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THE

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JAN/FEB 2015

STEPH CURRY IS TAKI NG THE BIG...

NO DOUBT HE’S MAKING THE...

JUMP

SHOT


G E A R U P AT N I K E . C O M / K Y R I E


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WARM UPS

Charge or block? No one really pays attention when you have a highlight-worthy dunk like the one by Miami rookie James Ennis. But if you care, it’s a block as Rasual Butler’s feet are clearly inside the restricted area.

MIKE EHRMANN (5)/GETTY IMAGES


WARM UPS

Smile, Ryan Anderson, Enes Kanter is about to immortalize you on a poster.

LAYNE MURDOCH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


WARM UPS Even in mid-December, Tyson Chandler was still shooting a ridiculous 68 percent from the ďŹ eld, no doubt aided by dimes like this from teammate Monta Ellis.

GLENN JAMES/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


WARM UPS

Kobe Bryant recently surpassed Michael Jordan in career points, which means he’s scored more than 32,292 points. He would’ve had two more, if not for the efforts of Jonas Valanciunas.

STEPHEN DUNN/GETTY IMAGES


THE GAMEPLAN

JAN/FEB 2015

FEATURES

66 The DA Rests His Case

Derek Anderson’s greatest obstacles to becoming an NBA player weren’t the numerous injuries he’s had to endure and come back from, nor was it the struggle to find a perfect team that suited his skills, and it certainly wasn’t the grind to win that elusive championship. All of Anderson’s toughest battles took place even before his name was called in the 1997 NBA Draft. Now Anderson is trying to help others overcome similar adversities.

068

PHOTOT

39 A-Z of the NBA

As every edition does, our seventh A-Z of the NBA begins with A (Apophenia) and ends with Z (Zymurgy) in our best effort to succinctly capture the League with the alphabet.

44 Eighty-One

Big salute to Kobe Bryant on passing Michael Jordan for third place on the all-time scoring ledger (only two more to go: Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). While a great deal of the 32,000-plus points were spectacular, we have to admit the 81-point outburst he had one night was extra special. And many others would agree, as they recount in an oral history of the night.

54 Shooting for the Star

Why was there even a shred of doubt of that Stephen Curry would become a star in the NBA? After all, the guy never misses. Still, the journey there wasn’t as effortless and quick as one of his patented wrist flicks from the three-point line. It’s been a long road for Curry, one that has taken him to becoming one of the game’s best point guards and legitimate MVP candidates.

76 Speak Softly… And Carry a Big Stick

Try to recall Kawhi Leonard’s speaking voice. If you’re like most people—including us—you cannot and Leonard would prefer to keep it that way. It’s not like he’s rude and would rather you speak to his rather large and imposing hand. Leonard simply does not like to talk much. As clichéd as it may be, he chooses to let his game do the talking.

Poster

Anthony Davis shows off his go-go-gadget arms; Jason Williams wraps a dime. 012

Cover photographed by Thearon Henderson/NBAE/Getty Images


THE GAME PLAN JAN/FEB 2015 DEPARTMENTS

4 Warm Ups 16 The Point 18 Jumpball

Starting Five: Dwyane Wade has played with his share of greats. It’ll be interesting to see which five he chooses to run with; Transition Game: See how defying gravity has affected Vince Carter over the years; Dance Life: Indiana Pacemate Jessica; First Ride: Monta Ellis remembers the days before he rode “big boy”; First Five: Ed Davis, Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum, Cory Joseph, Luol Deng; Head2Head: Best power forward? Blake Griffin or LaMarcus Aldridge?; Peripheral Vision: Barry Meisel, the man behind authenticated NBA jerseys; Know Your Newb: Even though this is Nerlens Noel’s second year, he’s still a rook; Celeb Row: The RZA finds plenty of inspiration from the NBA; Brack-It: The Best Two-Way Player in the NBA; Check Yo Man: How to guard Carmelo Anthony, straight from those who have had to; Numerology: The 123s of the NBA.

36 24 Seconds with Gordon Hayward

Utah’s star forward took some time from his League of Legends session to talk about League of Legends.

95 Check-It

110 Stepback

Back when Steve Nash was carving up defenses and racking up MVPs.

112 Call-Out

The NBA spreads the holiday cheer.

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Spin Moves: Eric Bledsoe expounds on his off-court time-killers; The Goods: The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge might put you over one; Gear: We ran in the D Rose 5 Boost, J Wall 1, Jordan Super.Fly 3 and Jordan Melo M11 and have a few thoughts on them; Gear Check: Basketball training devices that will help improve your game; Wear: Some reccos on staying warm this winter.


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Untitled-3 1

12/19/14 3:01 PM


THE POINT Volume 43, No. 2

Editor-in-Chief Ming Wong #2 Design Director Kengyong Shao #31 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 Russ Bengtson #43, Seth Berkman #91, Alex Bracetti #44, Frank Capa #28, Christopher Cason #24, Jon Cooper #10, Jim Eichenhofer #12, Anthony Gilbert #1, Brian A. Giuffra #17, Jarrel Harris #3, Melody Hoffman #34, Steve Hunt #29, Andy Jasner #27, Steven Lebron #88, Holly MacKenzie #32, Brett Mauser #25, Branden Peters #63, Duane Watson #7, Terrence Watson #24 Illustrator Matt Candela #52 Retired Numbers #6, #11, #13, #30, #99

It was our Jan/Feb 2011 cover.1 The cover story was on all the young and bright point guards2 making their way into the League.3 It was a fold-out cover,4 and the plan was to have the four primary guys on the front and the other four on the fold. Derrick Rose was a given as he was halfway to the eventual MVP trophy.5 Rajon Rondo was the only NBA Champion among the group, with the unique foor game.6 Russell Westbrook was coming into his own,7 becoming more than just a sidekick to Kevin Durant in Oklahoma CIty. The fourth guy was Brandon Jennings. Sometimes you get it wrong,8 but at the time, Jennings looked on his way. Yes, the numbers were infated with his high usage as a rookie and both his shot selection and decision-making needed improvement. To make things short: We done goofed.9 The guy all the way on the right side, buried in the fold, should’ve been the one sitting in front of Rose. But that’s hindsight publishing. I’m pretty sure there was someone on staff who was championing Stephen Curry, but I was the one who made the ultimate call. It really came down to my doubts at the time of Curry’s point guard skills. It certainly wasn’t his shot.10 I thought he’d eventually wind up being an undersized 2 in the League at best, but more likely a shooting specialist.11 I hardly think the snub even made it onto Curry’s radar. He worked at his craft—even the shot that needed no work—and his ballhandling,12 playmaking and defense all improved. He’s become dependable and durable. People have taken notice, to the point where he’s arguably the best PG in the game. If we were to do that point guard issue all over again, it would look different. Aaron Brooks13 and Tyreke Evans14 would be out. Ditto Jennings. Rose, Westbrook, Rondo and Wall?15 Well, the issue would look like this exact one. I guess there are do-overs. Sorry, Steph.

Ming Wong #2

Professional Sports Publications BONUS POINTS 1. It was actually one of our best selling ones in the past fve years. 2. There was still some dying debate going on between Chris Paul and Deron Williams for best PG. 3. And this was before Ricky Rubio made his NBA debut. 4. Come to think of it, that Kobe foldout cover the previous year did well. We need to do more of them. 5. If not for Rose’s amazing season, LeBron would’ve been the frst player to win fve consecutive MVPs. 6. It might seem like Rondo can’t score, but it’s only because he doesn’t choose to. 7. In a year, Westbrook was tabbed to be the torchbearer to the Air Jordan line for Jordan Brand. 8. The inclusion looks progressively worse with each passing year. 9. Kinda like Memphis and Minnesota in the 2009 NBA Draft. Both teams skipped out on Curry, with the Grizzlies taking Hasheem Thabeet at No. 2 and the Timberwolves taking Jonny Flynn at No. 7, one pick before Curry. 10. To put it in perspective, Curry is in the midst of his worst three-point shooting season at “just” 40 percent. 11. It’s downright laughable to think that now. 12. Steph is now a regular at dropping matchbox cars in front of his foes. 13. In our defense, Brooks was coming off an almost 20-ppg season. 14. Not a true point guard in our book, even at the time, but Evans played there and was the Rookie of the Year. 15. No disrespect intended but...

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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 bimonthly, December through June, by PSP. © 2015 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


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JUMPBALL STARTING 5

DWYANE WADE MIAMI HEAT

It’s impossible to talk about the history of the Miami Heat’s three NBA Championships—take your pick of which one—without talking about Dwyane Wade. Wade was the Finals MVP in the franchise’s inaugural title run in 2006, with Shaquille O’Neal in the middle, and was a key piece of “The Big Three” teams with LeBron James and Chris Bosh, that recorded four straight Eastern Conference Championships and back-to-back NBA titles in 2012 and ’13. Wade is an eight-time All-NBA player and 10-time All-Star—he was All-Star Game MVP in 2010—and the cornerstone of the Miami franchise. Since being drafted ffth overall by Miami in the loaded 2003 NBA Draft, Wade has basically rewritten the Heat’s record books. He holds franchise career records for games played, minutes, feld goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, points, assists and steals. He’s also second in blocks, and while there’s no chance of him catching Alonzo Mourning, it’s still impressive for a 6-4 guard. After a dozen seasons, many of them on good teams vying for a title, it was no easy task for Wade to name his personal starting fve.

AS TOLD TO JON COOPER #10

CENTER: SHAQUILLE O’NEAL Teammates from 2004-08 “One of the greatest centers of all time. I’ve got so many Shaq moments. I think most of our moments with Shaq that I remember were probably off the court. Everyone gets to see it on TNT a little bit. Just the personality that he portrayed off the court was fun-loving. When it was good, it was good.”

SMALL FORWARD: LEBRON JAMES Teammates from 2010-14: “At the 3 I have to go with LeBron James. As a locker room leader, he and Shaq were different, but both of them were, obviously, great players. They both spoke up when they needed to. They didn’t let their voice get drowned out by talking all the time. Both spoke out when they felt they needed to. But totally different styles.”

POWER FORWARD: CHRIS BOSH Teammates since 2010 UDONIS HASLEM Teammates since 2003 “I have to go with C.B. and Udonis [Haslem]. I love what both of them bring every night.”

018 ISSAC BALDIZON(2); VICTOR BALDIZON (2); LAYNE MURDOCH JR.; FERNANDO MEDINA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES; JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES


POINT GUARD: JASON WILLIAMS Teammates from 2005-2008 “One of my favorite point guards to play with was Jason Williams. I thought he was amazing at seeing the floor. He had the ability to score as well. When he got to Miami he kind of toned it down a little bit from how he was in Sacramento and even in Memphis. But just the way he could see the floor and knowing where to put the ball. I’m a guy who passes the ball very well and I know how to make it easier for the guy to get it and to get a shot so I appreciate a point guard who knows the same things. That’s what I loved about him.”

TRANSITION GAME

VINCE CARTER

1998

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SHOOTING GUARD: DWYANE WADE “The 2 would be me. I hope people most remember me by one of my favorite attributes of my game: passing. I think that passing is one part of my game that I’ve always excelled at although I scored more than I passed. I’m obviously known for blocking shots and certain things at my size but my passing is something that I’ve always been very proud of.”

WILD CARD: ALONZO MOURNING Teammates from 2005-08 “I loved what he brought defensively and how he protected the basket. It made the game so much easier for all of us to try to defend, knowing that he was back there. And the energy and effort that he brought. He was amazing.”

019 PHOTO


JUMP BALL BY MELODY HOFFMAN #34 FIRST FIVE

Utah Jazz second-yearpoint guard Trey Burke isn’t scared of taking the big shot. The former highly-decorated2 collegiate hit a deep three-pointer to force overtime in a victory over Kansas during Michigan’s run to the national title game in 2013. Last season as a rookie he made a go-ahead threeball with 1.6 seconds left in a victory over Orlando. More recently, with the game tied and two seconds left, Burke found the net on a fadeaway jumper that gave the Jazz a win against the Knicks earlier this season. “My team needs that from me,” says Burke, who was selected to the 2013-14 All-Rookie First Team.3 “When the game is on the line you always have to have that one guy that’s willing to take that shot and not scared to take it because he might miss it. That has been natural for me since I was young.”4 Though his clutch5 game is on point, Burke admits he is still getting adjusted to the NBA point guard position. “They expected me to score a lot in college. At this level you can score a lot, but at the same time I have to be the guy running the team, making sure everybody else is satisfied and being that quarterback on the court. A lot of times I may have a pullup and it may be a good shot, but it’s my job to see if there is a better shot available. That is a little different for me...because I’ve been a scoring guard my whole life. “You don’t learn that [change] overnight.”

BONUS POINTS 1. Alfonso Clark Burke III, aka Trey, is averaging 10.6 points and 5.5 assists this season. 2. In 2013, Burke was named the Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year, NCAA AP Player of the Year, the NCAA John Wooden Award winner and Big Ten Player of the Year. During his two seasons at the University of Michigan, he averaged 16.9 points and 5.7 assists per game. 3. Selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by Minnesota and subsequently traded to the Utah Jazz, Burke averaged 12.8 points, a team-leading 5.7 assists and 3 rebounds in 70 games during his rookie campaign. 4. Burke and Boston Celtics’ Jared Sullinger have been friends since they were kids, growing up together in Columbus, Ohio. Satch Sullinger, Jared’s dad, coached the boys in middle and high school. 5. Burke’s favorite clutch play so far? “The one against Orlando last year. I wasn’t timid about it, I was confident the whole way. Gordon [Hayward] went coast-to-coast last year; we needed either a quick 2 or 3 to win the game. He found me in the corner and I was ready to shoot the ball. I think that’s the biggest thing—getting prepared to shoot, knowing it’s going to come your way—when you get the opportunity, take advantage of it.”

3

TREY

BURKE GUARD - UTAH JAZZ

020

SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


I made that decision toward positive, everything got better for me. Not only for me, it got better for my family, better for my friends. The goal of it is to inspire a better tomorrow. Even if we did something that’s good so far, I want to inspire better. But if we did something bad, we made mistakes and we’re losing ground, then we need a better tomorrow. Did you grow up playing ball? I’m not a good basketball player, but I’m a fan of the sport. What I’ve done in the last 12 years, I’ve not become a fan of a certain team. I’ve become a fan of certain players. I’ve become a fan of these players because of the dedication they have to their craft, the strength they show when they’re playing and the kind of men they’ve developed themselves to be. I am a big fan of Kobe Bryant, especially when he was really in his prime. Even when he and Shaq were going through it, I loved Kobe because he doesn’t engage in the things that take away from his strength. He took that extra time to make himself better. I love LeBron. He’s like a super human right now, chiseled up, focused. He has his game at a mastery level. Same thing goes with Kevin Durant. He had an injury over the summer, but I watched him all last year. I’ve seen that here’s a guy in an unlikely place; Oklahoma City is not a city that’s known for basketball. He goes about it and takes that team to stardom. Happy that we’ve got Carmelo on the Knicks. I’m loving the Brooklyn Nets as a team. We had to bring in a few guys that have been around the League, but I’m loving the Brooklyn Nets because to have the Nets inside of Brooklyn playing at the Barclays Center—for a kid that grew up in Brooklyn, that is great upon great. Is it inspiring to watch someone like LeBron play live? I’ve never seen him in Cleveland. I only saw him with the Heat when they came to L.A., which is still cool. Both of my favorite players in one arena. If [the Cavs] make it to the playoffs, put me on the list.

CELEB ROW

RZA

Even though hip-hop icon, producer, actor and director RZA (real name: Robert Fitzgerald Diggs) has the gift of height—at 6-2, even Chris Paul would be looking up at him—and a love of the game of basketball, he says his lack of hoop skills usually made him the last one picked for a team. Undaunted, he always played hard. One of the things he took from the game is a respect for team spirit, which he has carried throughout his life. Like LeBron, RZA has gone home again—reuniting with Wu-Tang Clan for a new album, A Better Tomorrow. It tells a story reflective of RZA’s own path and is meant to inspire listeners. With plans to tour in support of the album, RZA hopes to check out some hardwood action in different cities. Come playoff time, if Cleveland is in the mix, you might just find him courtside.

When did players recognize you? I got recognized by Marcus Camby in New York. Then, I remember being in L.A., and by this time I already knew Shaquille O’Neal because we had done a music video together. I remember being in L.A. and sitting there and some of the guys looking over at me, like “What up?” It was cool. Those guys are always focusing and nobody’s paying attention to the sideline, but I did get a little nod. Does the game ever influence your music? I wouldn’t say the game influences my music in a sense of production, but if you notice that when you have a star player that has some incredible talent they become a metaphor for a lyric. Like someone could say, “Control the paint like Shaq” or “Post up like Shaq.” I had an old lyric where I said, “Like the Mailman up against Johnson.” That’s when [Larry] Johnson was on the Knicks and the Mailman was the main man out of Utah. Those games were exciting and inspired my lyrics. On A Better Tomorrow, was your role the point guard or the coach? Not to be egotistic, but now that you mention it just the other day on the phone they was calling me Phil Jackson. So I guess I’m the coach.

What does A Better Tomorrow mean to you? It’s definitely a celebration of Wu-Tang Clan and the music industry—20 years plus. It also means that for me as a producer it’s a chance to inspire another way to approach hip hop. As an artist, it’s a way to hopefully inspire positive energy into the world.

