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Russell Westbrook

Carmelo Anthony

James Harden

JAN/FEB 2013

SOLE SEARCHER Rajon Rondo has seen a championship, found his place as the Celtics’ No. 1 and is looking for more.


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warm ups

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JARED WICKERMAN (3)/ GETTY IMAGES SPORT

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A year ago, Jeff Green was struggling to walk and breathe after open heart surgery to correct the aortic aneurysm that sidelined him for an entire season. A year later (with apologies to Al Jefferson), this happened. Welcome back, Jeff.

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warm ups

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NOAH GRAHAM/NBAE/ GETTY IMAGES

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After recently joining the Jordan Brand family, Blake Griffin does his best impression of the iconic Jumpman logo. Blake gets bonus points for making sure the fine detail of a track suitclad MJ in the original was not missed.

12/5/12 9:33 AM


WARM UPS

KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/ GETTY IMAGES SPORT

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While a statue of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar lacing up a pair of shoes (he’s second on the all-time games played list) or even him piloting a plane or doing a roundhouse kick (see Airplane and Game of Death) might be apropos, they all take a backseat to a mid-skyhook pose. After all, Abdul-Jabbar scored about half of his NBA-record 38,387 points with the immortal shot. During your next visit to Staples Center, you can pay homage to the bronzed legend that now sits outside the arena.

12/5/12 9:33 AM


Pride of the Fleet. Leader of the Category. SUV of the Year. The GL is Motor Trend ’s 2013 Sport/Utility of the Year.®

When the groundbreaking GL was first introduced, it was awarded Motor Trend’s SUV of the Year honors. So what happened when the second-generation GL was recently launched? You guessed it. The 2013 GL was just awarded top SUV honors again by Motor Trend. Proof that history repeating itself is a good thing. Test-drive the new 7-passenger GL at your local Mercedes-Benz dealer or visit MBUSA.com for more details. And you can take home a two-time winner today.

MBUSA.com/GL

2013 GL 550 4MATIC® shown in Lunar Blue metallic paint. May include optional equipment. No system, regardless of how advanced, can overcome the laws of physics or correct careless driving. First generation GL was the winner of 2007 Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year.® Please always wear your seat belt. ©2012 Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC For more information, call 1-800-FOR-MERCEDES, or visit MBUSA.com.

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WARM UPS

Even when you’re a three-time Slam Dunk champ, it’s not easy being a 5-9 player in a league where the average height is almost a foot taller. Nate Robinson demonstrates toughness and grit every time he hurtles into the paint for a tough bucket.

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ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/ NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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MAGIC LASTS 75% LONGER THAN TRADITIONAL SHAVING*†SHEA BUTTER FORMULAS SMOOTH AND SOOTHE

*Based on 1-Week Clinical Trial. †Non-depilatory shaving methods.

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SOFTSHEEN CARSONCOM

9/12/12 10:33 AM


The Gameplan

Jan/Feb 2013

ABCDE F G H I J K

Features

page 44

HOOP

41 The a-Z of the nba

Given the scant amount of letters in the alphabet, it’s never easy to divvy up the League— alphabetically, of course—into the 26 compelling things to pay attention to this season. Consider it the dictionary of the 2012-13 season.

of the NBA

Cover and Portraits by Brian Babineau

82 Grace Under pressure

44 One for the ages Is Rajon Rondo the best point guard in the NBA? The answer to that question isn’t important—especially if you were to ask Rondo himself. What is relevant is that Rondo has become the most all-around player at his position not named LeBron James. Able to do everything asked of anybody on the court, Rondo is one of the best players in the game. Given those statements, doesn’t that mean Rondo is the best PG in the League?

64 perpetual profession It’s basically a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week for eight-months-out-of-the-year gig. You manage a group of individuals that all demand attention and minutes. Your job is under microscopic scrutiny by the media and fans. Oftentimes, the end result is public termination and the odds of ultimate success are 30-to-1 every season. Why would anyone want to be an NBA head coach? Good question.

As expected of a rookie, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is quiet and humble while learning the ropes. But unlike a typical rook, Kidd-Gilchrist is also those things because of his painful past and speech impediment. Whether it’s facing the tragic events in his childhood, a media horde or the task turning the Charlotte Bobcats into winners, MKG is not afraid of the challenge.

Poster James Harden is this issue’s pin-up; Tim Hardaway crosses over to the other side.

010

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Alcohol Reference Blood Mild Language Suggestive Themes Use of Tobacco Violence

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BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY ARMORED EDITION software © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Wii U Version developed by WB Games Montréal and the original game developed by Rocksteady Studios. All other trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners All rights reserved. Wii U is a trademark of Nintendo. © 2012 Nintendo. All other trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners. All rights reserved.

BATMAN and all characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks of DC Comics © 2012. All Rights Reserved. WB GAMES LOGO, WB SHIELD: ™ & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (s12)

™ ™

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ThE GamE Plan Jan/FEb 2013 Departments

2 Warm-Ups 16 The Point 19 Jumpball Starting 5: Chauncey Billups picks his five most memorable teammates; Numerology: The 123s of the NBA; First Five: Derrick Williams, Isaiah Thomas, Larry Sanders, Danny Green, Brandan Wright; In Her Shoes: Tamika Catchings tries to put into words her sensational year; Know Your Newb: Jonas Valanciunas on his adjustment to the NBA, America and Canada; Best of Five: One-on-one between Marcin Gortat and Shameless actress Shanola Hampton; Peripheral Vision: Behind every Gorilla is a great woman; Celeb Row: Nasir Jones (you might know him better as Nas) weighs in on the Knicks-Nets rivalry; Brack-It: For some NBA players, life didn’t end at 40; Dance Life: Houston Rockets Power Dancers’ Natalie; Transition Game: Rasheed Wallace through his 19 years in the League; 24 Seconds: DeAndre Jordan tries his best to block our 24 inquiries.

106 Stepback Time-machining back to Michael Jordan’s final All-Star Game.

107 Call-Out

95 Check-It Spin Moves: What does DeMar DeRozan obsess about when not playing basketball?; Goods: What to get, featuring some quality NBA art to replace your fraying posters; Gear: Breaking down the KD V and the Melo M9; Wear: Suggestions for the mid-winter wardrobe.

New York Knicks, past and present, provide some relief from the storm.

108 Final Exam Stephen Curry is lights-out with his jumper, but can he go 10-for-10 on our quiz?

012

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LIVE NBA ACTION

ON ALL THREE PLATFORMS BUY NOW AND DON’T MISS A MINUTE! TO ORDER CALL 855-NBA-LPLP OR GO TO NBA.COM/LEAGUEPASS TM & © 2012 Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.Photo: Getty Images.

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MAKES YOU PLAY SUPERHUMAN. The upper’s made of Bionic Fibers that are ultra-light but somehow strong enough to support even your most violent movements. Under your feet, you’ve never felt anything like the mix of lightweight flexibility, stability, and comfort of UA Spine cushioning. There’s never been a shoe this playable. Literally unbelievable.

UA.com/baske t ball

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The PoinT

I remember when Rajon Rondo first appeared on my radar.1 It wasn’t Rondo as a prep star at Oak Hill Academy,2 his selection as a McDonald’s All-American,3 his two years at Kentucky,4 as a first-round pick5 in the 2006 draft, nor his rookie6 run7 in the NBA. Like many, I really took notice of Rondo when the Celtics assembled their Big Three, acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce. Despite the obvious responsibility falling on those three shoulders, somehow some of the onus unfairly landed on Rondo, a second-year point guard. Did Rondo have the experience to start on a team with sudden championship aspirations that plays in a building with rafters crowded with banners?8 Will Rondo be able to properly quarterback a team with three HOF players? Possibly most damning of all, many wondered if the Celtics needed to trade for a veteran point to run the ship? We didn’t know it then, but Rondo was up to the task. He did (sarcasm alert) OK during Boston’s 2007-08 run. He started every game, did a bit of everything and slowly gained the respect9 from naysayers. He stayed out of the way as predicted, but never shied away from big moments.10 Most importantly, he was the starting point guard that led the Celtics to their first NBA Championship in 22 years. Gradually, Rondo stopped being the guy who was just happy to be there; the last member of a boy band who serves as a glorified backup singer/dancer.11 Rondo just kept getting better at his unorthodox PG game and the rest of the Celtics adjusted.12 The Big Three still got the lion’s share of the credit, but real fans who paid attention knew that Rondo was the cog that made the Celtics work. I’m not saying Rondo is better, but his ability to fill in every blank and play a connector13 to everyone made the Big Three the Big Four. Rondo is an odd throwback or sorts. He’s not like most of today’s big-scoring points. While not lacking in vertical lift, speed or quickness, Rondo rather relies on cunning, fakes and smart angles. The old adage of a PG needing to develop a competent outside stroke to keep defenses from sagging doesn’t apply to Rondo.14 Although he’s made strides with his jumper, he’s not—and never will be—a guy with a reliable jumper.15 Even his pregame routine,16 fashion choices17 and offcourt endeavors18 are a bit offbeat. March to a different beat? Rondo waltzes to “Gangnam Style.”19 Is this one of those letters where I admit being wrong about a player whilst putting him on the cover accompanied by familiar platitudes? That would be conventional for any other player, but not applicable to Rondo.20

Ming Wong #2

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BONUS POINTS 1. i do recall being amused by his alliterative name. 2. Perhaps because he was overshadowed by teammate Josh smith. 3. a spot on the mcD’s team is pretty indicative of future success, but the 2004 selections were pretty stacked. it boasted Dwight Howard, Lamarcus aldridge, Josh smith, J.r. smith, rudy Gay, marvin Williams and two of rondo’s future nBa teammates Glen Davis and al Jefferson. 4. rondo flashed his nBa game to come as a Wildcat, setting the season record for most steals as a freshman (87), and rebounds by a guard in a single game with 19. 5. Drafted by the suns with the 21st overall pick, rondo came to C’s on draft night trade. 6. a modest season where he barely wound up on the 2007 all-rookie second team. rondo was tied for the last spot on the team with the likes of long-gone nBa players Walter Herrmann and marcus Williams. 7. think about it: rondo was backing up Delonte West and sebastian telfair. 8. at the time, there were 16 of them. 9. to be clear, rondo’s teammates had the utmost confidence from the jump. 10. none bigger than when the Celtics thumped the Lakers in the clinching Game 6 of the Finals where rondo scored 21 (leading the C’s in shot attempts) points, dished 8 dimes, grabbed 7 boards and collected 6 steals. 11. the equivalent of the crappy player on a pickup game who is on the court because it’s his ball. 12. think about it ii: rondo went from the team’s biggest question mark to unquestioned cornerstone player. 13. Grammatically speaking, rondo is an article. 14. nor Jason Kidd. 15. there is hope for rondo. Kidd has turned himself into a pretty solid shooter. 16. upon getting the opening tipoff, rondo will start his dribble by heading the ball, throwing it over his shoulder or another playful move. 17. He used to wear his headband upside-down (before it was outlawed) and has a penchant for colorful footwear. 18. rollerskating and interning at GQ. 19. even at the time of penning this, the whole craze has run its course of pop culture fad, which makes this reference super dated. 20. Does that then make it conventional? i’m confused.

Volume 41, No. 2

Editor-in-Chief Ming Wong #2 Design Director Kengyong Shao #31 Assistant Editor Phil D’Apolito #14 Online Editor Darryl Howerton #21 Editor-at-Large Jeramie McPeek #4 Copy Editor Trevor Kearney #8 WNBA Editor Lois Elfman #40 Senior Writer Michael Bradley #53 Contributing Writers Ray Bala #55, Russ Bengtson #43, Myles Brown #37, Jon Cooper #10, Jim Eichenhofer #12, Anthony Gilbert #1, Brian A. Giuffra #17, Melody Hoffman #34, Andy Jasner #27, Holly MacKenzie #32, Brett Mauser #25, McG #93, Jeff Min #12, Earl K. Sneed #23, Duane Watson #7, Jared Zwerling #3 Illustrator Matt Candela #52 Retired Numbers #6, #11, #13, #30, #99

Professional Sports Publications 519 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10018 Tel: (212) 697-1460 Fax: (646) 753-9480 Executive VP Operations Jeff Botwinick Executive VP, Business Development Martin Lewis Executive VP, Sales Steve Farkas Executive VP, Sales Mitch Gibbs Executive VP, Team Relations Dave Gerschwer Executive Administrative Director Julie Wong Manager, Marketing Services Aron Sawyer Production Manager Jaime Ziegler Production Assistant Tara Malloy

NBA Publishing/NBA Photos Executive VP, and Executive Producer, Production, Programming, and Broadcasting Danny Meiseles Senior VP, Multimedia Production Paul Hirschheimer Senior VP, Entertainment & Player Marketing Charlie Rosenzweig Senior VP, Marketing Communications Mike Bass Senior Director, NBAE Production John Hareas Executive Vice President, Global Merchandising Group Sal LaRocca Manager, Global Media Programs Felecia Groomster Senior Directors & Senior Official NBAE Photographers Andrew D. Bernstein, Nathaniel S. Butler Vice President, NBA Photos Joe Amati Director, Photos Imaging David Bonilla Official NBAE Photographer Jesse Garrabrant Senior Photo Editor Brian Choi Photo Coordinator Kevin Wright

All NBA photos appearing in this magazine, unless otherwise indicated, are copyright of NBA Entertainment. All WNBA photos appearing in this magazine, unless otherwise indicated, are copyright of WNBA Enterprises. All NBDL photos appearing in this magazine, unless otherwise indicated, are copyright of NBDL Enterprises. HOOP is published monthly, December through June, by PSP. © 2013 Professional Sports Publications. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without permission of publisher is prohibited. To subscribe to HOOP, call (800) 829-3347. PRINTED IN THE USA

Brian BaBineau/nBae/Getty imaGes

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aS told to Jon CooPer #10 startinG 5

ChaunCey Billups LOS ANGeLeS CLIPPerS

For 16 years, Chauncey Billups has burned up NBA nets. Known as “Mr. Big Shot,” the 36-year-old Denver, Colo., native came into the 2012-13 season ranking among the NBA’s top five active players in three-point field goals attempted (4,587, fourth) and made (1,783, fourth) and assists (5,545, fifth), and in the top 10 in free throws made (4,441, ninth). Billups was the third overall pick of the Boston Celtics in the 1997 NBA Draft, following a stellar career at the University of Colorado. Earning his nickname would take a little longer, as did any NBA success. After stints with Boston, Toronto, then Denver and Minnesota, and seeing modest postseason success at the latter two stops, Billups’ career took off once he arrived in Detroit for the 2002-03 season. He would make his first three of five straight All-Star appearances (2006, ’07, ’08), while the Pistons would reach the Conference Finals in all six of his seasons, reaching the Finals in back-to-back seasons (2004, ’05) and winning it all in 2004 with Billups as Finals MVP. After a trade back to hometown Denver and two more seasons with the Nuggets, Billups was traded to New York as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal, then waived and claimed by the Clippers. Billups admitted he’ll always have a special place in his heart for Detroit, especially the ’04 Pistons. Not surprisingly, former Pistons sprinkle his choice of a starting five (plus a wild card) of former teammates. It’s an interesting group, much like Billups himself.

Point Guard: chris Paul current teammate

ShootinG Guard: riP haMilton teammates in Detroit from 2002-2008

Center: Ben Wallace teammates in Detroit from 2002-2006

“I played against him a lot. He doesn’t have any weaknesses at all and he’s the ultimate competitor. The thing I really love about Chris is he’s a winner. He’s going to do whatever it takes to win at any time of the game. I’m always going to be biased to winners. He’s the ultimate winner. Obviously, there are a lot of things that he does on the court, that’s just not my game. I wouldn’t even try that stuff. He’s just so brilliant with the ball.”

“He, again, is a winner. He’s one of the best players of all time moving without the basketball, playing without the basketball, running off screens, midrange game— the things that are kind of a lost art. He is one of the greatest at that. rip makes big plays and makes big shots. Over his whole career he’s hit just as many shots as I have.”

“He’s the best. He made my job easy a lot of times at the point guard spot. I’m guarding guys that are a lot faster than me. every single night he gave me the confidence, to know, ‘Just play them any way you want to play them. I’m going to be right here waiting on them. If they get by you, I’ll be here.’ you just don’t know how much pressure that takes off of a defense when you’ve got a guy that you know is going to be there. He also set some crushing picks and he liked doing it. Trust me. It’s a brick wall. you didn’t want to run into him.”

Power Forward: Kevin Garnett teammates in Minnesota from 2000-2002

Small Forward: tayshaun Prince teammates in Detroit from 2002-2008

wild Card: terrell BranDon teammates in Minnesota from 2000-2002

“He’s the ultimate competitor. I’ve never seen a motor like his motor. Whether it’s practice, games, whatever, he’s the same. The way you see him in games, that’s the same way he is all the time. I have never seen anything like it before. He was the most unselfish superstar in our game at that point. I think LeBron is probably right there now but he’s a superstar that knows the game, high energy every night, just the high motor every single night, playing with intelligence on the court, had your back every time, no matter what goes on. Just the ultimate teammate. The ultimate. Practice, shootaround, he’s just so intense every single day. Most guys turn on in the game. He only has one way. He doesn’t know how to turn it off. He never missed practice. It didn’t matter. He’s an animal, man.”

“This is probably going to shock you but I’m going to have to go with Tayshaun Prince. It was his defense. The most talented small forward that I’ve played with was Carmelo [Anthony] but as far as putting a team together and a glue guy, a guy that’s going to make big shots, a guy that’s going to guard the best guy on the other team, it’s Tayshaun, for sure. Long arms, he was never out of a play, never quits. He was tough. He’s a winner.”

“One guy that I would say didn’t get the attention that he deserved that I played with, that was so good, that really helped me out was Terrell Brandon. He was the first player that I played with that just outsmarted every other player that he played against. He was two, three steps ahead of everybody. He really didn’t get the credit that he deserved but he made such a difference in my career. He taught me so much. We watched film together, teaching me what plays to run to get our star players off, what plays he ran when he needed to get a shot, at what point in the game to take over, everything. He taught me all of that. That’s kind of when my career just took off.”

NOAH GrAHAM; SAM FOreNCICH; GAry DINeeN; ALLeN eINSTeIN; DAvID SHerMAN; BILL BAPTIST; GLeNN JAMeS/NBAe/GeTTy IMAGeS

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jump ball Numerology

6-7/222.8 pounds/26.8 years old/4.9 years of nBa experience “mr. average” as deemed by Nba.com’s statistical mean of the average Nba player in the league. by that definition, the closest Nba player to the “mr. average” distinction is phoenix’s jared Dudley. Dudley is 6-7, 225 pounds, 27 years old and is playing in his sixth year.

6 the number of 20-assist games Rajon Rondo has had since the start of 2010. The rest of the NBA in the same time period has 3.

84

the number of international players that made rosters in 2012-13 season (just under three per team on average), which ties 2010-11 for the most international players in the League during 1 season in NBA history.

1,332

number of NBA games Jason Kidd has played without a headband before donning one after a foul resulted in 7 stitches to his head and necessitated a headband to protect the bandage.

82

the number of total points james Harden scored in his first 2 games for the Rockets. Wilt Chamberlain (106 in ’62, 105 in ’61, 86 in ‘65) and michael jordan (91 in ’86) are the only players to drop more after their first 2 games with a team in league history.

5

the number of points the Raptors scored in the 4th quarter of a winning effort vs. the pacers on November 13. It was the fewest points scored in the 4th by a winning team since the shot clock was established in 1954. 022

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$625

the price of Yao ming’s 2009 Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which will now be distributed to select wine shops in the u.S. after already being sold in China earlier this year. His Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon will go for a tamer $170.

CompIleD bY pHIl D’apolIto #14

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first five

By Steve Hunt #29

Like many rookies, Derrick Williams spent last season learning about life in the NBA. It helped that he had veterans like Kevin Love and Brad Miller to learn from in Minnesota, where he averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds while appearing in all 66 games. “Those guys had at least a couple years in the League,” he says. “I just asked them simple questions like what to expect and things like that.” The second overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft after being Pac-10 Player of the Year at Arizona1 as a sophomore,2 Williams avoided the rites of passage most rookies must endure since the T-Wolves were so young last season. “That was a good thing. Everybody was right around the same age, so we really didn’t have to do too many crazy things,” he says. “I know a lot of teams that are a lot different.” Williams carried many of those lessons3 into this season, but one bit of advice rings truer than all others. “Just stay patient,” he says. But with Love’s hand injury to open the season, Williams got a chance to start some games. While he flashed some potential4 that warranted his draft spot, Williams also showed that he might need a little more seasoning.5 “That’s the main thing about this whole league, just staying patient and waiting your turn. If you do that, good things will happen in the long run.”

BONUs POiNTs 1. williams is one of nine arizona products currently in the nBa. also on that list is current Minnesota teammate chase Budinger. 2. He is one of just four players to be named Pac-10 Player of Year as a sophomore, joining Jason kidd (1994), Mike Bibby (1998) and James Harden (2009). 3. speaking of lessons, williams is 15 classes short of his degree and continues taking classes at arizona each summer. 4. williams showed some highlightwarranting displays of athleticism on a putback dunk and other forays to the hoop. 5. Most notably with his jumper and defense.

7

natHaniel s. Butler/nBae/GettY iMaGes

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Derrick

Williams

ForwarD - Minnesota tiMBerwolves

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jump ball In Her SHoeS

Tamika CaTChings On WInnInG her thIrD OlympIc GOlD meDal anD fIrst Wnba tItle In the same year In 2004, after that Olympics it was hard coming back and getting back into the WNBA season. 2008, same thing. You know you want to come back. You know you want to win. That’s the goal everybody has, but to come back and keep playing is hard. I remember at the Olympics in London joking around saying, “Yeah, we’re going to win the Olympics. Then we’ll go back and I’m going to win a WNBA Championship this year.” Everybody saying the same thing. For it to actually happen and to happen with this group of ladies we had on the Fever, the first one for the organization, it’s just a special year. Honestly, every year we come in we say, “This is the year the Fever will win it all. Let’s do it.” Obviously, we’ve had more disappointments than happy moments. Throughout the season you can see when we play really well as a team. We might have a quarter or two quarters or it might even be shorter than that where we played top notch basketball. During those moments it’s like, “This team really is capable of doing some great things. It’s just a matter of getting it done.” Down the stretch—after the Olympic break—we came back and we went on a little run. You could tell everybody got better during the break. Everybody was on a different level as far as excitement, commitment and focus. We knew what our goal was. As the season was winding down we had an opportunity to make history for the Fever and for each one of us. We had so many great moments together. I can honestly say that as a team we

KnoW YoUr neWb

all genuinely liked and loved each other and liked being around each other. At times we would just sit in the locker room before practices and after practices, before and after games just having a good time. Some teams don’t have that. The level of respect we have for each other, the fun that we have. Just caring about one another off the court more than anything. The relationships we have, the friendships we’ve developed with one another will forever be remembered. Tamika CaTChings as Told To lois Elfman #40

Jonas ValanCiunas tOrOntO raptOrs How has the season been going so far? The team is really good. Friendly with me. Everyone is really close and I’m happy to be in this kind of team where everybody is close, everybody talks to each other. That helps to succeed on the court. Toronto, the city is wonderful. Amazing. A lot of opportunities, a lot of activity. How are you feeling things have gone for you so far in your first season in the NBA? I’m a rookie. I’m still getting better. I have a lot of situations where I can be better and I have a lot of things to fix, to get better on, but I am doing it every practice and moving forward. Who do you work with most during your practice sessions?

024

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[Assistant coach] Johnny Davis. I work with all of the coaches, I work a lot in the weightlifting room with Johnny Lee. After the practice I work with Johnny Davis on the court. Moves and post ups and defensive stuff. All kinds of stuff. Are you here a lot after practice ends? Yeah, as you can see, I’m the last guy coming off the court. I’m trying to act like this every time. How are you able to keep up with what’s happening with everyone back home? Skype, phone, everything. Actually, this afternoon I talked to my mom. We’re talking often. I think she’s going to come Christmas time, spend Christmas with me. Are your friends and family able to watch back home? Yeah, they’re able to watch. They find the Internet sites and sometimes the games are on NBATV so they have had opportunities to watch my games. Jesse D. Garrabrant (3)/nbae/Getty ImaGes

12/5/12 3:27 PM


BEST OF FIVE

Marcin Gortat vs. Shanola haMpton One-on-one between an NBA baller and a celebrity in a game of five questions where we play judge. Best three answers take it. Phoenix center Marcin Gortat takes on Shameless actress Shanola Hampton. What has been an especially memorable exotic vacation spot? Shanola: There are two. Greece was very exotic. Watching the sunset in Santorini was fantastic. Fiji was a little more exotic because my husband (John Shango) and I were able to spend a day on our own little island and no one was there. So you could be completely in the buff and just walk around your own island. You enjoy the day just the two of you. Sand gets everywhere. Marcin: Petit St. Vincent. It’s one small Caribbean island where I went with my girlfriend. It was great. There is no civilization, no Internet service, no TV. It’s just an island, where you’re living. You’ve just got to like survive and there is nobody around you. It’s pretty crazy. Score: Marcin 1, Shanola 0. We dig Marcin’s idea of a survival vacation.

What is a favorite food that you rarely get to eat? Shanola: I love chitlins. That’s a food I only get to eat once or twice a year because I am not in South Carolina [where she grew up]. I eat that when I go home down South. Marcin: There is a special food in the Polish tradition that is a soup made out of blood. They add animal blood to the soup to give it a little bit of flavor. I hate it, but it’s a ritual, so I only have it once or twice a year, a little sip of that. Score: Marcin 1, Shanola 1. Chitlins > blood.

