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Observations from Barkley and Naismith
by David Friedman / February 17, 2006

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.

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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