You’re directing a number of film projects. How do sports and team mentality help fuel you? Sports and team mentality are vital to me in any form of business. Wu-Tang Clan is a team. We all understand that the object of the game is for the team to win. If you play for the team and your team wins, everybody gets a ring. You cannot separate who has what. At the end of the day, even the guy on the bench gets a ring when the team wins. That philosophy, I try to carry it into my day-to-day activities whether it’s making music, whether it’s directing a film or whether it’s talking to my family. If we work hard and this family grows, then we’re all going to grow.

How does it connect you with your roots, story and history? For me, that travel of music was also psychological travel. I started in a tough situation. We wound up doing crime when we were young and being foolish. Then I got into a situation that almost ruined my life, and I was fortunate to get out. Then I decided to go positive. When

What’s on your schedule for 2015? Unless the wind blows me to the left, I’m really happy to have this Wu-Tang album done. I hope that it inspires people and it continues to grow. Right now my mind is focused on that. There are always offers for me to do things. I’m blessed to be fortunate like that. I’m looking how I can really induce and inspire a better tomorrow with my music. LOIS ELFMAN #40 021


JUMP BALL BY BRETT MAUSER #25

3

C.J.

MCCOLLUM

GUARD - PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

FIRST FIVE

C.J. McCollum came to Portland1 knowing that finding minutes ranked ahead of finding the scoring column. The Blazers could already fill it up2—the starting lineup of Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez combined to average 84.4 ppg last season—so McCollum had to develop his allaround game to crack the rotation. “Minutes are tough to come by, but I just have to adjust on the fly and do whatever’s necessary to help the team out,” McCollum says. “Whether it’s as a backup point guard or a backup 2 guard, it’s my job to fill that void.” His own offensive prowess has never been in question—at Lehigh,3 McCollum finished as the Patriot League’s all-time leading scorer. It’s his defense that needed work.4 McCollum used a strong stint in the Las Vegas Summer League to advance his game, particularly in checking opposing guards. He’s also worked with Matthews, one of the League’s underrated two-way players, on using his hands to disrupt the ballhandler. “I try to think like an offensive-minded player when I’m playing defense and what bothers me when I have the ball,” McCollum says. “Every night, you face someone with a different combination of athleticism, quickness, speed, shooting ability, and you have to combat with the playing angles and being crafty.” He’s found his niche off the bench for the Blazers, who have designs on the Western Conference title. It will take all hands on deck to pull off the feat, and McCollum is pleased to have a role in working toward it. “Life is really good,” McCollum says. “I feel really blessed to be in this position.”5

022

BONUS POINTS 1. When he was drafted 10th overall in 2013, McCollum became the first draft pick in Lehigh history, and the second ever out of the Patriot League, joining Colgate’s Adonal Foyle, who was taken eighth by Golden State in 1997. 2. The Trail Blazers finished fourth in the NBA in scoring in the 2013-14 season, averaging 106.7 points per contest. 3. He even helped Lehigh pull off an all-time shocker in the 2012 NCAA Tournament when it upset second-seeded Duke. McCollum dropped in 30 in the Mountain Hawks’ 75-70 first-round win over the Blue Devils, a team comprised of future pros Austin Rivers and Miles and Mason Plumlee. 4. McCollum has also overhauled his diet, enlisting the help of the team nutritionist and his mother, Kathy, who he says cooks his meals every day with organic ingredients. “In college, I ate Wendy’s at least three days a week, but I don’t do that anymore.” 5. McCollum could have written this story himself. A journalism major at Lehigh, McCollum spent three years with the school’s newspaper, including two as assistant sports editor. “My first year, I covered volleyball, football, lacrosse, field hockey, track and field—I covered everything.”

SAM FORENCICH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


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JUMP BALL HEAD 2 HEAD

LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Blake Griffn

The Spurs still may call Tim Duncan a power forward, but we all know he outgrew that position seven seasons ago. Anthony Davis and Kevin Love may grab AllNBA votes, but we all know they cannot truly be considered the greatest power forward today until they’ve at least led their respective teams to at least one playoff berth. So who is the greatest power forward in 2015? It’s got to be either L.A. or B.G., as confrmed in a 2014-15 NBA.com survey of League GMs, who selected LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffn together in a tie for frst. We’re here to break the tie.

01 Scoring: From the beginning, Portland has built its offense around LaMarcus Aldridge (+1.89 Offensive Real Plus-Minus in 2013-14), whether he was a 21-year-old, 22-minutes-per-game-playing rook learning under fellow pop-ashot power forward Zach Randolph and playing alongside fellow rookie standout Brandon Roy, or a 29-year-old vet of a fve-man fast-paced quintet quarterbacked by All-Star Damian Lillard, as he is today. Aldridge’s pick-and-rolls, pick-and-pops, post-ups and face-up drives are just a sampling of how he makes the Portland O run so effciently (108.3 points per 100 possessions in 2013-14, ranking ffth in NBA). Going on fve seasons as a 20-plus points-per-game scorer (he’s averaging 22 ppg through November 16, 2014), Aldridge has become a beast in the key (25-for44 so far in 2014-15) and one of the game’s best midrange shooters (47-for-109 this season). Similarly, Griffn (+2.65 ORPM) has also been the center of L.A.’s top-rated offense (109.4 points per 100 possessions, ranking frst in 2013-14) since he and Chris Paul split mayor duties in Lob City. Since that time, the 26-points-per-game scorer in 2013-14 has added a solid midrange J (improved from 34 to 40 percent from his rookie to current ffth NBA season) while continuing the roaring rim attacks (he makes 65.3 percent of shots in the restricted area). Advantage: Griffn.

02 ALDRIDGE

GRIFFIN

G

9

8

MPG

35.1

36.3

PPG

21.9

23.6

RPG

7.9

7.0

APG

2.6

3.6

BPG

1.0

0.5

FT%

.844

.741

2FG%

.462

.476

3FG%

.417

.667

3sPG

0.6

0.3

ORPM

+1.89

+2.65

DRPM

+3.23

+2.00

RPM

+5.12

+4.65

Stats as of November 16, 2014 Key: G games; MPG minutes per game; PPG points per game; APG assists per game; RPG rebounds per game; SPG steals per game; 2FG% two-point feld goal percentage; 3FG% three-point percentage; FT% free throw percentage; ORPM offensive real plus-minus; DRPM defensive real plus-minus; RPM real plus-minus.

024

Floor Game: No big runs the foor like Griffn. Nugget power forward Kenneth Faried may have the energy. Clippers teammate DeAndre Jordan may have greater reach. But nobody pushes both boundaries of high fight at top speeds on a constant loop like Griffn. Even in half-court settings, Griffn registers as many drives (22 non-fastbreak attacks from 20 feet to within 10 of the basket in 2014-15 so far) and team-points-per-drive (3.2 per game) as the top ballhandling bigs. Griffn’s 2.3 miles per game, logged by SportVU, only trails Paul Millsap, Kevin Love, Anthony Davis and Nikola Vucevic in the big-man category, with Aldridge appearing here amongst the leaders at 2.2 miles per game, rating 10th among bigs. Outside of his overall hustle, though, Aldridge is not going to wow you with his handle, registering only eight drives on the season for 0.4 team points per game off drives thus far. He is more the type to dribble, jab, step back and burn you with his long Js. Advantage: Griffn.

Blake Griffn

Forward, 6-10, 251 pounds Los Angeles Clippers


BY DARRYL HOWERTON #21

LaMarcus Aldridge Forward, 6-11, 240 pounds Portland Trail Blazers 03 Defense: Both men use size to their advantage, with Aldridge relying on length and Griffn more so on strength. Neither team, however, has been able to sustain much of a defensive foothold, even with DeAndre Jordan raising his defensive efforts in Los Angeles and Robin Lopez putting his anchor down in Portland. Still, the Clippers were no better than seventh in defensive effciency in 2013-14 (102.1) and 13th in defensive rebound percentage (74.7 percent), while Portland was 16th (104.7) and 26th (72.5 percent) respectively. All told, however, most of that blame would have to go to the second-string units of both the Clippers and Blazers because the defensive Real Plus-Minus numbers show both Aldridge (+3.23 DRPM) and Griffn (+2.00 DRPM) make signifcant impacts defensively when they are on the foor (Aldridge’s opponents make 53.3 percent of their 3.8 shots at rim per game; Griffn’s, 52.0 percent of 6.2 shots at rim). Neither will earn the All-Defense acclaim of a Roy Hibbert or vie for the shotblocking title with Serge Ibaka. But both L.A. and B.G. are top 10 defenders at their position and the difference between the two here is ever so slight. Advantage: Aldridge.

04 Leadership: Aldridge is the 29-year-old leader and resident vet of the Trail Blazers. Griffn shares his leadership role with Chris Paul, regarded as the League’s second-best leader by NBA GMs in the aforementioned NBA.com survey. Griffn is wildly loved and respected by teammates because he is so inclusive—and has been from the get-go—where most of those in his spotlight prefer the exclusivity. Teammates Paul and Jordan, among others, are often his co-stars in his comedic ventures picked up by Funny or Die, BGCP3TV Jordan spots and other social media comedic outlets. For now, however, Aldridge holds serve because he has been in Portland longer and can seal the leadership deal this summer by simply signing a fve-year max contract—a move that can keep him in Portland through 2020. Advantage: Aldridge.

05 Intangibles: It’s safe to say Paul would not be here if not for Griffn. Nobody wanted to be a Clipper until BG arrived in 2010. It’s safe to say the Clippers would not have re-signed Jordan had he not been Griffn’s best friend. Since that time, Jordan has proven to be worth the deal. And surely, head coach Doc Rivers would not have left Boston for the once-cursed Clippers franchise had he not seen Griffn, Paul and Jordan on the other coast’s horizon. Yes, Aldridge has his infuence too, making Portland appealing for Lopez when he was acquired via trade, and he also made everything accessible too for Lillard, who was acquired via draft. But Griffn’s star power wins out, continuing to attract the likes of J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Steve Ballmer et al, all while doing more to change the long-suffering perception of the franchise than any previous Clipper. Advantage: Griffn.

The Verdict Griffn may only be 25 (turns 26 in March), but it is safe to say he has become the best power forward in the game today. The Clippers are undoubtedly a perennial top 8 team—something Love and Davis cannot say about their squads—and he is the rare superstar who has gone toe-to-toe with the older Aldridge and come out unscathed (the Clippers and Blazers split four games in 2013-14, with the Clippers winning the lone matchup thus far in the 2014-15 season; in 11 head-to-head career matchups, Griffn averaged 23 and 11 at 50.0 feld goal percent, while Aldridge averaged 19 and 8 at 44.9 percent). In our fnal-tally tale-of-the-tape, Griffn wins the decision by thismuch, but we won’t argue with NBA GMs either when they declare this match a draw.

SAM FORENCICH; BROCK WILLIAMS-SMITH; ADAM PANTOZZI; CAMERON BROWNE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

025


JUMP BALL KNOW YOUR NEWB

NERLENS NOEL

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

ROOKIE CHRONICLES

team. I still have some work to do, but it’s all a work in progress. I’m 20 years old so I have to be patient with everything and just keep working.”

JABARI PARKER

Was the jump to the NBA what you imagined? It’s a lot coming from college, getting hurt, sitting out, and then just jumping in an 82-game season. It’s not easy at frst but I’ve made the transition. I’m keeping my mind right and we’re just getting through it. It’s a big adjustment so I’m just staying focused. I believe in what I’ve been working on, but I’m not anywhere near where I need to be. I’m putting on weight and getting stronger. I think offensively things will get easier for me, the stronger I get, the more weight I put on, the more durable I get. So I think that’s the main focus. Who were some NBA players you looked up to when you were younger? Kevin Garnett, he was defnitely one of my childhood role models. I loved his game, his passion, intensity. When he stepped on that court every night he gave it his all.

When the Sixers had an opportunity to trade for Nerlens Noel, they didn’t hesitate. Even though he would miss his entire frst year with an ACL injury, the hope was that the No. 6 pick from Kentucky in the 2013 NBA Draft would yield dividends upon his return. So far, Noel is making the Sixers brass look like patient geniuses. Noel is giving Philadelphia a shotblocking presence on one end and athletic scoring and rebounding on the other. While this is his second year in the NBA, he’s suiting up for the frst time, which still makes him technically a rookie. How did you deal with not playing last year? Having to sit out a year was tough obviously, being in this environment and wanting to play basketball. I used it to help my weaknesses, develop my shot and get better, so I found a silver lining through it. Do you have to perform rookie duties again this year? [laughs] That was last year—we had Spencer [Hawes], ET (Evan Turner), Thad (Thaddeus Young) last year; they were pretty tough. I tried to stay on their good side because you have to respect that. You go through that and it helps to discipline you. Did the veteran leadership and not playing help you for what you are experiencing now? Defnitely, it put me in the right state of mind. Coming into this year and having all these young guys, [I had to] implement myself into more of a leader for this 026

People always associate you with your hair. Does that ever bother you ? [laughs] Yeah, my hair—I watched a lot of Fresh Prince growing up, [Will Smith] was one of my role models as well and now he’s part owner of the team, which is crazy! I haven’t met him yet so I hope to meet him sometime soon, hopefully he gets to a game. You missed out on Drake at Kentucky’s midnight madness event. Did you get a chance to meet him? I haven’t met Drake. I saw him at the Toronto game. He’s a big Wildcats fan, but I haven’t met him though. What type of shoe do you like to wear in games? I really wear whatever is comfortable. I like fashion as well so making sure the colors are always right is important, but I’m going to start seeing what shoes I can really start feeling more comfortable in. I have Under Armour now, and some Nike. Primarily those two, but some adidas as well. I’m going to see what I’m going to go with. What’s it been like playing alongside Michael Carter-Williams? It’s been great having Michael with me, growing up with him all through the high school years and playing with him [in AAU]. He’s a different player, becoming more of a point guard now and he’s just continuing to get better. He had a great college run and he’s developed a lot, so it’s great to have that chemistry already and now we can put it to use as teammates in the NBA. I think now our chemistry will go to another level on the court. ANTHONY GILBERT #1

Since I was drafted, life has been really busy, just learning and being in the adult world, having more responsibilities and just basically growing up. It wasn’t really that tough fnding a home here in Milwaukee, or getting acclimated with anything because I’m from the Midwest. I’ve been here basically since being drafted, so I know the area pretty well. It’s pretty much like my second home. My mom has really been helping me with setting up and installing different pieces of furniture for me and getting all the home necessities. The travel is no joke. You really have to take care of your body, got to take advantage of your treatment. You just have to take care of your body so you can preserve yourself. It’s real good getting to play against the guys I looked up to. I’m playing against some of the top competition; it’s what I always dreamed about. That’s the reason I left Duke. I just wanted to improve my game and grow. The most diffcult players I’ve guarded so far are all the bigs because they take their time and take up so much space. I just have to use my quickness to my advantage. The best piece of advice I got coming into the League is to never take shortcuts, always be worried about the next game and what you can improve on. The best asset any NBA player can have is effort level—that’s what you can control. You can’t control whether your shot is falling for you, or whether your body isn’t feeling the best, but you can always put forth the effort.* —Jabari Parker #12 * Ed Note: This entry was written right before Parker’s unfortunate season-ending ACL injury. We wish you a swift recovery, Jabari. JESSE D. GARRABRANT; STEVE FREEMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


JUMP BALL BY JIM EICHENHOFER #12 FIRST FIVE

In addition to helping the Lakers fight through a forgettable start this season,1 power forward Ed Davis also helped fight hunger—that of TNT’s Charles Barkley.2 After registering 10 points and five rebounds to spark Los Angeles’ first win, Davis tweeted “Charles your fat [butt] can eat now.” The son of a former NBA player,3 Davis explains that the tweet was all in good fun. “He always gives people a hard time and is riding everyone, so I had to take a shot at him,” the fifthyear pro says. “A lot of people thought it was funny.”4 The initial reaction to Davis’ debut campaign as a Laker has been similarly positive. Early in the season, the left-handed post player was averaging career highs in scoring and rebounding. Perhaps just as importantly, he was in the rotation every night, a rarity for a player who’s been playing behind an elite and durable player like Zach Randolph the past two seasons. “The last couple years in Memphis, the minutes were very sporadic,5 up and down,” Davis says. “This year I’m getting in a good groove. I’m trying to take advantage of it and help the team win when I’m out there.” A certain TNT analyst’s stomach is very thankful for that. BONUS POINTS 1. Los Angeles began 0-5, its worst opening to a regular season since 1957. 2. Barkley memorably said on air that he wouldn’t eat until the Lakers won their first game. L.A. broke through a few days later, beating Charlotte on 11/9/14. 3. His father, Terry Davis, also a southpaw power forward, played in the League from 1989-2001. 4. Davis jokes that he was preparing for a post-basketball career in stand-up comedy. 5. Despite the inconsistent minutes, Davis praises Grizzlies power forward Randolph for helping him improve as a player. “I learned a lot from Z-Bo,” Davis says. “He’s so efficient, without being athletic at all. He can’t jump over a phone book, but he can get you 20 and 10 a night.”

21 ED

DAVIS

FORWARD - LOS ANGELES LAKERS ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES

027


JUMP BALL BRACK-IT

EIGHT THINGS. ONE UNDISPUTED CHAMP.