What’s a song on your playlist you’d rather not admit to having? Shanola: The one that would probably be kind of weird at my age is Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” I mean ever. I think it is the best song. It’s a shout out to all my girls, the girls who stay in these relationships until they finally decide that it’s not working and they’re not going to go back. I think it’s like an anthem. “It’s never going to happen, we’re done!” Marcin: I’ve got all different songs on my iPad. I’ve got Spice Girls. I’ve got Backstreet Boys. But I don’t want to have a Britney Spears. I definitely can’t have that. And if I

What about when you’re not on the court. What are you like away from basketball? I’m a funny guy [laughs]. I like jokes, being with friends, spending time with my friends, hang out somewhere, communicating with people. I like fishing. Who has been the toughest guy you’ve had to go up against thus far? Brooklyn [Brook] Lopez was the toughest guy. I think. All the guys in the NBA are tough, especially big guys. Have to be tough, you have to be strong because it’s a big battle under the basket. Every guy is tough to fight against, but I’m moving forward. Which teammate do you spend the most time with when you’re not on the court? There’s not a lot of time away from this [laughs]. We’re on a practice or on a game or we’re on a trip. Away time is just nighttime so [laughs] I’m spending it alone. COUrteSY SHOWtiMe; BarrY GOSSaGe/NBae/GettY iMaGeS

H0102-In Her Shoes/Know Your N/Bestof5.indd 25

did, I won’t admit it. Score: Marcin 1, Shanola 2. Um, Marcin, Backstreet Boys is more embarassing than Britney.

What is your idea of a romantic date? Shanola: I’m an adventure person, so anything that’s different. I think a romantic date would be something with adventure and a nice dinner. So if you go to the Santa Monica Pier. You say, “I have a surprise for you.” You do trapeze. You get done with that, clean yourselves up and go to a nice dinner, look at the water and have good conversation. That to me is a romantic date. Marcin: It all depends on the woman and what she likes. I would say something with adrenaline, where the sugar is going to kind of lift up in your blood. For example, here in Arizona, I went with my girlfriend on a go-cart ride in the desert. Those go-carts are fast, so that was pretty fun. Score: Marcin 2, Shanola 2. We just hope she thought it was as romantic, Marcin.

What is your favorite movie? Shanola: This is going to trip you out. Beaches. Yes, I said Beaches not The Beach. Beaches with Bette Midler. I love that story. I love the friendship. I love the way the movie takes you from the beginning of the friendship all the way to the end, and shows the lives of two people. And it has “Wind Beneath My Wings” in it, so how can you not love that movie? Beaches is my absolute favorite, favorite, favorite movie. Bette Midler is phenomenal in it. Marcin: My favorite movies are The Road and The 300 Spartans. The Road is about a father and son who tried to cross the whole United States, and the father is taking care of his son. It doesn’t matter what happens, he will always be there for him. So it’s a pretty amazing story. The 300 Spartans is a historical film, where 300 soldiers stood up against the whole (Persian) army. They had been training their whole lives for that one moment. It was great. It gets me fired up big time. Score: Marcin 3, Shanola 2. OK, Marcin, this makes up for BSB. You get the win, but Shanola laps you in the looks department.

Have you gotten starstruck at all or have you been able to get used to playing in the NBA already? I don’t know. First time I came here, first game, maybe I feel like, “Wow,” but now I’m getting used to playing against those guys, playing this kind of game, the NBA game. I’m happy to have the opportunity to play here, and the opportunity to succeed when I step onto the court. I’m getting used to it. What’s been harder to pick up, offensive sets or defensive schemes? You know, there is some kind of things that I need to learn on defense and some that I need to learn on offense. Maybe a little bit more difficult is defense because there is the three seconds in the defense so I need to adjust on this. You know, when you are going to the help for the different side and you can’t stay in the paint you have to move your feet out and come back again, that’s pretty hard. But I’m getting used to it.

DeMar DeRozan told me he was surprised to find out you listen to Gucci Mane. What else do you like to listen to? Yeah. I like the rap. With my family, my new NBA family, I like rap music. It’s not bad. Do you have a favorite restaurant in Toronto yet? I like steakhouses. I don’t have a favorite one, but I’ve been in a lot of restaurants right here in Toronto. There’s so many restaurants. Last question: Favorite thing to do on the basketball court? Rebounding…and dunking. That’s me. Holly MacKenzie #32

025

12/5/12 10:46 AM


JUMP BALL PERIPHERAL VISION

MEREDITH PAINTER

SUNS MASCOT COORDINATOR

Forget NBA fans, even some Phoenix Suns fans may not know who Meredith Painter is, but her face is probably familiar to some Planet Orange diehards. Although she is only in her sophomore season with the franchise, Painter has been on hand for hundreds of Suns events and appearances in the last two years, as the team’s mascot coordinator, assisting one of the NBA’s most famous furry creatures, Go The Gorilla. So how exactly does one end up a Gorilla handler? Meredith: I was just extremely lucky. There were so many applicants for the position. I think that my experience in event planning, working with children and not thinking that it was strange when a gorilla walked into the room to interview me really gave me a leg up. Plus, I had quite a bit of experience working with social media campaigns and that’s something that The Gorilla really pushes, too. Follow @SunsGorilla on Twitter! Did you have any previous experience with mascots or primates? Meredith: I’ve been to the zoo a handful of times and my parents took me to DisneyWorld as a kid. Does that count? How would you describe your job? Meredith: There is actually so much more to this role than I could have imagined. Not only do I coordinate and schedule all of his shows, but I also assist The Gorilla at those appearances. The wonderful and challenging thing about working 026

with The Gorilla is that he doesn’t talk. I guess gorillas, in general, haven’t mastered that yet [laughs]. So you have to try to interpret what he’s trying to say to people and sometimes you get the message wrong, which is funny and we’ll laugh about it after the fact. You also always have to be prepared for anything to happen. No matter how hard you plan, things change at a live event, so you have to be able to adapt quickly and seamlessly to the situation.

pale in comparison to those stories. A more recent crazy incident happened during a police golf tournament. Go and the (Arizona) Diamondbacks mascot were speeding around the putting green on a golf cart. Of course Go was the driver and he took a turn just a little too hard and literally flipped the whole golf cart with both of them inside. They both ended up rolling on the ground laughing so hard while the police just stared in shock.

Is it true that part of your job is to be the personal chauffeur for The Gorilla? Meredith: [laughs] I never thought of that before, I do chauffer him around town. I should start asking for tips.

Are you ever tempted to run out onto the court and dunk off a trampoline? Meredith: Of course! I keep asking Go to teach me how, but he just keeps pretending that he doesn’t hear me when I ask. I could never really do a dunk off the tramp like The Gorilla does. I would love the experience of flying to through the air and touching rim, but for right now I’ll leave that to him.

Do you get funny looks on the road with Go in the passenger seat? Meredith: Actually, he rides in the back of the truck. I think the funniest part about it is that they hired probably the smallest girl to drive this giant Hummer wrapped with Gorilla and Suns logos around Phoenix. As soon as you see the Gorilla’s H2—which has “THEGRLA” vanity plates—you think, “Awesome! I’m going to pull up next to The Phoenix Suns Gorilla!” So other drivers get up next to me and realize it’s a girl driving around this massive truck and people are puzzled. I’ve been stopped next to people at red lights before and I get the usual honking and, “Roll your window down,” motion and then, “Where’s The Gorilla?” or my favorite, “Are you The Gorilla?!” The best part is when Go actually rolls down the back window and pops his head out to surprise them. Thankfully, we haven’t caused any accidents with that. How many appearances does Go make a year? Meredith: Go does at least 350 appearances a year, plus all Suns home games. He makes appearances at schools, community events, races, local businesses and hospitals. He’s also traveled all over the United States to shoot commercials like the one he did last year with ESPN’s John Buccigross for the Planet of the Apes DVD release. He’s just such a hit wherever he goes and he has fun with it. I would have to say that even though he’s traveled all around the world making appearances, his favorite shows are the ones that he can be hands-on with the kids. What are some of the craziest things you’ve ever had to do, or ever experienced, working as Go’s tag-team partner? Meredith: Well, something crazy generally happens when The Gorilla’s around, so that’s an everyday occurrence. He has some great stories about catching on fire during one of his ring-of-fire skits and having to run across the court with his fur smoking. But during my tenure with Go, some of the crazy things I’ve seen

What does The Gorilla mean to the city of Phoenix and to the NBA, as a whole? Meredith: He’s so important to this city and to NBA. He was a pioneer becoming one of the first mascots to dunk and really make that popular. He’s also been so instrumental in pushing the envelope. From his crazy antics with flying on the wings of a propeller plane to promote the All-Star Game or riding a motorcycle in to the arena during a game—he really goes above and beyond to shock and please fans. I’ve heard more than one person call him the “Godfather” of mascots. What is your favorite part of the job? Meredith: There are so many great parts about this role it’s really hard to home in on just one. But I will say that as soon as The Gorilla shows up to an event and you see the smiles on those kids’ faces your heart just melts. Every time we work together, I always laugh until I tear up and smile until my cheeks hurt. It’s amazing how he has that very same effect on everyone he touches. Again, I can’t express just how lucky I am to feel like I’ve been, in some small way, a part of all the amazing work that The Gorilla has done for the community. I guess it can be true what they say, behind every great ape is a woman. Do you and The Gorilla ever clash? Meredith: We usually paper, rock, scissors, if we ever clash. Although, somehow he always wins. What is the most important thing you’ve learned about working with The Gorilla? Meredith: I learned very quickly that in this job it is a horrible idea to wear heels of any kind [laughs]. That ape has so much energy and moves so quickly, you have to wear running shoes to keep up. If you’re going to do a show with Go, bring flats. JERAMIE McPEEK #4 COURTESY PHOENIX SUNS


first five

Isaiah Thomas, the 60th and final pick1 of the 2011 NBA draft, admits that when he came to Sacramento Kings training camp prior to his rookie season, he was worried that he wouldn’t even make the team. Less than 30 games into his NBA career, though, the lightning-quick point guard was making the Kings go. Last February, Thomas earned his first NBA start in Detroit2 and made it clear that night and thereafter that he had no intention of relinquishing his spot in the starting five. Starting all 33 games after the All-Star break, Thomas averaged 14.2 points and 5.2 assists per game and became the fourth King in history to be named Western Conference Rookie of the Month when he earned the distinction3 in both February and March. “My dad always told me not to be a follower and to always be a leader, and I’ve taken that to heart with every team I’ve ever played on,” Thomas says. “I want to be a guy who comes in early and leaves late, and I always felt like if I got the chance, I could do some good things on this level. I took it and ran with it and didn’t look back.” And to think he nearly went undrafted. Thomas expected to be taken in the first or early second round after being named to the All-Pac-10 First Team after his sophomore and junior seasons at the University of Washington.4 Instead he was passed up by everybody before the Kings called him.5 This wasn’t a pickup game—being picked last was A-OK with Thomas. It meant his dream of playing in the NBA was alive. “At the end of the day, no matter what team it was or when I got picked, I wanted to get picked and then I’d do the rest,” he says. “The Kings gave me a chance and I can’t thank them enough.” They too are thankful that they took that chance, although the work is far from done. The Kings have finished last in the Pacific Division in each of the last four seasons. “We’re trying to put the pieces together and I have faith that it’s going to work,” Thomas says. “It’s just going to take some time. We can’t get discouraged.”

Jonathan Daniel/nBae/Getty imaGes

H0102-First Five.indd 27

By Brett Mauser #25

22

isaiah

Thomas

GuarD - sacramento KinGs

BoNUs PoINTs 1. if you were to make a starting five of those taken last in the draft, thomas already makes it. the team’s star would be Gene conley, the only player taken in the 10th round of the 1952 draft. conley is the only athlete in history to win an nBa title—he won three with the celtics—and a World series. the last pick starting lineup would also include swingman sean higgins (1990) at the two, to go with Don reid (1995) and seven-footer Zeljko rebraca (1994) in the frontcourt. 2. coincidentally in the city where his namesake, guard isiah thomas, debuted 31 years earlier and sculpted his hall of Fame career. although isaiah’s father was an ardent lakers fan at the time, he named his son after the 12-time nBa all-star. the Kings guard says he and Zeke are in touch “two to three times a month” and worked out together last summer in los angeles. of the connection, isaiah says, “he’s one of the best guards to ever do it, and hopefully one day i will be able to say i was, too.” 3. other Kings rookies to do so: lionel simmons, Brian Grant and tyreke evans. 4. thomas is close with three current pros and fellow seattle natives: Jamal crawford, Jason terry and nate robinson. throughout his career, thomas has also consulted sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, a five-time all-nBa point guard who scored more than 13,000 points and dished out nearly 7,000 assists in a 12-year nBa career. 5. mr. irrelevant, a film that documents thomas’ rise to the nBa, will be released this summer. it was originally slated to come out in December. of it, thomas says, “the story has gotten so much better and it isn’t time for it to end yet.”

027

12/5/12 9:28 AM


jump ball head 2 head

mike Conley vs. jrue Holiday When thinking of top point guards, mike conley and Jrue Holiday fall by the wayside. name recognition aside, these two points are showing that they’re every bit as effective as the chrises, Derons and russells of the League.

01 Scoring: Conley and Holiday have many similarities: They were both McDonald’s All-Americans as prep stars, played just one season of college ball before entering the NBA and are relatively small point guards, but when it comes to offense the comparisons stop. The knock on Conley since entering the League was the question whether he could maintain enough offense to keep defenses honest. Conley has improved a bit, but is still hesitant to take over when the need arises. On the pick-and-roll is where Conley has improved, as he is much better at finishing those little in-between floaters. After struggling as a rookie adjusting to the NBA three, Conley has been a terrific shooter from deep and now sports a respectable career .380 percentage. His only weakness now is the midrange jumper. Holiday is a much more aggressive player on offense and to be fair, his team, especially minus Andrew Bynum, requires that Holiday generate points on his own. His 18 ppg average during the first month of the season is a good five-point improvement from last season as Holiday is not settling for the long twopointers, shooting the three-pointer better and is getting to the line at a career pace, all the marks of an efficient scorer. Getting more free-throw attempts is a good thing being that Holiday is 80 percent from the line over his career. Given the fact that Holiday is the more natural scorer of the two, he gets the nod here. Advantage: Holiday

02 Floor Game: When the Grizzlies extended Conley’s contract despite not having to, many outsiders were puzzled why a team would reward a good, but not spectacular, point guard, but the team had faith that Conley would come around. And even if not, they knew Conley was one of the most dependable PGs in the League. With the exception of this season’s early going, Conley has never averaged more than 2.2 turnovers a game (one of the reasons the Grizzlies are always a tough opponent), making him a keen facilitator. His assist numbers have never been very high (around 6 per over his career), but he also plays on an offense that relies heavily on high post of Marc Gasol and lo post of Zach Randolph. Still, he could stand to improve in delivering the ball to teammates on point in both the halfcourt and open floor. Like Conley, Holiday has to work on getting the ball to teammates. It’s not always about being a willing passer, a good PG (study Jason Kidd) gets the ball to his mates at the perfect time and even ensures the ball arrives to shooters with seams in right place. Holiday’s assist numbers are higher this season, but he also has the ball in his hands more in the Sixers’ offense, especially without Andrew Bynum. His aggressiveness as the PG has led to a staggering number of turnovers (4.7 per game, including a four-game stretch where he committed 29) which likely drives head coach Doug Collins to consider early retirement. Holiday also needs to see the floor better, which would cut down on the turnovers. Advantage: Conley

028

H0102-Head2Head.indd 28

jrue Holiday Guard, 6-4, 205 pounds Philadelphia 76ers

03

Defense: Holiday’s biggest hole in his game is when the other team has the ball. It’s not that’s he’s a bad defender. During last year’s playoffs, Holiday showed he is very able when he wants to be, keeping up with Ray Allen as his team at the time, the Celtics, ran Holiday through a gauntlet of screens and misdirections. Holiday gamely denied Allen a clean catch and look. But there are plenty of times times when Holiday appears listless on D, giving his man too much space or being a step too slow. His natural quickness and long wingspan allows him to steal possessions, but he can sometimes gamble too much. Holiday’s weakness is Conley’s strength. In addition to his ability to take care of the rock, the Grizzlies re-upped Conley on the basis of his defensive skills. Conley’s ballpilfering might earn him his defensive reputation, but he’s quite the ballhawk. He stays step for step with his man and uses quick hands to dislodge the ball or make the shot or pass difficult. Nothing fancy, but very effective. Defensively, he might be in the same class as Rajon Rondo. Advantage: Conley

Bruce Bennett/Getty ImaGes sPort

12/4/12 3:51 PM


By Ming Wong #2

Mike Conley

04

Guard, 6-1, 180 pounds Memphis Grizzlies

Intangibles: As a fan, Holiday is undoubtedly the more exciting player to watch. His quickness and speed can sometimes leave a defender grasping at air, which can rally the home crowd (silencing the away fans) and inspire teammates. Holiday’s high rewards, however, comes with inherent risks. Turnovers and other mistakes can really take the wind out of the team’s sails and spark a turnaround the other way. So while Conley’s fundamentally strong game might not be wowinducing, it can be every bit as effective. A textbook Conley steal usually puts the team in transition where a Rudy Gay dunk sends the FedEx Forum crowd into a tizzy. As a team on the cusp of serious contention, having the steady hand of Conley to navigate the waters is paramount, especially juxtaposed against his backcourt mate, Tony Allen, a player known for his fiery demeanor. Advantage: Conley

05 Leadership: With each passing year that Conley has been on the Grizzlies, Memphis has upped its winning percentage. Coincidence? Perhaps. But it also syncs up with Conley’s growth as a PG. While Randolph has matured into a leader on the team, Allen one of the more outspoken members in the locker room, and Gay is the team’s most exciting player, the role of the floor general falls squarely on Conley’s shoulders. He’s still learning on the job, but with each step the Grizzlies take, it’s also been a step forward for Conley as a leader. Credit Holiday for not seizing up like a deer in headlights. As a rookie, Holiday was the youngest player to ever suit up for the NBA (he also has the distinction of being the first player born in the ’90s to ever suit up), but never looked like he was a JVer playing on varsity. He’s come a long way since, but even in his third year, Holiday remains one of the youngest players on the Sixers’ roster. Still, Holiday is one of the team’s cornerstone players and with it, comes the mantle of leadership. The departure of Andre Iguodala left Philly with a void in leadership and right now, a few players, Holiday among them, are vying for the role. Advantage: Conley

PPG

APG

RPG

BPG

SPG

FG%

3PT%

FT%

PER

Holiday

18.5

9.1

3.7

0.5

1.5

.455

.404

.804

18.2

Conley

14.9

6.4

2.8

0.3

2.2

.500

.435

.816

20.2

As of Nov. 29, 2012

The Verdict After the quartet of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo (Derrick Rose would make a quintet if he were healthy), the next tier of top under-30 point guards is a scrum of up-and-comers with Conley and Holiday leading the pack (we penalized Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio for their lack of durability). Neither will likely crash the penthouse party of PGs, but are very undervalued and in a short series, have the potential to outplay any opposing guard. Both are poised for a big leap this season, but the bigger jump (with better team results) will be Conley.

Layne Murdoch/nBae/Getty IMaGes

H0102-Head2Head.indd 29

029

12/4/12 3:52 PM


jump ball first five

By Melody HoffMan #34

In his third NBA year, Bucks center Larry Sanders has been a source of power and defense for Milwaukee. Through the first 12 games of the season, the 6-11 Sanders came off the bench to lead the team in rebounds (6.9 pg) and blocked shots (2.08 pg)1–doubling last year’s averages.2 “I know my role is to come in, provide the energy, the effort and it has to be consistent...consistency is definitely up there on my list,” says Sanders, a 2010 first-round pick from Virginia Commonwealth.3 Averaging 22 minutes per game this season, Sanders is also playing smarter offense.4 Relying more on his layup and laying off the jumper, Sanders is averaging 7.6 points and scored 10 points or more in each of the first five games, including two double-doubles, matching the total of double-doubles in his first two years in the league. “I would say my first two years I was going 100 miles per hour all of the time. I had to find the areas where I had to slow down, finish and take my time,” says the 24-year-old Florida native. “I just try to get a lot of points off of offensive rebounds and try to finish around the basket.” Yet, if he had to choose how to fire things up, he admits he’d block a shot over scoring a one-handed dunk any night. “I love that. I think shotblocking fuels the team and the home crowd. I love defending and protecting that rim,5 and usually that leads to a fastbreak opportunity or something good at the other end of the court.”

8

Larry

SanderS

Forward - MiLwaukee Bucks

030

H0102-First Five.indd 30

BOnUS POInTS 1. sanders ranks fourth in the NBa in blocks per 48 minutes (4.54). 2. Last season sanders averaged just 3.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 12.4 minutes. 3. in his three seasons at Vcu, he earned the caa defensive Player of the year award two times. His junior year he averaged 14.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. 4. Last year the center averaged 3.6 points per game and only tallied three games the entire season where he scored more than 10 points. This season he scored a career-high 17 points against cleveland in the Bucks’ second game of the year. 5. among reserves, sanders is third with 2.1 blocks per game.

Gary diNeeN/NBae/GeTTy iMaGes

12/5/12 10:25 AM


Mild Lyrics NBA 2K13 for iOS and Android not rated by ESRB

© 2005-2012 Take-Two Interactive Software and its subsidiaries. All rights reserved. 2K Sports, the 2K Sports logo, and Take-Two Interactive Software are all trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. The NBA and individual NBA member team identifications used on or in this product are trademarks, copyrights designs and other forms of intellectual property of NBA Properties, Inc. and the respective NBA member teams and may not be used, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of NBA Properties, Inc. © 2012 NBA Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. “PlayStation” and the “PS” Family logo are registered trademarks and the PlayStation Network logo is a trademark of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. KINECT, Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox LIVE, and the Xbox logos are trademarks of the Microsoft group of companies and are used under license from Microsoft. Nintendo trademarks and copyrights are properties of Nintendo. The ratings icon is a trademark of the Entertainment Software Association. All other trademarks are property of their respective owners.

2K Sports.indd 1

9/12/12 10:47 AM


JUMP BALL

How did you see your growth as a hip hop artist intertwine with your sense of teamwork that you saw in basketball? I felt like hip hop and basketball blew up at the same time. Like as basketball was becoming a global sport, hip hop was becoming global music. I see us as one in the same. Magic and Bird saved basketball. That was the early to mid ’80s. That was around the time hip hop was popping. Then Jordan took it there. That was late ’80s/ early ’90s. That’s when we had Run-DMC, LL Cool J. It had the same path. When was the first time you got really great seats to a basketball game? It was around when Illmatic came out, like ’95. We got the crazy courtside seats and I was like, “Oh my God.” I didn’t know if they knew me or not. They all knew me. Now that the Nets are in Brooklyn how do you think a Knicks/Nets rivalry will take shape? I’ve got my man Amar’e all day. Shout out to J.R. Smith, too. Love that guy. And Jason Kidd. On talent, I think they’re very equal. Based just on basketball, I think it’s a great match. Energy will be cool. I gotta tell you, I feel like it’ll always be better in the Garden. It’s the Garden. No disrespect to Barclays Center. It’s like in L.A., Staples Center can never be the Great Western Forum. You’ve got a monumental thing. Barclays is probably way flyer, but the energy of the Garden could never be replaced. As a musical artist, you’ve performed and toured everywhere. Have you had the chance to check out basketball games in different cities or maybe even different countries? I went to the London Olympics, watched the gold medal game. I was supposed to leave, but Melo and LeBron heard I was in town and they said, “You’ve gotta stay.” I love those dudes, so I stuck around. I grabbed the mic at their afterparty and did a couple of songs. I met Durant. I reconnected with Kobe. Me and Kobe was friends when he first came into the League. Always hung out together. Gold medal game tops it all. Salute to Team USA. They did their thing. CELEB ROW

NAS

Known for his righteous, self-empowered swagger, rapper Nas (born Nasir Jones) honed his attitude on the courts of Queens, N.Y. It was there he witnessed the earliest moves of Ron Artest (now-Metta World Peace), who despite playing in Los Angeles still earns Nas’ hometown loyalty. Two decades into his music career, Nas, 39, is still doing it, last year releasing his 10th studio album, Life Is Good. There’s more ahead, but no matter how hectic life gets, there’s always time to catch a game. You grew up in a city that has such a love of the game and a history—not just in big arenas, but on courts around New York City. Can you share some of your memories about playing and watching basketball? Playing basketball was a part of life. It was like going to church. Being from Queens I saw my man Ron Artest grow up on the courts at Queensbridge. He was one of my little guys. He used to be out in the rain, the snow, running. He deserves where he is right now, for sure. Who were some of your basketball idols growing up? Of course, I liked Magic and Bird. MJ was my guy. MJ and I are actually really close now. Of course, Ewing, Starks and all the Knicks. I’m about people showing love. I never really hated. I loved Reggie Miller even [with] him and the Knicks and all that stuff. It’s about the players. I got to meet them. I’m a fan of theirs, they’re fans of mine. It was always dope. 032

You’re living in Los Angeles nowadays, so is it the Lakers, the Clippers or both? I’ve got to go with my man Ron, but I love Chris Paul. He’s dope. Chauncey Billups is dope. Even though Lamar Odom is from Queens, I’ve got to go home team. Do you have a thing for sneakers? I have so many it’s kind of hard to pick a favorite, but I love Jordans. I feel like they’re never going away. Which current player has the best shoes now? I still wear old stuff, but I do like LeBron’s shoes. I think his are cool. I think Jordan overpowered and overshadowed those dudes so crazy with his shoes that no one’s been able to bust out of it. His shoes changed the world. Your latest album is Life Is Good. What part does basketball play in your good life? Basketball is the way me and my fellas and my brother all connect. We sit back, grab a drink, chill out, watch the game. That’s like our thing. What’s on your schedule for 2013? Definitely going to hit the road. Try to put out a new album. I’m filming a movie. I can’t really say too much about it, but it’s going to be big. I’ve got a busy year ahead of me. How’s your game? I’m alright. I’m cool. I’m getting old now, but I’ve got a little game. LOIS ELFMAN #40 COURTESY OF NAS PUBLICITY


FIRST FIVE

BY JEFF MIN #12

Long before Danny Green was donning the silver and black, burying teams with his deadly jumpshot,1 the 6-6 combo guard was fighting tooth and nail for a place in the League—a dog-eat-dog mentality that has stuck with him since he was a rookie. Green’s NBA career got off to a rough start. He was drafted late in the second round of the 2009 draft by the Cavaliers and played only 20 games before being waived.2 Without an NBA team to call home he naturally questioned his place amongst the elite. “The Spurs gave me a couple workouts and a couple looks, and a couple of teams called, but no one really ever gave me a chance to try out for them,” says Green about his free agency period. “At that point I was thinking about going overseas because I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to happen for me. I definitely didn’t think that I was going to have a major role on a championship contending team.”3 The sudden turn of events shouldn’t be a surprise to Green. For his entire career, dating back to his college days with the Tar Heels,4 he always had to work hard for his minutes. His solid frame, long wingspan, and nose for the ball made him a shoo-in for a Spurs organization that banked on under-the-radar castaways. So far, Green has made a resounding impact with San Antonio, helping the ageless core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili remain steady5 in a turbulent Western Conference. And despite the sudden interest in Green, the 25-yearold still holds an even disposition, one that keeps a simple goal in mind: his team’s success. “Our biggest thing is to continue winning and prove people wrong,” says Green in response to the critics claiming the Spurs are too old. “Whether the big three are old or not we still got young guys who can play, and when they’re gone, we can continue to be successful.”

