Gibson shoots down rookies
The NBA rookies saw too much “boobie” in New Orleans on Friday—Daniel "Boobie" Gibson shot an amazing 11-20 from three point range as the Sophomores once again routed the Rookies, 136-109. This has become a nearly annual rite of passage for the first year players: they show up “star struck,” as their coach Darrell Walker put it after the game, and basically look like they are moving in cement shoes on defense as the Sophomores make up for their defeat from the previous year. No doubt this year’s rookies will exact a measure of revenge in next year’s contest.
Gibson did not attempt a single two point shot. One time when he was being closely guarded he did the old Larry Bird move: step back and shoot an even deeper three pointer. Of course, Gibson made that shot, too. Rudy Gay added 22 points for the Sophomores, LaMarcus Aldridge had 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists, Jordan Farmar contributed 17 points and 12 assists and Brandon Roy—the only participant from either team who will play in the big game on Sunday—had 17 points and seven assists. Kevin Durant, who likely would have been the best player in college basketball this year had he not turned pro early, is understandably more comfortable playing against players who are closer to his own age. He led the rookies with 23 points on 10-19 shooting—a much better than normal percentage for him—and he also had eight rebounds and four assists.
On the other hand, Durant played little defense and tied for the team-high with five turnovers. On several occasions, Durant completely stalled the team’s ball movement by trying in vain to break down his defender with one on one dribbling moves that led nowhere. He can be a decent ballhandler at times but I am still much less impressed with this aspect of his game than other commentators appear to be. The Rookies turned the ball over 24 times, a number that would give a coach a heart attack if it happened in a regular season or playoff game.
After the game, I asked Durant why the Rookies annually take such a pounding in this game. He replied quite sensibly (if a bit unimaginatively), “I wish I could tell you; then we would have won the game…It’s tough to win when a guy makes 11 three pointers.” Gay countered, “If he would have only hit five (three pointers) we still would have won. We were in a similar situation last year and the Sophomores just took it to us.” Even though this is just an exhibition game, I think it really provides a dramatic demonstration of the difference between being fresh out of college versus having a year and a half of NBA experience under your belt.
Earlier in the day, the Sheraton hotel hosted the annual press conference to announce the 15 finalists for Hall of Fame induction, a group headlined by NBA coaches Pat Riley and Don Nelson and NBA players Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Adrian Dantley, Richie Guerin, Dennis Johnson and Chris Mullin. Guerin, Dantley and Mullin were also finalists last year. The Basketball Hall of Fame encompasses all levels of the game, so it is fair to wonder if NBA players are overlooked in the selection process—and that goes double for ABA stars like Artis Gilmore, Mel Daniels and Roger Brown. In 2005 and 2007, no NBA players were inducted, something that Jerry Colangelo, a Hall of Famer in his own right, described to me as an “anomaly” that he sincerely hopes does not happen again.
I asked Colangelo what he thinks of the idea of the NBA establishing a pro basketball hall of fame to honor NBA and ABA players, much like college basketball and other entities have their own halls of fame. He replied, “Personally, I would be against something like that. There are plenty of other Halls of Fame and we don’t need another one to compete with what exists. I think that for the most part it has been a fair process and players get their due. Hopefully, as I said, what happens going forward will be the proof in the pudding. I think that it will balance out.”
I specifically asked him about the plights of ABA legends Artis Gilmore, Roger Brown and Slick Leonard, who have yet to be inducted in the Hall of Fame despite their tremendous accomplishments. I mentioned that ABA fans think that the fierce rivalry between the leagues may still be affecting the voting process decades later. Colangelo did not say anything directly about Gilmore, Brown and Leonard but offered this general response, “I don’t think that anyone should be given the short end of the stick. Some of these (ABA) players played in both leagues and went back and forth. Again, I am hopeful that over a period of time these people will be recognized for their contributions.”