BEST TWO-WAY PLAYER L e BRON JAMES VS. KLAY THOMPSON In each of his frst three seasons, Thompson has shot over 40 percent from threepoint range and is primed to be a 20-ppg scorer for the next decade. Defensively, he’s made huge strides, becoming the top perimeter defender in the Warriors’ starting fve. Thompson’s combination of size and overlooked speed allows him to be effective defending different types of scorers. When the Warriors were in the mix this offseason to acquire Kevin Love, it was Thompson they refused to relinquish, believing his defense was integral to the team’s success. For LeBron, the numbers speak for themselves: over 25 ppg for 10 straight seasons, he shot over 56 percent in his last two seasons with the Miami Heat, an eight-time All-NBA First Team selection and fve-time All-Defensive First Team. On offense, when LeBron decides he wants to get to the rim, few can stop him. On the other end, he’ll take away a fast break opportunity in a hurry with one of his signature chase down blocks. Thompson is still developing and becoming more consistent on both ends of the foor. The King moves on.

MARC GASOL VS. JIMMY BUTLER It’s incredible how far both players have come considering their paths. Gasol was once considered the throw-in when the Lakers acquired his older brother Pau from the Grizzlies. He’s since developed into Memphis’ anchor on both ends of the foor. To watch him operate in the high post on offense is a thing of beauty. Gasol can hit the perimeter jumper, take you into the low post, or fnd the open man as one of the best passing bigs in the League. The 2013 Defensive Player of the Year is a huge part of the team’s grit n’ grind identity, which makes them the team no one wants to play in the West playoffs. With injuries to Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler has seen his responsibilities on both ends of the foor increase the last couple seasons. Last year, he averaged a career high 13.1 ppg, along with 1.9 steals and 0.5 blocks, and was one of the stingiest perimeter defenders. So far this season, he’s eclipsed 21.6 ppg and has yet to see a defensive assignment he can’t handle. With respect to Butler, Gasol is the two-way anchor on a title contender in the West. He gets the nod in this battle.

028

RAJON RONDO VS. KAWHI LEONARD Rajon Rondo has led the League in assists and steals, and consistently ranks in the top fve in those categories every season. He’s not only a terrifc quarterback at the point guard position but can infuence the game in so many ways even without scoring. A potential triple-double threat on a nightly basis, and one of the best rebounding guards in the League despite his size, Rondo has been the best player in playoff series that have involved Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Not many, if any, can lay stake to that claim. Kawhi Leonard is just 23 years old and already has a Finals MVP award on his mantle and was named to the All-Defensive Second Team last season. Like a shutdown cornerback in the NFL, his ability to singlecover the elite wings in the League—Kevin Durant and LeBron—allows the Spurs to do so much on the defensive end. His three-point shooting and overall offensive game are steadily improving, and very soon he will be “The Big One” in San Antonio, as coach Gregg Popovich calls him. A tough decision since both players were instrumental in helping their teams win championships early in their careers. But the ceiling for Leonard is so high, he has to move on to the next round.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK VS. ANTHONY DAVIS Two athletic freaks on the foor and absolute nightmares to defend on a nightly basis, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis regularly erase points on one end and convert them into points on the opposite end. Westbrook has averaged over 20 ppg and 1.5 steals for four straight seasons. The unorthodox ways he’s able to get to the rim is a thing of beauty. At times, it feels like no one can really stop him from getting to where he wants to be on the foor. His size and skill set make him a superb defender, especially with his active hands and above average court sense. Davis is a whole other type of destructive force. He made his frst All-Star team last season at the age of 20. About a quarter of the way through his third season, he’s averaging 25.2 ppg and leads the League in both steals (2.3) and blocks (3.1) per game while still coming into his own offensively. Westbrook is a terrifc player, but Davis is a true franchise player and a future MVP candidate. He’s on to the next round.


BY STEVEN LEBRON #88

JAMES VS. LEONARD It only makes sense that James and Leonard meet up. After all, they have faced off in two consecutive Finals, with both walking away with a title each as Finals MVP. After a quiet start to the series, Leonard was masterful in last year’s Finals, going toe to toe with LeBron and holding his own, and absolutely fustering the Heat with his defense. But don’t forget that beyond carrying the offensive burden for the Heat, LeBron’s versatility and ability to guard all fve positions allowed Erik Spoelstra to design a ball swarming defense predicated on his best player’s ability to cover so much of the foor by himself. Add that to the fact that he’s a physical force to handle on offense, and LeBron wins this battle, even if he’s coming off a defeat to Leonard and the Spurs.

JAMES VS. GASOL Back in Cleveland, LeBron is taking on the task of leading a much younger roster with very little playoff experience to the promised land. After a slow start, the Cavaliers have turned up their intensity on both ends of the foor. A lot of the credit goes to LeBron, who continues to be a dominant player on either end. Gasol may be the anchor and most valuable player on the Grizzlies, but it’s hard to compare even his impact to what LeBron can do to infuence a game and an entire franchise. He’s good enough to carry a team by himself to the Finals. Cavaliers fans have seen it before, but they might see it again this season. LeBron, the king of both ends of the court.

BEST TWO-WAY PLAYER: DAVIS VS. GASOL On paper, the stats suggest that Davis is the much better player. He’s also a human highlight reel, doing inexplicable things like blocking two jumpers on one possession, forcing a turnover and taking the ball the full length of the foor in just a few dribbles. It’s scary watching Davis to think there’s still so much room for growth. Despite not having the gaudy stats or the SportsCenter highlights, Gasol’s steadiness is what makes him so valuable. Along with Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies have made several playoff runs together including a Conference Finals appearance. The way he solidifes Memphis’ defense and allows the offense to run through him because of his versatile skill set makes him an incredibly valuable championship piece. It’ll be Davis’ world soon, but right now, Gasol has the pedigree and team success to carry him through to the fnals.

LeBRON JAMES

NATHANIEL S. BUTLER; GREGORY SHAMUS; ROCKY WIDNER (2); JOE MURPHY; NOSH GRAHAM; LAYNE MURDOCH; CHRIS COVATTA; BRIAN BABINEAU/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES; STEPHEN DUNN; STACY REVER; ALEX GOODLETT; HARRY HOW; DOUG PENSINGER; MIKE LAWRIE/GETTY IMAGES

029


JUMP BALL BY STEVE HUNT #29

FIRST FIVE

Some players might view a D-League assignment as a bad thing, but not Cory Joseph. The fourth-year Spurs point guard played 40 games for San Antonio’s D-League affiliate in Austin1 during both the 2011-12 and 2012-132 seasons, experience he knows is now paying huge dividends. “It was really big for me because I really do feel like if you’re not getting time in the NBA, you should go down to the D-League and get some playing time and experience,” says Joseph. “I got down there and got comfortable with the sets, so when I got back to the Spurs and got called upon, I was ready.” Last season, Joseph played a career-high 68 games3 for San Antonio.4 He was asked to fill in at the point while Tony Parker was injured and this year is being asked to help fill the early-season void left by three-point specialist Patty Mills, who had offseason shoulder surgery— challenges he has embraced.5 “You have to be ready every game because you never know when your name’s going to be called,” he says. “I just have to focus and try to capitalize on those opportunities because every time out there, you’re trying to make a name for yourself.”

BONUS POINTS 1. Cory also played his college ball in Austin, averaging 10.4 points and 3.6 rebounds for Texas in his lone season with the Longhorns in 2010-11. 2. Joseph was named to the 2013 All-NBA D-League Second Team and Defensive Teams. 3. Last season, he averaged 5 points, 1.7 assists and 1.6 rebounds for the Spurs. 4. The Spurs selected Joseph 29th overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. 5. Over his first dozen games this season, Joseph took well to the added responsibilities, averaging a career-best 17.5 mpg and 7.8 ppg.

5 CORY

JOSEPH

GUARD - SAN ANTONIO SPURS

030

STEPHEN DUNN/GETTY IMAGES


JIM EICHENHOFER #12

CHECK YO MAN

CARMELO ANTHONY On November 2, Carmelo Anthony became the sixth-youngest player in NBA history to reach 20,000 career points. Now in his 12th season, Anthony fgures to move into the all-time top 20 scoring list at some point during his current fve-year contract with New York (Knicks legend Patrick Ewing entered this season ranked 20th in history with 24,815 points). How do you try to stop a scorer with Anthony’s combination of size (6-8, 240 pounds) and shooting ability? HOOP asked some of the defenders who have been tasked with that unenviable challenge. One team we didn’t ask? The Charlotte Hornets, who were the opposition last season when Anthony racked up a career-high 62 points in a game, breaking the all-time Madison Square Garden single-game record.

TREVOR ARIZA, HOUSTON ROCKETS SF/SG 6-8, 200 POUNDS “Before going against Melo, I try to watch his last fve games and see what spots he’s been comfortable shooting from because it changes. I try to steer him away from those spots as much as I can, because those are the spots that really get him going. Also, the majority of my help is at the basket, so I try to steer him to the basket as well.”

MATT BARNES, L.A. CLIPPERS SF/PF 6-7, 235 POUNDS “Melo can shoot it in transition and also has a load of moves in the post. You always have to fnd a way to get your body on him, a hand up and try and make it as diffcult as possible for him. He is used to the double-teams coming, so he looks for his offense right away when he gets the ball. You just have to limit him as much as you can. can. You know he is going to score points, just try and make it diffcult during the game, giving him different looks on defense.”

WESLEY JOHNSON, L.A. LAKERS SF/SG 6-7, 205 POUNDS “You try to frustrate him. Mix it up. He can score in different ways, so you have to make it tough for him to catch it. Get up in his grill or other times get off of him. Just mix it up, because he adapts to everything pretty quickly. He’s a wonderful scorer so you defnitely have to give him different looks.”

TONY ALLEN, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES SG 6-4, 213 POUNDS “If I have to stick him, the best thing to do is limit his touches. Ain’t no stopping guys like that. You have to prepare for the worst. But I don’t want to give too much out. Just watch me this year. You’ll fnd out.” TYREKE EVANS, NEW ORLEANS PELICANS SG/SF 6-6, 220 POUNDS “You just try to take up his space and not let him be free. The more pressure you put on, the tougher it is. Good scorers will fnd a way to score, but you have to try to make him take tough shots. If he puts the ball on the foor, don’t give him space. Try to be all over him and when you contest a shot, make sure you do it with your hands straight up.” 031 RON HOSKINS; ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN; BILL BAPTIST; NED DISHMAN; SAM FORENCICH; JUAN OCAMPO/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


JUMP BALL PERIPHERAL VISION

BARRY MEISEL

PRESIDENT, MEIGRAY GROUP

Once NBA players shed their jerseys postgame, a whole new game begins. Sweat-drenched uniforms might just be dirty laundry to some, but for many fans, it’s a coveted piece of the game they love. The person in charge of bridging the locker room with the fan’s trophy room is Barry Meisel. As COO and president of MeiGray Group, Meisel and his team authenticate each and every game-worn jersey that is put up for sale or auction via an exclusive partnership with the NBA at auctions.nba.com and nbagameworn.com. After a successful journalism career, did you ever think you’d be back in the sports memorabilia business? When I started my career as a sportswriter I never dreamed that I’d be dealing memorabilia again, but the light bulb went off in the mid ’90s and I saw a real need for a company like mine to partner with the teams and leagues because there was a lot of stuff in the marketplace that was less than genuine. I felt it was an opportunity for a legitimate company to come in to work with the NBA. Did your company approach the NBA or was it vice versa? The frst league we worked with was the NHL in 2002. Based off of the success of the NHL program we were introduced to the person who handles memorabilia for the NBA. We began a dialogue and we began a partnership with the NBA in 2006. 032

How do you acquire the NBA jerseys that are auctioned off? Everything goes through the program. We offer jerseys in two ways: auctions.nba.com offers specifc sets like Christmas Day jerseys or tip-off games or All-Star Game jerseys. We also offer a variety of superstar jerseys worn in selected games over the course of the year for sale at nbagameworn.com. Do you travel to games and watch the jerseys as they come out of the locker room? All the time, yes, that is part of the system. I’m not at every game but there are many ways to authenticate using photos, using video. We conclusively prove using photo evidence that every jersey is authentic. But at the All-Star Game, NBA Finals and the big events, I’m right there. What steps go into authentication of a jersey? We are required by our own standards to photo match every jersey. Every jersey is unique. Between the print of the names and the numbers, the stitching, the air knit holes, you can prove a particular jersey is one that a player wore. It’s kind of like every jersey is a fngerprint and we check those fngerprints when the jerseys come in off of the photographs of the games that the players played in to conclusively prove that the jerseys are real.

What is the most one jersey has ever gone for? LeBron’s last championship season, red Finals jersey from Game 1, went for $50,020 and that was No. 1. The jersey LeBron wore in his frst game back to Cleveland was a great jersey and consequently two very serious collectors battled it out and it went for $50,040. It beat the Finals jersey from 2013-14 by $20. What do these collectors do with these jerseys once they buy them? Very few actually wear them. Most people usually frame them or put them on mannequins under glass with some kind of form so it looks like a living, breathing piece of memorabilia. I’m a collector, that’s what I do. What player or team gets the most demand? It’s the top stars and top teams in the League— LeBron, Kobe, Kevin Durant, and Tim Duncan. Another well-desired item is the rookie jersey. People like the frst jersey of a player making his NBA debut—this year Jabari Parker, you had Kyrie Irving several years ago—players of that caliber or when a player comes out of nowhere and does really well like Jeremy Lin. Superstars, top rookies and great stories. BRANDEN PETERS #63


BY JON COOPER #10 FIRST FIVE

9

LUOL

DENG

Supplanting a two-time League and Finals MVP is understatedly hard, if not downright impossible, but somebody had to be tasked with the unenviable job of replacing1 LeBron James in Miami. Luol Deng was the Heat’s choice. They couldn’t have chosen more wisely. The 29-year-old, 6-9, 220-pound forward from Sudan won’t be thrown by the pressure of others’ expectations. After all, the Deng family’s journey2 to this country was trying enough—his family fled Sudan during the second Sudanese Civil War to avoid being one of the many casualties from the fallout. Replacing James in the lineup will seem like shooting a free throw. The comparisons will be inevitable, but Deng doesn’t see it that way. “I don’t see [replacing James]3 as tough. I’m not looking at it that way,” he says. “I’m not trying to come in and be somebody I’m not. I would never try to be somebody. We have a lot of good players on this team and I’m just an addition to it.” A solid and steady player in his 11 seasons4—Deng is a night-in-night-out grinder and a one-time NBA AllDefensive Teamer—Deng is already a nice piece in the post-LeBron puzzle. “I think he’s done a good job of trying to figure out how to be successful on this team, where his niche is,” said guard Dwyane Wade. “There are going to be some games he’s going to have an explosion, like he did in Dallas,5 and then there are going to be games where he’s going to struggle a little bit. But he’s figuring it out. He’s a great teammate, a great individual and we love having him.” Deng may soon be as beloved in Miami as he is in his native Sudan and in Great Britain,6 where he does tireless charity work through his foundation.7 “I was a refugee,” says Deng, who wears #9 to honor his mother. “I always remind myself of where I used to be and the fact that there are kids out there and people out there, if they get the opportunity, they can do amazing things.” Like replacing legends with tireless work ethic. BONUS POINTS 1. From a production standpoint, James represented 26.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.7 spg, 29.6 PER and 65.3 win shares in his four years in South Beach. 2. Before Deng’s arrival to the United States, his family fled to Egypt before settling in London. While in Egypt, he was introduced to the game by fellow countryman Manute Bol. 3. Coincidentally, James is filling Deng’s shoes this season; Deng started 40 games as Cleveland’s starting small forward after a midseason trade from Chicago. 4. Deng averaged 15.2 ppg over his first 11 seasons. 5. Deng went off for 30 points on 13-of-19 shooting, 4-for-9 from three in Miami’s 105-96 win over the Mavericks on 11/9/14 at American Airlines Center. 6. Luol became a naturalized citizen of Great Britain in 2006 and represented Britain in the 2012 Olympic Games. 7. For more information on his international work, visit LuolDeng.org or his personal website LuolDeng.com.

FORWARD - MIAMI HEAT FERNANDO MEDINA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

033


JUMP BALL NUMEROLOGY

No. 1 x 11 Only 11 No. 1 overall picks in the NBA Draft have ever won the MVP award: Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Magic Johnson, Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.

13,418 On 11/11/14, Kobe missed the 13,421st shot of his 19-year career, making him the all-time NBA leader in missed feld goals. Of course, Kobe also has 11,121 makes in that same span of time.

14.4

20 700

The average margin of loss during the Philadelphia 76ers’ 17-game losing streak to open the 201415 season. This includes a 53-point thumping at the hands of the Mavericks on 11/13/14.

When Nike unveiled the Kyrie

1, Kyrie Irving’s own signature shoe, Irving became just the 20th player Nike has offered that distinction to.

1 LeBron James was the most searched athlete on Google in 2014. Among NBA players, the top 10 searches were for All-Star players: James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Kevin Love, Ray Allen, Steve Nash and Joakim Noah. The lone exception: Lance Stephenson. 034

On 11/5/14, Dwyane Wade blocked the 700th shot of his career, making him the 151st player to ever hit that plateau. But among players 6-4 (Wade’s listed height), Wade sits as the undisputed block king.