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DANNY

GREEN

GUARD/FORWARD - SAN ANTONIO SPURS BONUS POINTS 1. Danny Green’s game-winning three against the Lakers on 11/13/12 helped solidify his place in the rotation, particularly during crunch time. 2. In just under 6 minutes of action per game, Green averaged a measly 2.0 ppg for the Cavs. 3. The Spurs originally cut Green, but called him back after Manu Ginobili went down with injury. This season Green has started all 15 games, and is averaging 10.5 ppg and 1.5 apg—both career highs. 4. Green spent four years at North Carolina and went down as the only player in school history to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists, 100 blocks, and 100 steals. 5. Excluding this season, during the Tim Duncan era (1997-98 through 2011-12) the Spurs have had a .704 winning percentage.

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KArl mAlONE vs. diKEmBE mutOmBO If you believe what the record books say, Dikembe Mutombo retired just short of his 43rd birthday, while Karl Malone played until he was 40 days shy of 41. But what do the record books know? Until we see Dikembe’s long-form birth certificate, we’re going to assume he was in the NBA until he turned 65 or so. Which means those last three seasons where he averaged a block a game were even more impressive. But while The Mailman got injured during his final season, he still averaged an impressive (for anyone) 13.2 points and 8.7 rebounds in 42 games with the Lakers. The final year didn’t end with a ring, but he moves on here.

jOhN stOcKtON vs. rOBErt pArish Robert Parish looked like he was 40 when he first entered the League, and John Stockton played like he was. But both wound up playing in the NBA for nearly two decades, and both made it to the Hall of Fame. Parish was the third wheel on the great Celtics teams of the ‘80s, but hey, being the third wheel behind Larry Bird and Kevin McHale wasn’t so bad. Plus, he won rings (even going out as a bit player on the 1997 champion Bulls squad). And Stockton served as the pick to Karl Malone’s roll in Utah, laying out plenty of guys bigger than him. He also retired as the League leader in both steals and assists, which gives him the easy win over the Chief.

michAEl jOrdAN vs. KEviN Willis Kevin Willis played in the NBA until he was nearly 45 years old (becoming the second-oldest player in NBA history), and no doubt could have played even longer. He always kept himself in amazing physical shape and although he was only an All-Star once, he retired having scored over 17,000 points. If the Knicks are looking for another vintage big man, we’re betting Kevin would take their call. As for Michael Jordan—who only played 58 days into his 40s—it’s not like he was anywhere near his prime as a Washington Wizard (yes, that actually happened), but Mike past his prime was still Mike. Maybe if you come back and play another year, Kev.

KArEEm ABdul-jABBAr vs. BOB cOusy What we have here is a pair of Hall of Famers who couldn’t be more different: A Laker and a Celtic. A six-foot point guard and a seven-foot center. A floor leader from the ‘50s and a dominant center from the ‘70s. But the differences don’t end there. Kareem’s career was on his downside by the time he hit his 40s — hell, he hadn’t averaged double-digit rebounds since he was 34. But at 40 he started 80 games, and still averaged a respectable 14.6 points per game on 53 percent shooting. As for Cousy, he retired at 35, then activated himself for seven games when he was coach of the Cincinnati Royals in 1971. He played 34 minutes and scored five points. Total. Cap’s got this one.

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WiNNer JohN StocktoN

michAel JordAN vS. JohN StocktoN These guys had strangely parallel careers for a black guy from Wilmington, N.C. and a white guy from Spokane, Wash. Stockton was one of the final cuts from the 1984 Olympic team that Jordan wound up starring on, and he was drafted 13 picks after Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft. They both wound up making 10-plus All-Star teams, playing on the 1992 Dream Team, and being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on the same day. But while Jordan’s career stuttered at the end, with two retirements and a final comeback that produced both breathtaking moments and wince-inducing misses, Stockton simply played out the string with the Jazz, then walked away. [Ed note: Stockton literally ran to a seat on the bench even before the crowd at Sacramento realized during the closing moments of Game 5 of the 2003 first round series against the Kings that it was Stockton’s NBA exit. No curtain call, no raised arm, nothing—pure Stockton, even to the end.]. He started every game he played from 1988 to 2003, and didn’t miss a single game over his final five seasons. The two times Stockton and Jordan faced off in the Finals, Jordan finished on top. Not this time.

kAreem ABdul-JABBAr vS. kArl mAloNe It should come as no surprise at all that one of these would end with the top two scorers in NBA history squaring off against one another. It’s a shame that Malone’s career ended with an injury, but it’s still unlikely that he would have ever caught Abdul-Jabbar. Which makes it all the stranger that Malone was the first to have a statue dedicated in his honor (just ask Kareem). After all, it was Jabbar who won a title with the Lakers at 40, in 1988. Jabbar started every game in his final two seasons, kept up with the Showtime offense, and hadn’t blocked anyone on Twitter yet. Someone give that man a rocking chair.

kAreem ABdul-JABBAr vS. JohN StocktoN The all-time records they set may well be unbreakable: Kareem AbdulJabbar scored 38,387 regularseason points; John Stockton accumulated 15,806 assists. Amongst active players, the closest are, well, not all that close. Kobe Bryant is 34 and 9,000 points back, Jason Kidd is 39 and 4,000 assists down. The clock, as they say, is ticking. (Stockton also holds the record in steals by 700 over Kidd—which is equally safe.) Both Stockton and Abdul-Jabbar ended their respective careers as starters and effective NBA players. Stockton spent his entire career with the Utah Jazz, Abdul-Jabbar spent his final 14 seasons as a Laker. But it’s Stockton’s consistency—he finished top-five in total assists and top-10 in total steals his final two seasons, starting all 164 games—that puts him on top. Even at 50 now, he’s probably still setting nasty picks and giving dudes half his age the business at the local Y in Spokane.

By ruSS BeNgtSoN #43

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JUMP BALL DANCE LIFE

NATALIE

HOUSTON ROCKETS POWER DANCERS What’s your history with the Power Dancers? Natalie: I danced for several seasons as a Power Dancer from 1998 to 2005. This is my first season as dance coach/choreographer. If you could compare your style to an NBA coach, who would it be? Natalie: I really respect Coach [Rick] Adelman. Moving to a team like the Timberwolves and where he’s about to take those guys? I’m even looking forward to it. But his coaching style—no holds barred, yet still supporting, being the coach he needs to be, but being there for his players—that’s pretty much like me. Everyone is familiar with the struggle of players trying to make an NBA team. What can you tell me about the Power Dancers auditions? Natalie: It’s hard. I was a very straight to the point choreographer and coach, and for me, it’s about how fast can you keep up? How quick can you learn? And at the same time, do you still look good doing it? We had over 200 girls turn out, the last 20 had to go through panel interviews and get tested on things about the organization. When these girls are wearing this uniform, they need to know about who they are supporting and what organization they’re working for. So when fans come up to them and talk to them about a trade, or Coach [Kevin] McHale, the girls know what they’re talking about. When did you first start dancing? Natalie: In the ’80s, especially when breakdancing was huge, I was that 4-year-old kid doing windmills on cardboard with the boombox. But I didn’t get into a dance team situation until I was 12 years old. My mom put me in dance, I was so mad, I was a tomboy, the only girl on the baseball team, but I’m glad she did. There’s a bit of a Texas rivalry with the Spurs, Mavs and Rockets, does that extend to the dancers? Natalie: Oh yeah, the Power Dancers want to be the best in Texas. And yes we do have the Mavs Dancers and the Silver Spurs Dancers, but all in all we’re Texas teams who are here to support each other. If they bring the NBA dancer competition bracket back, you know we’re going to want to win, but it’s healthy competition. Any crazy experiences you’ve had with fans? Natalie: Our fans are great. We never ran into stalkers or anything crazy like that. I had one fan that followed me around to our appearances. Before Facebook, we would announce that the Power Dancers and a player would be at Hooters or a sports bar through newsletters. I did see this one fan, all the time, “Hi Natalie, Hi Natalie, Hi Natalie.” It was never a scary thing, it was always support, but our fans definitely have their favorite dancers. What’s your fondest memory as a Power Dancer? Natalie: It’s not even dancing, it’s not even wearing the uniform, it’s not meeting Michael Jordan. We did a lot of community appearances with the Sunshine Kids and I remember being in the back hallway and these girls have lost their hair because of cancer and they’re only 10 years old. And you’re standing there in your Rockets uniform and they’re just looking at you… like you’re a superhero and all they want is a picture and all they want is a hug. There are so many cool and amazing memories, but that one stands out.

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COURTESY HOUSTON ROCKETS; JONATHAN DANIEL; OTTO GREULE JR.; STEPEHN DUNN; JED JACOBSOHN; LISA BLUMENFELD; TOM PIDGEON; CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES SPORT; JON SOOHOO; DICK RAPHAEL; SAM FORENCICH; NOREN TROTMAN; ROCKY WIDNER (2); JESSE D. GARRABRANT; BILL BAPTIST, ALLEN EINSTEIN; JOE MURPHY/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

12/5/12 10:21 AM


By Earl K. SnEEd #23

first five

BraNdaN

Wright

Forward - dallas mavErIcks

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After three injury-plagued1 seasons with Golden State and New Jersey, Dallas Mavericks big man Brandan Wright had many around the League talking Most Improved Player honors2 last season. Now, with the departures of veterans Jason Kidd and Jason Terry in free agency, the former No. 8 overall pick3 in the 2007 Draft is at the center of the Mavs’ youth4 movement. “It’s pretty much a whole new team. Half the team pretty much,” says Wright. “It’s a good atmosphere— lot of young guys mixed with some older guys. It’s kind of a college atmosphere type of feel and we’re really having a good time with each other.” Meanwhile, with Kidd in the Big Apple and replacement Darren Collison’s uptempo play at the point now leading the Mavs, there figures to be more fastbreaking opportunities for Wright to showcase his above-the-rim skills. And with a 36-inch vertical anxiously awaiting any lob pass thrown in the vicinity of the rim, you can expect many more highlight reel finishes from one of the game’s most athletic big men. “I mean, that’s what I’m used to playing with my entire career before last year.5 Even J-Kidd, he pushed the ball a little bit when he had opportunities. Getting a guy like Collison, who likes to push it, will be good for me,” Wright says of his fellow 25-year-old teammate. “We’ve just got to get the chemistry done. I’m still not used to playing with him yet, but he’s a good guy, on and off the court, we’ll be good.”

BONUS POiNtS 1. wright did not appear in the 2009-10 season after left shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. 2. wright is good friends with al cy young winner david Price, adding that as a prep baseball player he was a lefty pitcher that could get the radar gun up to 94 mph. 3. Brandan was selected by charlotte in the 2007 NBa draft but was dealt to Golden state on draft night in exchange for Jason richardson and the draft rights to Jermareo davidson. 4. as a prep star, wright earned tennessee’s division II mr. Basketball honors in 2004, 2005 and 2006, and became the first three-time recipient at any level in the state while leading Brentwood academy to four consecutive state titles, a first in tennessee high school basketball history, before playing at North carolina for a season. 5. wright had a career-high seven blocks to go along with 14 points and six rebounds against houston in a 101-99 overtime win on 3/24/12.

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JUMP BALL 24 SECONDS

BY JERAMIE MCPEEK #4

with DEANDRE JORDAN HOOP: You’re putting up a career high in scoring.1 Have you been working on your offense or are you just getting more opportunities? JORDAN: Both. I worked tremendously hard on my offense this past offseason. I think once my teammates saw me putting in the work, they got confident with being able to trust me with the ball. HOOP: Where have you improved most? JORDAN: Slowing down. I used to get the ball in the post and I would just make a quick move, and not be aware of the surroundings. I’d end up traveling or going into a double-team, or committing an offensive foul. But now I’m slowing down and the game is coming to me as I get older. HOOP: You say older, but you’re still only in your fifth year. JORDAN: Yeah, this is my fifth year and I’m 24. But I’ve been with the Clippers so long, I feel like an old guy. Then you look at guys like Grant Hill, who’s got 29 years, and Chauncey [Billups], who’s got 14 years, and you feel young. HOOP: Grant2 has 29 years in the NBA? JORDAN: If you ask him, he will say no, and then he will try to come find me [laughs]. HOOP: Shaq recently called you the best center in the Western Conference. JORDAN: To get something like that from the most dominant big man ever, that’s a huge compliment. But at the same time, if you’re put in that category, you can’t get complacent. HOOP: In your bio on Clippers.com, it says that Dwight Howard is your favorite player in the NBA? Is that current? JORDAN: He was one of my favorite players when I was in high school and college. But I still think Dwight is a great center. I still take things from his game. HOOP: What kind of things? JORDAN: How he gets a lot of his points, using his quickness on slower guys and his strength on smaller guys. I watch his defense a lot, too. Him being a multiple Defensive Player of the Year winner, you have to learn from guys like that. HOOP: Is there a rivalry between you two, now that he’s in the same conference, same city, same building? JORDAN: I don’t think there is. A lot of people want there to be. But the Lakers are a great team and I respect everything they’ve done, their tradition and all. But they’re just one of 29 teams that we have to try and beat out. HOOP: Have you ever blocked Dwight, or has he ever blocked you? JORDAN: Yes, I think both of those have happened. I blocked his shot my rookie year and that kind of made my game. I was so excited, I felt like the game should be over “right now.” 038

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HOOP: Do you enjoy blocking3 somebody or dunking4 on somebody more? JORDAN: Blocking somebody, because you’re stopping the points and nine times out of 10, I’m blocking the ball into a fastbreak for our team. HOOP: Best block ever? JORDAN: The block on Rondo last year, when he spun in the post. I don’t know if you’ve seen5 it, but I had my hand cocked back far, and I was about to swat it, but when the ball came out of his hand, I just grabbed it out of the air. That was pretty sick. HOOP: How about your best #GotEm photo? JORDAN: Lamar Odom. We got him on the plane to China. He was sleeping, so we crushed up some Snackwells cookies and put all kinds of food on his stomach and on his mouth. He woke up laughing, because he knew he was already got. HOOP: Where did this idea come from? JORDAN: It started last year. Somebody was asleep on the plane with their mouth open. So I asked one of my teammates to take a picture of me posing with the guy. Right when he took it, I was like, we got ’em! HOOP: You’ve started a Twitter6 trend. JORDAN: Yeah, man, #GotEm is trending. People send some crazy ones. Pics of their grandparents, friends asleep. I love it! HOOP: NBA guys sleep a lot, don’t they? JORDAN: Yeah, although now guys try to not go to sleep. Or they almost suffocate themselves putting blankets over their faces while they’re sleeping. Guys have had tents made and little clubhouses with blankets and cardboard. It’s pretty funny. NOAH GRAHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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HOOP: We never knew you were so funny7. JORDAN: I try. I just like to have a good time. HOOP: Have you ever got got? JORDAN: Yeah, I think Blake [Griffin] has gotten me twice. I’ve gotten got three times. I just want to keep my number below five. HOOP: Seems like the only thing you tweet about as much as #GotEm is movies. JORDAN: Yeah, I’m a big movie fan. I don’t care what it is. It could be comedy, action, horror. HOOP: Tell us about the recent Twilight premiere. JORDAN: Twilight was awesome! Everybody says, “Oh, that’s a love story,” which it is. But I saw the first one and it was cool. I like vampires and werewolves and all that. So every one that came out, I felt like I had to see. HOOP: Anyone give you a hard time about seeing a movie with teenage girls? JORDAN: I got a couple tweets [about it]. HOOP: Whose team are you on? JORDAN: I’m Team Edward for sure. Nothing against Jacob. I like Jacob, too, but I’m a vampire guy. HOOP: We saw the Step Brothers 2 poster,8 starring you and Blake Griffin. JORDAN: Yeah, we’re actually coming out with a trailer for that, so watch out for it. HOOP: What would the plot be if that were an actual movie? JORDAN: I think it would be us playing for rival teams and we would just become step brothers. HOOP: That’s not very funny. JORDAN: [laughs] We need to work on it.

BONUS POINTS 1. at press time, Jordan was averaging 10.5 points, along with 7.5 boards and 2.1 blocks a night. oh, and he also ranked 2nd in the League in field-goal percentage (.606) 2. hill had actually only played in 17 seasons entering the 2012-13 campaign. 3. Jordan recorded a career-best eight blocks vs. Golden State in the Clippers’ 2011-12 season opener. 4. on 1/21/09, he dunked 10 times in a game vs. the Lakers. 5. Google it. Just come back and finish this article after you’re done. 6. Follow @deandrejordan for more #Gotem photos. 7. and for more hilarity, check out DJ’s videos at youtube.com/thenoc 8. Jordan tweeted out a photoshopped image of him and Griffin’s heads on the bodies of Will Ferrell and John C. reilly from the 2008 comedy, Step Brothers.

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Our annual look at the 26 most compelling storylines of the season

Definitions sourced from Merriam-Webster Dictionary

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A

I

ALGORITHM

noun a procedure for solving a mathematical problem (as of finding the greatest common divisor) in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation

n professional sports, every team’s goal is to win the last game of the season. General managers take various routes to the Larry O’Brien Trophy—stocking up on draft picks, signing big-name free agents, making blockbuster trades and even counting on good ol’ lady luck to play a factor. Part of the allure of the game is to be able to watch superhuman feats of athleticism, where the best players are clearly cut from the middle of the pack, a result of a sweet stroke from beyond the arc or a vertical jump that defies gravity. One man sought to change that line of thinking. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey is often compared to Billy Beane of the NBA, utilizing advanced statistics to build a roster that could win a championship. With a team of no-names, Beane’s Oakland A’s won 20-straight games in 2002, an American League record, but lost in the first round of the playoffs. In 2008, Morey’s Rockets won 22 games in a row, an NBA record, only to face a similar fate once the postseason rolled around. Like Moneyball, “Moreyball” has yet to bear fruitful or consistent results—the Rockets have had one playoff series win in five seasons under Morey. Morey, who studied at Northwestern and M.I.T. and was influenced by Bill James, inherited a pretty solid team with a core of Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and Shane Battier, but the career-ending injury to Yao and various injuries to T-Mac were blows that P.E.R. ratings could 042

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never predict, leaving Morey’s Rockets unable to overcome his Texas counterparts, the Spurs and Mavericks. Every one of Morey’s moves have been dissected and seen by his ardent devotees as a game-changer, but largely have fell short of expectations. Entering his sixth year of stewarding the Rockets, perhaps we are seeing the beginning of Morey 2.0, a new plan that the rest of the League has yet to catch up on. Over the summer the Rockets pried away Jeremy Lin from the Knicks via free agency and on the eve of the season began, Morey completed a shocking trade for James Harden, a building block young star who could emerge into a superstar with the spotlight shining solely on him. Just like with Billy Beane, once other GMs figured out Moneyball, they followed suit, eventually winning championships. Just like Beane, Morey awaits the day he wins a trophy of his own. In an April edition of The Economist, Morey wrote an editorial praising Lin for his performance last season. He wrote, “Mr. Lin has received so much attention because he embodies the reason we love sports: Every time you watch, something amazing might happen that no one anticipates. He is an outlier and an underdog whose hard work is paying off at last.” Morey can sympathize with that role. All that’s left is the championship payoff.—McG #93

BILL BAPTIST/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

12/5/12 10:21 AM


B I

BINARY noun; something made of or based on two things or parts

f the basketball gods wanted to create the perfect pick-and-roll duo for the 21st century, they would have to break the previous perfect creation of John Stockton and Karl Malone and start all over again. That legendary Utah Jazz 1-2 punch remains the gold standard, so an upgrade would necessitate the 2.0 version. It would have to fly. Like a superhero. Enter Blake Griffin, kind of a hybrid of Thor, The Incredible Hulk and Mailman, but with wings. Witness his jump over Kendrick Perkins or Pau Gasol, going up and through Timofey Mozgov, and his hurdle over a Kia. Blessed with a basketball coach father, Blake also has the understanding of the intricacies of the game as a youngster, registering as a top five big in rolling to the hole on pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Yet the duo was incomplete until Chris Paul’s arrival. CP3 is the rare game-changing point guard ranked as a top five most-efficient ballhandler on pick-and-rolls while also posing as a threat as a top five highest-scoring ballhandler on P&Rs, also according to Synergy Sports Technology. The newfound Clippers’ offense runs on a base of two—multiple pick-and-roll sets on single plays— as run by various player combinations of five. All were involved, though Paul and Griffin were the catalysts, bringing new energy to Staples Center and giving Angelenos a legitimate tough choice in their basketball loyalty. Because of the elite point-guard, power-forward pairing, everyone compared the two to the aforementioned Salt Lake City dynamic duo. “We get a lot of that,” says Griffin, from a January 2012 interview with HOOP, “but it’s not something we pay a lot of attention to.” Indeed, for they are still forming their own identities. Their own cover stories. Griffin, who has the powerful body of a Malone, is more of a high flier than the Mailman ever dreamed to be (Call him FedEx?). But Griffin is similar in that he possesses the same work ethic, one that drives the Clipper to become a better outside shooter, just as his predecessor did before him. Griffin, looking to perfect that pick-and-pop game that became Malone’s bread and butter in his later years, improved from a poor 33 percent on long-range two-point shots as a rookie NOAH GRAHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

to become a 37-percent shooter on long-range twos in 2011-12, his second NBA season (league average is 38 percent). Likewise, Paul is still evolving as the everso-smart Stockton-like point. Except, dare I say, he’s a more advanced model—posting the highest career Player Efficiency Rating for any point guard in NBA history. Quicker. Smarter. Better. Stockton—like Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and most elite point guards—didn’t really master the position’s intricacies until age 25—scoring efficiently, distributing effectively, avoiding turnovers—whereas Paul entered the NBA at age 20 excelling in every facet, posting superstar PER and plus-minus numbers along with lower turnover ratios than his PG ancestors on record in that 20-to-25 age frame. Now, at 27 years old, Paul is entering parts unknown. Magic Johnson is the only outlier in NBA history who had a similar career arc at his position. Together, Paul and Griffin, the second coming of the best duo the NBA has ever seen, will challenge the Lakers for No. 1 in their two-team town.—#Darryl Howerton #21 043


C

Crux noun; an essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome

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By Andy Jasner #27 Portraits by Brian Babineau

One fOr the Ages You could argue that Rajon Rondo is not the best point guard in the game now, but you can’t question the fact that there is no other PG that can dominate a game quite like him.

F

orget about being just the best player on the Boston Celtics. At this juncture, Rajon Rondo might be the Most Valuable Player in the entire NBA. Now in his seventh season, Rondo1 is clearly the centerpiece of the Celtics. The C’s Big Three is still very much in place: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rondo. But the feisty Rondo is the cornerstone, the one who makes the whole engine run with precision. At the end of November, Rondo tied John Stockton’s 37-game double-digit assist2 streak (the streak ended on Nov. 28 when he got ejected for an on-court altercation with Brooklyn’s Kris Humphries, ending any hope of breaking Magic Johnson’s all-time run of 46 games) and didn’t think anything of it. He insists that winning is the only thing he’s worried about. “It has to be,” Rondo says, “Otherwise, why are you playing? I got one championship. It’s about being the best. It’s not about personal stats. We have a veteran team that is hungry for another title. I want to be part of it.” On June 28, 2006, the transaction wire barely registered a blip with this trade: The Celtics acquired Rondo3 and Brian Grant from the Phoenix Suns for a first-round draft pick the following season. The Suns and the rest of the League must be wondering how they could have been so wrong for overlooking the point guard from the University of Kentucky.4

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While the expectations the Celtics had for Rondo are unknown, but we imagine that a scenario where Rondo was the team’s best player alongside a healthy and productive Pierce and Garnett wasn’t something that even the most optimistic Celtic front office5 member could envision. “I can’t blame the League for passing on me because I didn’t have a great season at Kentucky before the draft,” Rondo says. “I knew I could play and I was confident in my ability, but I didn’t have a great season, so it’s understandable that teams would pass on me. I didn’t think I needed a chip on my shoulder or anything like that because it was time for me to show what I could do. No excuses. Just go out and play. That’s what I’ve done from Day One. “I’ve had some ups and downs, but I’ve played the same tough style of basketball that I’ve played since I was a kid playing hoops on the playground. I bring it every night. Some opponents might not like me, but that’s fine. I’m going to bring that fire and passion with me every night and I think it shows in my game. Most of all, I’m a winner. I want to win and I want my team to win. “I’ll do anything to win. When the time does come and I walk away from the game on my own terms, I’ll have no regrets because I’ll know that I played the game with passion and intensity the whole way through.” Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, who knows a thing or two about playing point guard in the NBA having played6 the position for 13 years, has guided Rondo through the early peaks and valleys that every player goes through. All that hard work has clearly paid off. The result is arguably the best point guard in Celtics history and an MVP-caliber player.