Nets General Manager Rod Thorn was a New York Nets assistant coach in the ABA, so he witnessed firsthand how great that league was. ABA fans may be a bit disappointed in his take on the subject of the ABA and the Hall of Fame. When I asked him whether he thought that the ABA has been slighted—citing Gilmore and Brown by name—he answered, “Those players were great players, as you intimated. They certainly have been considered for the Hall of Fame. To me, I think that the really great players from both leagues are in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think that there is a need for another Hall of Fame, to tell you the truth. I think that this one takes care of all aspects of basketball. There are great players and really great players and I think that the really great players end up getting into the Hall of Fame.”
Dominique Wilkins was one of 11 Hall of Famers who sat on the stage as TNT’s David Aldridge read the names of this year’s Hall of Fame finalists. After the ceremony, Wilkins candidly spoke with me about the experience of waiting to hear his name called prior to his nomination: “It’s a lot less stress; I’ve been through it and I’ve done it, it’s over and I can just welcome the new guys coming in. It’s stressful, man, not knowing if you are going to be selected or not. You go through months of stress. This is the honor of honors, individually, to be appreciated and respected by your peers and others. It’s nerve wracking.”
The fact that Wilkins did not make it on the first ballot—he was voted in the second time around—reinforces the belief that there is something wrong with the system but Wilkins does not fault the process even though it slighted him initially: “You’re honoring people across the world. It’s hard, because you’re looking at more than just basketball talent—character and respect. It’s a very tedious and hard process. I think that our Hall of Fame is unique because it is the only one that covers the whole world. I don’t think that we should change that.”
After the Hall of Fame press conference, the media availability sessions for the All-Star Saturday night participants and the All-Stars themselves were held in succession. Not surprisingly, Kobe Bryant attracted the largest crowd. I fought my way through to get close enough to hear him talk about his injured pinkie finger and even managed to get in a few questions. Someone asked Bryant if he considered competing in the Three Point Shootout lefthanded. I remember when Bryant attempted to play in an actual game with a separated shoulder before Coach Phil Jackson yanked him out of the contest when it became apparent that he could not raise his arm over his head and therefore had to shoot lefthanded, so I would not put anything past Bryant. He instantly shot this idea down, though, noting the pedigrees of the Shootout competitors and saying, “I’m confident, but I’m not that confident.”
I asked Bryant if his doctors have discussed with him the possibility that he may permanently damage the finger if he elects to forgo surgery and play out the rest of the season. He replied, “No, I’ll just be the cool grandfather who can stretch his pinkie all the way out to here (gestures to the side). There is no ligament there holding it in. I got lucky. This knuckle right here (points to the base of the finger) was down here (points midway down his hand) but I didn’t hurt this one (points to the middle of his pinkie finger). So I’m not going to have any damage or any fingers that look like Larry Bird’s.” He added that the most painful part of the injury happened when trainer Gary Vitti pulled it back into place, a moment of agony that was captured on national television. “After that, it felt like the finger just wasn’t there. It felt like a spaghetti noodle,” Bryant concluded.
While a veritable horde gathered around Bryant, Brandon Roy played the role of the lonely Maytag repairman. When I walked over to his table, I pulled up a chair and basically had a one on one conversation with him for a few moments. I asked him if he liked having things this way or if he would prefer to get as much attention as Bryant does. He answered, “I like it this way. I’m a low key, under the radar type of guy. I don’t need attention and I am more comfortable this way.” I pointed out that the flip side of that is that this could lead to Roy being underappreciated, because the guys who get the most attention are usually the ones who are considered to be the best players. “I think that those guys have done tremendous things in their careers,” Roy said. “I’m not at their level yet. Hopefully, one day—even though I don’t need attention—I will be mentioned as an MVP candidate.”
I said to Roy that the truly great players always work on something new each off season and I asked him what his project will be this summer. He answered that he plans to improve his midrange jumper and his three point shot. I noticed that Roy was perhaps the only player who brought his All-Star ring to the media availability session. I asked him if he would open the box and show it to me and he happily complied. It occurred to me that I never learned how the rings are distributed, so I asked Roy how he got his. He told me that the players went into a room and the individually labeled boxes were on a table and the coach handed them out one at a time. The veteran All-Stars played it off, Roy said, but he was quite thrilled: “I was like, ‘Wow.’ I was in awe. I keep looking at it. I’ll probably put it on my finger once I go back to my room and then wear it around all day. It’s truly an honor.”
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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