197 The additional number of games it took Kobe Bryant to surpass 32,292 career points, Michael Jordan’s spot on the NBA’s alltime list. Bryant still trails Jordan in playoff scoring, 5,987 to 5,640.

JESSE D. GARRABRANT; ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES; EZRA SHAW; ANDY LYONS; MIKE EHRMANN/GETTY IMAGES;


DANCE LIFE

JESSICA

INDIANA PACEMATE How did you get into dance? My mom actually owns a dance studio, so I started dancing at age 3. I was born and raised into it. I did it all throughout elementary, middle and high school. I went to Indiana University Bloomington and was part of a student-run dance organization called In Motion there. Then I learned about Pacemate auditions coming up as I was getting ready to graduate. I knew I still wanted to dance, [I was] looking for opportunities and I knew it was something I would love to do. The opportunity came up, I auditioned and here I am. How long have you been dancing with the Pacemates? This is actually my eighth season dancing with the Pacemates. I’ve been around for a while. What was your first game like? Oh, my gosh, that was a long time ago. It was nerveracking, but very, very exciting. We had a small run-through prior to the first game, but you never really can plan for every single thing you’re going to encounter. I was more nervous than anything else— the stage is a lot bigger, you’re on TV, and you’re in front of thousands of people. “Am I going to mess up? Is my uniform going to fall off?”—all of these things are going through my head. But it was very exciting too, cause I had achieved something I had wanted to do for such a long time.

What has been your highlight as a member of the Pacemates? I have so many, I honestly do this because I love to dance and love to perform, that’s definitely something that stands out. There are so many, in terms of games. The two moments throughout the season that stick out to me are opening night, cause it’s always a huge deal, and then playoffs. There’s so much excitement about both of those moments, everyone is excited, they want to see how well the team is doing, and what more can you say about the playoffs, it’s the most exciting time with everyone that is involved in the NBA. The Pacers aren’t as strong this year as they have been in years past. Does that make your job even more important? I’m a diehard Pacers fan, so my role never changes. The importance I put behind what I do and what our team does is the same day in and day out. We put in the same amount of effort and excitement we would whether it’s different seasons, different teams, or different players. If Dancing With the Stars calls, and you have to choose a member of the Pacers as your partner, who would it be? I would have to say Roy Hibbert. I’ve seen him do a flash mob before, one of the Pacemates worked with him before and said he was really nervous, but had a

blast doing it. He did a really awesome job, I think he could handle himself on Dancing With the Stars, so I would have to go with him. DUANE WATSON #7

FIRST RIDE

MONTA ELLIS It was a 1995 Ford Explorer. The windows didn’t let down. The air conditioner didn’t work. That’s about it. My mom got it for me at the end of my ninth-grade year going into my sophomore year. I changed up [my car] every year [back then]. I went from there to Tahoes, the ’99 Unlimited. Yeah, I got to ride big boy. With those, you’ve got to get the wheels going. I still have my first car that I had in the NBA. I drove that today. It’s an Escalade. I’ve had that 10 years. Yeah that’s the longest I’ve ever had a car. I go about five or six years before I change out. But that one, I couldn’t get rid of even if I wanted to. I still drive it to the game like I said. But yeah, I still remember that Explorer, I can’t forget it. It was in the wintertime and your windows don’t let down, your heat doesn’t work. It’s kind of bad. Yeah, it was kind of bad. MONTA ELLIS AS TOLD TO STEVE HUNT #29

GLENN JAMES/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

035


JUMP BALL 24 SECONDS

with GORDON HAYWARD

HOOP: We tried to read the blog you tweeted out, but your website had crashed. HAYWARD: You can go read it now. There was just so much traffic. We kind of broke the Internet there for a little bit. HOOP: For those who haven’t read it, your tweet was referring to the League of Legends,5 at which you claimed to be “the best athlete on earth.” Has anyone challenged that? HAYWARD: Nobody. I’m still waiting [laughs]. You know, the thing is, there are not very many people in pro sports that play League of Legends. At least I haven’t found them yet. HOOP: What comparisons are there between League of Legends and the NBA? HAYWARD: They’re both team games. That’s the biggest comparison. They’re both five-on-five and everybody has their own role, so you need everybody to do it. HOOP: How many hours a week do you play videogames?6 HAYWARD: It depends on what we have going on, but I’d probably say a couple hours a day—so roughly 14 a week. HOOP: And are those couple hours a day after your wife7 is asleep? HAYWARD: [laughs] Those are when she’s away from the house or asleep, yeah.

HOOP: Your website1 talks a lot about G-Time. Was your game-winning shot over Cleveland the definition of G-Time? HAYWARD: No. G-Time is just a nickname for me. So I don’t know if that specific moment was G-Time, but it was G-Time that hit the shot. HOOP: How often had you played those final moments in your driveway or at the park as a kid? HAYWARD: Yeah, I played that type of moment, but I was always Reggie Miller in my backyard. HOOP: Reggie was your guy, huh? HAYWARD: Reggie was everybody’s guy in Indiana.2 HOOP: Favorite Reggie moment? HAYWARD: My favorite Reggie moment was when he pushed3 off Michael Jordan and came around a curl, and knocked down a shot to win the game against the Bulls in the playoffs. HOOP: What did you appreciate most about Reggie’s game? HAYWARD: He’s one of the all-time great three-point shooters, but I think he was just a gamer. He would always rise to the occasion. Whenever there was a big-time play that needed to happen or a big-time shot, he always made it. That’s what I loved about him. HOOP: Your buzzer beater vs. the Cavs was kind of ironic coming only a couple of weeks after you tweeted4 that you would “crush” LeBron one-on-one. HAYWARD: It was. Before the game, I was thinking, “I need to make sure I have a good game, so people don’t try to take what I said and run with it.” That [tweet] was just good fun, but it kind of ended up coming true to some extent. 036

HOOP: So are videogames causing you some early marital stress? HAYWARD: They aren’t right now. I haven’t made the wrong decision yet to play videogames instead of hang with her. I’m sure when I do that, I’ll be sleeping on the couch. HOOP: Congratulations on the wedding by the way. We hear you cried when she came down the aisle? HAYWARD: It got emotional. HOOP: Nothing wrong with that. What’s the best present you got from a teammate? HAYWARD: I think just the fact that I had my teammate Jeremy Evans show up and come to the wedding. For him to take time out of his offseason to come to my wedding was pretty cool. HOOP: Well, we had an amazing present for you, but our invitation must have gotten lost in the mail. HAYWARD: You know what, we’re still accepting presents, so... HOOP: You must like racing games. We heard you just splurged on a Tesla. HAYWARD: Yeah, I used to play a lot of PGR, Project Gotham Racing, and I’ve played Forza, the new game that came out on XBox One. Those are fun. HOOP: We were really just asking, hoping you would tell us about your ride.


BY JERAMIE MCPEEK #4

HAYWARD: Man, it’s got torque. If you’ve never driven a Tesla before, it’s the most fun car you’ll ever drive. It’s like one of those roller coasters that just take off right at the beginning. Unbelievable acceleration, but just really smooth. It’s a car that’s ahead of its time for sure. HOOP: Any speeding tickets yet? HAYWARD: No, I haven’t. Knock on wood. HOOP: We were going to ask if you play tennis videogames, but instead we’ll just ask about your high school tennis career. HAYWARD: I enjoyed the fact that it was just one-on-one. I had played basketball and other team sports, so to have a chance to go one-onone was something that I really liked. Everything was on me. When you won, you got all the glory, and when you lost, there was no one else you could blame. HOOP: Who was the better tennis player, you or your twin sister, Heather?8 HAYWARD: That’s not even a question. I was always better. HOOP: Would she say the same thing? HAYWARD: She would. I’ve never actually lost to her. I’m the top of the tennis ladder in our family. HOOP: What kind of tennis game do you possess? HAYWARD: My serve and volley. If you’ve ever seen John Isner9 play, that’s kind of how I played. I think he’s like 6-8 or 6-9. HOOP: So height is a big advantage in tennis? HAYWARD: Yeah. You can place your serve wherever you want to. Plus, once you’re at the net, it’s hard to get around you or get it over you. HOOP: Okay, let’s get back to basketball10 to wrap this up. What’s the outlook for the Jazz this season? HAYWARD: I think we’re a lot further along than we expected to be. We’ve won some close games, we’ve lost some close games. But I think we’re learning. Hopefully by January or February, we’ll be a much better team.

BONUS POINTS 1. Visit gordonhayward20.com to learn more about G-Time. 2. Gordon was born and raised in Indiana, where his father, Gordon Sr., coached him up until high school. 3. It was Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Semis. A game the Pacers won, in a series they barely lost in seven to the Bulls. 4. Not only did Hayward’s tweet say that he would crush King James, but he attached a graphic with a quote saying a matchup between them would be “a straight up annihilation.” 5. LoL is a multiplayer online battle arena game, inspired by the Warcraft series. 6. During the 2011 NBA offseason, Hayward joined the IGN Pro League. 7. Gordon’s wife Robyn posted a frowning selfie on Instagram this summer with her new husband gaming in the background. 8. Gordon and Heather were featured in the Indianapolis Star after playing mixed doubles together in the Indiana State Open in 2005. 9. According to Wikipedia, the 6-10 Isner is “one of the greatest servers the game has ever seen.” 10. As big a gamer as Hayward is, he’s never played NBA 2K.

MELISSA MAJCHRZAK; JESSE D. GARRABRANT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

037


Join us

worldwildlife.org Untitled-1 1

10/10/12 10:04 AM


HOOP

A-Z OF THE NBA With apologies to all the preschoolers struggling with their ABCs, we wish there were more letters in the alphabet. Having just 24 letters between A and Z makes it tough to fully encapsulate and appreciate all the players, teams and storylines going on in the NBA. So we trudge on, leaving many on the cutting room oor, while remaining hopeful the English language conjures up some new letters to ease our hardship. Perhaps next year we’ll consider some emojis.

039


APOPHENIA

noun; the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between random or unrelated things.

E

very NBA team nowadays has an advanced metrics team in place in coaching staff and general manager offces throughout the League. That is a far cry from the day HOOP did a story on the movement back in our November/December 2010 issue, where we trumpeted the NBA’s analytics movement by saying, “Today’s game is measured beyond points, rebounds and assists.” Real Plus-Minus. Offensive and Defensive Effciency. SportVU Player Tracking. They’re all part of the sports nomenclature now, along with dozens of other accepted advanced stats. However, there are still GMs, coaches, players and fans lost in this sea of numbers—Hello, Byron Scott!—who don’t see the connection to advanced stats and winning ball. Because of that, we have assembled a panel of three who give the secrets to the kingdom from which they rest, translating these numbers nuggets for one and all. Former NBA player Shane Battier says his secret to piquing four-time League MVP LeBron James’ interest was to start off by showing his Miami Heat teammate his most-effcient shooting zones, something LeBron agreed with and could comprehend easily. “LeBron is an extremely intelligent player,” says Battier, “and like any intelligent player, you’re always looking for a slight edge. He’d then convert the thinking on defense from offense and see through the numbers, thinking, ‘If I know I can shave off 10 basis points by sending a guy left versus right, I know over the long run, that 10 percent may help me win a game.” Former quant analyst turned Mavs assistant coach turned Mavs’ assistant GM Roland Beech says his learning (and turning) point came with face-to-face interaction. “Email reports aren’t going to get you very far if you’re not in there face-to-face,” says Beech. “Looking back on my days as an NBA consultant, I had no real understanding of how to impart this knowledge to the coaches or players on our team. It’s easy to get a fairly simplistic view of things sometimes. People forget we’re dealing with human beings with personalities and motivational differences between what may be good for them and what may be good for the team. Basketball is a very interactive game.” Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, 040

who took two Butler squads to two NCAA championship games, was thought to be the frst NBA coaching hire already immersed in the analytics world as a college numbers fend. “It’s just in my wiring,” says Stevens. “I like to fgure out puzzles and those types of things. I think the biggest misperception is that I was starting some trend. The analytics movement has been going on in the NBA for years and years. All coaches have used statistics, some more than others. For me, I am only interested in what’s important to our team: how do we fgure out our strengths; how do we use the numbers to be the best we can be; from there, how do we fgure out our opponents. This has been going on in Boston for a long time, led by Mike Zarren, our assistant GM. They have a mountain-load of information. The numbers really help. But for me, it’s about coaching, it’s about basketball, it’s about people. I think that has more to do with basketball culture than the numbers.” You hear it everywhere in the lingo now. Tim Duncan worked on shooting this summer in his most effcient shooting zones. LeBron James wanted to make sure the Cavaliers had a

similar advanced metrics scouting report system in place as the one in Miami with Battier and Co. Stephen Curry showed he too is just as curious what the numbers show by following Golden State’s updated league-leading defensive effciency numbers with fervor, even moreso than his own true shooting percentage. The numbers are indeed translating. And the game’s superstars indeed are becoming quite fuent in the new language. — Darryl Howerton #21

JOE MURPHY/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


BRICOLAGE

noun; construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand.

W

ho knows exactly what Sam Hinkie is thinking? The Philadelphia 76ers president and general manager says his plan is to build a championship contender in Philly and with it, some bumps in the road are to be expected. But the Sixers have fallen into a sinkhole. The Sixers are bad, historically bad, and they have been since Hinkie took over in May 2013. They lost 26 straight last year, tied for the worst streak in NBA history, and fnished with just 18 wins, second worst in the NBA. They opened 0-17 this year and looked dreadful doing it, getting blown out by 53 points against the Mavericks and losing by double digits in fve others. It got so bad face-of-the-franchise Michael Carter-Williams, the lone bright spot in his 2013 Rookie-of-the-Year campaign, wrote an article on Derek Jeter’s Players’ Tribune website in November proclaiming the 76ers aren’t tanking. (We co-sign; who likes being a punching bag every night?) In fact, Carter-Williams said he abhors losing so much he watched The Ellen Degeneres Show much of last season, “To get away from the frustration of losing.” (Now we really believe him.) All the while Hinkie, the low-profle 37-year-old who was formerly the youngest vice president in NBA history with the Rockets, sticks by his plan of sacrifcing now for the future. He’s sold high: Trading two of the 76ers best players—Jrue Holiday in 2013 and Thaddeus Young this past offseason—for future draft picks and role players. And bought low: Acquiring Nerlens Noel and drafting Joel Embiid, a pair of blue chippers in the two recent drafts, on the cheap because both players were coming off injuries, but still have great potential. He’s maintained the 76ers' cap fexibility and positioned them to make JESSE D. GARRABRANT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

a splash in free agency, if they ever so choose. It’s not a revolutionary process to build a winning franchise. We’ve seen success stories like the Oklahoma City Thunder; they took their lumps while stockpiling draft picks and incubating that precocious young talent while retaining cap fexibility. But in the Thunder’s case it was played out in front of a new and happy-to-be-there fan base in Oklahoma City with a modest sports media presence, compared to the win-or-die culture of Philadelphia with a proud basketball heritage indicated by the trio of championship banners in its rafters. Fear not, City of Brotherly Love. There is an educated thought process to Hinkie’s plan. Don’t forget, the dude went to Stanford. Hinkie was hired by Philadelphia to clean house, start anew and build a contender from the ground up. That takes more time than a year and a half With the Rockets, Hinkie was part of a three-year teardown where they stockpiled draft

picks, built a young roster, acquired undervalued and cost-effective players, and became cap fexible. Sound familiar? The Rockets missed the playoffs three straight years. Now look at them. They have James Harden and Dwight Howard leading the franchise, are Western Conference contenders and play one of the most exciting brands of basketball in the NBA. That’s reason for hope. —Brian A. Giuffra #17

041


CHICHI

adj; fashionable or showy especially in a way that is meant to impress people or to attract attention.

I

t’s been close to 10 years since the League implemented a dress code for its players. At the time, a majority of players criticized the rule that stripped them of their right to rock individualistic sweats and throwback jerseys on the bench (looking back, it’s amazing how passé the style seems now). It took a while for players to adjust to the tailored suits and leather loafers—early on, some dudes looked like youngins wearing dad’s oversized jacket for their yearbook photo, sleeves hanging over their hands and all. But guys adapted, freshened up and we’re all the better for it. Today, style amongst players has become a competition. All-Stars sit front row at fashion shows, yapping with top designers and fashion editors, picking up tidbits for their postgame attire. While the increase in fashion sense has also given us some hilariousness—Carmelo Anthony’s hats, Russell Westbrook’s frames, Dwyane Wade’s Capri pants—cats are beginning to get just as much recognition for their gear off the court as the buckets they drop on it. So who wears it best? Nothing beats a classic look in a crisp suit, but dress codes don’t mean you can’t have fun, either. Trendsetting is just as important and we can only think of one guy who tops them all when it comes to combining chic with street, all while being authentic to his roots. There will soon come a day when your mom, maybe your grandma, asks you about this “Swaggy P” character. The awkward moment may have already happened. Where do you begin? Well, frst of all, he’s more than Iggy’s arm candy. Hoopheads were

042

enthralled by his style way before he hooked up with the fanciest female rapper in the game. Tell grandma about the blueberry colored velour suits and leather bags. The jean jackets and red bottoms. Also point out the Instagram ficks of the foral bucket hats and gold chains. Don’t forget the personalized “Swaggy P” Los Angeles Kings jersey, or the classic home Dodgers joint with the blue script. Occasionally, you’ll catch him on that Billionaire Boys Club tip, accompanied with some cutting-edge accessories like a Samsung Gear smartwatch. And always fnished off with fresh footwear, whether it be some crispy Jordans or Gucci loafers. There are also the fresh cuts, from the box to the faux hawk, even bringing back the lines on the side a la Rakim. Whether it's tie-dye or a white tux, Nick Young’s got it all down and he pulls it all off with style. He’s the Lakers’ style afcionado. Yes, a player who averages just over 12 ppg throughout his career has become one of the most recognizable names in the game through his affection of Versace, Yves Saint Laurent and Rick

Owens. His creations are his own, made without a stylist, and not forced like some other dudes. Heck, his swag is infectious—even his son, Nick Young Jr., models for the child clothing line Roubleau. It’s crazy to think Young has been in the League for eight seasons now. But he’s still a 20-something who’s never let go of that West Coast style, growing up on streetwear, while simultaneously infuenced by the skinny jeans and Vans of the Valley. He doesn’t dress that way to be different. He’s just being himself. While Young won’t divulge what the P in Swaggy means? Our guess is personality, which is what style is ultimately all about. —Seth Berkman #91

ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN (4); NOAH GRAHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


DENOUEMENT

noun; the fnal part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.