Says Rivers: “I always said it wasn’t a lack of talent. That was always there. It was between the ears. He has such incredible God-given talent and he sees things on the court and makes it look easy at times. He has such incredible court awareness and the skills to go along with it. I was a pretty good player,7 but Rajon? He’s got the potential to be the best in the League. He’s that good. “Rajon is such a competitor and has that fire and burning desire to win. I don’t have to coach that. Combine that with his talent and athleticism and you have a superstar type of player who runs the show here.” Rondo’s fire has been questioned at times because of run-ins on the court. He’s an emotional player who sometimes may take it a step too far. There have been elbows flying at times and comments uttered about the opposition. “You know, I never want to take Rajon’s intensity away because that makes him part of who he is,” Rivers says. “What I always tell him is, ‘Play with fire, even stoke the fire, but don’t start a forest fire you can’t put out.’ I don’t want him to lose that passion, but at the same time, I want him to understand that there’s a line you can’t cross. “He has to be on guard against that and we’ve talked about that a lot. In terms of playing with emotion, I love it. I think the players feed off it and it’s contagious. I never want to take that away from him. That’s part of his game.” The journey from Kentucky to starting point with the Celtics was relatively quick, but it was not without some potholes. In Rondo’s first season, he was a third-string point guard, backing up Delonte West and Sebastian Telfair on a team that saw a winning score

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“Some opponents might not like me, but that’s fine.”

at the end of the buzzer just 24 times. That subsequent offseason saw the team dismantling everything. Save for Pierce, no Celtic was safe from the scalpel that Danny Ainge was wielding. The resulting makeover turned the Celtics into the new millennium Big Three8 of Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen. Not only did Rondo survive the nip/tuck, but by default9 he became the guy entrusted to run point with three Hall of Fame-bound players who were hungry for their first championship. With it, questions abounded about whether Rondo was up to the task. Despite the public vote of confidence from coaches and players, Rondo had to prove to them and fans the confidence he always had in himself. “It wasn’t always smooth and I remember that from the beginning,” Rivers recalls. “I remember in the early days when I wasn’t playing Rajon and he’d ask why. I’d tell him what he needed to do to get on the court. I don’t think a light switch or anything like that went off. He just started doing it. Then he got better and better and better. He just started doing it. I don’t think there’s anything more to it than that.” In just his second season, Rondo was celebrating an NBA Championship. He recorded 16 assists in Game 2 of the Finals,10 the most by a player since Magic Johnson had 20 assists in 1991. With the spotlight shining, Rondo was at his best. “I think the special players are the ones who play their basketball when the pressure is on,” Rivers says. “I thought that was the case with Rondo. He just kept improving and wasn’t deterred by the big game or the big moments. He loved it. He just went out there and played and didn’t have any tightness. Not every player has the ability to do that.” Especially players learning the point, a position notoriously known to take some time to master. In Rondo’s case, despite the situation exacerbated by the pressure of playing with three stars, the championship aspirations and a looming and impatient fan base, he not only survived, he thrived. While there were questions about Rondo’s mettle during his rise, there was little doubt about his ability. “I remember the first time I played against Rondo,” remembers Denver’s Andre Iguodala. “I saw a player with a huge ceiling. I thought, ‘This guy is going to be one of the great ones.’ You could just see how he played, the intensity in his eyes. He had it. You just knew he would be great. I don’t know why he wasn’t drafted higher, but that happens. It’s not an exact science. Some guys go in the second round who should have been taken higher. It happens every year. “I think Rajon is a superstar. He’s got all the intangibles to be one of the great ones and he has shown it with his play. He just gets it done every night. He has that will to win and you can see it playing against him.” Along with Iguodala, Elton Brand competed against Rondo in last year’s Eastern Conference

Semifinals. The Celtics survived the Sixers’ push in a seven-game series. It was Rondo who came up big when the Celtics needed it the most. “He’s so tough to play against because there’s no off button,” says Brand, now with the Dallas Mavericks. “He goes 100 miles an hour all the time but it’s so controlled on the court. He’s got that motor but knows how to control it. He sees the court so well. He sees things happening before they happen and that’s rare. He’s just a great player with the intangibles to be a Hall of Fame-type player. “As long as the Celtics have The Big Three anchored by Rondo, they’re going to be in the mix for a title. Rondo makes them go. He seems to have gotten better every season, too. The improvement never stops and that’s a sign of a player willing to put in the work to be great.” The players who come prepared every night stand out from the rest. It could be a back-to-back situation or a sixth game in nine nights, but the truly great ones don’t look any different. They just play no matter the circumstances. “There was a game a couple of years ago, and I forget the specifics, but

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“I’m a winner. I want to win and I want my team to win. I’ll do anything to win.” I remember this: We were up 10 or 12 points and I just saw Rajon kick it into another gear,” reminisces Bucks forward Mike Dunleavy. “It happened so quick. Just like that, a 10- or 12-point lead for us turned into an 8- or 10-point lead for them. Rondo was at the center of it. He was deflecting passes, leading the break, making shots, wreaking havoc. He was firing up his teammates, doing all he could to help them win the game. I remember them being on a long trip, but it didn’t look that way. “He had the intensity of Game 7 of the Finals. It was refreshing, to be honest. You can be nicked up in this league. You can be tired from a tough stretch. He never looked fatigued. He just did his thing and it was something to see. He was incredible that night.” Since his rookie season,11 Rondo has displayed enough spectacular basketball skill that you might think he was born with a basketball in his rather formidable hands.12 Growing up in Louisville, Ky., Rondo didn’t always dream of becoming an NBA star. Sure, he’d hang out with his friends and play basketball all

day long until it was time for dinner. But unlike the numerous of stories players growing up enamored by their NBA idols, Rondo watched the National Football League, not the NBA, believe it or not. “Really, I was a kid like anyone else in the neighborhood,” Rondo says. “I liked playing hoops and watching the NFL. I wasn’t a big NBA fan. I didn’t watch much NBA at the time. I was a pro football fan. I liked that. I didn’t have NBA idols. I was one of the kids in the neighborhood who did my thing. I went to school, played hoops, spent time13 with my friends and family. Really, it was nothing out of the ordinary.” There’s nothing ordinary about Rondo. With the League in an era full of extraordinary point guards, many of them capable of scoring and incredible feats of athleticism, that is saying much. Not that Rondo isn’t equipped with those gifts, but he’s also blessed with a cerebral approach to the game. “He’s become a special player, no doubt,” Rivers says. “He’s got such a high basketball IQ and I don’t toss that around lightly. He’s a coach on the floor. He’ll tell me things in timeout huddles before I tell him. He has a mental picture on the floor and just sees it in his head. And he’s got the skills to go with it. Those skills keep getting better. He’s got MVP talent, no question.

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“We’ve got three special players for The Big Three in Garnett, Paul and Rondo. He worked his way into The Big Three. It didn’t happen overnight. It took time and patience. He’s there now. He’s the point guard and runs the show. I think Rajon has earned respect from the team and the entire league with his play. “We’re not where we are today without Rajon. His development along the way helped us get one title and contend for more. I’ve said it so many times, once he got clear between the ears, he shot out like a canon and went on his way to becoming one of the great ones.” The Celtics have had their share of great guards through those championship years: Bob Cousy,14 Nate “Tiny” Archibald and Dennis Johnson. Rondo15 must be considered among this elite group. “That’s some pretty strong company, but you’re right because Rondo belongs in the conversation,” says Nuggets coach George Karl. “He’s got those intangibles that you can’t teach or coach. A player either has them or he doesn’t. When he does, it sure makes a coach’s job easier. He’s an incredibly smart player and he just seems to know where his teammates are on the court at all times. “Some of the guys you mentioned like Cousy and ‘Tiny,’ that’s strong company. If Rajon keeps playing at this level for a number of years, sure he must be considered. He’s an elite player now. He’s the type of point guard who makes his teammates better. The evolution of his game shows that.” Pierce and Garnett have the utmost respect for Rondo. It’s evident in how they interact on the court and how they bond on the bench. “We’re a close team, all of us,” Rondo says. “We all have each other’s backs. We all look out for each other. We’re a team here and you win with team basketball. You support each other. We have that here in a big way.” The Celtics have a big hurdle to climb in trying to capture another championship. The Heat are the defending champions. The Knicks and Nets are much improved. The

Point Guard Runoff A few years back, after the debate of whether LeBron James or Kobe Bryant held the title of best player in the NBA, the second most argued topic pitting two players against one another was the point guard contention between Chris Paul and Deron Williams. While LeBron has clearly won the first argument with his allaround dominance, age and the recent championship on his side, the point guard debate rages on, only it’s now joined by a few more candidates. Like the reigning Democratic and Republican parties, Paul and Williams remain in the public consciousness due to the fact that they’ve both been doing it strong for the past eight seasons and are smack dab in their primes. Both are strong floor leaders and have proven to be difference makers over a season and a short series. More astute observers know that there are more choices vying for their vote. Independents, if you will. Headlining the group is Russell Westbrook. With his exciting blend of athleticism, scoring and explosiveness, Westbrook has quickly risen up the ranks, leading one of the best teams to a Finals appearance and securing a spot on the 2012 U.S. Basketball Men’s National Team. Purists shudder at Westbrook’s unpredictability and shot-happy game, but the results have been nothing short of effective and spectacular. Although he is currently out of commission (but possibly returning soon), Derrick Rose has proven he has what it takes to take the title outright, having done something that no point guard since Allen Iverson has done: win the MVP. Like Westbrook, Rose has a give-him-the-ball-and-get-out-of-the-way game with 20-10 potential. It’s unsure how much the ACL injury will affect him, but given his young age, determination and talent, it should be assumed Rose will return to form. Tony Parker is not new to the party having entered the league before any of his contemporaries and seemingly much older, but at just 30, he is still very much in the discussion. Parker has made strides as a distributor but at the core he is still a scoring PG. And a very good one. Able to beat his man off the dribble with a variety of dribble and speed moves, Parker might be the best among the bunch at finishing around the rim despite being the smallest and playing underneath the rim. A once shaky shooter, Parker has overcome his weakness to be dependable from outside and while not a tough defender, he plays good team defense. He’s also the only one to have a Finals MVP on his mantle. Which brings us to Rondo. Unlike every other contender, Rondo is unlikely to score 20 with ease on any given night. On the flipside, no one else is a big a threat for a 5x5 (at least an accumulation of 5 in five statistical categories) or 20 dimes like Rondo. Defensively, it can be said that Rondo is at the top of his class. His long wingspan, quickness and speed, but most importantly, his desire and knowledge for defense, gives him an edge. So while he might not end the night cracking double digits in points or hit a three-pointer all week, Rondo’s contributions as a playmaker, knack for breaking down a defense and lockdown D (all the traits of a traditional PG) make him an elite one. Like Parker, don’t overlook the shiny adornment on his finger that is proof positive of his winning pedigree. In the end, it’s hard to pick a unanimous winner from the ballot. The general consensus still favors either Paul or Williams, but at this point it’s very much an open race for the seat. Your choice likely is a reflection of what you value in a point guard and not necessarily a definitive answer. Further adding to the mix is another group of budding PGs that are knocking on the door of the exclusive One Club. Watch closely and then cast your vote.—#2

Chris Paul

Deron Williams

Russell Westbrook

Derrick Rose

Tony Parker

Rajon Rondo

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“Rajon is such a competitor and has that fire and burning desire to win. Combine that with his talent and athleticism and you have a superstar type of player who runs the show here.” —Doc Rivers

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BONUS POINTS 1. rondo made his debut with the Celtics on nov. 1, 2006 2. He averaged 11.7 assists per game last season and became the first Boston player to lead the league in assists since Cousy in 1959-60. 3. rondo was the suns’ first round pick (21st overall) in ’06. 4. in his first three nCaa tournament games at Kentucky, rondo scored in double figures. 5. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny ainge, who once played guard for the team, pulled the trigger on the rondo deal. 6. rivers has played for atlanta, the L.a. Clippers, new york and san antonio. 7. Doc averaged 10.9 pgg, 5.7 apg and 1.8 spg for his career. 8. Boston’s original power trio was Larry Bird, Kevin mcHale and robert Parish. 9. the Celtics had moved point guards West and telfair in the housecleaning. 10. rondo averaged 10.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.73 steals in 32 minutes per game in the postseason during the Celtics’ championship season of ’08. 11. rondo made his first career start a memorable one. On 2/2/07 against the Clippers, he scored 23 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, added 6 assists and snared 4 steals in a season-high 43 minutes. 12. rondo’s mitts are 9.5 inches long and 10 inches wide. that’s larger than LeBron James’s hands. 13. Off the court, rondo says he enjoys relaxing with friends and watching movies. One of his favorite actors is Will smith. 14. Cousy wound up his career with the Celtics with 16,955 points (18.5 ppg), 6,945 assists (7.6 apg) and a .803 free-throw percentage in 917 games. in 109 playoff games, he averaged 18.5 points and 8.6 assists. Cousy was named to the nBa’s 25th, 35th and 50th anniversary teams. 15. rondo became the first Celtic since sherman Douglas in 1995 to earn 15 or more assists in a game when he doled out 16 assists on 2/29/08 against Charlotte. 16. During the 2009-10 season, rondo set franchise records for assists (794) and steals (189) compiled.

Bulls will be back when Derrick Rose returns from his ACL injury. Out West, the Thunder, Spurs and even the up-and-down Lakers have to be considered. As long as The Big Three remains in Boston, there’s always hope of another parade. “What impressed me about Rondo is his willingness to work to get better for himself and for the team,” Rivers says. “Just because you’re a star doesn’t mean you can’t improve. His midrange jump shot is so much better. His decision-making is better. His ability to get to the free-throw line is better. If we are able to win another championship, it’s partially because the guys on our team all wanted to improve for one another. When your leaders like Rondo, KG and Paul are doing it, the rest of the guys see it, too.” Players from other eras can’t help but see it as well.

“You watch Rondo and it reminds me a lot of Mo [Cheeks] when I was with the Sixers,” says former Sixers All-Star center Moses Malone. “They’re both floor generals, who make all the right decisions and do everything to keep the team calm when things are going against you. I remember a number of games, especially from that 1983 championship season, when teams would put runs on us, and Mo would be calm whether we up 20 or down 15 or 20. It didn’t matter. He played the same way and the guys reacted from that. “I’ve watched Rondo play enough and he’s very, very impressive with how he handles the Celtics. He’s their general like Mo. He’ll keep the guys calm even if they’re down. You can see it just by watching. I think he’s gotten better and improved each season.” Has he developed into an MVP candidate? “Without a doubt, I’d say so,” says Raptors TV analyst Leo Rautins. “His improvement from his rookie season to now is incredible. Whenever he plays now, you almost expect him to get 20 assists. He’s that good.16 He has great players around him and that always helps, but his skill level is off the charts. He’s a player who has risen up and turned himself into one of the best in the League.” If Rondo is able to hoist an MVP trophy at the end of the season, it’ll be a satisfying feeling. But winning a second title—that’s what he’s solely focused on. “I’m still angry about last season because we had a great chance and didn’t get it done,” Rondo says. “We have another shot this season and we want to take advantage of the opportunity. We have to stay consistent and do what we need to do when the playoffs come. I think our whole team is on the same page and we’re on the same journey.” Led by arguably the best player in the League, the Celtics will go as far as Rondo takes them. Looking back on his days in Kentucky, even when he was a budding prep star, the thought of leading one of the storied franchises in all of professional sports was a bit far-fetched. “I didn’t think about things like this,” Rondo says. “At Kentucky, I was hoping to be in the League. It’s an honor to hear MVP talk and other nice things, but none of it matters if you don’t show it on the court.” It’s hard to miss Rondo. He’s always in the middle of every play. Just like his place on the Celtics.

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he Miami Heat have an air of confidence—or arrogance about them, depending on whom you ask. In the summer of 2010, LeBron James promised the city multiple championships before ever playing a single game in a Heat uniform, with his infamous, “Not one… not two… not three…” statement. It took two seasons but the Heat delivered, winning the Finals at home and bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to South Beach. They often say the first one is the hardest, and while James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade now have the monkey off their backs, they can do little about the gorilla now perched on their shoulders. Opposing teams have been gunning for them since the formation of The Big Three; adding “2012 NBA Champions” to their résumé has only sweetened the pot. The Heat have every intention of remaining on their throne, shrugging off any complacency by keeping together the key pieces of their roster while reloading. Dangling the ultimate recruiting tool—the very realistic prize of a championship come

D

DOUBLE DOWN noun; the initial bet is increased 100 percent in order for a chance at winning hand

June—the Heat upped the ante by getting one of the game’s best shooters and the alltime leader in three-point field goals in Ray Allen. They also happened to add the guy who is No. 8 on that list in Rashard Lewis. There’s no lack of contenders for the NBA title, particularly last year’s finalists, the Oklahoma City Thunder who have only gained more experience and a year of hunger. The Los Angeles Lakers on paper have a formidable starting five, but time will tell if that unit meshes. In the East, the Boston Celtics are still viewed by the Heat as a formidable and experienced foe. The Heat look at this run for back-to-back championships as the first step in building a dynasty and making good on earlier boasts. Team president Pat Riley—a man who knows a thing or two about odds and championships, having guaranteed a repeat title and trademarked the term “threepeat,”—knows that his team will have to dig down deep and fight through adversity, even if it means making a gamble for that money card again. —Duane Watson #7

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E O

EYEBROW noun; the ridge over the eye or the hair growing on it

ver the years, many NBA players have become known for a distinctive facial feature. In Oklahoma City and now in Houston, James Harden’s beard has caused fans to flock to souvenir shops in a quest to don a replica of the shooting guard’s thick, bushy, glorious facial hair. The one-of-a-kind attribute even has its own Twitter account (@HardenBeard), with a legion of more than 17,000 followers that appears to be growing as steadily as the beard itself. In Cleveland, Anderson Varejao’s curly mop top is one of the most unique hairstyles in NBA history. As a result, in the past two years alone, we’ve witnessed “Anderson Varejao Wig Night” at Quicken Loans Arena, as well as an “exclusive” injury report from the jokesters at The Onion (headline: “Anderson Varejao Tears Tendon in Hair”). In the past, Michael Jordan is widely known for making going bald acceptable, and who can forget trying to keep up with Dennis Rodman’s myriad of hair colors. Then there’s New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis, who has taken the peculiar-personalgrooming-trait game to an unprecedented level of ubiquity. Davis’ famous “unibrow” may not yet reach the heights of Harden’s beard in terms of thickness, staying power or social-media popularity, but at just 19 years of age, the University of Kentucky product had the foresight and marketing savvy to trademark phrases such as “Fear The Brow” and “Raise The Brow.” Perhaps the genius of the Chicago native’s full embrace of the unusual trait is that monobrows have generally been considered unattractive in our culture. But during his singular, NCAA title-winning season at the University of Kentucky, Davis’ shot-blocking and dominance in the paint managed to turn a negative into a positive, launching a craze that swept across the entire Bluegrass State. Everyone, including the mascot, joined NBA PHOTO LIBRARY/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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in on the fun, with “The Wildcat” applying a black unibrow to his furry costume at every hoops game. Perhaps more amazing is the fact that his eyebrows have somewhat overshadowed the reason the Hornets took Davis with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Gifted with guard skills as a result of a late growth spurt, Davis combines that with his 6-10 size and long-ashis-brows reach to form a once-in-a-generation talent (think a new wave hybrid of Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett). Fans in New Orleans have already professed their love for all things single-browed, including showing up for Davis’ official NBA debut on Halloween in various outfits that paid tribute to the rookie’s conjoined eye hair. In perhaps the most creative bow to the brow, one male fan arrived at the season opener dressed as livestock, complete with udders, black and white spots and a thick, unbroken line of hair above the eyes. And what exactly was he calling that bizarre costume? Why, of course – “The UniCow.” For the Hornets franchise, they hope the famous eyebrows serve as a bridge to a championship.—Jim Eichenhofer #12 055

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L

F 056

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FLABBERGAST verb; surprise greatly or astonish

eave it to the quiet one to make everyone’s jaw drop. Whisper-silent Kawhi Leonard. Never said a word to anybody his rookie season. Talked so seldom he made Tim Duncan sound like Gary Payton in comparison. Smiled so rarely he made Kendrick Perkins look like Magic Johnson. If ever there were the perfect Spur to understudy Duncan for the unassuming Clark Kent role as San Antonio Superman, it would have been Leonard. So that may be precisely why head coach Gregg Popovich gave his 21-year-old Spur the keys to the kingdom, when he wrote the following on an NBA.com fans Q&A session: “I think Kawhi is going to be a star. And as time goes on, I think he’ll be the face of the Spurs. At both ends of the court, he is really a special player. And what makes me so confident about him is that he wants it so badly. He wants to be a good player, I mean a great player. He comes early, he stays late, and he’s coachable. He’s just like a sponge. When you consider he’s only had one year of college and no training camp yet, you can see that he’s going to be something else.” Pop, never been one given to hyperbole, hasn’t ever raved about a 21-year-old like this (Duncan was 22 when he was a Spurs rookie). So imagine the league-wide shock when Pop made Leonard the prince of the winningest franchise in sports. At first glance, Leonard’s rookie numbers weren’t worthy of such honor: 8 points and 5 rebounds in 24 minutes per game as a rook. It was enough to get him on the 2011-12 NBA All-Rookie first team, but heir to the Spurs’ dynasty? For that, you had to look harder at his end-of-the-season stats: he shot 50 percent from the floor in the playoffs and 45 percent on three-pointers; he had a 116 offensive rating and 101 defensive rating in the postseason; after the All-Star break, he had a .625 true shooting percentage and was one of the key cogs in San Antonio’s 20-win streak, landing the starting small forward spot once Richard Jefferson was dealt for Stephen Jackson. Leonard truly helped make the Spurs super. And already—in this young 2012-13 campaign—Pop’s devotion to his new favorite son is already paying dividends. In San Antonio’s season-opening wins against New Orleans and Oklahoma City, it was Leonard’s pressure defense—where he racked up 10 steals in two games—that helped spur on his team to eventual victories. In those close contests, the mild-mannered Leonard showed he was a Man of Steal. And if he continues his super play the rest of the way, you’ll never hear anyone ask “Who” about Kawhi ever again. — #21

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G

N

GOTHAM noun; nickname for New York City

ew York City has always been a two-team town. In baseball, there’s the Yankees and Mets; in football, the Giants and Jets; in hockey, Rangers and Islanders. When you’re in a town as big as New York, the lines have to be drawn, even inside city limits. For the first time, Big Apple fans will have a choice in NBA basketball fandom with the Knicks and Nets. Like every intracity rivalry, there’s always the incumbent with the deep roots and (usually) a history of winning, followed by the arrival of upstart franchise, spurred by the sport’s popularity and the city’s insatiable thirst for sports. The Yankees, Giants and Rangers rule their respective sports in team paraphernalia representation on the crowded sidewalks, subways and elevators, with the underdog Mets, Jets and Islanders gear playing second fiddle at the local Modell’s. Diehard sports fans in New York identify with their allegiances; the team you roll with is as important as which part of the city you live in, which train you take, which pizza spot is your favorite (let’s not get started on that). The Knicks have a head start in the New York hoops scene, 67 seasons and two championships to be precise. They also play close to the heart of the city (along with the Rangers, the only pro team that plays in Manhattan) in Madison Square Garden, an arena often revered as the “Mecca of Basketball” to hoopheads, with Spike Lee (who ironically grew up in the Fort Greene neighborhood that is a short walk to where the Nets reside) and a revolving door of A-listers gracing their presence courtside. NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/GETTY IMAGES SPORT

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The Nets, when they toiled across a river that might as well be an ocean, played the role of quasi-rivals. Even when they found success with trips to the Finals in ’02 and ’03, they still paled in comparison to the Knicks. Now they find themselves across two rivers (Hudson and East) in a borough that is quickly winning cool points from New Yorkers and visitors alike, playing in the spankin’ new Barclays Center that was christened by none other than one of Brooklyn’s most famous sons and Nets part owner (hey, 1/15 of 1 percent counts!), Jay-Z. As much as the two franchises are quick to dispel any kind of rivalry (New Yorkers compete for everything: the best spot on Sheep Meadow, reservations to Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, elbow room, air), as much as New York is large enough for two teams to coexist, as much as Manhattan and Brooklyn are still viewed as being worlds apart by locals, the existence of the two in the same city makes the two compete for eyeballs, sponsorships, championships, players and most importantly, bragging rights. The Knicks better not rest on their it’s-been-a-long-time laurels and tradition with their restless fan base. The Nets would be wise to capitalize on their shiny new status, but be aware that cute catchphrases (“Hello Brooklyn”), a new arena (reminder: MSG is set to unveil its makeover next season) and best-rapper-alive owners won’t overcome the stink of losing. I’m literally teetering between the two. I work a block from the Garden and a few subway stops from Barclays. I predict an epic playoff matchup between the two this spring. Winner runs the town.—Ming Wong #2 057

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H T

HOLISM noun; a theory that the universe and especially living nature is correctly seen in terms of interacting wholes (as of living organisms) that are more than the mere sum of elementary particles

he NBA has been a league that is defined by single-named superstars: Russ. Wilt. Dr. J. Magic. Larry. Michael. Kobe. LeBron. Players who remind us nightly of our mortal ways and their seemingly superhuman skills. It’s assumed that it is only with a bright star that the championship spotlight will shine on a team. While largely true, there have been instances where—a hat tip to Aristotle—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Most recently, a 2004 Detroit Pistons squad shocked the Los Angeles Lakers (a team stacked with one-name superstars in Shaq, Kobe, Mailman and Glove) when they won the Finals handily in five games with a core of players who need first and last name to be properly identified: Finals MVP Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace. They were able to do this because basketball is a game where all of the pieces matter. Regardless of how we market and consume the NBA, devouring the latest tweets, Instagrams and stat lines from the current crop of superstars, basketball is a team game. A game where five guys playing together as a cohesive and disciplined unit can top one or two players playing out of their minds. Always will be. The 2012-2013 Denver Nuggets are a little like a younger remix of those 2004 Detroit Pistons. Trading away Carmelo Anthony last season (and 058

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actually playing better without him), they’ve got a collection of flexible players, guys to go with a coach whose biggest strength is coaching to his players’ strengths. With Ty Lawson running the show, Danilo Gallinari providing scoring, Andre Iguodala doing a bit of everything including defense, reserve Kenneth Faried bringing relentless energy off of the bench, JaVale McGee as the “supremely-talented-athlete-yet-to-figure-it-out,” Corey Brewer as the guy who has finally figured it out and 13-year vet Andre Miller as the tie that binds everything together, Denver is ready to make some noise. The biggest key? They understand that to get to where they would like to go, it has to be with each player bringing his best and playing within the role that was created for him. They know that each player has to help out the guy sitting beside him, that veterans need to take rookies under their wings, that there isn’t any room for malcontents or negativity of any kind. Stripping away the superstars and egos, NBA basketball is still the same game that is played in backyards and on playgrounds around the world: five players playing against five other players. The Nuggets—like the Pistons who won in ‘04—will attempt to overwhelm those five players standing in front of them. Not by winning each individual matchup, but as a whole, playing as a team. —Holly MacKenzie #32 ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

