also performed well, winning three straight championships from 2000-02; of course, before they accomplished that they made another change, hiring Phil Jackson as head coach.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:14 PM



At Monday, September 15, 2008 9:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Van Exel was my favourite player for many years. In some ways he was similar to Baron Davis - alpha dog type, gutsy, won games single handedly at times. Miles better than the Marburys of the league but you just knew he couldn't win a champion as the best player in the team. Unfortunately he was not nearly as effective when he was the 3rd or 4th option.

At Friday, August 07, 2020 1:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

12 years later...He wasn't better than Marbury

At Friday, August 07, 2020 5:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Is this the same Anonymous disagreeing with himself, or a different Anonymous chiming in after the fact?

Like Phil Jackson, I prefer big point guards, so I would be disinclined to choose Marbury or Van Exel as my point guard if I were building a team, but Marbury put up better career numbers.

At Friday, May 28, 2021 8:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would never dare denigrate the God of China, but though Marbury had dominating talent -- Iverson and he turned around the 2001 All-Star Game between the two of them -- he probably played the best ball of his career in Beijing. If you were watching the Lakers, you will prefer the incredibly clutchy Nick Van Exel. P.S. I am Anonymous III.


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