K

evin Garnett joined the NBA in 1995, a high schooler from South Carolina by way of Chicago, selected ffth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He struggled some that frst year, but the boundless potential that made him a lottery pick shone through. Skinny and seven feet (though he’d never admit it, in fear of being pigeonholed as a center), Garnett appeared set to redefne the power forward position, if not positions, period. Meanwhile, at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, another force was taking shape. Tim Duncan was a swimmer from the U.S. Virgin Islands who had switched to basketball when the lone Olympic pool in St. Croix was destroyed by a hurricane and he decided opposing forwards were easier to face than sharks. He committed to Wake, and intended from the start to stay all four years and graduate, having made a promise to his mother, who passed away when he was 14. Duncan would have likely been the frst overall pick in 1995, then again in 1996, but stayed until 1997, when he was selected by the San Antonio Spurs. A prototypical center in most regards, he would instead serve as the 4 to David Robinson’s 5. Garnett and Duncan would have been great choices for an update of The Odd Couple. Garnett was loud and demonstrative, talking trash with the best of them (even if much of it was directed at himself). Duncan was quiet and businesslike on the court, speaking mostly through disbelieving gestures aimed at offcials. Garnett was wildly eloquent and expansive in postgame

ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES; ALEX GOODLETT/GETTY IMAGES

interviews, Duncan straightforward and sincere. Garnett dunked on people, Duncan hit 12foot bank shots. One was the future, the other a throwback. Just about the only thing they shared in common despite their position and their height was their number: each wore #21. They played together once a year for 10 years, in the All-Star Game. Duncan joined the League later, but found success frst. He won his frst title in 1999 as Robinson’s protégé (although the student was named Finals MVP), then won backto-back MVPs in 2002 and 2003. In 2003 he also won his second title and his second Finals MVP. Six years in, he already had Hall of Fame credentials. Things came a bit harder for Garnett, who didn’t have the same type of mentor (or, for that matter, the same type of franchise). But in 2004, with the addition of veteran guards Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, the Timberwolves made their run.

Garnett won MVP, and the Wolves made it all the way to the Conference Finals before losing to the Lakers. They’d never make it that far again, and when Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2007, the primary hope was that he would fnally have a chance at a title. Teamed with fellow ringless All-Stars Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, Garnett did indeed win a ring that year, one that might turn out to be his only championship. Garnett and Duncan are both 38 now, both nearing the end of their respective careers. Garnett may reach the end frst, not just because he’s spent more time in the NBA, but by his volatile nature he’s burned faster—the more placid Duncan won his ffth title last year, and appears prepared to defend it this year. Do we have some denouement? Individually, yes. They are both lock frst-ballot Hall of Famers

who balanced team and individual success along with offensive and defensive play. But between the two? It’s not so easy. Duncan will likely be remembered as the best power forward ever, which is tough to argue. Garnett didn’t have the team success Duncan did. But he never had the team Duncan did, either. It’s likely their competition won’t end with their playing careers. Which seems only right.—Russ Bengtson #43 043


ECLAT

noun; brilliant display or effect.

EIGH 044


BY ANDY JASNER #27

HTY-ONE The previous century had Wilt’s 100. This generation saw Kobe Bryant’s 81.

S

ome records are unbreakable. Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point masterpiece is certainly one of them. But that’s not to say there aren’t attempts at rewriting the record books. On January 22, 2006, Kobe Bryant arrived at Staples Center for another regular season game matching his Los Angeles Lakers against the visiting Toronto Raptors.1 Bryant certainly had his share of special performances up until that night. This one was extra special. So extraordinary that it came within 19 points of tying Chamberlain’s legendary2 triple-digit scoring night in Hershey, Pa., on March 2, 1962. Bryant scored 81 points3 in a 122-104 victory. In 42 minutes, Bryant was 28-of-46 from the feld, including 7-of-13 from beyond the arc, and 18-of-20 from the free-throw line.4 Smush Parker (13) and Chris Mihm (12) were the only other Lakers in double fgures. This night belonged to Bryant. He had 27 points in the third quarter and 28 in the fourth. He made up 66 percent of his team’s scoring. Of the combined 226 points scored by both teams, Kobe was responsible for 36 percent of it. The Raptors scored 41 points total in the second half, while Kobe countered with a double-nickel in quarters three and four.5 Only four players have reached the 70-point game plateau: Chamberlain (fve times),6 David Thompson,7 David Robinson8 and Elgin Baylor.9 Michael Jordan’s career-high was 69.10 Think about that.

NOAH GRAHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

045


Bryant, to the Los Angeles Times: “As for a message to the youth, my message11 is that if you work hard, you can go beyond anyone's expectations, even your own.” Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, to SportsTicker: “I wasn’t keeping track on what he had, and when I turned to (assistant Frank Hamblen) and said, 'I think I better take him out now,' he said, 'I don't think you can. He has 77 points.’” Former Lakers C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,12 to the Associated Press: “Elgin's game was an incredible performance also. I don't think there's any comparison.13 Elgin did it without the three-point line. His game was attacking the hoop and hitting jumpers inside 20 feet. Kobe's range is unreal, and he does it his way. It was a real treat. His ability to shoot from long range and also attack the hoop, split the defense and get in close for opportunities near the basket is unique. He's made a niche for himself, and he deserves it.” Heat forward Chris Bosh, who played for the Raptors in 2006: “Kobe got going early and got momentum. He’s always a confdent player. When you let a player like Kobe get that hot that early, you’re in trouble. In the second half, I remember we tried to triple-team him and he still found a way to get things done.” Jalen Rose, who played on the Raptors in 2006, to Grantland: “We were playing a 1-2-2 zone in the NBA—versus Kobe Bryant.” Jackson, to SportsTicker: “I've seen some remarkable games but I've 046

never seen anything like that before. It's just a personal challenge for him to attack the whole team. It was not exactly the way you want to win a game, but when you have to win a game, it's great to have that weapon to be able to do it. We rode the hot the hand.” Bryant, to the Los Angeles Times: “We are going from the bottom to the top all together, so it's important for us to enjoy the journey, and that is what we are doing right now. We are on a journey, and to put on a show like this for the fans here in L.A. is truly something special.” Former Philadelphia 76ers center Moses Malone:14 “Kobe can score the ball like crazy. He can go to the basket, shoot from the middle and hit longrange shots. That’s tough to guard. When he’s shooting well and gaining confdence, he’s tough to slow down. You can foul him hard and he’ll still come back and keep it rolling. Former Sixers guard Allen Iverson,15 to the Philadelphia Daily News: “It was an amazing night for Kobe. Just unreal. Like watching a videogame. He's the best player in the game.” Larry Bird, to the Indianapolis Star: “That's wild, that is really wild. That's a lot of points,16 I'm telling you. There's no question how good he is, but when you start throwing numbers around like that, it's unbelievable. It would be hard to believe if you didn't know it was true.” Rose, to Grantland: “We were winning early in the game so it gave us some false sense of security. I think he probably had 20-something17 in the frst half.” JEFFREY BOTTARI/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


Bryant, to ESPN.com: “I just remember we were down 16 points to a bad Raptors team and we had just lost I think to Houston18 the game before and it was just kind of doom and gloom. We needed to win and I just got hot.”

Bryant, to the Orange County Register: “For me, it was about the W, and that's why I turned it on. Then I just tried to ride the wave and demoralize our opponent—and it turned into something special.”

Rose, to Grantland: “You know when you’re growing up and the rim in the backyard is eight feet tall and there’s one guy who can dunk on a 10foot hoop, but he was playing on the eight-foot hoop? That’s how he was dominating, putting the smackdown on us.”

Rose, to Grantland: “I did guard him. I got a healthy 19.”

Bryant, to ESPN.com: “That was the frst game and only game [my grandmother has] ever been to in the NBA and it was my grandfather's birthday that had passed away. So, there were a lot of things at work.” Sixers director of statistical information Harvey Pollack: “I was there working the night Wilt scored 100 and as you all know, I had the 100 written on a plain piece of paper. Times were different back then and there weren’t that many people in Hershey that night. Today, you probably have 50,000 people who said they were there.19 I saw it and to this day, it’s still amazing. That record will almost certainly live forever. Kobe’s 81 points is still something else and it was a great night,20 but I don’t think he, or anybody else, will ever get to Wilt’s 100. Kobe, for a player his size, and how hard he has to work, to score 81 points is a superb accomplishment. Kobe has hit so many big shots and won rings. He’s a special player. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Wilt because of what he did every single night. Scoring 81 points in a game these days is not easy and he was able to do it, so all the credit in the world to him.”

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Sam Mitchell, who coached the Raptors in 2006, to the Associated Press: “The thing about [Bryant] that is most amazing is that he is relentless.” Hall of Famer Bill Walton, to the Washington Post: “[Bryant’s] going to get 100-plus any day now... Forget the level of skill to get to that point, the level of physical ftness to keep going like that, to be in such a zone, is just unreal. It was like a game down at the rec center during the summer. That's what he turned it into. And he made everybody else look like a junior high school player.” Forward Charlie Villanueva,21 who was a rookie with the Raptors in ’06: “Incredible. What else can I say? Kobe was basically unstoppable. Just incredible. He had everything in his game going 100 percent full speed. He was like a tractor pushing forward and we had no way of stopping him.” Former Raptors guard Morris Peterson, who guarded Bryant for large stretches,22 to SportsTicker: “He played great tonight. I've never seen anything like that. Take nothing away from that performance tonight. He showed why he's one of the premier players of this League. Once a guy like him gets going, gets into a rhythm, it's going to be a long night. It was a long night for us tonight. You really can't say much.” 047


San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili: “The energy Kobe brings on both offense and defense is what stands out to me. He had such a special offensive night and he’s still back playing defense, doing whatever it takes to help the Lakers win a game. He puts so much effort in on every night, every possession in every game. Scoring that many points in one night is so tough to do and he would go back and play defense. There were other nights I remember playing against him and he’d have big offensive games and then he would make a big defensive play or two in the fourth quarter after playing 40-something minutes. He’s a rare player with skills, desire and determination. We have those types here on our team, so I know what that’s like. To score 81 points…that’s crazy.” Late Lakers Owner Jerry Buss, to the Associated Press: “You're sitting and watching, and it's like a miracle unfolding in front of your eyes and you can't accept it. Somehow, the brain won't work. The easiest way to look at it is everybody remembers every 50-point game they ever saw. He had 55 in the second half.” Heat guard Dwyane Wade, to the Miami Herald: “I think everybody called every player in the League. I'll go home and play my videogame and maybe I'll get 80.”

fve games of 70 or more and he just was so dominant in the low post. Wilt and Kobe are two totally different players. Wilt scored 50 with ease. Kobe had other big nights, I’m sure. Going to 81…it’s very diffcult.” Bryant, on being compared to Jordan, to SportsTicker: “Through my career I've been compared to him so many times, and I just wish it would stop. He's Michael Jordan and I'm Kobe Bryant; we're two different players. I just wish people would let it go because it really annoys me. You can't compare what I'm doing to what he's done. He's probably one of the greatest, if not the greatest player of all time; there's no comparison. I really wish people would stop measuring up what I do in comparison to what he's done.” Mitchell, to the Toronto Star: “The tough thing about it was that he hit tough shots. If you look at the third quarter, I thought our guys were there. We had two guys on him at times. We doubled him, and he would split them. We tried playing zone, and he just shot that ball

Former Lakers forward Lamar Odom, on being down by 14 points at halftime, to SportsTicker: “When we were down at halftime, [Bryant] was ticked. He said nothing and that was scary.” Rose, to Grantland: “Why did we let that happen? Why didn’t we clothesline [Kobe]? But you know what, all of that is a tribute to the respect that we had for Kobe. If he would’ve been taunting in any way shape or form, it would’ve all went different.” Memphis Grizzlies guard Vince Carter: “I couldn’t think about scoring that many points in one game. Just to get to 5023 takes all the effort and energy in the world. I don’t think you can ever go into a given game and think about getting 81. It’s a surreal number. You just go play. It had to be one of those given nights where the stars were aligned in the universe and Kobe just made it happen. Almost unbelievable.” Pollack: “I don’t know if we will ever see anyone score 81 again. But that was about eight years ago, so anything is possible. Kobe was a lot younger. Could it be done again? I think it would be very diffcult. Wilt had 048

NOAH GRAHAM (5); JEFFREY BOTTARI/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


BONUS POINTS

from the hash mark. We played box-and-one.24 I haven't played that since my college days.” 1. The Raptors were a bad defensive squad and would fnish 29th out of 30 in points allowed per game in 2005-06. Charles Barkley, to FoxSports.com: “I didn’t watch that game when Kobe scored 81. But that’s incredible One of the most amazing things about the 100-point game because there’s some nights you get 35 or 40 and you think, ‘Wow, I’m awesome25 tonight.’ To get 81 is pretty is2.that the notoriously poor free-throw shooting Wilt (.513 for scary. I mean, it’s just amazing.” his career) went 28 of 32 from the line that night. 3. Kobe’s 81 points would’ve topped the team’s total scoring output four times in the 2005-06 season. 4. Amazingly enough, Bryant even collected 2 assists. 5. Wilt put up 59 points in the second half of his 100-point game. 6. Besides his 100, Chamberlain once scored 78, reached 73 points twice and went for 72. 7. Thompson dropped 73 on 4/9/78. 8. D-Rob’s 71, on the last game of the 1993-94 season, helped nudge him over Shaquille O’Neal for the scoring title, 29.8 to 29.3. Lakers forward Devean George, who went scoreless in 22 minutes, to the Associated Press: 9. Baylor hung 71 vs. the Knicks on 11/15/60 at the old Madison Square Garden. “I never imagined I would see history like that. I can't tell you where that came from. He just kept 10. Naturally, it came against a team that has been victim to many of attacking, attacking, attacking—every time he got the ball.” Jordan’s heroics, the Cleveland Cavaliers. 11. This was actually in response to Vince Carter's comment on Kobe’s 81-point outburst: "The only bad thing about it is young kids, whose minds Bosh: “He’s a Hall of Fame player and sometimes you’ve just got to tip your hat to someone. It are easily warped, are going to think, 'Ohhh, I am going to go out there and do it,' instead of the team concept frst." was one of those nights. I felt 12. Kareem might own the all-time scoring mark with 38,387 points, but he like we could have guarded never scored more than 55 in a single game. him better, but we just couldn’t 13. Kareem did say Kobe’s 81 was more impressive than Wilt’s 100: "Yes, it was (more impressive than Chamberlain's 100 points), that's because of the wide slow him down.” variety of shots that he used—driving, pulling up, behind the three-point line—it was an incredible feat of versatility." 14. Malone’s career-high in points in a single game: 53. Rose, to Grantland: “When you 15. The Answer’s top scoring game is 60. That season he was second behind go against a guy like that, there’s Bryant’s 35.4 ppg with 33. 16. At one point Bird held the Celtics all-time game scoring mark with 53, until Kevin going to be historic nights. It’s McHale topped him with 56 on 3/3/85. Nine days later, Bird would reclaim the stature not like Luke Walton27 scored by torching the Hawks for 60. 20 on me. If that would’ve 17. Bryant had 26 at intermission. 18. It was actually Phoenix, the team that would oust the Lakers in the frst round of the happened, I would’ve buried my playoffs. head in the sand.” 19. The offcial attendance was listed 4,124. 20. In contrast, 18,997 were at Staples for the game, and countless others saw it on TV. 21. Villanueva scored 68 points less than Kobe in the game. Malone: “He’s an amazing player. 22. Peterson’s Defensive Rating that night was 135, which meant if MoPete checked Bryant for 100 possessions, he’d give up 135 points to him. Scoring 81 points in one game 23. Carter has scored 51 twice in his career, his personal high mark. these days is kind of unheard of. 24. A box-and-one is four guys playing zone (the box) while one man is manning up one player. It’s very impressive.” It is used to combat one dominant scorer, mostly in lower levels of basketball and almost never seen in the NBA. 25. Barkley’s career scoring high of 56 came in the 1994 playoffs and is the second highest mark Los Angeles Clippers head in the postseason behind Jordan’s 63. 26. Brand was talking about the modern era. coach Doc Rivers: “Kobe is one 27. Walton went scoreless that night.