12/5/12 10:13 AM


I

T

FOR INTEGRAL adjective; essential to completeness

he most crucial elements of any great accomplishment are often the things that get overlooked. That glorious architectural building is standing because of the humble concrete and steel that frame the structure. The latest ingenious tech marvel would be a beautiful paperweight if not for the hours spent by programmers to create the code that runs the device. No NBA Champion gets crowned without the presence of a “glue guy,” the player who might not have knocked down the big shot, but helped make it possible, the guy who made the game-saving block possible by properly funneling his man into the defense, the guy whose extra pass led to a momentum-changing dunk, the guy who makes contenders into champions. There’s one such guy like this on every good team, but Shane Battier stands in a class by himself right now, the LeBron of that ilk, you can say. Battier will never be mentioned in the same breath as teammates LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and even Ray Allen when discussing why Miami is the defending champs. The infamous summer of 2010 might have brought LeBron’s considerable talents to South Beach, but the Summer of 2011 might have netted the Heat the missing piece to make good on promises. Battier’s career numbers are pedestrian—9.1 points, 4.5 boards, 1.9 assists in 32 minutes a night spanning over 800 games since 2001—but take a peek at the only stat that matters: wins. Battier was drafted by a Grizzlies CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES SPORT

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organization that had never won more than 23 games. In his third year they won 50, securing the first playoff berth in franchise history, and followed it up with two more postseason appearances in the subsequent years. Next season, Battier joined the Rockets and the results were on par: Memphis reverts to 22 wins, while Houston goes 52-30. In fact, there have only been three lonely seasons in which a Battier-glued squad failed to reach the playoffs. And let’s not even bring up the three-straight state championships in high school and the 2001 national championship with Duke (where he was the Most Outstanding Player) or the epic 22-game win streak he and the Rockets rattled off in ’08. Sure he’s had some All-Stars around him, but when it’s crunch time who can you count on to clamp down on the opposition’s best scorer or draw the timely charge? Battier. Hit a big three when that superstar gets doubled? Battier. Do the things that don’t show up on the traditional stat sheet: Set screens, deflect balls in the passing lane, dive for loose balls, tip rebounds to teammates? Battier. Since entering the NBA, Battier has never been the best player on his teams. Rarely has he even been the second banana. On the Heat roster, he might not even make the top five, but the pecking order doesn’t make him any less important. While his contributions might not make the highlight reel, his presence ensures that those around him do. And more importantly: win.—Phil D’Apolito #14 059

12/4/12 3:57 PM


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W

JURY’S OUT idiom; when there is no general agreement or consensus on a particular decision or topic

hen you look around the NBA, there are a lot of interesting new backcourt combinations. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash on the Lakers. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis on the Bucks. O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison on the Mavs. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson on the Nets. But with all due respect to those freshly packaged duos, none are as intriguing as Jeremy Lin and James Harden on the Rockets. Following blockbuster moves from high-profile teams, Lin and Harden are now the faces of a Rockets franchise that’s relying on them to bring Houston back into the national spotlight for the first time since Yao Ming retired. They have a lot to prove after signing contracts worth more than a combined $100 million. And they’ll have the motivation to do so after getting spurned by their former franchises and having their ability to be superstars questioned around the League. No one knows what they’re fully capable of other than attracting legions of fans and bad puns, and growing a great beard (if you need explanations for the aforementioned, you’re likely reading the wrong magazine). But their performances this season will answer a lot of the questions one way or another. A year after bursting onto the scene and creating the global sensation known as Linsanity with the Knicks, Lin is now the unquestioned full-time starting point guard for the first time since his days at Harvard. The 24-year060

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old has yet to prove he can handle the day-to-day rigors of life in the NBA, but showed in 25 starts last year (the only of his career) that he’s got the yoyo dribble, omnipresent vision and clutch shooting needed to be an All-Star. His mass appeal helped him secure a three-year, $25.1 million contract offer from Houston that the Knicks declined to match—despite them telling Lin and the rest of the world they would. And if he fully recovers from offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and puts up big numbers with opposing defenses now keying on him, he will make his former employers look bad. Harden’s in the same boat as Lin after getting traded from Oklahoma City. The Thunder wanted the 23-year-old shooting guard to accept less than the five-year, $80-million contact he eventually signed with Houston—more than $20 million and a year less—and ultimately Harden decided it was time to move on. Now he gets his first chance to emerge from the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and prove he has the physical and mental makeup to be a franchise player. We already know he’s got the silky smooth shot and crafty dribble needed to be a big-time scorer. But what we don’t know is if he can shine on a team (like Houston) without superstar talent surrounding him. Questions and hype abound in the Houston backcourt. Time to find out if they’re the hottest new duo or another combination to forget. Let the facts come out; deliberation to follow.—Brian A. Giuffra #17 BILL BAPTIST/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

12/4/12 3:28 PM


I

K

KATZENJAMMER noun; a hangover; a state of depression or bewilderment

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t’s no fun showing up the day after a party. But for the Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns this season, that could ultimately be the overriding ambience in the wake of the dual departures of longtime franchise players Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. As the Magic and Suns pick up the pieces and navigate a brand-new chapter in team history, they’ll have to do so without the superstars who defined their personalities, playing styles and recent successes. Magic three-point shooters who benefited from Howard’s formidable low-post presence may find that those wide-open looks are suddenly contested. Suns players accustomed to receiving pinpoint passes from Nash in their favorite spots on the floor—at exactly the right moment—may wonder why it’s no longer easy to get into a shooting groove. When the Magic and Suns gaze around the arena both at home and on road trips, some of the energy and excitement they once experienced may be replaced by more silence and people shuffling to the concessions. Indeed, breaking up with your face-of-thefranchise can be hard to do, but it doesn’t always mean make rebounds impossible. Look no further than the post-Carmelo Anthony Denver Nuggets, who entered 2012-13 on the short list of viable Western Conference title contenders. The Nuggets are a revamped, reloaded, revitalized team, one that didn’t appear to spend any time brooding over the loss of its All-Star forward. Denver won just as often in the year after the much-discussed blockbuster trade as it did when Melo spearheaded the attack. While the Mardi Gras inside New Orleans Arena was not the same with the departure of Chris Paul, the Hornets have quickly made plans for future celebrations with the arrival of No. 1 pick Anthony Davis to pair up with Eric Gordon. Even the Lake Erie-sized crater—an incredibly bitter and public breakup with former hometown hero and an ignominious NBA-record 26 consecutive losses—left with the departure of LeBron James in Cleveland has slowly been filled with the promise that Kyrie Irving brings. Big stars vacating teams is nothing new and will continue to happen. Fans feel the pain as their teams take the lumps, but in time, it’ll be forgotten as a new star emerges. But until then, some aspirin is required.—Jim Eichenhofer #12

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L

LIGHTS OUT noun; in basketball, it refers to a shooter who is so automatic that he can shoot with the gym’s lights turned off

L

istening to Steve Novak talk about the art of shooting is like listening to one of those old cotton commercials. You know, the ones that ended with the jingle, “The touch, the feel of cotton, the fabric of our lives.” Only for Novak the ending would go, “The touch, the feel of shooting, the purpose of my life.” Sounds silly right? But guess what? It’s true. In a league where versatility has become a coveted asset, Novak is a throwback to the days of the shooting specialist, whose job is to get open and knock down a threeball. Don’t get it twisted. He can play D, grab boards, find an open teammate, run the floor, nab a steal, block a shot and make a move to the basket. He wouldn’t be a six-year vet if he couldn’t. But let’s be real. His forte is shooting, specifically shooting from distance. And it’s what earned him a four-year, $15 million contract extension with the Knicks this offseason. Coming off the bench and playing 18.9 minutes per game last year, Novak led the NBA in three-point shooting, making 133-of282 shots from behind the arc for a 47.2 percent average, a mark that would make Dwight Howard’s free-throwing shooting blush. He talks about that skill with the same passion as a third-grader who just made a swoosh on a regulation net for the first time and can’t wait to tell his parents, using words like touch, feel, visualization, simplicity and repetition to describe what makes his jumper so dangerous. When you watch him in a game, you see those words in action: Soft touch on the ball; a feel for it on his fingertips; eyes visualizing the ball going in; simple shooting motion; wash, rinse, repeat. The perfect, Jimmy Chitwood from Hoosiers form he displays— knees slightly bent, shoulder, elbow and wrist at a 90-degree angle, eyes glued on the back of the rim, left-hand supporting the side of the ball, quick flick of the wrist—comes naturally to him now. That’s what happens when you’ve taken more than a million shots in your life. But it’s also what he does off the ball that makes him special. Novak reads defenses as well as an All-Pro NFL quarterback. He comes around screens tighter than a pair of spandex leggings and finds passing lanes for his teammates to get him the ball. He only needs an inch of space to get a shot off because of his quicktrigger release, and his 6-10 height requires a great deal of effort to block or even distract his shot once he elevates. When he drains a clutch shot, Novak drives the Garden crowd into a frenzy with the Discount Double Check celebration which Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made famous, in honor of his Milwaukee roots. They might not be able to make cotton in New York or Milwaukee, but Novak’s jingle still sounds sweet.—#17 062

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NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES/CHRIS TROTMAN(2)/GETTY IMAGES SPORT

12/4/12 3:27 PM


M I

MESH verb; to fit or work together properly

n Hollywood, the ensemble cast is nothing new. While a marketing dream, it’s typically hit-or-miss. Done right, it’s a masterpiece in complementing pieces on the screen. Done wrong and it’s disjointed famous faces that battle each other at every scene. That also applies to the L.A. Lakers. Kobe Bryant has been the lone action hero for the better part of the past decade, blazing baddies on solo missions en route to two championships. Well what happens when you add one of the NBA’s most dominant post players and one of its most exciting, free-wheeling guards into the mix? As if the new production isn’t complicated enough, directing the movie is a head coach with a reputation of being an offensive genius who was brought in two weeks into shooting. Well, the magic formula here is no secret: They all need to find a way to get along on the set. The summer additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard and the fivegames-into-the-season head coaching change to Mike D’Antoni were the talk of the basketball world to the Lakers and there have been some serious expectations thrown at them before the season even started. But these lofty expectations will all be tempered by how well they all jell as a single unit. Adding role players is easy since they all know what they were brought in to do. Antawn Jamison, Chris Duhon and Jodie Meeks, all acquired over the summer, know what they need to do. But in the cases of Nash and Howard, it’s not so clear cut.

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Carrying teams is what both players have been doing for the better part of the last decade with their all world skills and equally impressive personalities. Now they’re on a team with one of the greatest players of all time as the leading man. How do they all fit in with each other now as teammates? The star duties need to be divided amongst this triumvirate but how do you dole them out? Who is the primary ballhandler now? Who directs in the huddles? Who will get the ball first in the offense? Who gets the shot when the game is on the line? Given their résumés and status as players, it’s not an easy task. On top of that you throw out the Princeton offense that never quite got off the ground, insert a head coach who is known for the “Seven Seconds or Less” offense and let’s not forget the advanced ages of Nash and Kobe. And we haven’t even factored in Pau Gasol, who’s been a large part of the Lakers’ successes in his time and a team-carrying member in his own right. Where does he fit into the equation? Each player has been the go-to guy and demanded the ball, and what could be the defining characteristic of the newcomers is who is willing to concede in the moment for the betterment of the whole. In what could be seen as the most compelling example of how much distance the Lakers have to come together, one of their most consistent and calming players is the eccentric Metta World Peace. There will be no almost or maybe with this Lakers team. You don’t bring all these A-listers together for second place at the box office. It’s blockbuster or bust.—Ray Bala #55 063

12/4/12 3:25 PM


N

NEVER ENDING adjective; ceaseless: uninterrupted in time and indefinitely long continuing Doug Collins

Jacque Vaughn

Kevin McHale

Mark Jackson

Scott Brooks

Lionel Hollins

Mike D’Antoni

Monty Williams

Keith Smart

Mike Woodson

Terry Stotts

Erik Spoelstra

Gregg Popovich

Ty Corbin

Scott Skiles

Doc Rivers

Alvin Gentry

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Rick Adelman

Lawrence Frank

Dwane Casey

Avery Johnson

Mike Dunlap

Frank Vogel

Vinny Del Negro

Byron Scott

Rick Carlisle

Larry Drew

George Karl

Randy Wittman

Tom Thibodeau

By Michael Bradley #53

Perpetual Profession

It may seem like an NBA head coach’s job is comprised of two hours of preening, sighing, gesticulating, bemoaning, encouraging and clapping during a game, but when the final buzzer goes off is when a coach’s job really begins.

FERNANDO MEDINA (4); ROCKY WIDNER (3); DAVID SHERMAN; ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN (2); SCOTT CUNNINGHAM; LAYNE MURDOCH (2); STEVE YEATER; ALLEN EINSTEIN; RON HOSKINS (2); D. CLARKE EVANS; NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES; DOUG PENSINGER; CHRIS TROTMAN;

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STREETER LECKA (2); MIKE MCGINNIS (2); DREW HALLOWELL; GEORGE FREY; EZRA SHAW; CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES SPORT

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I

t happens a couple of times each NBA season. A team arrives back from a road trip with a few days before its next game. For that brief period, the whirlwind slows. The staccato, game-practice-game-shootaround-game pace is interrupted. Players can reacquaint themselves with their families and enjoy a respite before diving back into the frenzy. There may be a day with no basketball obligations. Practice is cancelled. The film room stays dark. There is peace. Except, of course, for the coaches. Real life rarely intrudes on the basketball world. When it comes to being a head coach in the NBA, there isn’t a lot of time for distractions. Fans may see the men in charge for two hours or so on game nights, but the rest of their days are packed with meetings, film review, practices and shootarounds, media obligations, building relationships with players, endless travel and long, sometimes sleepless nights after losses—and even wins. For eight months—which would take them through the Finals, they hope—NBA coaches are in a tornado of constant preparation and analysis that provides precious little respite. “When we say the team has a day off, that never applies to the coach,” Phoenix boss Alvin Gentry1 says. The 30 NBA head coaching spots are coveted. They come with great pay and the opportunity to compete at the highest level of the basketball world. They also bring a level of stress that is unmatched in the sport. Some view college hoops coaches as educators. Others consider them molders of young men. Although the pressure to win is growing at a staggering rate on that level, there are still other components of the job that go into the evaluation of a coach’s performance. In the NBA, it’s about winning. The standings tell the tale. Yet, there is no shortage of people lining up to do a job that grays hair, wrinkles faces and churns stomachs. “I never worked a day in my life,” says Larry Brown, who knows a thing or two about the profession having coached nine2 different NBA teams during his career and is now leading SMU’s program. “I’ve always felt so fortunate to be allowed to coach in the League and be part of the NBA. Even though there are things I look back on as being difficult, the goods far outweigh the negatives. “When you’re one of 30, you have to think how fortunate you are.” Fortunate? Absolutely. But also busy as heck? You better believe it.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT Two hours before his players hit the floor for a 10 a.m. practice, Gentry3 and his staff can be found in a meeting room, mapping out the day’s schedule. It’s a collaborative effort. Gentry seeks input on what the Suns must address. They discuss the drills they will put in and what needs to be improved upon. They watch tape of previous games and workouts to isolate specific areas of concern. A workout schedule emerges, and the coaches are ready to get the balls bouncing. “We have an offensive and defensive segment of practice,” Gentry says. “We’ll go on defense for 15 minutes and offensive for 15. Then, it’s back to defense. We’ll have at least two offensive and two defensive segments before we scrimmage.” There is no set formula for assembling a practice schedule. Gentry’s group approach is countered by Golden State head coach Mark Jackson’s4 hybrid formula. Some days, he’ll work with his staff to come up with an agenda. On others, he’ll arrive with the day’s work already scripted—to the minute. A lot of it has to do with Jackson’s mood, especially if it’s the day after a game. But he is hardly an island. He 066

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wants contributions from his staff, especially since they watch a lot of footage and develop insights from that. Teams will usually watch tape together before practice, although not for long stretches, the better to keep the players’ attention. They may view an entire quarter of the previous night’s game. Or, they’ll just review some specific plays at both ends of the court. Brown will often let his assistants handle the breakdown of part of the session and will present the rest himself. Jackson uses film liberally and finds it instructional and sometimes vindicating. “If a guy says he blocked out on a play or made a certain rotation, the film shows whether he did it or not,” Jackson says. During the season, practices are more of reactions to what has happened the day before. If a team is having trouble with transition defense, coaches will insert drills Brooks into practice designed to improve

that area. Coaches often meet for a half-hour or so after a game or workout to start a framework of what needs to be done next time. The goal is to correct old errors before introducing anything new. Former NBA coach Mike Fratello,5 who directed three NBA teams for 17 seasons and is now an analyst on Turner’s broadcasts, says that much of the prep work head coaches do is accomplished on the fly. If there is to be a workout the day after a road game, they’ll meet with their staffs as they travel to the next city. In addition to analyzing6 what improvements are necessary, the coaches must work out some logistical problems. “If we’re going to get to the hotel at 2 a.m.,7 [the coach] has to make a decision about whether to sleep in the next day or do a walkthrough at the hotel,” Fratello says. “You use the plane ride as a prep session. As soon as you get on the plane, you have two guys breaking down the [last] game and two guys looking ahead.” Coaches may spend a lot of time during the season on day-to-day concerns and adjustments, but training camp requires some truly long hours. That’s when everything is installed, from the fundamentals to the more intricate sets at both ends of the court. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle8 understands that there is no formula for that process, other than to know that during two-a-day practices, there will be an emphasis on teaching and making sure time away from the court is spent well. He

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delegates a lot of responsibility to his assistants, one of the reasons Portland was so interested in hiring former Mavs lieutenant Terry Stotts as its head coach last summer. “I believe in hiring competent people who are confident in what they do,” Carlisle says. “I don’t want my voice to be the only one.” So, Carlisle gives his assistants a lot of say in the scripting of the practice periods, but knows that there are moments when everything goes according to schedule and other times when a deviation from the agenda is necessary. Something may run a little longer, and it compresses another section of the workout. If time constraints force the omission of a particular section, then it must be added the next day. Fratello says that in that event, you either “put it in after the last session of the day or get up at 5:30 in the morning and do it.” Whatever the case, there is constant communication between the head coach and his assistants. They’ll meet before and after every practice, the better to move forward together. Sometimes, training camp isn’t long enough to cover everything a coach wants to accomplish. At the beginning of this year, the Lakers moved to Pete Carril’s Princeton offense, which requires considerable cohesion between players who

Gentry

must adapt to various on-court situations and react to opposing defenses and each other. As L.A. staggered through a winless preseason and lost four of its first five games of the season, a sense of panic set in that led to the eventual ouster of head coach Mike Brown. After one preseason practice, new Lakers point guard Steve Nash walked up to Brown, and recognizing the intricacies of the offense and understanding the need to be patient while new concepts were introduced, said that he could penetrate and dish to open shooters in the interim while the Princeton attack took hold.

Nash never had that opportunity. He got hurt early in the season, and Brown was removed after five games. New coach Mike D’Antoni installed a different, more up-tempo attack that certainly meant one thing. A lot more time on the practice court.

PUBLIC RELATIONS Jackson isn’t just a basketball coach. “I’m a mentor,” he says. “I’m a dad. I’m a pastor. I look at the players as my flock. It’s my responsibility to help them be better men and

Jackson

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better husbands, not just better players.” That’s why you’ll find Jackson sharing a meal with his players in the cafeteria at the Warriors’ practice facility, talking about everything but basketball. To him, building a relationship with his team is important on the court, but Jackson wants more. “Who knows how many games the Warriors won in 1981?” Jackson says. “That’s irrelevant. But how many guys were better for the experience? If I do something in [players’] lives that makes them better, I have not only changed them, but I have impacted the millions of folks attached to them.” Most coaches don’t approach relationships with their players with the same evangelical zeal as does Jackson, but there isn’t one that doesn’t understand the need to relate to the whole roster. Unlike college, where young men are looking for guidance and actively seek contact with coaches, the NBA is filled with wealthy, often-grown men who want a different kind of contact with and input from coaches. They’re not looking for advice on the road of life so much as they want answers. Why aren’t they playing a lot? How come they don’t get the ball in key situations? Are things on the team changing in ways that could impact their abilities to contribute—or secure a big contract in the future? Every coach deals with these kinds of questions on a regular basis. 068

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That’s why Gentry makes sure he speaks with every Phoenix player on a regular basis. “I’m a big believer in every day trying to squash small problems, so they never get to be big problems,” he says. “I talk to every player before practice. Sometimes, it’s for 10 minutes.9 Sometimes, it’s just for a few minutes. That way, everybody has a chance to talk. “If something festers, it can become a big problem.” Carlisle approaches relationships with his players from a more open-door policy standpoint. He “encourages” players to come in and speak about anything that’s on their mind. He, like Gentry, tries to connect in some way with everyone on the team each day but acknowledges that it isn’t always easy. “One of the challenging things about head coaching is that there are so many time demands,” Carlisle says. Most coaches have “open door policies” and make sure their players understand that from the beginning of the season. They want to hear about things, so that players feel as if they have a voice, and so that the coaches can explain themselves. “Guys have the opportunity to tell me they’re really unhappy that they’re not playing,” Gentry says. “And I can tell them why.” No matter how accessible a coach is, he understands that it is difficult to make a connection every day with every player, so he’ll rely on a variety of methods to stay in touch. He’ll shoot a text to a player or give him a call. And when he can’t stay in contact, he relies on his assistants to serve as sounding boards for players, particularly reserves. When Mike Brown was coaching the Lakers and the Cavaliers (from 2005-2010), he relied on his staff to help him relate to the team, particularly with the role players who don’t get on the floor too often in games. “I hoped they could touch the 11th, 12th and 13th guys away from the Spoelstra practice court,” he says.

While coaches try to stay in contact with their players, the better to foster unity and allow for success on the court, they also must speak with front office personnel. Carlisle reports that he is “close friends” with Dallas GM Donn Nelson, so they don’t have too many set “meetings” to interact. But despite their good relationship, Carlisle does understand the need to work hard on communication with Nelson. When coaches speak with GMs about personnel moves, they hope the conversations will involve good input from both sides. Rather than hearing that the team will acquire someone, a coach wants to know that he has the ability to express doubt over whether a player will fit in with the team and its system and that his voice will be heard. Then there are agents, namely the relationships with them. Carlisle says he “works” at them and that they are built on respect. “[Agents] are an important part of the business,” he says. “They in large part control where the talent ends up, and that’s a big part of this league.” That’s a diplomatic way of looking at it, and it would be foolish for a current head coach to say anything bad about agents. Fratello, however, is not a current head coach. So, he has a different view. “Agents are a headache,” he says. “They can kill a team or a franchise. A small percentage of agents do good jobs and don’t stick their noses into things and feed [players] things that can be bad for the team.

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Tech Assistant

understanding than others. It would be tough for him to balk at media As improvements in travel, nutrition, training and medicine have been making players’ lives easier, the same can be commitments, since he worked as a TV said of the coaching profession with the onset of new technology. analyst for ESPN and ABC after retiring. Gone are the days where teams would have to travel with cases filled with heavy video equipment: “portable” tube “I was a media guy for a couple of TVs, VCRs, heavy video-editing equipment, clunky camcorders and endless stacks of videotapes. All of the onceyears, so I understand the importance necessary bulky equipment needed for video sessions has been replaced with tablets, compact camcorders and of that, from a league standpoint, laptops, all served up through easy-to-stow hard drives or even remotely streamed over the Internet. a coach’s standpoint and a team The speed at which video is packaged has improved greatly. No longer will a coach have to wait in real—or should standpoint,” he says. “Some teams play we say “reel”—time to wait for analog video to be painstakingly edited from tape to tape. Today’s digital video means twice a week on national TV, and that editing time is shortened and can be a grind. For me, it comes with once done, the content can be the territory. Someday, when I’m an old instantaneously accessed, even man, someone will still want to put a wirelessly. camera or a tape recorder in my face The once clumsy, usually threeand ask me questions.” ringed analog binder of a playbook It’s no surprise not everyone embraces that was doled out to every player is the media circus as readily as Jackson replaced with a sleek iPad, preloaded does. Reporters want answers that with personalized scouting videos coaches aren’t always willing to of specific opponents and teams, give. They ask about injuries, rotation so they can brush up on upcoming changes, in-game decisions, and games (that is, if they’re not sometimes, the coach’s job status. If distracted by the latest iteration of the salvos were launched once in a Angry Birds or their Twitter feed). while, it wouldn’t be so bad. But three The proliferation of sports data times a day, especially during the grind services, like SportVU (with its of the regular season, can get pretty system of cameras that can mine all wearing.10 Often, the media is asking sorts of deep stats not found in box questions about things coaches are scores—touches in paint, secondary assists, shots off pick-and-rolls, etc.), and Synergy Sports Technology, to name a trying to figure out themselves. Giving few, means coaches have access to mining, tracking and crunching all kinds of information that can be extracted from answers that don’t inflame or cause a game, all done in on-demand. controversy can be taxing and removes From a personal standpoint, technology has aided coaches in keeping open lines of communication with players. coaches from the time they need to Whether it’s through what-is-now-considered-old cellphones, text messaging or e-mails, coaches can always reach figure out solutions to the problems. out to a player (and vice-versa). More emboldened coaches can even venture out to social media channels to make Larry Brown says that dealing with contact (nothing says moral support like retweeting a player’s pre-practice #riseandgrind tweet). the media is “part of the job,” and says The one coaching tool that has remained relatively unchanged? The tried-and-true coach’s dry-erase clipboard and that if people who cover the team care accompanying marker to draw up plays. We hear there’s an app for that, but some things are best left unchanged. about it, then he “owes” it to them to be accessible. Still, the longer he was in that main seat on the bench, the tougher it became. “You get agents in players’ ears, telling them if only because it takes coaches away from “From a time-consuming angle, it took away that they should be playing more. They do it for preparing their teams to win. Most handle the from what I love most, which is preparing a selfish reasons, to get them a better contract, so responsibilities with grace, but all admit that team,” he says. “I don’t want to take away from they can benefit. But you have to coach the guy it can be a grind. Coaches also are required to working with my players and staff.” and make him be unselfish for the team.” talk after practices and must deal with special requests at other times for interviews about specific players or topics pertaining to the game. Perhaps the most difficult thing about any NBA “It’s very time consuming,” Gentry says. “If If there was one thing every NBA coach would season is the avalanche of logistical details that there was one thing a coach could eliminate, it eliminate if he could, it would be the substantial arise as a team moves from city to city and game would be that. You get the same question two media obligations that come with the job. to game. If a squad plays on the road, does it times before the game. Then you get questions On game days alone, head coaches must travel to the next spot immediately or move on after the game. But everybody’s got a job to speak with reporters three times—once after the next day? If so, will there be a shootaround do, and you have to respect that. Is it time shootaround, once before the game and once or just a meeting? Where does a team stay in consuming? Yes. Is it necessary? Yes.” after the game. a certain town? It can be daunting, and it had Coaches understand the media has a job The briefings are not long. Post-shootaround better be all figured out well in advance. to do and will therefore indulge the scribes gatherings last only about five minutes. But That’s why one of the first things a head and electronic types during the preordained the constant contact can become wearing, coach does before the season is sit down with meeting times. Some, like Jackson, are more

ROAD TRIPS

PRESSING MATTERS

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Mike Fratello

the trainer, who usually doubles as the travel coordinator, and work out what will happen every day of the year. That way, the trainer can make the necessary arrangements11 well in advance, so that there are few surprises when the season starts, and it’s necessary to fly from, say, Portland to San Antonio for a game the next day. 070

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“We’ll have the whole season on the road laid out,” Gentry says. “If we play in Orlando and then go to Miami, we know we won’t practice in Miami. We’ll have a breakfast meeting. Then, we know if we fly from there to Charlotte, we’ll have a day off.” Although coaches never get a complete day of rest during the season, they do have the opportunity on the road to visit friends, eat at favorite restaurants, go to a museum or shop. When Gentry is in Charlotte,12 he makes sure to connect with family members who live in the area. Jackson is even more committed to getting a little time for himself. “I’m going to enjoy my life,”13 he says. “I’m going to eat, go to the mall, go to the movies and preach on Sundays. When I’m home, I’m going to be a father and a husband.”

GAME DAY When Bill Sharman pioneered the shootaround concept during his first year coaching the Lakers in 1971, he did it primarily to make sure his players were up and lively at a reasonable hour, particularly legendary center Wilt Chamberlain,

who had something of an, ahem, reputation as a night owl. These days, all teams use the shootaround as a means of going over a few points of emphasis for their schemes and addressing some of their opponents’ strengths and tendencies.14 But don’t expect many of them to be putting the players through anything particularly grueling. Gentry considers the shootaround more of a “cerebral type thing.” He and his staff prepare the team for the game with information more than physical exertion. “I always thought, why the heck run them and put them in the position where they might not have their legs for the game?” he asks. Even though assistants are responsible for the scouting reports of opponents, coaches have to be ready to make decisions during games based on more than just what their lieutenants have told them. So, Carlisle watches a good amount of film on rivals, the better to add his own perspective to the strategy for the game. He’ll catch up on several opponents at a time, so he doesn’t get caught in the bustle of the season, when the Mavs can play four games in five days. “In back-to-back situations, if I haven’t CHRISTIAN PETERSEN; DOUG BENC/GETTY IMAGES SPORT

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Own all of your favorite moments from all your favorite seasons. Award-winning HBO and Cinemax Original Series, now available on Blu-ray , DVD and Digital Download. ®

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done anything until the last game is over, I can be in trouble,” he says. Larry Brown says that he could run practices15 all day, but he has never liked games. “Games are painful, because I’m afraid I didn’t prepare the team for something that might arise,” he says. Most coaches have that approach. They love teaching the game and building a team to the point where it can perform and execute. And even though they might win, there is always something more to work on and worry about tomorrow. Talking with a coach after a loss is tough, because each failure wears on him. But most of them try to take each game as its own circumstance, rather than letting the collective weight of a season crush them. Experience becomes a coach’s biggest ally in the grind. “You can’t live every game,” Carlisle says. True. But that isn’t always easy to do. “That’s the toughest thing,” Gentry says. “You spent a lot of time thinking woulda, shoulda, coulda. We should have run this play. I could have substituted earlier. You always secondguess yourself. Everybody thinks the media is tough on coaches. They’re never as tough as coaches are on coaches.” Or as the job itself can be. 072

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BONUS POINTS 1. Gentry is the first cousin of Hall of Famer David “Skywalker” Thompson. 2. Are you ready? Brown has coached the Nuggets, Nets, Spurs, Clippers, Pacers, 76ers, Pistons, Knicks and Bobcats. 3. Gentry served as an assistant under Larry Brown at the University of Kansas, where they won a national championship in 1988. 4. Despite not having coached at any level, the Warriors named Jackson as their head coach on 6/6/11. 5. Fratello has coached 17 NBA seasons with Atlanta, Cleveland and Memphis, and owns a 667-548 mark. 6. Marv Albert dubbed Fratello the “Czar of the Telestrator” for his skills drawing plays for the TV audience. 7. Teams on the road usually depart to the city of the next game immediately following a game, leading to a very late check-in at the hotel. 8. Following a 188-game NBA career, Carlisle took on head coaching beginning in 2001 with Detroit, coached Indiana for four seasons, and eventually coached Dallas to a title in 2011. 9. If you do the math, Gentry spends about two hours a day just talking to players. 10. Gregg Popovich is known to zing a reporter or two from time to time with sarcasm, snark or wit when a silly question is posed. 11. Go look at any NBA team schedule and imagine the headache it must be to plan out the entire travel schedule for the year. Now factor in the impossible-to-predict overtime games and travel- and weatherrelated delays. 12. Gentry grew up in Shelby, N.C., and played in rival high schools with his aforementioned cousin, Thompson. 13. Despite their hectic schedules, NBA head coaches have been known for many hobbies. Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan was known to collect and restore tractors while Popovich is quite the oenophile, being a part owner of Oregon-based A-Z Wineworks. 14. Consider it the equivalent of a sound check for a musician. 15. No surprise really, given Brown’s famous clashes while in Philadelphia with Allen Iverson regarding “practice.”

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O

OPEN adjective; relatively unguarded by opponents

B

eing a teammate of LeBron James comes with its set of perks. You get residual spotlight attention, your odds of getting hard-to-cop Nike releases are greatly increased, you get buddy discounts to the many products and services he endorses, and as it looks now, the likelihood of being fitted for a shiny keepsake on your finger in June are pretty good. For teammates like Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier and other Heat shooters, they also get the added benefit of getting wide-as-the-Biscayne Bay looks at the basket due to the immense attention James—and to a lesser extent, Dwyane Wade—commands on the floor. Add to that James’s ability to breach into the teeth of the opposing defense, his willingness to pass the ball, his understanding of the game and floor spacing and the size and vision to deliver a pinpoint pass (a supremely underrated component of his game) and you wonder why every marksman in the League wouldn’t sign up to be one of the King’s men. That probably didn’t go unnoticed by Allen, the NBA’s leading three-point shots maker, who during fierce battles against the Heat as a Celtic quickly realized the open looks Heat shooters were seeing with the aid of James. Had Allen played with James his entire career, it’s feasible his three-point field goal lead would be like Bill Russell’s 11 rings: an impossible feat to break. Allen and the other Heat shooters might be so open they will have to consider a switch from practicing shots with an outstretched hand in their face to working on not rushing their attempts. Ahh, to be a LeBron shooter teammate where the game of basketball becomes a leisurely round of Pop-a-Shot.—#2 074

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ISSAC BALDIZON (2); GARRETT ELLWOOD; LAYNE MURDOCH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

12/4/12 3:20 PM


P

PARAGON noun; a model of excellence or perfection

T

he legend of Kobe Bean Bryant, now 34 chapters deep, has only grown as the years have passed. Son to former NBA player Joe Bryant, named after a type of Japanese beef that obviously left quite an impression on the Bryants, an unquenchable thirst for the game that saw him follow his dad’s career to Italy while absorbing pre-Internet NBA through VHS tapes shuttled over via grandparents. The obsession grew as he did. As Michael Jordan hurdled defenders to a dunk, sank playoff game-winners and embraced trophies, Kobe kept a watchful eye, mimicking every move, all the while looking for improvements to the blueprint. The dedication morphed into a post-prom NBA invite. Weaker individuals would’ve succumbed to the doubts of being a high school kid entering a man’s league, caved in to the looming presence of Shaquille O’Neal or the mind games of Phil Jackson, rendered into basketball depression after taking lumps from veterans, relinquished to the criticism from every cynic, left to die after a grueling offcourt legal struggle, fallen into a rut during some lean years of his prime when the Lakers were struggling to find an identity, throttled back upon a painful knee condition. Good or bad, love or hate, it was never anything personal with Kobe. He was destined to be what he is, collateral damage be damned. He emerged a champion again and again, earning a place next to the player he long admired, but not shy about overtaking him at the same time. He will assuredly finish as the career leader in playoff scoring and has thoughts on which finger the sixth ring will go as he continually goes about his morning workouts while his peers’ alarm clocks are not set to ring for another 3-4 hours. Some may say that the manic obsession with basketball is unhealthy and they may be right, but it cannot be argued that the results haven’t been spectacular to observe. While Kobe is reaching his supernova stage, he still maintains the star that all others in the nexus aspire to be.—#2

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arewell to the flop. You have lived in the NBA from the beginning, even though you never were invited. The late, great Red Auerbach once said incredulously in his Red on Roundball instructional video series: “Coaches today in high school, college and pro, are teaching the players how to fall! This is unreal. They teach them how to fall!” He couldn’t believe his peers were institutionalizing this action into his beloved game. Well now finally, after all these years, the NBA is kicking the flop out of the house. The League actually has a rule now that fines floppers for the act (pun intended), with league officials warning players on their initial violation, fining them $5,000 on the second, $10,000 on the third, $15,000 on the fourth and $30,000 on the fifth. But it is the sixth flop that draws the doomsday penalty: a suspension and/or fine. Imagine that: It’s a playoff game, you do your con job, and then the next day, you receive a call from the flop police informing you that you’ll miss a game for your faux pas. It’s the perfect solution. Ding-dong, the flop is dead. No more Manu Ginobili-James Harden repelling-magnet double-flops. No more driving point guards smashing a demonstrative DeMarcus Cousins into rows behind the basket. No more Chris Paul herky-jerky rodeo rides to the hoop. No more Reggie Evans taking-dives-atmidcourt, like a two-bit palooka. No more Big Three sniper shots in South Beach anymore. Most of the aforementioned were featured prominently in the NBA’s antiflopping video sent out in October, yet that still didn’t stop some from testing the waters in preseason. At least 10 men received their first flop warnings in October. It may have done the trick, if early regularseason action is any indication. It just feels like much of the flopping has been cleaned up in 2012-13 regular-season games, thanks to this new rule. The only unconfirmed casualty to the new rule was Vlade Divac’s offseason academy. As Auerbach himself says in his posthumous anti-flopping video, “This segment is not aimed at referees, believe me. It’s aimed at coaches. It’s aimed at players. What are we going to do about it? Let’s clean this thing up. Let’s not hurt the game.” Well, it took awhile, Red, but it appears someone listened. The flop was stopped. Knocked down (for real, natch) and out of the game. Good riddance!—#21 076

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Q

QUELL verb; to thoroughly overwhelm and reduce to submission or passivity

A flop or Not? The League will decide.

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with the NBA’s elite. Green was at a crossroads, and a less determined individual would’ve stayed retired; after all, that would have been the logical thing to do. But the same spark, seed or bout of stubbornness that grew within Roy also found fertile ground within Green. In months he went from barely being able to walk to running on a treadmill to full contact scrimmages. Nothing short of a miracle. It was a true resurrection in every sense of the word, and to stick with biblical rhetoric: If Roy is Jonah, Green would be Lazarus of Bethany. Roy and Green share many parallels. Both were drafted in the top 10 of their drafts, both were traded away by the team they now find themselves playing for (an ironic twist to an already compelling storyline) and both have deep scars on their body that serve as a constant and sobering reminder of their basketball mortalities. And both have a lot to prove. Roy will be looked at to keep the T-Wolves afloat as Love and Rubio recover from injury, while Green will have to fill in the void left by Ray Allen’s departure. But their success shouldn’t be measured by points, minutes, wins or championships; whether they fill their new roles or succumb to medical maladies, life began again with the first step back.—Jeff Min #12

R

RESURRECTION noun; the state of one risen from the dead

J

ust a year ago, the careers of Brandon Roy and Jeff Green were over—Roy with his bad knees and Green with a heart condition—and a return to the court was an overly optimistic notion. They were budding stars at the time, and their phenomenal skill sets were only outshined by their tragically brief stint in the League—spawning rhetoric as to what could have been. Roy was known for his big games, gracefully burying opponents with one clutch shot after another, and Green was solid as a rock, a foundational touchstone for OKC’s championship dreams. But as quickly as they came into the League, those potential career-ending ailments threatened to place their names with the Ralph Sampsons of NBA folklore. Undeterred and filled with competitive spirit, Roy and Green embarked on the long road to recovery. Roy’s journey began after the ’10-11 season, when Portland informed his agent Greg Lawrence that they’d be amnestying the former All-Star. Roy was left without a team, and with his career in a virtual tailspin he was forced into retirement. But he never lost hope and immediately set out to prove his naysayers wrong. His return was an uphill battle from the beginning, one that involved platelet-rich plasma therapy and a grueling rehab regimen. Every move—from his day-to-day routine to his informal workouts—was geared toward a return, overcoming obstacles just like he did on the court. Retirement just wasn’t an option, and watching the ’11-12 season unfold from home only added fuel to the fire. Still, even after realizing that his role would come at a reduced cost, Roy willed his way back into the League, returning to the game with a newfound perspective like Jonah emerging from the belly of the whale. Before the ‘11-12 season Green was diagnosed with an aortic root aneurysm. The condition called for immediate surgery, and instead of going to battle for a new NBA season, Green was left fighting for his life. The surgery, during which his heart didn’t pump on its own for over an hour, went without a hitch. But a return was far from reality. He was barely able to breathe on his own, much less go toe-to-toe JARED WICKERHAM/GETTY IMAGES SPORT; DAVID SHERMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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S

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SCHADENFREUDE noun; enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others

espite how many times they’re on national TV or how many of their players lead the League in jersey sales, not everybody loves the Heat and Lakers. Same for the Celtics and Thunder. Shocking, we know. For every LeBron Stan and Kobe fanboy, there is a hater on the flipside of the coin who wants nothing more than to see them lose. More often than not, said fans’ teams are mired in slumps, dwelling in the cellars of the NBA standings. But fear not, NBA fan with a year’s supply of Haterade stocked up. There are teams that are both good enough to challenge the League’s elite and are extremely likeable. Take for instance the Indiana Pacers in the East and the Memphis Grizzlies out West. Both have the talent, depth and postseason experience to pull a big upset come playoff time. They also possess the chip on their shoulders that teams regularly overlooked oftentimes develop and the lack of fear and failure that exists in the youthful. In Indiana, hard work has always been the key to success. The Pacers should just hand out lunch pails as giveaways at home games, because this team brings it every night, like clockwork, the same way Reggie Miller, Rik Smits and Dale and Antonio Davis did in the ’90s. The team’s 2012-13 motto fits them perfectly: Blue Collar, Gold Swagger. In Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and Tyler Hansbrough, there is a mix of nononsense with the slightest tinge of panache in Paul George. Together, they form a core that is underrated, but should not be overlooked. Over in Memphis, the barbecue is always smoking hot, but so too are the Grizzlies of late. Led by Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, All-Star caliber players who don’t receive the same shine as their counterparts in Miami or L.A., Memphis has proven it can foil the best, evident by the Grizzlies’ 2010 upset of the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. With Marc Gasol back in the middle and glue guys like Tony Allen and Mike Conley in the backcourt, this team has been around the block a few times and is now ready to claim the West as its territory. Don’t expect them to be mentioned every night on PTI, or even on a HOOP cover (although we’ve been Grizz fans for a while— flip through your archives to the Mar/Apr ’10 issue). But trust us, fall in line now and you can be the ones bragging to all your buddies if they knock off one of the big guns come spring. Just remember, if they do, for every brokenhearted frontrunning backer, there is a jubilant fan reveling.—#93 JOE MURPHY; RON HOSKINS/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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T

TEMPEST noun; a violent storm

I

magine living with a generalized anxiety disorder, one that manifests itself every time you board a plane. Imagine sensing a fatal outcome every time you enter an airplane cabin, possessing a belief so sincere and real, your heart forcefully reverberates through your chest—inducing panic attacks that not only leave you short of breath, but physically ill. Couple that with playing 41 basketball games in 29 cities across North America in a six-month span and then possibly you can see into the eye of the storm where Royce White sits. Every individual craves calm, structure and order, but for the Houston Rockets’ talented rookie, they are essential for his sanity. Those suffering from an anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder and working a regular 9-to-5 job can relate, and recognize that what White deals with every day is considerable. While there is medication and therapy to help manage his condition, the rigors and responsibilities of a professional athlete make it incredibly challenging. Instead of attending his first NBA training camp, White and the Rockets were being preemptive as they had bigger things to address. The concerns and issues that his condition presented would be too taxing, during the course of the season, air travel particularly. So he skipped out on learning sets, getting conditioned and familiarizing himself with teammates in order to develop a strategy that would create a smoother transition and keep him “normal.” Shortly thereafter, he and the Rockets worked out an arrangement where he could drive to certain games to avoid flying, eventually only missing the first week of training camp. However, White’s absence was met with much criticism, presenting the first example of the level of empathy that fans and media had for his mental health. Some speculated the rookie simply didn’t want to fly to camp, while others were very clear communicating it directly to him on Twitter. White wants to be a voice, which is why he is very open and honest about his anxiety disorder. On Twitter, he not only retweets the ignorant hate in his timeline, but also those that are inspired by him, stating, “It’s important to tweet to lend #Transparency and RT to reveal ignorance.” Early into the season, amidst conflicting issued statements of commitment from White and the team respectively, it’s been a whirlwind of positioning. Separately, he and teammates Donatas Motiejunas and Scott Machado, have been assigned to the Rockets D-League affiliate, the Rio Grand Valley Vipers. Playing basketball will likely deliver White the calmness that he needs, where on the court his fear and tension pale in comparison to that of boarding a plane. If only he could live his life just on the court.—#7

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U

UNSEAT noun; to remove from a place or position

O

K, we’re not saying Kyrie Irving will be the next LeBron James. We’re not saying he’ll hold three League MVPs by the time his 27th birthday rolls around, we’re not saying he’s a bust if he doesn’t bring home a Finals MVP, and we sure as heck aren’t saying he’ll be talking to Jim Gray on the set of The Decision 2.0 when he gets his first crack at free agency. What we are saying is this: The Cavs got rocked when LeBron left town. Forget Detroit Rock City, it was Cleveland Rock City three summers ago and the Artist Formerly Known as #23 was Public Enemy No. 1. But that’s yesterday’s news and everyone knows it. And, yes, while we can’t predict what tomorrow has in store for us, all indications from today’s forecast say that the despondent organization by Lake Erie was left in good hands when it handed the keys to Irving on Draft Day 2011. The second-year point man from Duke isn’t making Clevelanders forget about LeBron James just yet—after all, James did lead the Cavaliers to their lone Finals appearance and is at or near the top of almost every major statistical category from his seven years as a Cav—but after one season, Kyrie is about keeping pace, with a Rookie of the Year trophy as the first feather in his cap (second if you want to count his being drafted No. 1 overall). To be certain, following in the footsteps of a megastar like LeBron is an adventure all to itself. It’s hard enough to carry the weight of being dubbed a franchise’s “savior,” but when you combine that with the comparison ro LeBron, it amounts to a feat that no mortal in his right mind would envy. Essentially it’s like taking the stage after the previous act killed it. Pressure much? But at the same time, calling Irving that unlucky following act might not do justice to the raw talent he possesses. So far he’s shown an adept propensity to put the ball in the bucket, almost making scoring look easy, and his innate knack to make those around him better is a sure sign of any great point guard. Although it was still early, through seven games in 2012-13 Irving was averaging more than 20 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds per game—an impressive stat line for anyone, but especially for a young’n still under the country’s legal drinking age until March. And in case you’re wondering how many players finished 2011-12 with at least 20, 6 and 4, there would be just one. Yep, he whose name Clevelanders will not utter. A king’s throne is a large, exorbitant, cushiony chair, which naturally makes it resistant to change. To dethrone a king is an endeavor upon which only a select few are even capable of embarking. We’re not saying the giant void in Cleveland left by LeBron is now assuredly Kyrie’s for the taking, but if it happens, just make sure to remember where you “didn’t” hear it first.–Phil D’Apolito #14 080

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BIG GAMES. BIG MOMENTS. TM & © 2012 Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. © 2012 NBA Properties, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo: Getty Images.

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V

VALIANT adjective; possessing or acting with bravery or boldness

Grace Under Pressure

It’s not an easy thing to be the No. 2 overall pick in a draft taken by a Michael Jordan-owned team that desperately wants to shed its losing stigma while dealing with a speech impediment and a painful past, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist handles it all in stride.

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By Holly MacKenzie #32

T

he text that arrived shortly after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist showed everyone what was up during a game against the Sacramento Kings on July 13 at Las Vegas Summer League: “He plays like how I want to live.”1 On that particular play, in his only Summer League appearance due to knee soreness, Kidd-Gilchrist leapt into the passing lane, stole the ball and exploded to the basket, extending, gliding and hanging in the air before slamming the ball through the hoop. How he plays, of course, is like everything and nothing matters all at the same time. It took just one game in the scorching Vegas heat to see why the Charlotte Bobcats had used the second overall pick2 in the 2012 NBA Draft on an 18-year-old who is known more for his intangibles than for his abilities to take over a game. It takes just 20 minutes away from the basketball floor with the now 19-year-old to know they made the right decision. You don’t watch Kidd-Gilchrist play basketball as much as you feel it. Kidd-Gilchrist’s game is a lot of things. It’s fast, explosive and exciting. He plays defense,3 really relishes in it, has a keen awareness of the basketball court, where his teammates are and how to get them the ball where they want it—with a 6-7 frame and arms that seem to extend forever4—and he doesn’t ever stop moving, hustling, rebounding and harassing his opponents on the floor. “Skill-wise, his passing and his ballhandling is a lot better than I thought,” says Bobcats assistant coach Stephen Silas. “I didn’t know he had that and he can really, really pass the ball at his size. He just has so many little intangibles. Everybody kind of concentrates on his shooting right now, but there are so many things he does as far as handle, rebound, pass, cut, he’s able to drive the ball, he just does so many things…he can fill up a stat sheet pretty well.” Basketball analysts will continuously fall into using the “motor” descriptor, saying that Kidd-Gilchrist’s doesn’t stop. Motor5 doesn’t accurately describe him, though. Motor makes the mind imagine a switch that is being flipped on, but there is nothing robotic about KiddGilchrist’s game. It oozes heart and passion, much like Kidd-Gilchrist himself. BRIAN BABINEAU/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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As impressive as his game is, his story threatens to make it pale in comparison. There are some things you should know about Kidd-Gilchrist. First, he’s an incredibly aware and mature young man. Whenever a 19-year-old is able to recognize that he is still a kid with an entire world of things to learn lying in front of him, he’s ahead of the game. This maturity was born out of necessity. Kidd-Gilchrist lost his father6 before his third birthday, the result of a shooting in Michael’s birth town, Camden, N.J.7 While his mother would remarry, giving Kidd-Gilchrist a stepfather who filled the void of his biological father, he also had an uncle, Darrin Kidd, who would take an active role in his nephew’s upbringing. The day after Kidd-Gilchrist made the decision8 to go to Kentucky to play for John Calipari, Kidd collapsed and passed out on the floor. It was the 17-year-old nephew who would race to his uncle’s side and perform CPR for 18 minutes as he tried unsuccessfully to save his uncle’s life.9 November 10, 2010: Michael Gilchrist lost the second father figure in his life. July 7, 2011: Gilchrist announced that he would legally be changing his name to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to honor his late uncle. July 7, 2012: The Charlotte Bobcats signed Kidd-Gilchrist to his rookie contract. 084