Atlanta Hawks forward Elton Brand: “That’s a crazy night in a great way. I mean, to score that many points…wow, it’s pretty amazing. I can’t think of too much else to say because it’s pretty much mind-boggling. I’m not sure if any player will reach 81 again. Then again, no one had reached 81 before Kobe.”26

of the toughest players to guard in the League because he does everything. He can’t be stopped. You have to force him maybe a step out of his comfort zone. Even that is diffcult. When a Hall of Famecaliber player like Kobe gets on that kind of a roll in that kind of a zone, forget it. He was in the prime of his career and his ftness level is amazing. He just had it all going. It’s one for the ages.”

049 NOAH GRAHAM (2); JEFFREY BOTTARI (4)/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


FESTINATE verb; to hurry; hasten.

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he ball comes off the rim, the Wizards’ John Wall corrals it or takes the outlet, and he’s off, slicing through opponents like they’re in slo-mo. Oftentimes he ends it with an acrobatic layup or fush, or by creating an easy opportunity for a teammate. The speed with which Wall attacks the goal on the break resembles the pace with which the Wizards have climbed the Eastern Conference power rankings. In short time, the former bottom dweller of the League has joined the short list of teams contending for the East crown. “Would I pick them to be in the Finals? No. But would I be shocked if they were in the Finals? No,” says Phil Chenier, a longtime broadcaster and franchise legend who has witnessed the team’s peaks and valleys frsthand. “We’re talking about a deep team that has weapons all over the place.” How’d that happen, and so quickly? The Wizards were doormats for years in the Southeast Division, no match for LeBron and Miami, Dwight Howard and Orlando. From 2008 to 2013, Washington averaged 23 wins a season, and fnished dead last in the Southeast in four of those years. Throughout that time, though, team president Ernie Grunfeld and the personnel team began stockpiling assets. It secured the cornerstones of its future through the draft—Wall with the top pick in 2010, Bradley Beal at No. 3 in 2012. They took their lumps but also gained valuable burn. Chenier, a member of the franchise’s lone title team, the 1977-78

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team that upended Seattle in seven games, doesn’t stop there. “When all is said and done, John and Brad may end up as the best backcourt combination in this franchise’s history,” says Chenier. “John has a burning desire to win and challenges himself to be the best. He’s moved into that comfortable stage of being the leader on the team. He and Brad both understand that there’s a process they have to go through to move up the ladder, and I think they are going to make the sacrifces to get there.” The young guards are the nucleus, while the team's trades and signings were, if not high-profle headline grabbers, sensible. Nêne came over from Denver in 2012. Blue-collar big man Marcin Gortat came to D.C. on a deal with Phoenix. Martell Webster, Drew Gooden, Kris Humphries, they fll out the roster with quality and experience. “They’re a beautiful pair,” Chenier says of Gortat and Nene. “Their talent blends well together, they play off each other well, and the two of them combine to

make a very legitimate inside presence. You may have to go back to [Jeff] Ruland and Moses [Malone] to fnd one as good here, and that’s going back a long way.” The positive results began to surface last year as the Wizards dismantled Chicago in the frst round in fve games. They were then ousted by Indiana in the semifnals in six. “Brad was crushed after that loss,” says Chenier. “These guys weren’t satisfed with making it to the Conference Semis. They saw themselves beating Indiana and going to the Conference Finals. That’s the kind of character you’re looking for. They see the big picture, and are willing to put the extra time in.” This offseason, the Wizards added Paul Pierce, he of 148 career postseason games and a 2008 NBA Championship ring with the Boston Celtics. He helped offset the departure of Trevor Ariza to free agency, and has the all-important clutch gene and often-discussed “championship” presence. He’s another piece to the puzzle for a once irrelevant Washington team that has its sights set high. Like their superstar often does on the break, the Wizards hope to fnish with authority this June. —Brett Mauser #25

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GEOTAXIS

noun; a movement in which the force of gravity is the directive factor.

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lake Griffn’s force and the energy he creates has been explored by the greatest scientifc minds in sports today, from John Brenkus taking his ESPN SportsScience cameras to break down the 700 pounds of down-force Griffn brings on his dunks…to the NBA’s SportVU cameras dissecting the energy that Griffn plays with on a night-to-night basis (running an average constant speed of 3.8 miles per hour for 2.3 miles per game, which ranks ffth in distance traveled among NBA power forwards and centers this season). But Griffn has so much more to offer if everyone would just take a closer look. As powerful as he has become, Griffn has also added a midrange jumper that he now hits at a solid 40-percent clip, as opposed to the 34-percent range he brought as a rookie. The 25-year-old power forward has also improved his free throw shooting from his frst two NBA seasons, when he was a 59-percent shooter, to his current status as a 72-percent shooter the past two NBA seasons. Some may see his rebound average drop as a sign of decline (9.2 per game the past two seasons; 11.5 in 2010-11 and 201112), when in reality, his teammate DeAndre Jordan is just picking up more of the slack, as the Clippers maintain their rebounding dominance from Griffn’s frst two NBA seasons. Everywhere you look, you see

improvement, perhaps best personifed in the scoring column where Griffn averaged a careerbest 24 points per game last season. While he’s doing the same this season, his critics sharpen up their critiques in order to fnd something … anything … wrong with his game. His defense is team-oriented (+2.00 Defensive Real Plus-Minus), while his offense is well balanced (+2.65 Offensive Real Plus-Minus) and overall he offers the type of leadership that is actually even-keeled, surprisingly so, for one so energetic and synergistic as well. “I’ve always wanted to have a well-balanced NBA game,” says Griffn, “and that’s what I work so hard on every summer. To be the best I can be so our team can be at

its best as well.” He is the scarce 24 points-per-game scorer who can also dole out 4 assists per game these past two seasons as well (Kevin Durant, LeBron James, James Harden, Kevin Love and Stephen Curry are the others). Just because Griffn is much more athletic than the aforementioned fve—OK LeBron … “much more athletic than four of the aforementioned players”—doesn’t mean critics have the right to invent faws in the 6-10, 251-pounder’s game that the stats cannot back up. From scoring to passing to ballhandling to team defending and rebounding, Griffn pretty much grades out as an A or B student in every

category. The only category where he rates as only “average” is as a rim protector, allowing 5.4 shots at the rim per game to go in 55.8 percent of the time (his frontline teammate Jordan makes up for it with his numbers: 8.5 rim shots per game at 47.1 percent). Outside of that, Griffn is most defnitely a force to be reckoned with. That’s the gravity of Griffn’s game these days.—#21 MELISSA MAJCHRZAK/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

051


HALCYON

adj; denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful.

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y early December, there was potential trouble in San Antonio. Or at least the outsiders were trying to create some turmoil. Returns from injury of Patty Mills and Tiago Splitter meant coach Gregg Popovich would have to decide whether he wanted to eject two players from his 10-man rotation or fnd a way to give 12 players enough minutes to keep them happy. If this was another NBA outpost, this playing time bottleneck might be divisive—or downright lethal. In San Antonio, it’s just another opportunity for Pop to build his “program” and produce a team capable of thriving when the real action starts during the playoffs. You won’t hear any complaining from the Spurs, because they believe in the process and can’t argue with any results. This is a calm franchise, one that turns its back to the drama and upheaval that characterizes many other teams throughout the League. Last year, eight Spurs averaged 20 minutes a game—but none played 30—and 11 were on the court for at least 11 a night. The results were big, and the complaining was minimal, if not nonexistent. People speak of “good ol’ days”, during which contentment reigns. We are well into our second decade of that in San Antonio. Some would argue that fve

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championships in 16 years will make everybody pretty darn happy. It’s not just winning that has brought peace and contentment to south Texas, although that doesn’t hurt. Popovich and GM R.C. Buford have built an organization that values its people. They encourage players and assistants to voice their opinions. There is an underlying level of respect for everyone involved in the process. It isn’t easy to get into the club. The Spurs don’t admit everyone. When Ettore Messina joined San Antonio as an assistant coach last summer, he was amazed at the dedication everyone on the team showed. He arrived at the team’s practice facility in August expecting get some time to himself to watch some tape and found Tim Duncan getting in shape for

training camp. What other star does that? In a blog for a Russian website, Messina likened Popovich to the Sophists of Ancient Greece, who sought knowledge through questioning and arguing with those around them. The result is a consensus that can bring positive results, and perhaps more importantly, a sense that everyone has infuence. That’s why the Spurs continue to roll along without hysteria and confict, at least outwardly. Everyone in the program understands the rules and wants to play by them. Having Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili around sure makes things easy on the court, but how many other teams have had three standouts stick together for 13 years? Popovich has said that he’s lucky those three have allowed him to coach the team. Instead of staging palace coups to install friendlier regimes, they stick with Popovich and his high standards and quest for perfection. That isn’t easy. When everyone subjugates their egos to the greater good, and success results, there comes a calm that is rare in highly competitive situations. The Spurs may not win it all this season, but they will certainly reach their potential together, without too much upset and with plenty of rest.— Michael Bradley #53

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IMMERSE

verb; to plunge into something that surrounds or covers.

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ike a man getting baptized in water, DeMarcus Cousins looks like he's being transformed into an All-Star talent. While no one has ever questioned his potential, Cousins is determined not to let his reputation for complaining and jawing at

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offcials get in the way of what he can easily be: the best center in the NBA. After years of being labeled one of the most immature players in the League, there is no

doubt Cousins has looked like a reformed man this NBA season. Five years in, we are fnally catching a glimpse of what Boogie is capable of when his mind is in the right place. To get things into perspective no one has ever questioned the talent of Cousins. With footwork and grace that belie his 6-11, 270-pound size, he is one most gifted young centers in the game. While the star potential has always been there, he has faced criticism ever since he stepped foot into the League. His attitude has been his worst enemy with constant run-ins with coaches and various players. Most notably his antics with offcials during games have brought him severe bantering from around the League and the media. He has ranked in the top fve in technical fouls in each of his frst four seasons in the League, along with a couple suspensions along the way. Cousins' attitude problem got intense after a few occurrences last season where he jawed out at Chris Paul and former player and Spurs broadcaster Sean Elliott that resulted into a two-game suspension. It was pretty clear last season that things needed to change for Cousins after he was not named a reserve on the Western Conference All-Star roster. His stats alone were on par with every other frontcourt reserve on a stacked Western Conference team. But coaches left him off the roster. Determined to let his game do all the talking, Cousins made sure nothing overshadowed his inside dominance, the burgeoning outside touch, the deft passing, the improving defense. Much of it started with Cousins’ stint with USA Basketball this summer at the FIBA World Cup. Cousins made noise, but the good kind as Anthony Davis’ primary backup as USA rolled to gold. An ownership led by Vivek Ranadivé and minority owner Shaquille O’Neal has put the franchise’s faith in him. Ranadivé made a strong investment this offseason, giving him a max contract extension in September, and Shaq is just a DM away if Cousins ever has questions on what it takes to be a dominant big man in the League. For a team like Sacramento that has not sniffed the postseason in almost a decade, a new king will have to rise. No one looks more royal than Cousins.—Jarrel Harris #3

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JUMP

verb; to rise suddenly in rank or status

BY SETH BERKMAN #91

SHOOTING FOR THE STAR

Steph Curry’s rise to prominence naturally came from a great distance.

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ear the dilapidated strip malls and rail yards of East Oakland, a maestro goes to work. He toils at his craft in the shadows of stadiums and arenas1 that have been home to far too much suffering, resurrecting the beloved Warriors of the Bay. Forty-plus nights a year,2 no one commands a crowd in Northern California like Stephen Curry. Hours before the ceremonies begin, he’s inside Oracle Arena, draining J after J.3 The sound of the ball fowing through the net becomes so repetitive that you can close your eyes and still know when it goes in, lulled into a soothing state of peacefulness hearing the repeated lullaby: swish, swish, swish. As our maestro leaves the foor to get dressed for his performance, he takes time to play to the assembled crowd, chucking a ball into the stands as a souvenir, or attempting 50-foot shots from the tunnel4 leading into the locker room. Before his departure, he stops to sign autographs, pose for pictures and even photobomb a few selfes, as girls fawningly scream in his direction. 054


PHOTOT

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Once the show begins, the crowd hinges on the maestro’s every move. A behind-the-back pass is greeted with the requisite “ooohs” and “ahhhs.” When he releases that famous three-point shot, people stand and gasp, waiting5 to burst into joy for the moment the ball falls through the net. For the duration of the show, the majority of ticket holders, from middle-aged moms to toddlers, all seem to have the #30 affxed to their back. In less than six years, Stephen Curry has made Oracle Arena his rehearsal space for virtuoso performances as artistically pleasing as watching Pavarotti or Baryshnikov. Who would’ve thought the once skinny kid from Charlotte would have his name already compared to franchise greats like Mullin, Barry and Thurmond6 and be a bona fde superstar? There are few fan bases that have as strong an emotional connection to their professional basketball team like the residents of the Bay Area. But as hard as they fall for their beloved Warriors of the west, the breakups hurt just as much. All too short-lived was the electricity of Run TMC,7 and the underdog “We Believe” grit of B-Diddy, Stack Jack, and crew.8 Now, the Warriors are Steph’s team and he’s primed to take them to unforeseen heights. “It’s an electric atmosphere,” Curry says of playing at Oracle Arena. “The fans are engaged with what they see on the foor. We feel that kind of collective gasp when you make a play and you want to fnish it off to blow the roof off the place. The fans appreciate that and are kind of pushing you, egging you on to do something better the next time. To fnish a great play, that’s special. I feel it on the court, you kinda get goose bumps thinking about it. “It’s something you don’t ever want to take for granted.” The infectiousness of Curry’s beautiful game has spread throughout the area. In Oakland’s business districts, offce buildings and convenience

stores post blue campaign-sized posters in their windows, claiming this is “Warrior Ground,” while photos of Curry in action adorn light pole banners. Across the Bay, including tourist magnet Fisherman’s Wharf, Warriors products are placed front and center at merchandise stands. The Warriors are as much a part of the Bay Area landscape as trolley cars and the Golden Gate Bridge. As Curry tells it, the love was always there, even in the rocky beginning. When the Warriors selected Curry seventh overall in the ’09 NBA Draft,9 the team was coming off a 29-win season and two years removed from a scintillating run to the Western Conference Semifnals as a No. 8 seed. Curry’s rookie season saw the team fall down to 26 wins, in what would be the last year of the second Don Nelson10 era. The next year, under coach Keith Smart, the Warriors missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season, a streak that would extend to fve as new coach Mark Jackson won 23 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. “I always felt it,” says Curry of the local support. “You go to the games, even when we won 23 games, it was an electric place to play. Obviously, you go three years without making the playoffs, there’s always that yearning for more, to kind of just unleash a whole new level.” That level arrived in 2013. The Warriors won 47 games and made the Western Conference Semifnals,11 followed by a 51-win season12 and another playoff berth. “We fnally make the playoffs and it has been different, just a more consistent presence around the Bay and a lot more excitement,” says Curry. “You get noticed a lot more, walking around. That all is the result of winning. This is a great sports town and area. A lot of sports fans are here and they just want to see winning teams and support them. We’re fnally giving them that. The next goal is a championship that we can enjoy. We were always embraced here, myself included.” The love helped Curry get through injury-plagued seasons early on in his career. There were also plenty of skeptics ready to critique his game, saying that he could only shoot, that he couldn’t be a true point guard. Or that he was too small or his ankles were not strong enough to carry a team. But as

“You kind of think about what a parade would be like in San Francisco, Oakland, both sides of the Bay…it would be nuts. It’s something that I hopefully will experience one day.” 056

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Curry persevered and got stronger, healthier and better, he started to reach unprecedented heights. The love for Steph is now extending worldwide. He is no longer just Dell’s son13 or a kid with a sweet stroke. He is a worldwide phenomenon. Last summer, Curry was at Basketball City on the Lower East Side of Manhattan as part of a promotional event for Degree deodorant. For hours on end, he ran groups of average joes through his training regimen, all the while watching these wannabe athletes huff and puff their way through a workout he does on the daily.14 These types of mentally exhausting events are the norm for Curry now, particularly in the summer when his schedule is just as packed as during the season. Instead of playing the Hornets or Knicks, the crosscountry fights are for the purpose of marketing, as Curry has become a breakthrough commodity in sports business. Adapting to the extra attention has taken some time. “It’s tough,” says Curry. “Family is huge in my life. I have a wife and daughter and try to spend a lot of time with them. You don’t want to sacrifce that.” Curry knew last summer was going to be a grind even before the Warriors’ season was over. There was his commitment to USA Basketball for the FIBA World Cup in Spain, plus a bevy of off the court appearances, not to mention his regular offseason training, with the endgame to get the Warriors to the Finals in 2015. “That is a pill you swallow because you know what that entails,” says Curry of the pride of playing with Team USA and other commitments. “But you actually have to carve out family time, which is huge. Making sure that’s there for me is a priority. The last two summers have been so wild. NOAH GRAHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