November 12, 2012: Kidd-Gilchrist led the Bobcats to their first-ever franchise victory against the Dallas Mavericks, putting up a career-high 25 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks in the fifth game of his NBA career. These things are not coincidences, but reminders that there is something larger than just the game of basketball. This is something Kidd-Gilchrist’s mother, Cindy Richardson, makes sure her son always remembers. “We always keep it real with Michael,” she says. “Now that he’s in the League, now that Michael is in this position, he agrees to be a God-fearing young man. To always be true to himself, to always try to be a blessing to someone else. When you go to the League it’s not about the money and all the fame. It’s about what you do with that platform. It’s what you do as an individual. I expect him to remain humble and to give back and to be kind and to be a blessing. It’s not about material things for us.” Richardson isn’t kidding about keeping things real with her son. Their relationship is rooted in truth and honesty, something Kidd-Gilchrist cherishes above everything else he has been given. “My mother, she’s amazing,” he says. “We’re like this,” he continues, crossing his fingers to emphasize the closeness of their relationship. “Every night we talk for like two hours about nothing. Just everything. Just life.” While basketball is his life now, it isn’t what his mother is concerned STREETER LECKA/GETTY IMAGES SPORT


with when dealing with her son. “She doesn’t talk to me about basketball at all,” he explains. “Not my performances. We talk about it because it’s my life, but we talk about everything from this [basketball], to the girls to the money to the so-called fame. We talk about everything. Just regular stuff. We talk about it all.” Another thing you should know about Kidd-Gilchrist is that he is brave. Exceptionally brave. Part of being a professional basketball player is meeting with the media. Appearing under bright lights, in front of people whose jobs are to be inquisitive, each wielding video cameras, cameras, camera phones, recorders and iPhones flashing with red microphones on the touch screen. It means facing people you don’t know, answering questions you can’t always prepare for and being expected to put forth a calm and collected front. This expectation becomes complicated when the professional basketball player has worked through a moderate to acute stuttering problem since he was young, anxiety creeping in when he has to rush through answers as flashbulbs go off and reporters talk over one another in attempts to get the answers needed to file by their deadlines. In a way, it seems like such an unfair twist of fate that a young man with so much exuberance and charisma can have his words trapped inside. When connection is everything, what is it like to not be able to communicate clearly? On the basketball court Kidd-Gilchrist is free. Free from questions, from pressures, from words that will not come out when he would like them to. On the court, he can express himself differently and perhaps more effectively. Consider the power Kidd-Gilchrist plays with. That speed, skill and explosiveness wrapped into a sturdy 232-pound frame. The love and appreciation of defense. His ability to affect the outcome on both ends of the floor. Kidd-Gilchrist is in control when he is within the 94 feet that encompass the game in which he excels. Seated in front of the cameras, though, this control slips away without his consent. What’s important here is how Kidd-Gilchrist deals with this challenge. He isn’t angry, despondent or distracted. He remains fully present, patient and kind. Instead of giving short answers to make things easier on himself, he works slowly to express himself fully and to allow you the opportunity to see who he is. “I’m just hoping to be a role model to kids that stutter,” says Kidd-Gilchrist. “I’m only 19, but still, I’m a role model. It feels good to know I can be a role model. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s something special. It’s positive.” Turning a roadblock into a positive and finding a way to make his own struggle a helping hand for others is what Kidd-Gilchrist does. “He was raised like that,” Richardson explained. “His family10 is like that. It’s about Michael being a comfortable, confident young man outside of his job; understanding who he is. Being comfortable in his own skin and accepting his weaknesses. He knows he stutters, he works through it as best as he can. He gets help for it, absolutely.” Instead of making Kidd-Gilchrist introverted, it has shaped BROCK WILLIAMS-SMITH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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him into the caring young man he is today. “Michael has a soft spot in his heart,” Richardson continued. “He’s always felt like he’s an underdog or something. He’s always looked out for his friends in school as he was growing up. If they were being bullied or didn’t have as much as he did, he’s always been like that. That’s just who he is.” While it can sometimes take him time to express the thoughts that roam freely in his own mind, put a basketball in his hand and you’ll see KiddGilchrist show you his story, filling in the pauses with passes, steals, dunks and defensive stops. “His teammates love him because he plays so hard and he’s always working,” Silas says. “He’s so positive all the time. It’s funny because at the end of the game [that overtime victory against the Mavs], DeSagana [Diop] came over to me and he was like, ‘That kid is just a winner,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, yeah he is.’ The vets see it. It’s pretty cool to see.”11 He remains positive even when it isn’t his night. In a recent game against the Timberwolves where he struggled12 and remained on the bench through the fourth quarter, he was the first player off the bench and at center court to embrace teammate Kemba Walker after he hit the game-winning shot. “It’s just the little things you do,” he explains. “It’s the little things like always smiling, stuff like that. Just little stuff to help them.” For a player who can do so much on the floor, there isn’t a second of hesitation when it comes to considering his favorite thing to do on a basketball court. “Defense and getting my teammates involved,” he says. “Yeah, easily. That’s really about it.” His approach to the game has already impressed his coaches in Charlotte. “You can see at times that he’s 19 and he’s a mature 19-year-old, but he realizes that he has a responsibility and passes that on to his teammates,” Silas says. “He asks questions and really cares about what the answer is. It’s interesting for a 19-year-old.” Rookies aren’t supposed to be this self-aware. Most young adults assume they know everything, and that’s without million-dollar contracts and the sports world hovering at their feet. Despite the hype that has surrounded him for years, Kidd-Gilchrist focus is on giving thanks. “I’m blessed,” he says. “That’s the biggest thing. I’m blessed to be in this position I’m in right now, I don’t know what it’s going to feel like [to be an NBA player], but it’s going to feel weird. I mean, I’m young. I’m 19 years old and I’m a kid at heart. It’s just a lot of fun.” Once again, Richardson deserves credit for the maturity her son has shown in his first year as a professional. While she and her husband often travel to Charlotte to watch his games—they were present for that breakout game against the Mavericks— they have made the conscious decision not to move there, choosing instead to leave Kidd-Gilchrist and his older sister to learn how to fend for themselves as adults. “I’m going to be honest,” Richardson says. “I like the fact that he is in Charlotte. He’s not in Charlotte alone. His sister13 is with him. Him and his sister are there together. 086

Do I like my kids being away from me? Of course not. Am I proud of them as young adults? Absolutely. A lot of people ask me why me and my husband didn’t move to Charlotte. We spend a great deal of time to come here and see him. My mom always said when she raised us, ‘I didn’t raise my kids to be dependent young adults. I raised them to be independent young people.’ You know? My kids are very mature and they’re doing a fantastic job. I’m really proud of them. Do I miss them? Oh, absolutely. Do I treat them like young adults and my kids? Absolutely. I’m their mom. They’ll always be my babies.” Richardson might not be in Charlotte physically, but she is always

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When Words Fail

Dealing with a speech impediment is no easy task for anyone. Verbal communication becomes a monumental challenge due to the disruptions from stuttering, a lisp or pauses. The fallout from the struggle to properly and coherently express yourself is embarrassment and awkwardness, which oftentimes leads to being self-conscious and anxious whenever talking is involved, which exacerbates the condition even more. Imagine having to make a speech in front of millions of people and billions more watching on television. How do you imagine you would speak with that much pressure and nerves? As hard as it might be for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to try to guard LeBron James, try to contain Kobe Bryant or contend with Kevin Durant, one of the biggest battles he faces on game nights is the postgame scrum of reporters, most of whom are strange faces under pressure themselves to meet deadlines, impatiently waiting for questions to be answered. Hopefully the media hordes will learn to be understanding and patient as Kidd-Gilchrist works at overcoming his condition. If he wants some insight and help in dealing with a speech impediment while being an NBA player, he need not look too far for guidance. Chicago Bulls legend Bob Love, five-time NBA Champion Ron Harper, semi-retired player Kenyon Martin and current Detroit Pistons rookie Kim English have all struggled with the condition during their entire careers. Love played in a time (his NBA career spanned from 1966-1977) when media coverage was nowhere as intense as today, so he was able to relatively avoid speaking despite being the team’s star (Love was a four-time All-Star and led the Bulls in scoring seven seasons). It wasn’t until after his playing career ended that Love really felt the impact of his problem as his speech impediment hindered him from a post-NBA job. After some intense speech therapy, Love is now entering his 20th year as the Bulls’ director of community affairs and a motivational speaker. Like Kidd-Gilchrist, Harper was an exceptional athlete whose graceful moves on the court belied his speech issues. Unlike many who suffer from the disability, Harper didn’t try to shy away from talking, instead facing his condition head-on. Harper didn’t decline interviews, many times being the most quotable player, despite having played with superstars like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. “This is me, this is who I am,” he says. “I have nothing to be ashamed of,” he says in a 2000 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “What, I’m going to sit home and say nothing because I’m worried that people will laugh at me? You can’t hide.” While he may still struggle with stuttering, Harper is still a regular interview subject, as well as a goodwill ambassador for NBA Cares initiatives. Martin was known for his ferocious dunks and in-your-face defense during his 12-year NBA run after being the top pick in the 2000 draft, but during interviews, he had a different persona, using verbal crutches to mask his stuttering. Like Harper, he didn’t retreat from his impediment, not letting what others may think of him to affect him. Martin even lent his famous name to the Stuttering Foundation to help others afflicted with the condition. Detroit Pistons’ rookie English is another player who has successfully overcome a stuttering problem in a big way. Growing up, English used to be teased and taunted for his stutter. Today, he hasn’t just worked past it, he’s come full circle, and was often the go-to player for post-game interviews while at Missouri. He’s also been known to perform his own poetry aloud to crowds of people, something unimaginable when he was growing up, when he was scared to open his mouth and discover that the words were unable to come out. While Kidd-Gilchrist will continue working to overcome and manage his stutter on a bigger stage than English and with more lights and cameras than the NBA players who did it before him, he can take solace in knowing there is support, understanding and assistance available for him if he chooses to seek it out. And if he doesn’t, as long as there is basketball to be played, Kidd-Gilchrist will be just fine. —#32

JESSE D. GARRABRANT; JOE MURPHY; RANDY BELICE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

available for her children. Kidd-Gilchrist sends pregame texts to her, his stepdad and his grandmother. While she watches every game, either in person or on T.V., she chooses not to critique him on his performance. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t make her presence felt, though. “During the game I’ll watch the game and I’ll just shoot him some texts throughout the game, telling him he’s learning and letting him know I’m proud,” she explains. “Then after the game, after everything is over and he’s in the locker room finished with media he gets those messages.” Despite Kidd-Gilchrist losing two of the three most important men in his life—he is very close with his stepfather, Vincent—it hasn’t hindered his growth. While NBA success is certainly something that makes Richardson beam with pride, it is the pride that comes from her son being afforded the opportunity to live his dream, rather than pride in the monetary or material success that the NBA brings with it. “I’m extremely proud,” she said. “I’m just proud of him as a person. As an individual. Michael makes me proud every single solitary day. He actually does kind of surprise me every day. He’s that kind of guy. He’s just very thoughtful and he’s very compassionate. He’s just a wonderful person so I can’t pinpoint one thing or five things, I’m just so proud of who he’s become.” Richardson is also mindful to not take all of the credit for the man her son has grown into. Instead, she, like her son, quickly points to all of the people who have had a hand in helping him, making it easy to see where her son’s appreciation for teamwork comes from. “Michael has a very large family with extended family,” she says. “Michael was a product of a village. We put in our love and we care about him and care about who he turns out to be as a person.” When the Bobcats selected Kidd-Gilchrist, they selected for their future and they picked up the player they needed to continue piecing together the puzzle in Charlotte. The task of turning a franchise from expansion team14 to championship contending team isn’t one for the faint of heart. Team owner Michael Jordan, head coach Mike Dunlap, players and support staff need to be patient with the process, but impatient with settling for mediocrity. They have to buy into the same culture and goals. Everyone needs to be on the same page. You have to single out leaders, players that will define and exemplify the identity of your team. Kidd-Gilchrist, along with second-year guard 087


Raising Kittens

Kemba Walker are on their way to co-starring in those roles. “He’s been great,” says Silas. “Shoot, he was in early this summer working; playing pick-up or three-on-three, individual drills, he has a motor that you don’t see very often in the League and it was infectious among his teammates. On summer days when guys would be dragging or whatever, he’d be the guy to come to the gym with energy and that’s definitely carried over to the season.” If you ask Kidd-Gilchrist to describe his game, he keeps it simple. “Just defense and hard work,” he says. “I’m a hard-working guy. I think I’d say a lot of energy. That’s what I love.” Those words are not falling on deaf ears, either. “He’s so humble and willing to learn,” Silas adds. “This summer he was like, ‘I don’t care if I score a bunch of points. I just want to rebound and get assists,’ and he was honest and true about it. Some guys will just say it and that’s what it is, but that’s Mike.” Another positive sign for the rookie? Kidd-Gilchrist named Scottie Pippen as the player whose game he admired most. Bobcats owner Michael Jordan—perhaps the player who knew Pippen best—recently compared Kidd-Gilchrist to his former teammate, saying that the rookie was a connector and a “very versatile guy.” Praise doesn’t get much more lofty than that. Still, Kidd-Gilchrist knows that it is his relentless energy and passion for the game 088

Things have been rough in Charlotte for the past few years. This is how rebuilding works. Except, the Bobcats haven’t really had anything to rebuild— unless you count a modest 44-38 campaign five seasons ago. After last season’s dubious finish (the team’s .106 winning percentage was the lowest in NBA history) the Bobcats are starting from the basement and building up. The pairing of Kidd-Gilchrist and Walker is the single most important thing the franchise has done in recent years. After some half-hearted attempts at winning with veterans while trying to develop young players, the Bobcats are fully committing to two players, their style of play and their personalities, results be damned. This is the time when you get your fan base to fall in love. In choosing to back Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats fans have a young duo to root for and to grow with, as they learn with and from rookie NBA head coach Mike Dunlap. For Charlotte, everything is a process right now. There are bumps and bruises, missed shots and mistakes and missed plays, but there is also an excitement that hasn’t been present in recent memory. There was a three-game winning streak in November. The Bobcats picked up their fourth victory of the season in their seventh game. A year ago, that fourth victory came 30 games into the season. Their final victory, victory number seven, came in March and then there was a 23-game losing streak to close out Walker’s rookie season. Those days are gone. The Bobcats are no longer a surf-by channel of NBA League Pass, nor an easy stop on a long and winding road trip. They have grit and passion and—more important than any other single thing in this league— legitimate talent. Dunlap cleansed the team of the negativity that surrounded it in a dreadful 7-59 season. Walker put in a summer of work and has regained the confidence he had while leading UConn to a NCAA national championship in 2011. Kidd-Gilchrist has seamlessly transitioned into an NBA player, months after winning a national championship of his own with the Kentucky Wildcats. He is filling the role of the do-it-all forward on the floor and glue guy off of it. “It’s about that time,” Walker says. “It’s great that we’ve got the opportunity to start over, especially after a rough season last year. I’m really excited. Especially Coach [Dunlap] really giving me a chance to be a leader.” With Walker leading and his teammates following there’s a different feeling associated with this Charlotte Bobcats franchise, and that is hope. —#32

STREETER LECKA/GETTY IMAGES SPORT; KENT SMITH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


BONUS POINTS 1. The text came from a friend to the author. 2. The preceding pick was teammate Anthony Davis. Subsequent picks included fellow Kentucky Wildcats Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller. 3. Kentucky relied on Davis’ interior shotblocking and Kidd-Gilchrist’s role as perimeter defensive stopper to fuel the Wildcats’ NCAA national championship run last year. 4. In this case, forever means 7 feet. 5. Kidd-Gilchrist is sometimes compared to John Havlicek, who was known for his perpetual motion. 6. Prior to his untimely death, Kidd-Gilchrist would watch The Lion King with his father almost daily. He still watches it weekly in remembrance. 7. The city of Camden has one of the highest murder rates in the country. 8. Kidd-Gilchrist played at St. Patrick’s, the same powerhouse prep program that graduated NBA players Al Harrington, Samuel Dalembert and Kyrie Irving. 9. Kidd was just 42. 10. Kidd-Gilchrist’s cousin is former NBA player Dajuan Wagner. 11. Also cool to see was a sequence in the game where Kidd-Gilchrist grabs a rebound, goes coast to coast, loses one of his shoes in the process, continues, gets fouled and makes the shot. 12. Much like his NBA debut, MKG had a difficult time getting any rhythm, scoring only 2 points. 13. Latasha Richardson, Michael’s 26-year-old stepsister. 14. In their ninth season, the Bobcats have only turned in one winning season, a 44-38 campaign in 2009-10, their lone entry into the playoffs. 15. They’re both NCAA national champions. Walker won his as a member of UConn in 2011, the year prior to Kidd-Gilchrist’s Wildcats winning it.

that got him to Charlotte. “I think it’s just me,” he says. “I was born that way, I think. I just play hard. Every play. Every single play.” Now that he’s made it to the League, don’t expect that intensity to dip, either. Recognizing how precious this opportunity is, Kidd-Gilchrist only wants to step up his game from here. “He’s not going to change,” Richardson says. “Michael won’t change. Michael is grateful. He has a very clear understanding that there are a 100 million little boys out there that have the same dream. He really is thankful and I’m happy about that. I’m happy that he understands this is a blessing and it’s not to be taken for granted.” These are all things that Bobcats fans should feel free to get excited about. The pairing of Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist is one that gives fans plenty to enjoy rooting for. What Walker doesn’t know is that his rookie is often in awe of him, too. “I don’t get starstruck, but Im’a be honest…” Kidd-Gilchrist says with a smile. “It was Kemba at one point. I was starstruck. He doesn’t know that at all. He doesn’t know that I’m starstruck by him still. The stuff he does on the court.” The two developed a quick bond almost immediately upon hitting the practice facility together before the team took to the court for the first time in Las Vegas.

“It’s just a bond we have now,” says Kidd-Gilchrist. “I’m from Jersey, he’s from New York. I guess that’s a little bond that we have with each other.” Walker agreed. “He hates to lose,” Walker says. “I look at Mike as myself, just in a different position, just taller. I see a lot of myself in Mike.15 We’re both just really intense. We hate to lose. We’re going to go out there and give 100 percent every time.” While no one knows where the Bobcats will finish this season, or how long the building process will take, one thing everyone can agree on is Kidd-Gilchrist. “He’s going to be, whatever his ceiling is, and I’m not sure what his ceiling is yet, he’s going to reach it—whatever it is—because he works so hard,” says Silas. “He was in the gym [on an off day] shooting his free throws, working on his shot, after playing a whole bunch of minutes. He’s just constantly in the gym working on his game, working on his ballhandling, working on his shooting and understanding that he has weaknesses that he has to work on. He’s going to reach that level, whatever level that is.” For the time being, Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t focused on any levels or ceilings, choosing instead to be a kid who gets to play the game that he loves. “This is my dream,” he said with a wide smile. “The whole season, like, this is it.” In Charlotte living out his dream and proving the Bobcats’ front office right with each game, Kidd-Gilchrist has come a long way from Somerdale, N.J. His story is one of triumph, overcoming obstacles, remaining humble, deciding to be happy instead of frustrated, serving as a blessing to those around him instead of simply blessed. With this success comes great opportunity and Richardson is adamant that her son will never forget, no matter how bright his NBA star might shine, where his story began. “What you see with Michael is what you get,” she says. ”Michael was born and raised in Somerdale, N.J. and he’s just a really, really good guy. He’s a good player, but he’s a really good person. I’m proud of that person. I’m proud of that young man. Outside of basketball. We just love him madly. We’re just really happy to see what his career is like and this journey is like and these experiences are like for him. It does our heart proud and we’re just really so happy for him.” Talk to Michael for five minutes. You’ll walk away being happy for him, too. 089

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W

K

WRINGER noun; something that causes pain, hardship, or exertion

ids worldwide grow up wanting to play in the NBA, and justifiably so. As far as workplaces go, the 94 x 50 foot rectangle makes any corner office look like a basement cubicle. Even the man sitting in the Oval Office has dreams of it. But despite the A-list treatment NBA players enjoy, it’s far from a cushy job. No point or rebound in League history has been logged with one’s feet up on any desk. Breaks come in the form of unscheduled timeouts that last 30 seconds, fouls are a regular job hazard and overtime is a common occurrence. The truth is that the NBA season is a grind—not just 82 games played at a breakneck pace, but practices, shootarounds, the training room, the weight room, press conferences, radio/TV interviews, commercial shoots, travel, more travel—all while getting bumped and bruised from October to—if the cards play out right—June. The game’s only fit for the elite athletes in the world, yet only 36 of them—or a little more than one per team—played in every regular-season game last year. These guys are tough. Sick days are rare and playing through minor injuries is par for the course. This season’s eventual champs will have to 090

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log at least 94 games in order to hoist the trophy. More than likely they’ll have to play somewhere close to the 110 possible games in order to win it all. And this doesn’t even account for the numerous sessions of overtimes and preseason. Anything it takes to get a ring. And then there’s the travel. Ever wake up and wonder where you are and what time it is? NBA teams have an excuse. Their planes touch down in one city and the countdown to their next flight out of town begins. Think about these road trips for the Lakers and Clippers when the Grammy Awards set up at the Staples Center in February. Kobe and Co. play at Phoenix, Minnesota, Detroit, Brooklyn, Boston, Charlotte and Miami over a 12-day span. The Lob City crew hits the road to face Minnesota, Toronto, Boston, Washington, Orlando, Miami, New York and Philadelphia over a 13-day stretch. Such trips aren’t out of the ordinary. What about the summer vacation from June-September? Sure, there’s some downtime, but for most, it’s spent in empty gyms and weight rooms preparing for the season to come. Yes, there’s more to an NBA player’s life than meets the eye…but we think it’s still a pretty good gig.—Brett Mauser #25 MIKE EHRMANN/GETTY IMAGES SPORT

12/4/12 12:43 PM


X I

X noun; roman numeral for 10

n years, it wasn’t long ago that LeBron James entered the mindset of the NBA fan, but in the accelerated pace of the Internet era, 10 years may as well be a half-life. Pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-iPhone, pre-high-definition Internet video streams, you can say the arrival of the King was never witnessed. His place on the throne was a bit premature, but now that he’s seated, it’s hard to picture anyone else wearing the crown for the next few seasons. His impact might never eclipse Michael Jordan, who wrote the book on global sports icons, but with his otherworldly game, business acumen (more on that later), and focus on every corner of the world, he is rewriting every page in the tome. He’s changed the game, morphing the viewpoints of what GMs and coaches once thought of point guards, and endangering the very existence of the center position. His game is a splice of Magic Johnson and Jim Brown, indefinable by position and seemingly able to do everything possible on the basketball court with nary an answer by the defense.

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LeBron’s midas touch has extended beyond the court. His partnerships (once again, he’s blown up the antiquated model of the athlete endorsement) have been carefully selected with much crossover between them all (watch the heavy cross-promotion on many of his commercials). He’s eschewed the old-boy network of big-name representation, choosing to venture out on his own with childhood pal Rich Paul in a boutique agency (think Jerry Maguire, but swap out Rod Tidwell for LeBron). With the growing popularity of his line of Nike signature shoes, there is reason to believe LeBron’s line, like Jordan’s, will have a life of its own even after he’s hung them up for good. Even his one misdeed, the Decision, can be looked at as revolutionary: A player wresting the power from the team while turning the media attention into revenue for a philanthropic cause. The only thing left prior to last season was the championship, and now that he’s X-ed out title No. 1, we can expect more to come as he puts the finishing touches on Year X and begins the next X.—#2 091

12/4/12 3:09 PM


Y

YORE noun; time past and especially long past

M

ark Twain never coached the Spurs, but he did once say, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” So if you are a Spur you can relate. Tim Duncan can remember hearing those Twainsian-type rumors about San Antonio’s 1999 NBA Championship team when he was the lone 20-something starter among David Robinson (33), Avery Johnson (34), Sean Elliott (31) and Mario Elie (35). Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker recall the “window closing” on the Spurs in their first two years in the NBA, right before they helped a 37-year-old Robinson leave his Hall-of-Fame game with a 2003 NBA Championship. So when Duncan, Ginobili and Parker later won 2005 and 2007 NBA Championships, they knew all too well that corporate knowledge prevented championship windows from ever truly closing on them. After all, offices in corporations mostly feature cubicles—and cubicles have no windows. Get it? Such is the case with the Spurs, who have a head coach who thinks outside the box (Gregg Popovich) and a floor captain who is considered the game’s consummate thinker (Duncan). These two visionaries have served as their team’s leaders the past 16 years and it is this collective that has helped put up an unrivaled winning percentage in sports (.702, 830-352 entering the 2012-13 season). So while the media was talking about the Spurs getting old following their 2007 Championship, Pop and San Antonio GM R.C. Buford were too busy displaying their overseas draft expertise, eventually taking Tiago Splitter with the 28th pick of the 2007 NBA Draft. When the Spurs stunned all by having the West’s best regular season record in 2010-11, Pop and Buford did not rest on their old-man laurels. Instead, they took the shock-and-awe up a notch by trading productive sixth man George Hill for the 15th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft—a player that turned out to be Kawhi Leonard. Keep in mind, as the Spurs got older, Pop always made sure they also always got younger simultaneously. When the Spurs again repeated their West-best feat in 2011-12 before losing to Oklahoma City in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, perhaps then the mainstream media began to realize they could never shut the window, door or building on these San Antonio Spurs. Even today, as 36-year-old Duncan, 35-year-old Ginobili and 30-year-old Parker embark on winning the franchise’s fifth title, there is a never-say-die, Zombie/Cockroach/Twinkie connotation eternally attached to the Spurs. Quite simply, they don’t die, they multiply. Leonard is called a future All-Star by Pop. Ginobili says Splitter has become Duncan-like on pick-and-rolls. Parker sees the same spirit of Hill in Danny Green and Gary Neal, among others. Stephen Jackson is brought back from the 2003 championship team. Boris Diaw is reunited with his French national teammate Parker, as is newcomer Nando De Colo. Last April, Patty Mills was signed to play with his former Australian national team head coach Brett Brown, a Spurs assistant. It really is one big, happy family here that comes together through corporate knowledge as winning Spurs. Old piece leaves, new piece comes in. Always on balance. That’s the way things go at this Tim-and-Pop shop. Nothing has changed in Duncan and Popovich’s 16 years together, except that the social security numbers and winning percentages always keep rising.—#21

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ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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L

ast season, sports website Deadspin. com created a section called, “That’s So JaVale,” in honor of the Nuggets’ center’s entertaining, bewildering and quirky mannerisms on and off the court. One day McGee would be riding a Segway through downtown Denver; the next, he would get called for goaltending, miss a dunk, fall and have a shot blocked into his face—all in the span of 60 seconds. That’s not all. There was the time when McGee, playing for the Wizards, and down six to Houston in the third quarter, threw the ball off the glass to himself for a dunk. Then there was the sequence when he was hit in the face, causing a turnover, and instead of hustling back on defense, cherry-picked under the opponent’s basket for an easy dunk when the action came back down court. Or how about the time he did hustle back on defense…while his team still had the ball. Or when he tried to dunk from the free throw line— down by 25 points. What about when he tried for three minutes to score one more point for a triple-double, only to accomplish the feat with 18 seconds left, then get called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Oh there’s more. He’s planked in a grocery freezer full of frozen pizzas. He sends blocked shots (which were actually blatant goaltends) into the crowd like Karch Kiraly on Manhattan Beach. Yes, JaVale McGee is the most interesting man in the NBA. But McGee’s also known to make us drop our jaws for good reason. Like when he’s sending Jose Calderon halfway to Manitoba after he dunks over him in Toronto. Or when he’s hitting gamewinning shots, sending Nuggets fans into a frenzy. How about dropping 21 points on the Lakers in the playoffs? Yes, his alter ego’s name is Pierre. He treats fans to Chipotle meals. But he also has talent that can’t be denied. At 24, McGee has the talent to be an All-Star for years to come. We like the occasional off-the-wall JaVale, but love the player who can drop 30 a night, with a side order of 12 boards and 4 blocks. His mom and dad both played professional basketball, so JaVale has a natural pedigree that cannot be taught. We know Momma McGee will always believe in him. As she told the Washington Post in January 2012, before her son was traded from the Wizards to the Nuggets, “He is not a knucklehead…My son is the future of the NBA.” Time to prove it, JaVale.—#93

GARRETT ELLWOOD (2)/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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Z

ZANY noun; a subordinate clown or acrobat in old comedies who mimics ludicrously the tricks of the principal

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POST NO BILLS

There comes a time in a man’s life when it’s no longer acceptable to adorn the walls of his office, study (if you call any room in your house a study, this is a no-brainer) or man cave with posters and scotch tape (just do yourself a favor and frame them at the very least). Step your wall game up with some quality artwork. The ones at RareInk are definitely a step up from anything that comes rolled up in a tube. See page 98 for a few more selections.