It’s a good problem to have as long as you’ll be able to handle it well and learn as you go along, that side of the business.” Curry got his frst taste of the whirlwind lifestyle at All-Star 2014, where he was making his frst appearance15 in Sunday’s big game after participating in Saturday night’s competitions in years past.16 Under Armour, which has made Curry a focal point of its expansion into basketball, held a party to celebrate his achievement. While New Orleans was a coming-out party of sorts for Curry, he also used the opportunity to play a mentor role, allotting time to speak to a young player in whom he saw a lot of himself,17 Bucks’ rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo. “His team wasn’t winning very much up until that point—it was about keeping his spirits up about the process,” says Curry, who shares the same agency as Antetokounmpo. “Once upon a time here, we were a 20-win team. You’re always building toward something. That was kind of the gist of the convo. “I can imagine kind of what he was going through at the time, a lot coming at you. Even at the All-Star break he kind of had the big, starry eyes. It was a good convo and obviously he’s playing well. “I don’t think I had anything to do with it,” concludes Curry with a smile. People see those leadership traits and yearn for Curry to carry the torch for their brands. Aside from Under Armour and Degree, Curry has had endorsements with Muscle Milk, MoGo’s favored mouthpieces and other companies, and been featured in commercials for Foot Locker and State Farm. Even the big suits in the League offce know the Warriors are a team rising in popularity, selecting them in recent years to participate in exhibition games in China, and singling out Curry to host their annual Social Media Awards event. Wall Street is taking notice, too, as Curry has 057


“He’s a very humble superstar. He continues to work hard regardless of his success.”—Shaun Livingston been featured in publications like Bloomberg Businessweek. When it comes to his endorsement portfolio strategy Curry says he gravitates toward companies that share a connection to his story. “There’s always something personal to it,” says Curry. “Under Armour, that was kind of their story, an underdog—hungry and driven to grow and get better every single year. At that point in my career it was a perfect ft for where I was going.” In return for the support, Curry has shown an unrelenting loyalty. Last year the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a rival sports drink company offered to top Curry’s income received from Muscle Milk and cover any legal fees from breaking a contract. Curry quickly rebuffed the offer. In September, after Kevin Durant turned down an offer to sign with Under Armour, an ESPN personality offered a critique of the shoe company on Twitter, to which Curry fercely replied back, defending the brand. That steadfast demeanor has been evident on the court since day one. His ascent there, as a basketball player and leader of the Warriors, has made his teammates proud. “It’s pretty awesome,” Klay Thompson says of Curry’s improvement. “It’s helped me grow. I feel like we play well off each other and make each other better.” Teammates took it personally when those outside of the Bay criticized Curry earlier in his career when his ankles were troubling him. They knew about Curry’s talent and the sweat he was putting into carrying the Bay on his back. “I remember I was a rookie [in 2011] and people were ready to write Steph off and that would just annoy me because I knew how hard he worked and what a special talent he was,” says Thompson. “So to see that his ascension is starting doesn’t really surprise me. I’m just proud of him. I know how hard he works, how humble of a guy he is. It’s good to see him become a franchise guy.” David Lee, who arrived with Golden State after Curry’s rookie season, agrees. “A lot of the talk about Steph is he couldn’t stay healthy early in his career,” says Lee. “That, I agree was a tough one, because injuries you can’t control. Now you see he’s healthy and how his game has just

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taken off. Most importantly he didn’t let it affect him. He’s always had confdence, very strong faith and known it was going to work out. He’s had two unbelievable seasons these last two years and I think he’s only gonna get better.” The thought that Curry could get better is downright scary. He’s on the precipice of joining LeBron and KD at the very top of the MVP discussion each year. But basketball-wise, he likely needs to make one fnal jump—to get the ultimate goal of a championship. It’s been 40 years since the Warriors last won a title. Those banners are front and center in Oracle Arena’s rafters and prevalent throughout their Oakland practice facility, a daily reminder to Curry and his teammates. In late October, the San Francisco Giants won another World Series title. Curry watched the streams of orange and black confetti fll the streets. The scene naturally stirred his imagination of a Warriors victory celebration “I’ve seen it three times18 since I’ve been here,” says Curry. “You see how

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UNITED CONFIRMATION When Steph Curry was named as an All-Star starter in 2014, he was not only the leading vote getter in the Western Conference, but almost outnumbered his previous years’ ballots six-fold. The fans are not the only ones to notice his transformation. Here are some of his USA Basketball peers talking about the many facets of his game and growth as a next-level leader and superstar.

Damian Lillard on Curry’s ballhandling “He has such a great handle. Off of anything that he’s doing, he can just pick it up and it’s a quality shot any time. Every time he shoots, no matter how bad or how tough of a look it is, it’s quality for him. He shoots that well and he’s unpredictable because he can really pass the ball. He’s a really good playmaker and a really good shotmaker and that’s tough to guard, especially if he can handle the ball the way he does.” USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski on Curry’s growth from college “He’s gotten so much better and he was a great player then. But he was young. Now, he’s strong. You can tell he’s worked so much on his game where he gets his shot off quickly no matter who’s guarding him. Ballhandling is better, defense—he’s better in every way. And he was really good then. He’s a pro’s ‘pro.’ He’s one of the outstanding players in the game.”

Gregg Popovich on Curry’s leadership and physical maturation “Obviously, he has become more confdent, but I think he’s a little bit more physical player, he’s got a little bit more grunt to him. For a while he would get manhandled here and there, get pushed out of this position or that. He takes up space better than he ever did and gets to the spots on the foor that he wants to get to. That takes a little bit more strength, physicality,

that kind of thing. He’s done that well. “I think leadership-wise, it’s obvious that he wants to take this whole thing to another level, so he has become a little but more demanding of everyone around him I think, more of a serious nature that way.” Rudy Gay on how to defend Steph Curry “He’s a great talent and continues to get better. The sky’s the limit for him. I kind of have the cheat code because I know how Steph has been for a long time, how he works.” [What is that cheat code?] “Foul him!”—#91

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“He’s so coachable. He’s always listening and wants to get better.”—Steve Kerr

BONUS POINTS 1. The O.co Coliseum sits next to Oracle Arena. The Raiders are headed toward another losing record this season and 31 years and counting without a Super Bowl win. The Athletics once again famed out in the playoffs, the eighth time since 2001 their underdog story has missed out on the storybook ending. 2. More now, since the Warriors have been playoff regulars for the past two crazy the Bay Area goes. You kind of think about what seasons. a parade would be like in San Francisco, Oakland, 3. For Curry, there is no letter K. 4. This ritual originated when Oracle Arena security guard Curtis Jones both sides of the Bay, going across the bridge, the challenged Curry to make the shot as he was walking back to the locker room. caravan with all the fans. It would be nuts. For sure, it’s 5. With Curry, the proper word might be expecting. 6. In addition to these three, the Warriors have retired the numbers of Wilt something that I hopefully will experience one day.” Chamberlain, Tom Meschery and Al Attles. To achieve that, Steph has shown improvement 7. T: Tim Hardaway; M: Mitch Richmond; and C: Chris Mullin; a high-scoring trio in each season since arriving in the League, to the point the early ’90s that led the Warriors to one playoff series win, but lasted only two where he is now target numero uno on every opposing seasons. 8. The eighth-seeded Warriors, led by captains Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and team’s gameplan. Matt Barnes (and immortalized on a HOOP cover at the time), upset the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks and MVP Dirk Nowitzki in the 2007 Playoffs. He’s worked tirelessly to improve his handle, 9. There were some studs (Blake Griffn, No. 1; James Harden, No. 3) and duds his court vision and that shot…oh, that beautiful, (Hasheem Thabeet, No. 2; Jonny Flynn, No. 6) taken before Curry. 10. Probably the head coach most associated with the franchise, Nelson coached the ecclesiastical shot. Even the game’s best wax poetic Warriors from 1988-95 and 2006-10. He won three Coach of the Year awards, one with about Curry’s already legendary stroke. LeBron James Golden State (1992). is infatuated19 by it. Kevin Durant20 watches it in awe. 11. The Dubs beat a 57-win Nuggets team before giving the eventual Western Conference Champion Spurs a tough six-game series. Heck, even the leader of the free world and professed 12. Golden State was the runner-up in the Pacifc Division, giving the Clippers a seven-game NBA fan President Barack Obama21 loves it. scare in the frst round of the playoffs. Whether it’s at pregame shootaround or after practice, 13. Dell Curry played 16 seasons in the League, amassing 1,245 three-pointers, connecting at a 40.2 percent clip and winning the 1994 Sixth Man of the Year award winner. Curry works determinedly on the closest thing to 14. Degree invited journalists from around the New York City area to partake in workouts with Steph, including the writer of this story. He’ll readily admit his body hasn’t taken a pounding like perfection in the League. After all the other Warriors that in years. have ended their routines, he’s there, shooting threes 15. Curry was voted in by the fans as the starting point guard. fading away, pretending as if he’s coming off the picks, 16. Curry won the Skills Challenge at All-Star 2011 and had previously competed in the Three-Point contest twice. Steph’s dad, Dell, also competed twice in the latter competition. leaning to his right—no scenario is left unchecked. 17. Physically, the two are opposites as the “Greek Freak” stands 6-11 with a wingspan as long as a He looks up and yells at himself whenever a shot Curry jumper. 18. The Giants have won it all in 2010, ’12 and ’14. doesn’t go down.22 19. LeBron on Curry: “The best shooter the NBA will see." That dedication leaves quite the impression 20. KD on Curry: “Best shooter to ever play." 21. Obama on Curry: “The best shooter I have ever seen." Curry also joined an effort to make citizens with his cohorts. aware of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. “He could possibly be the best shooter of all-time,” 22. Which to be fair, doesn’t happen too often. says Lee. “I know he just tries to make little changes. 23. Kerr is the NBA’s all-time leader in career three-point shooting percentage at .454. Curry might never best his coach as he sits at .437, but Kerr was not the high-volume scorer who commands an opponent’s He’ll watch flm. He‘s a guy that’s always been a hard worker and puts the defensive attention like Curry. time in. He’s got the confdence.” 24. Curry’s turnovers have gone up a bit since he’s become the Warriors’ focal point, but his assists have also skyrocketed. “He’s so coachable,” says Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who is a very 25. Metaphors aside, Drake proved he’s nowhere near Curry’s caliber on the court when he airballed a three qualifed expert on long-range marksmanship.23 “He’s always listening and during warmups with the University of Kentucky basketball team.

wants to get better. The whole thing with Steph, I told him he can have any shot he wants. I’ll never get mad at him for taking a shot, but he’s gotta be a good decision maker for us. His choices with his passes have to be sound. I’m fne with a few turnovers. He’s gonna attack, he’s got the ball in his hands, that’s fne. We just can’t have the careless ones.”24 Players who used to defend Curry are even more awestruck when he’s in the backcourt playing alongside them. Warriors newcomer Shaun Livingston said he always knew Curry was the team’s “engine.” As an opponent, game-planning for the Warriors, Livingston says Curry was “problems one, two, and three—the head of the snake.” “He’s a very humble superstar,” says Livingston, who signed with the Warriors last summer. “His perspective on his work ethic, it never really gets away from him. He continues to work hard regardless of his success.” A humble superstar. That’s a term that gets tossed around freely in the age of social media, as we search for any nugget of humility from professional athletes. Sometimes there could be truth to it. Or it could be a big PR stunt. Is Curry perfect? C’mon, we know better than that. But there are few signs that his head has gotten any bigger than his aspirations for the ultimate prize, a championship trophy, as he’s reached a new level of

fame. There are no huge entourages, no material displays of fame, no calculated marketing strategies to bump up his Q rating. No, not yet, even

if his name is being dropped by rappers on the regular, portraying him in a light where he’s as coveted as much as the Bentleys and Rolexes they used to rhyme about. Yeah, you know that line. When Drake called himself “Steph Curry with the shot”25 on his hit “0 to 100,” Curry couldn’t help but react like a kid. “That was funny, we were getting off the plane and me and my wife were in the car driving home and it came on the radio,” Curry recalls of the frst time he heard the track last summer. “So we were listening and it gets to that line and I heard it and my wife heard it. We both did a double take asking each other like, ‘What did he say?’ So I had to go on Spotify to fnd it and play it again, see if he actually said what he said. We had a little laugh. It was a surprise.” Looking back, the baby-faced assassin with the basketball pedigree should’ve rightly been a star. The makeup, the backstory, all the ingredients that make GMs and Madison Avenue-types salivate were there. But those niche players fade fast unless they make their own mark. Curry has changed that script, becoming a complete point guard, a better shooter, a leader, a player with a skillset to whom there is no equal. He’s gone 0 to 100 real quick.

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ET N O O N S Y A D SATUR Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Š 2014 NBA Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

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KNOBBER

noun; a two-year-old male deer.

H

e has the name you probably can’t pronounce with the game that can’t be defned. In his second year in the League, Milwaukee Buck Giannis Antetokounmpo (YAHN-iss ah-deh-toh-KOON-boh; as for the spelling, just copy and paste) commands the court with his lengthy limbs and leaping legs. The spindly 6-11 Antetokounmpo has an unmatched combination of size and skill juxtaposed with speed and quickness that has fans excited for the present and future of this franchise. Furthermore, Antetokounmpo (who just turned 20 years old in December) has the adroit athleticism to dazzle at every spot on the court. As the NBA’s tallest shooting guard, Antetokounmpo drives the lane and picks up the and-one before his unsuspecting opponents get set. His man might be in front of him, but Antetokounmpo’s arm is like Dhalsim's (the Street Fighter character with the extendo arms), about three feet

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away, ball in hand. Oh, now you want to sag off? His developing pull up is getting better with each make. And he knows how to use his length to play his back to you and then toss up the hook. This is all when he’s not effortlessly going coast-to-coast in a few dribbles and fnishing with explosive slams. Antetokounmpo grew up playing point guard in Greece so handling the ball in the open court is natural for the one they call the Greek Freak. Head coach Jason Kidd has used the youngster as a foor general and if anyone can sense the potential of a point guard, it’s a guy with 12,000 career dimes. It is this versatility that is helping Antetokounmpo redefne positions and his role on the team. On the fip, Antetokounmpo’s defense wreaks mismatch havoc. His lateral velocity will contain a guard and if he loses a step on the crossover, no sweat: His agility allows him to recover— quickly.

Antetokounmpo’s 7-3 wingspan affords him the luxury (be jealous of his incredible selfe game below) of letting the shooter jump frst, knowing that his reach will effortlessly make up elevation for the block. In the frst 10 games of the season, he respectably tallied at least one steal or one block in every game but three. With all of the potential that Antetokounmpo has shown, Bucks brass are hoping he can one day develop into a vital playmaker, metaphorically being the long connecter to the entire young core.—Melody Hoffman #34

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LISSOME adj; lithe and graceful; supple; lithesome.

T here are just a few players in the League who can be considered franchise or culture changers. These are players who not only possess transcendent skillsets, but also bring with them a willingness to win and the mindset to maximize their talent. Their approach and attitude to the game spread throughout the locker room and organization like the common cold. Each June, several lottery teams are hopeful of selecting that one player capable of changing the outlook of their franchises. Some succeed while others are back at the drawing board the following year. For nearly a year, the Andrew Wiggins/ Jabari Parker debate played out while anxious GMs salivated over having the opportunity to make either the cornerstone of their franchise. Selected No. 1 and 2—and after one megatrade—the immediate fortunes of both the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves are now dependent on the progression and JORDAN JOHNSON/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

development of a pair of 19-year-olds. The Timberwolves haven’t made a postseason appearance since 2004, after having made the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons during the height of the Kevin Garnett era. That drought is likely to continue with the team trading another Kevin, Love—which brought Wiggins to Minnesota—to Cleveland this summer and now beginning another youth movement in the deep and unforgiving Western Conference. The Bucks last made the playoffs in 2013, but had the misfortunes of being the warm-up series (aka eighth seed) against the eventual

champion Miami Heat. Since that time, they have undergone their own transformations. Jason Kidd is now at the helm and with their own collection of youthful talent, the team appears just a couple of seasons away from being one to be reckoned with in the East. While both stand 6-8, the similarities end there for Parker and Wiggins, as their games couldn’t be further from relatable. However, both add an element badly needed by both franchises: hope. Wiggins was the most hyped high school player since LeBron James. Chosen Two. The freakish conception of MyCareer mode on NBA 2K15, with unlimited turbo. He can thank his parents for that trait, as his mom, Marita Payne, was an Olympic sprinter and his father, Mitchell, was the 23rd pick in the 1983 Draft and enjoyed success in the NBA, as well as in some European leagues. Parker exudes Tim Duncan-like poise, along with having a versatile offensive game that makes him a virtual mismatch on any given night. His résumé includes four consecutive state championships with Simeon Career Academy (Chicago), a frst in the city. Pretty impressive if you consider Simeon has had notables like Ben Wilson, Nick Anderson and Derrick Rose wear the blue and gold. Like Wiggins, Parker has some NBA DNA in him: His father, Sonny, was the 17th pick in the 1976 NBA Draft by Golden State, and played six seasons in the League. Along with the games that helped make them the top two selections, both teenagers carry themselves with the class and professionalism of seasoned veterans, which all franchises covet in players they hope will be at the forefront of future success. Much like the Timberwolves, Bucks and NBA, we’ll all be watching to see the heights to which Wiggins and Parker can take them. —Christopher Cason #24

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MOIETY

noun; one of two equal parts.