CHECKIT 96 SPIN MOVES 98 THE GOODS 100 GEAR 102 WEAR

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check it Spin MoveS

By Duane Watson #7

DeMar DeRozan

other Faves

Quiet. Understated. Chill. Those words describe Toronto’s fourth-year swingman’s personality, but when it comes to DeMar’s on-court game, you’d have to locate a thesaurus for the antonyms. When he’s not detonating on dudes’ heads, DeMar is all about, fittingly, Black Dynamite.

[on his sneaker collecting hobby:] Any Jordan. Retro Jordans if I had to go with one, the IV, that’s my favorite shoe. I love the IV. I couldn’t even tell you how many shoes I have. I have at least 150 Jordans. Between here and L.A. I can’t even tell you how many shoes I have in total. [On his favorite car:] My all-time favorite car is a Bentley, but out of the cars that I own, is my Porsche Panorama.

Music Can’t go wrong with Drake. Drake, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Kendrick Lamar. [My favorite album of all time is] Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt. I can listen to that all day, from the beginning to the end. “Feelin’ It” is my joint.

apps Scramble With Friends. I’m good with that.

tV It can be a cartoon right? Black Dynamite. It’s funny, kind of based on the movie, but it’s still silly.

Movies He Got Game, as a kid I just thought that was crazy. Denzel Washington is my favorite actor. [On his favorite actress:] Oh, that’s a tough one. Sometimes you tend to go on looks…I like Zoe Saldana. [On his favorite movie character:] I got to go with Black Dynamite, he’s hilarious and you can’t beat Black Dynamite!

Videogames NFL Madden 2013. I play on any platform, I play random, I hate playing with just one team. Nobody can beat me in Madden. Ed Davis may say he’s good, but I’m the best. When I was in high school it was all about NBA Live, then NBA2K came out of nowhere and you can’t top 2K right now. 096

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IllustratIon: Matt Candela

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CheCk It 02

the Goods 01

Samsung Galaxy Note 2

The Note 2 is admittedly not for everyone. If you crave a compact device, it’s not for you. But if you’re looking for a larger display. and with it, the ability to get more done with your phone, the Note II is perfect. Essentially a Galaxy S3 (which earned high marks from us) on steroids, the Note 2 sports a 5.5-inch screen that would be at home in the hands of LeBron James’ (he’s an endorser of the phone) massive hands. But even in the smaller hands of an average person, the Note 2 isn’t overly huge (actual size shown on page). It takes some time getting used to the dimensions (5.9 x 3.2 inches and 0.37 thick), but once you adapt, you’ll notice the larger real estate increases productivity and makes games and movies more immersive. And after more time with it, you’ll begin to feel like every other smartphone in the market is tiny (kind of like rolling around in a truck and looking down at all the “puny” sedans on the road). Once you’re there, you’re hooked and begin counting down the days to the Note 3’s release.

Google Nexus 4

Despite the glut of “Android”-based phones on the marketplace, only the Google Nexus 4 and previous iterations are true Android devices; the other ones run a flavor of it based off of Android, but also with a lot of tweaks and bloated features. The made-byLG Nexus 4 runs the latest and greatest 4.2. Because of its pure Android presentation, integration with Google services is much tighter. That aside, the T-Mobile exclusive Nexus 4 is a boon for those who prefer a “precious” feel to their phone. Gorilla Glass 2 coats the front and back of the phone, giving it some good heft and a glass sculpture aesthetic (but also upping the fragility of it). The 4.7-inch 1,280x768 display is candy for the eyes. Viewing angles were excellent, even in bright daylight that has other smartphones seeking out shade. The quality on the 8-megapixel camera is par with top smartphones, but Android 4.2 brings a cool new feature, Photo Sphere, which essentially allows you to stitch photos horizontally and vertically, creating a picture sphere. Our only gripe with the Nexus 4 is the lack of expandable memory as it only comes in 8GB and 16GB flavors (cloud-based storage is available), but other than that, it’s a terrific choice if you want the best Android experience on the market.

$299.99-369.99 (depending on carrier)

8GB: $199.99 (with contract)

02

01

03

03

RareInk Canvas Art

Combining the action of a classic poster with the preciousness of handcrafted artwork is what RareInk does with its line of limited edition fine art prints and stretched canvases. Each piece takes an iconic image, which is then remixed by an artist to create a modern masterpiece. The shown 18 x 24-inch canvases (they also stock a 24x30 version) are limited to 250 pieces, are individually hand numbered and come ready to hang. The pictured Michael Jordan is done by Leon “Tes One” Bedore, the Kobe Bryant by Grzegorz “Gabz” Domaradzki and the LeBron James by Mike Orduna aka “Fatoe.”

Michael Jordan: $139 Kobe Bryant/LeBron James: $119

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07

Griffin MOTO TC Monster

Remote control cars get app-ed out with the MOTO TC Racer, an RC car that ditches the traditional remote control for a virtual one on your iOS device. Downlaod the free MOTO TC Monster app and your iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch can maneuver the car via Bluetooth with touch, motion and slide commands, and can even be programmed to traverse over preset routes.

$59.99

07

08

08

NBA Bleacher Creatures Plush

Yes, these 14-inch plush creations are designed for kids to hug and hold their favorite NBA star, but we don’t see any problem with an adult collecting them and re-enacting the action on the court. Although a bit exaggerated, the Bleacher Creatures are pretty accurate to the players and stand on their own. We do wish their sneakers were more customized to the player and that they were more to scale, but you can’t really hate too much on plush replicas of NBA players.

06

$19.99

06

HeadBlade Sport Kit

Head-shavers will find the HeadBlade and the accompanying accoutrements an upgrade from the regular razor/shaving cream regimen. The ergonomic blade has a wheeled suspension to help navigate the treacherous topography of the average head. The three-step kit of “Shed, “Slick” and “Lube” makes sure you pregame with a good exfoliation, shave with proper lubrication and then postgame with a moisturizing lotion that also provides an SPF shield for the clean dome.

$29.99 05 Where to Buy: Google Nexus 4: t-mobile.com Samsung Galaxy Note 2: samsung. com; rareInk Canvas Art: rareink.com; Griffin Moto tC Monster: store. griffintechnology.com; NBA Bleacher Creatures Plush: nbastore.com; headBlade Sport Kit: headblade.com; htC Windows Phone 8X: t-mobile. com Logitech harmony touch: logitech.com Correction: In the Nov/Dec issue, we incorrectly listed the Sonicare AirFloss price as $169.95. The correct price is $89.99.

04

04

Logitech Harmony Touch

05

HTC Windows Phone 8X

No stranger to the universal remote game, Logitech is changing things up a bit with its latest flagship remote. With many universal remotes packing every button and feature into a candy bar design, Logitech smartly pared down the jumble of buttons to the most used ones and inserted a touchscreen for deeper navigation. The cleaner layout does what a universal remote is supposed to do: simplify and consolidate. Your favorite channels can be programmed with their icons for quick channel surfing. The other update to the Harmony Touch is the ability to tweak and customize the remote without having to tether to a computer. In the past, a Harmony remote would need to be connected to the Harmony servers for tweaks, but the Touch can now be edited—things like button mapping, creating activity macros—locally. The Touch sits on a rechargeable cradle and gets about a week’s worth of use with each charge.

If you can commit yourself to the conversion, Windows Phone 8 is a solid mobile OS. With its clean “live” tiles presentation, it’s easily more personal than what big boys iOS and Android offer. The 8X sports a 4.3-inch 720p display that might lag behind competitors spec-wise, but the eye test noticed no drop-off. Text was sharp, viewing angles were good and blacks looked excellent, giving the display excellent contrast. Like most HTC smartphones, audio is enhanced with Beats Audio technology and the 8MP rear camera and the 2.1MP front camera round out the major accoutrements. Operation was snappy and the tile animations (a trademark of a Windows Phone) were always smooth. Wrapping around the screen is a rubber-like enclosure which was hit or miss. Some of us liked the grip it provides and the built-in protection it offers, but others thought it looked toy-like or chintzy.

$249.99

$199.99 (with contract) 099

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CHECK IT GEAR

Padded collar for comfort and a tight fit.

Jordan

Melo M9 Tabs on the heel and tongue provide gripping points for foot insertion.

Weight: 14.75 oz. Price: $140 The Flywire straps use Dynamic Fit Technology that comes up from the midsole and into the lacing system for a foot-conforming fit. The inner foot sleeve is made of sandwich mesh for breathability and helps reduce foot movement inside the shoe. Max volume Zoom in heel for impact protection.

Full-length Phylon midsole for lightweight cushioning. The full-length TPU cage enhances lateral stability and support.

Forefoot Zoom for responsiveness in low-profile package.

Two-zoned herringbone traction in outsole. Recessed pattern on the forefoot reduces friction and aids in pivoting.

Quick Take: The Melo series has never been for someone looking for a light or “fast” shoe. Checking in around the same weight as last year’s model (14.7 ounces), the M9 is a relatively beefy shoe. Not a knock by any means, as some newer basketball models have gotten so light that you wonder about diminishing returns. The M9 is sturdy and you won’t have to worry about blowouts upon landing or cutting. The big feature on the M9 is the exposed Flywire system that wraps around the midfoot and pokes out of the cutouts on the upper. The Flywire (which resembles the cross straps of the Air Jordan 8.0) is then incorporated into the lacing system. The result is a very snug fit especially when coupled with the internal bootie. If sized properly, it should leave the M9 at one with your foot, a very good thing. While Carmelo Anthony’s body will never be confused for LeBron’s, Melo is every bit as quick, making Zoom Air his preferred choice of low profile cushioning in the M9. Double stacked Zoom is on the heel and on the forefoot there is a raised area on the outsole that serves as a “launching pad” for first steps and take-offs. We liked this feature, as it helps you stay on the front balls of feet; We could see why Melo (and his patented triple-threat position) co-signed this. Aesthetically, the M9 reminded us of the Nike Air Carnivore. It lacks the Carnivore’s use of straps, but the cut-outs and the noise from the Flywire gave it a similar feel. We’re glad to see Jordan take the Melo line with a different approach. After a run of nine, it’s tough to keep things fresh, but the M9 is a worth a look.

Nike Little “easter eggs” on the sole tell the story of Durant’s journey thus far. Details include: his three scoring titles, Maryland, Seattle, Oklahoma City and family members.

KD V The upper is comprised of Hyperfused layers of synthetic materials for weight reduction.

Like the LeBron X, the lacing system is integrated into the upper (reinforced underneath) for a more secure fit.

The midsole wraps around the back, forming an external heel counter to lock down foot.

New to the KV series is the inclusion of Max Air in the heel.

Mesh panels on both lateral and medial provide ventilation. Forefoot cushioning is made up of Zoom Air.

A new outsole traction pattern comprised of primarily triangles and pentagons serves as multidirectional pivot points.

Weight: 13.5 oz. Price: $115 Quick Take: Aesthetically, it was tough to follow up on the heels of last year’s fantastic design. Although it’s authored by the same designer, Leo Chang, who helmed the IV, we find it a tad staid. The most noticeable difference is the lack of midfoot strap, the striking element from the IV that was universally loved. We understand not going that same route, but with Nike’s assortment of design and tech tricks at its disposal, we expected more beyond a shoe that reminded us of the KD 1. Given its signature status and $20 price bump (the KD IV was $95), we find it a tough sell. That said, the higher sticker price does bring along some tech upgrades. Most notable is Max Air in the rear which complements the front Zoom bag nicely (a combination found on many Nike/Jordan signature basketball shoes). It was a little disappointing to see that Nike decided to raise the cut from last year’s almost-low cut. In our tests, we decided to ignore the top three lace holes, making them into faux lows and had no ill effects except for the extraneous “ear flaps” on the ankle. We did like how the upper melded onto the foot with time like a pair of Foamposites. There was some worry that the design-driven outsole pattern would fall short of traditional herringbone, but we had no issues. Overall, it’s another solid shoe in the KD line to ball in. If only it stayed in the $100 price point and didn’t look like a team shoe, we’d give it a full recommendation.

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Gear CheCk

Get a Grip When players take a seat on the bench, they’re always handed the usuals: a towel, water or Gatorade and their shooting shirt. These days, there’s another item popping up regularly on the sidelines. That would be Court Grip, a product developed by Mission Athletecare that’s designed to increase traction on hardwood courts. After Dwyane Wade headlined Court Grip’s release in September 2011, the NBA made Mission its “Official Athletecare.” Then, Court Grip became one of most highly sought-after accessories during the shortened season. According to the National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association, 25 percent of players were using Court Grip by the spring of 2012. And that number is expected to increase dramatically during the 2012-13 season, especially after OptoSource, a renowned sports performance technology company, released a recent study demonstrating Court Grip’s effectiveness. During the NBA combine in early June, Court Grip caught the attention of OptoSource because many players were applying it to the bottom of their sneakers. So for the next three months, OptoSource tested more than two dozen NBA, college and high school players and the results showed a 24 percent average improvement— some much higher—of players’ quickness, balance and stability. “Ask any athlete, at any level of play, in any sport—milliseconds and millimeters matter,” says Mark French, Court Grip’s inventor and the president of Mission’s basketball division. “If our Court Grip technology can improve a player’s speed, agility, quickness or balance by even a few percentage points, much less a 24 percent improvement in something as important as lateral quickness, that’s making a big difference.” Chris Graythen/Getty imaGes sport; Joe murphy/nBae/Getty imaGes

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As part of the study, OptoSource analyzed Brandon Jennings’ trademark stepback jumper, and discovered that, while using Court Grip, he had better form and stability, and he was able to decrease his court time for better quickness. [You can peep the video on YouTube.] “I noticed a difference right away and remember thinking, ‘This is going to make a big difference in my game,’” says Jennings. “Sometimes when the court is real slippery, I don’t make the moves I want to. With Court Grip, I’m able to make those hard cuts; also on defense when I’m trying to get around screens.” Jennings said at least half of NBA floors can be a problem, but Court Grip gives him a mental advantage wherever he’s playing. “When you come down the court and your feet are squeaking because of Court Grip,” he says, “you have this confidence that you can make your moves, and the squeaking can be really intimidating to your defender.” If you see your favorite player darting around the court faster this season, crossing up his man like Wade and wetting more stepback Js like Jennings, you’ll know why. Perhaps at some point soon, we’ll see Mars Blackmon in a commercial proclaiming, “It’s gotta be (under) the shoes!” —Jared Zwerling #3 101

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CHeCk iT Wear 02

01

Timex Weekender Slip Thru

We’re not sure if calling a watch timeless is redundant or a pun, but we do know that this timepiece is just that with its understated face and varsity styling on the band.

Under Armour Renegade Backpack

$45

A good backpack pulls tight against your back, distributing the weight throughout, something this minimalistic Under Armour pack does in spades. A padded laptop sleeve is in the rear and two cargo pockets on the side can hold a bottle and other small sundries.

$65

03

02 01

Blauer Police Badge Leather Jacket

It’s not exactly something that 5-0 would wear, but this Police Badge Leather Jacket does take inspiration from the actual thing, namely the craftsmanship and materials. Not a strecth, considering Blauer has been outfitting on-the-job safety professionals for more than 75 years.

$527

03

05

05

adidas Originals AR 3.0

Fans of straps will appreciate the addition of a rear strap to the one that wraps the ankle, which sees a return from the 2.0. Those who like monochromatic treatment will dig the indigo washout. If you like both, these are a must-cop.

$95

06

Under Armour Creeze Hoody

Heavier than the typical track jacket and lighter than a coat, the Creez is optimal for outdoor training when things are neither too warm or blustery.

$70

04

04

Jordan Air Jordan 1

A true retro of the original that launched a billion shoes, MJ’s iconic debut sees a re-release in 2013 in true OG form—“Nike Air” on the tongue. For some connoisseurs, the original Nike branding on the tongue (in recent AJ1 drops, it’s been the Jumpman logo) is a true retro; for OG heads, it’s instant nostalgia. The materials and construction (based on foggy memory) is pretty true and the retail box, while not 100 percent exact, maintains the integrity of the original, with its bold red Nike Swoosh on black box. We do wish the red/black/white one got the same treatment, but it does get a box that takes cues from the original packaging.

$160 102

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07

07

Holden The Varsity Jacket

Holden makes sure all the details of the venerable varsity jacket remain the same—contrast sleeves, pocket rims, striped rib waistband—but mixes in some modern touches—hood, fleece lining, zippered chest pocket and underarm vent openings—to create a new classic.

$320 08

08

Blauer 4-Pocket Jacket

If the Devil is really in the details, then this jacket belongs in hell. Simply adorned with an arm patch, the rest of the jacket is filled with zippers, buttons and other mysterious details that had us wondering if they served any functional purpose.

$241 09

New Balance M1300

This M1300 is another pair in the Daytripper collection that mimics life on the American road. With its copper and burnt orange colors, this pair (crafted in the U.S.A., natch) resembles the bright sunsets of anytown, USA.

$159.95 09

10

Reebok T-Raww

Tyga, the Young Money rapper, has taken a cue from his boss Lil Wayne by branching out beyond music. The T-Raww is Tyga’s signature shoe by Reebok. Despite the name, the T-Raww is a clean shoe with a monochromatic presentation based loosely on some of the muted styles in Reebok’s catalog.

$80

11

10

11

Reebok Kamikaze II

One of the most recognizable Reebok models to date, the longawaited retro of the Kamikaze was worn by Shawn Kemp, and like many of Reebok’s ’90s releases, made use of bold patterns that were easily spotted, even from the living room and cheap seats.

$125

Where to Buy: under Armour renegade Backpack, Creeze hoody: underarmour.com; timex Weekender Slip thru : timex. com; holden the Varsity Jacket: karmaloop.com; Blauer 4-Pocket Jacket, Police Badge Leather Jacket: blauer.com; reebok Kamikaze II, t-raww: reebok. com; Carhartt Lux hooded thermo hoodie: carhartt. com; New Balance M1300: newbalance.com; adidas originals Ar 3.0: shoporiginals. com; Jordan Air Jordan 1: jumpman23.com

06

12

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Carhartt Lux Hooded Thermo Hoodie

Camouflage and Lux are two things that are usually mutually exclusive, but in the case of this hoodie, it’s a rare exception. From the exterior, it’s a camo print hoodie, but inside is a plush velvety lining that bathes you in comfort and warmth.

$60

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CHECk IT 01

Wear

Where to Buy: adidas originals adi high eXt: shoporiginals. com; Mitchell & Ness Chicago Bulls Game Changer Satin Jacket: karmaloop.com; New Balance ML574CG: newbalance.com; adidas Vrazy Light 2/top ten 2000: adidas.com; adidas NBA BIG Color Swingman Jersey: nbastore.com; under Armour Valkyrie Short: underarmour.com

Mitchell & Ness Chicago Bulls Game Changer Satin Jacket

While it’s not a jacket that Jerry Sloan or Bob Love rocked during their hey days of the 1960s and ’70s with the Bulls, this retro-inspired jacket (a Karmaloop.com exclusive) has the vintage details. Contrast stitching, button enclosure and a slim fit makes it look in place 50 years ago and now.

$212 01

02

02

adidas Originals adi High EXT An update to a retro basketball model, the adi High EXT gets the slimmed-down treatment to go well with skinny jeans. The full grain leather upper gives it a touch of sophistication while the colorful overlays give ample colorway opportunities.

$99.99

05

05

New Balance ML574CG

It may very well be another pair of run-of-the-mill 574s to the everyday observer, but the bright green on the muted grey, accented by the gum bottoms, makes this pair special.

$74.95

04

03

03

adidas NBA BIG Color Swingman Jersey The adidas team jerseys remain true to each squad—except each gets a punch of big color with a monochromatic treatment of the team’s hues, while the letters are contrast-outlined.

06

89.99 04

Under Armour Valkyrie Basketball Short Let the glass-shattering print of the Valkyrie short speak for what’s to come on the court—and even if it doesn’t, UA’s Moisture Transport System will keep you cool when things heat up.

$40

06

adidas Crazy Light 2/Top Ten 2000 “City Pack”

The Crazy Light 2 and Equipment Top Ten 2000 get the electric treatment in a color palette paying homage to the two biggest cities on each coast. The “Knicks” one gets a high-energy take on the blue and orange and features an insole with “The City Never Sleeps” tagline, while the L.A. version has “The City Keeps Dreamin’.”

Crazy Light 2: $155 Top Ten 2000: $125

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STEP BACK

February 9, 2003: All-Star Game, Philips Arena, Atlanta The 2003 All-Star Game was the first double-overtime affair in the game’s history as the West outlasted the East, 155-145. In the final All-Star Game of Michael Jordan’s career, he scored 20 points on an ASG record 27 field-goal attempts (tied with Rick Barry, 1967).

The game featured a halftime tribute by Mariah Carey who serenaded Jordan while wearing a half-Bulls, half-Wizards (the two teams he played for) dress.

Along with Garnett, the West’s twin tower tandem of Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan were too much for the East to handle. Shaq had 19 points and 13 rebounds while Duncan also registered 19 points along with 15 boards.

Jordan almost played the hero (and might have earned his fourth All-Star Game MVP) as he hit a high-arcing fadeaway 14-footer over Shawn Marion to give the East a two-point lead with 4.8 seconds left in regulation. However, a subsequent foul by Jermaine O’Neal on Kobe Bryant in the closing seconds allowed the West to tie the game.

Jordan was not selected as a starter by the fans, but East teammate Vince Carter relinquished his starting spot at the last minute so Jordan could get his 14th starting nod (he was selected in ’86 but sat out due to injury).

Despite being the Finals MVP of the previous three Finals series, O’Neal wasn’t named as the West’s starting center, losing the spot to rookie Yao Ming and his international appeal. Coincidentally, it was the first time the NBA opened up All-Star fan voting in China.

After Carey’s song, Jordan took to center court with this impromptu speech: “I leave the game in good hands. So many great stars rising and playing the game. I have passed on the things that Dr. J and some of the great players—Magic Johnson, Larry Bird—have passed on to me, I pass on to these All-Stars here, as well as to the rest of the players in the NBA. I want to thank you all for your support. Now I can go home and feel at peace with the game of basketball.”

Kevin Garnett captured the AllStar Game MVP with his 37 points on blistering 17-of-24 shooting to go along with 9 rebounds and 5 steals.

Over the 13 All-Star Games he played in, Jordan totaled 262 points (20.2 ppg), the NBA record until Kobe Bryant eclipsed him last season.

Among active players, Duncan is the All-Star Game’s leader in total rebounds (124) and rebounds per game (9.5).

It was actually the fifth time Jordan wore the 2003 All-Star uniforms, as they were a retro’d version of the classic All-Star unis worn during the ’80s. Jordan wore the home whites in ’85 and ’88 and the road reds in ’86 (but he was injured and didn’t play), ’87, ’89 and ’90. Record-wise, he was 1-1 with the whites and 2-2 with the reds.

One of the game’s best defenders, Marion made sure Jordan had no second chance at a game-winner by blocking a 21-foot turnaround at the end of the first OT to send the game to its second OT. Kobe Bryant paid homage to Jordan by donning the Air Jordan III “True Blue” during the game.

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The Air Jordan XVIII was designed by Tate Kuerbis and the shoe’s inspiration was F1 racecars. The shoe retailed for $175 at its release and came accompanied with a brush and towel to keep the Js spiffy. NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


call out

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, New York Knicks of now and then didn’t hesitate to lend a helping hand to the New Yorkers affected by the damage. In addition to the Knicks organization pledging $500,000 to the support efforts, former Knicks Larry Johnson (left photo: right) and John Wallace unloaded trucks full of supplies in Staten Island, N.Y. as part of the NBA Cares Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts on Nov. 8. On Nov. 10, the Knicks trio of (right photo; L-R) Corey Brewer, Amar’e Stoudemire and Rasheed Wallace went to the Edgemere Housing Projects in Far Rockaway, Queens, to deliver much-needed necessities to the community. steve FreemaN; JeNNiFer Pottheiser/NBae/Getty imaGes

NBA and WNBA legends Buck Williams and Teresa Edwards paid a visit to the Fischer House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as part of the NBA Cares Hoops for Troops initiative. NeD DishmaN/NBae/Getty imaGes

Anderson Varejao fittingly shows off his best grin during the Cavaliers and Flashes of Hope fourth annual “Big Shots & Little Stars” fundraiser at the Quicken Loans Arena. Through Flashes of Hope, which helps children afflicted with cancer deal with the disease through photography, and the Cavaliers organization, the event raised over $500,000 for pediatric cancer research.

He’s no stranger to dishing out assists on the basketball court, but John Wall is equally adept at serving up plates. Playing waiter for the Wizards’ third annual Salute to the Stars, Wall doled out lunch to service members from Joint Base Andrews. NeD DishmaN/NBae/Getty imaGes

DaviD Liam KyLe/NBae/Getty imaGes

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H0102 Call Out.indd 107

12/4/12 12:45 PM


FINAL EXAM

DOES STEPHEN CURRY MAKE THE GRADE?

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H0102-Final Exam Stephen Curry.indd 108

12/4/12 3:53 PM


The Irvine Co.indd 1

10/8/12 9:01 AM


Go all in from the court to the street in the limited edition Rose signature logo collection. Introducing the D Rose 3. Designed exclusively for Derrick Rose. See the full collection at adidasbasketball.com

Adidas America.indd 1

11/1/12 4:43 PM

HOOP January/February 2013  

Sole Searcher...Rajon Rondo has seen a championship, found his place as the Celtics’ No. 1 and is looking for more.

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