N

BA stars never get much exposure in Portland’s untamed wilderness. Despite being the home team to Nike and adidas, two of the biggest sports brands in the world, Portland remains a sleepy town, as far as NBA cities go. It’s not that they’re incapable of drumming up interest. The mid-’70s saw Bill Walton, the redheaded hippie who spearheaded Blazermania, and the city’s only victory parade. The ’90s saw some deep playoff runs led by Clyde Drexler. And the ’00s Blazers garnered plenty of headlines, perhaps for the wrong reasons, but people paid attention. They’re overshadowed by their counterparts in California, sandwiched between but not in reach of major media hubs in Seattle and San Francisco and isolated in the corner of the country. That’s why LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are the most important duo to their franchise. With them, the Trail Blazers are relevant, Western Conference contenders who play on national television and are worth staying up late on the East Coast to watch. They’re that crucial. Oklahoma City’s (also a one-sport town) duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook might trump the Blazer tandem, but the Thunder still reside in the heart of football country, and a bad season or two can be offset by a good Saturday or Sunday. The Pacifc-Northwest is a basketball hotbed. Peek around NBA rosters and you’ll see

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the many names that have come up from the region. Keeping the Trail Blazers relevant ensures the area stays an incubator for NBA talent, making Aldridge and Lillard gatekeepers to Pac-NW hoops. This is not to disparage the quality trio of Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum (quite possibly the NBA’s best starting fve), but let’s keep it 100: Aldridge and Lillard are the star attractions. The All-Star combination of Lillard, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, and Aldridge, the second pick in ’06, transformed the Trail Blazers from a sub-.500 (3349) team in 2013 to the ffth-seed in a deep Western Conference playoff race in ’14. They beat Houston in the frst round of the playoffs to snap their 13-year drought of not winning a playoff series. And

who could forget Lillard’s buzzer-beating series-clinching three-pointer in Game 6? Even if you wanted to, it’s been replayed so many times since it’s impossible to forget. That unforgettable moment, authored by Lillard but equally Aldridge’s for scoring a team-high 30 points to keep Portland in it, brought the Blazers back into the national consciousness. Lillard and Aldridge are young (24 and 29 respectively) and just entering the prime of their careers. They’re exemplary citizens and humble on and off the court. They’ve put a franchise on their backs and made an overlooked city relevant in the basketball world for the frst time in over a decade. What other duo can say that?—#17

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NORTH

noun; the upper (or the direction at which the compass needle normally points) part of the world or of a specifed country, region or town.

A

ny basketball fan in Canada can tell you about living in a hockey-crazed country. Loving basketball feels a bit like being part of an exclusive club that every member hopes would get bigger. In the 20-year history of the Toronto Raptors, never has that club felt as strong and enduring as it has in the spring of 2014. Prior to the team’s return to the postseason after a fve-year hiatus, the organization introduced a “We The North” slogan (which in typical social media fashion, morphed into #WeTheNorth). In a commercial that any Canadian with cable can practically recite by now, the spot announces, “We are the North side, a territory all our own. If that makes us outsiders, we’re in.” Those in the city who follow the sport knew the loyalty of its supporters. Still, no one could have anticipated the extent to which Raptors fans would embrace the manifesto. Toronto’s seven-game series against the Brooklyn Nets in the 2014 playoffs wasn’t just about a team coming together. The series was a

as one, outnumbering the pixels on the giant screen as they watched their beloved Raps. In unprecedented fashion, basketball highlights bumped all other coverage for the top of the hour on nightly news programs. It was an almost dream-like state as an entire country got caught up in the excitement of the unexpected short playoff run. What will be remembered most about the Game 7 clash won’t be the thrilling fnish, nor Paul Pierce’s game-sealing block of Kyle Lowry. It won’t be the ridiculously athletic and gutsy steal from Terrence Ross with seven seconds remaining to give the Raptors an opportunity to win the game. Nor the thunderous Northern crowd booing Deron Williams as he stood at the free throw line with 22 seconds left—so loud that writers in the hockey press box far above the 20,457 fans in the arena swear they could feel their laptops shaking. After fve years in the city and fve playoff-less seasons covering the Raptors, what will stick the most is what played out in the minutes after the fnal 6.2 seconds of Toronto’s frst-round series

against the Nets. As a stunned Lowry lay sprawled over the court, hands over his face after Pierce’s seriesclinching block, DeMar DeRozan pushed through the throngs to get to Lowry. Ignoring the Nets’ on-court celebration, the mayhem on the court, and his own thoughts, DeRozan went to his brother to remind him he was the guy every person wanted taking that shot. With Lowry and DeRozan still under the basket, the defning moment was watching the sold-out Air Canada Centre crowd switch from pained boos after Pierce’s block to cheers. From cheers to a strong, almost defant “Let’s Go Raptors” chant, the city was standing up in the face of defeat. Through so many years of waiting, that chant felt like a rallying cry and a promise that this wasn’t a one-time deal. After 89 games played across 94 feet, what will be remembered the most is a fan base showing its love and appreciation to the team that showed everyone what lies at the looming northern horizon.— Holly MacKenzie #32

living, breathing, cheering billboard displaying how basketball was booming above the border. In addition to thrilling basketball, the series had everything. From game-winning shots to a broken 24-second clock, a general manager joining the basketball equivalent of a block party to Grammy award-winning Global Ambassador Drake lint-rolling on the sidelines, it all was happening in Toronto. It was amazing to see thousands of fans standing outside of the arena to watch games on a giant screen. They stood packed together NBA PHOTOS/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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OSTENSIBLE

adj; stated or appearing to be true, but not necessarily so.

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BY STEVEN LEBRON #88

THE DA RESTS HIS CASE After a basketball career that never should’ve been, Derek Anderson is working on helping others beat the same odds.

A

s a kid growing up in Louisville, Ky., Derek Anderson gravitated toward basketball as a way to fnd solitude, and away from his deteriorating situation at home. Born and raised in Flint, Mich., Anderson’s mother relocated to Louisville to get out of an abusive relationship, and to be closer with her mom and grandmother. Mom was not without her own demons either. In sixth grade, after fnding out he had made the school’s basketball team, Anderson rushed home to share the news with his mother. Instead of basking in the joy on what was his proudest accomplishment to date, Anderson came home to fnd empty beer bottles all over the house. It was fve in the afternoon, his mother was on the couch, her speech slurred and barely coherent. It was the start of a very long battle with alcoholism, which left Anderson to fend for himself. Dad would occasionally reappear in Anderson’s life, but it was always short-lived, and would always end with confrontations which grew increasingly violent. Before he started high school, Anderson’s father would be out of his life for good. By the age of 11, it was normal for Anderson to come home after school to fnd himself locked out of his apartment because his mother was nowhere to be found. He would drop off his school books at his doorstep and head to the nearest basketball court to work on his game. It was an escape for Anderson, because basketball gave him a sense of pride. Even though he needed ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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to be independent, family was still on his mind. When he used to practice free throws, he would dribble the ball three times. One for mom. Two for dad. Three for himself. By the time he was heading to high school, Anderson could no longer depend on his mother to take care of him. After finally disconnecting from his mother, Anderson struggled to find a permanent place to call home. He stayed at a shelter1 for a while, even comparing it to a mini vacation

points and 10 rebounds per game. He was a finalist for Mr. Basketball honors. He was drawing significant interest from Division I college basketball programs from across the country, but there was only one place Anderson wanted to go. “I wanted to be the hometown guy,” explains Anderson. “I had a son, so I wanted to stay home. The Louisville campus was just 10 minutes away from where I lived. They expressed interest but never made any serious attempts to visit, which was disappointing.” Anderson considered Syracuse as well, but committed to Ohio State2 after their basketball coach Randy Ayers made the four-hour drive down to Louisville to visit him. Loyalty was important to Anderson. His decision was made. Before his freshman season officially started, Anderson broke his right hand in a preseason game and ended up sitting the first six games of the season. When he returned, Anderson showed flashes of brilliance. He was the third-leading scorer on the team with 10.2 points per game and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team. His sophomore season was set to be his breakout year. Anderson, who had been inserted into the starting lineup late in his freshman season, was now playing 31.6 minutes per game. He averaged 15.0 points and 4.9 rebounds.3 However, his season ended early when he underwent reconstructive knee surgery in March. During that time, the basketball program at Ohio State came under scrutiny for possibly violating NCAA rules regarding illegal recruiting processes. The opportunity opened up for Anderson to come home, but not to Louisville. Anderson transferred to Kentucky.

“I’ve never missed the grind. When I retired…I just worked on other things, and wasn’t even paying attention to basketball.” because it offered three meals and guaranteed heat and electricity, things that were far from a given back home. Oftentimes, he would crash at his friend’s place, until it became a burden. His coach at Doss High School, Bill White, took Anderson in as well. Eventually, his uncle George—the brother of his mom—provided him with some stability. On top of all this, Anderson found out at age 14 that his girlfriend had delivered his baby. To provide for child support, Anderson worked various jobs, including carrying groceries for tips at a local superstore, working at a candy truck and delivering paper routes on the weekend. Things only got worse for the teenaged Anderson in the form of the violence that surrounded him. Anderson’s sister was killed by their father’s best friend during a robbery attempt. When he was 16, while waiting outside a high school party, Anderson was standing next to a young man who was killed by a gunshot. The turning point for Anderson was surviving a stabbing that stemmed from a neighborhood street fight. With his Uncle George’s support, he became an honor student at Doss. As a senior, Anderson led his school to a 29-4 record, while averaging 24

Anderson redshirted the 1994-95 season.4 The following year—officially his junior season—Anderson was part of one of the most memorable teams in recent college basketball history. Coached by Rick Pitino, the 1995-96 Kentucky Wildcats went 34-2, including 16-0 in the SEC and a 27-game winning streak, on their way to a national championship. The team included an unprecedented 10 players who went on to play in the NBA (see sidebar): Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, Ron Mercer,5 Nazr Mohammed, Scott Padgett, Mark Pope, Jeff Sheppard, Wayne Turner and Antoine Walker.6 Anderson started 24 games that season and was named Mr. Hustle of the team. He averaged 9.4 points and 3.4 rebounds during the season, and hit a key three-pointer with under four minutes left in the championship game against Syracuse.7 “It was the most incredible time of my life,” says Anderson. “Everyone just supported one another. No one cared about money. We just played the game of basketball because we loved it. We have these memories we created that will last forever.”

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In his senior season, Anderson was the leading scorer on the team but played just 19 games before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The injury would end Anderson’s college career. It was the second major knee injury he had suffered, and now the attention turned to how it would impact him at the NBA Draft.8 “It was diffcult, but I wasn’t thinking about the NBA,” Anderson says. “I told Coach Pitino I wanted to play in my last game that senior year.9 But he told me to just wait and go to the NBA. I made sure I fnished school and got healthy. To be honest, I wasn’t too worried or depressed. I had been facing adversity since a young age. I just had to work hard to get back on the court.” Before Anderson heard his name announced by Commissioner David Stern on draft night, he received his frst surprise as a pro. He was visiting Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., when Michael Jordan greeted him and surprised Anderson by offering a spot to become one of the signature athletes in the newly formed Jordan Brand.10 “It was surreal,” says Anderson. “He said the reason he wanted to sign me was because he knew about the adversity I faced with my injury and he admired my character. That spoke volumes to me. I knew I had done something right when the greatest player in the game noticed me in that way. It was one of the greatest honors11 I’ve ever gotten.” After being taken by the Cavaliers, Anderson quickly realized he needed to become more physical in order to handle the stronger, faster and tougher pro game. He started lifting weights regularly for the frst time in his career, and kept a consistent routine that would last him all 11 seasons. While many NBA players like to bask in their newfound fame and large paychecks by enjoying the fruits of wealth in various cities, Anderson already had his mind set on his career after basketball. He also saw a chance to give back. During the lockout-shortened season of 1998-99, the Derek Anderson Foundation was established. The purpose of the foundation was to assist abused, battered women and children. Anderson hosted free picnics, gave away free clothing and shoes, refurbished three basketball courts he used to play at in Louisville, and spent $2 million dollars to open two new shopping plazas in the area. Anderson spent his frst two seasons in Cleveland12 before being traded13 to the Los Angeles Clippers. In his only season in Los Angeles, Anderson established career highs with 16.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals. Anderson was a strong ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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two-way guard. He had a strong midrange game, but was also explosive off the frst step, as evidenced by one play during his time with the Cavaliers when he came off a pick and roll at the top of the key, drove to the rim, and threw down a onehanded slam over a leaping Dikembe Mutombo.14 At 6-4 and 200 pounds, Anderson would often be outsized guarding wings, but his quickness helped offset his lack of physicality. Injuries were a concern, especially after two major surgeries in college, but when he was on the court, Anderson was a threat on both ends. Despite many suitors that offseason, he chose to sign a one-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs, for a chance to make the playoffs for the frst time in his career. The addition of Anderson was a tremendous boon for the Spurs, who had fnally found the perimeter threat to perfectly complement their frontcourt tandem of Tim Duncan and David Robinson. More importantly, Anderson played all 82 games during the 2000-01 season with the Spurs, averaging 15.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game.15 The Spurs fnished 58-24 in the regular season and were destined for a showdown with Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. That matchup would come to fruition, but without Anderson in the lineup. In the frst half of Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifnals against the Dallas Mavericks, Anderson drove to the basket and went up for a fnish when Juwan Howard met him in mid-air and knocked him to the foor. Anderson landed on his shoulder and walked off the court. He was later diagnosed with a separated shoulder that would knock him out of the playoffs. Even without Anderson, the Spurs dispatched the Mavericks in fve games. But they were swept in the next round by the Lakers.16 That offseason, the Portland Trail Blazers put together a long-term offer that the Spurs didn’t match. After just one season, Anderson was off to another team. Looking back, he’s disappointed by the injury in the postseason, and also misses what he had in San Antonio. “That was the best experience I had in the NBA,” Anderson says. “Working with Pop, playing with Tim Duncan. It was like a family there—from the organization to the fans. Everything in San Antonio was perfect for me. I just looked at it as a great ft. But at the end of the day, I realized the NBA was a business.” Anderson spent four seasons in Portland, and while still a productive player17 in the League, he found no team success with the Blazers. During his tenure there, Anderson played in a total of fve playoff games. In 2006, he was acquired by the Miami Heat from Houston in a midseason trade that would fnally lead him to that elusive championship, albeit as a veteran role player who mostly watched from the bench18 as Shaquille

“I’ve understood I’ve done things that people will never get a chance to do. They could have a billion dollars, but they can’t say they won the championship in high school, in college and in the NBA. It’s not what I don’t have, it’s what I do have.” O’Neal and Dwyane Wade led the Heat to four straight victories over the Mavericks in the Finals, as Miami overcame a 0-2 defcit to win it all. Anderson was ready to retire at this point, but just as his career started with a meeting with Jordan, it would end with a call from his Airness, who was now the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets). As a favor to Jordan, Anderson signed with the Bobcats to help nurture a young group. He would play two more seasons before retiring after the 2007-08 season. Anderson has not missed the game of basketball since. “I was ready to move on,” says Anderson. “I’ve never missed the grind. Once I was done, I didn’t even watch much basketball. When I retired, I didn’t even watch the playoffs the following two seasons. I just worked on other things, and wasn’t even paying attention to basketball.” Having spoken with Anderson several times in the past few months, no matter how often the conversation starts with basketball, it always ends with family. His NBA career might have been much more unfulflling than his potential suggested, but it was never the most important thing in Anderson's life. During the 2006 season with the Heat, Anderson reunited with his father. Along with a childhood friend, they drove around Louisville in search of him. After going to car washes, liquor stores and fnally, going house to house, Anderson found his father sitting on a porch. “That was tough,” recalls Anderson. “That was one of the hardest things I had to go through. You want your dad to be a hero. We had a conversation, and I wanted to know why he wasn’t around. And then he tells me he has cancer.” 070

ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN (2); GARRETT ELLWOOD (2); BILL SALLAZ; ALLEN EINSTEIN; LAYNE MURDOCH; BARRY GOSSAGE; DAVID LIAM KYLE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES; DOUG PENSINGER; EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES


KENTUCKY’S FINEST The 1995-96 Kentucky team that Anderson was on can lay claim to being one of the greatest NCAA squads of all time. The Wildcats went 34-2 for the year, while never losing to an SEC opponent in 16 contests. During the 1996 NCAA Tournament, they ripped through the competition by an average margin of victory of 21.5 points. Anderson teamed with nine others who would eventually go on to play for an NBA team (fve of them for their former Kentucky coach-turned Celtics head coach, Rick Pitino). While some NCAA rosters might boast more quality, none can say they had the equivalent of two fve-man units on one team.

TONY DELK Delk led the Wildcats in scoring in 1995-96 but his undersized (he was 6-1) shooting guard game didn’t quite translate to the NBA. Still, Delk managed to carve out a 10-year pro career that saw him average 9.1 ppg.

WALTER MCCARTY The lanky McCarty was one of the trio of Wildcats taken in the frst round of the 1996 NBA Draft. His tweener status (before hybrid positions became all the rage in the League) left him as an oddity on most NBA rosters. In spite of that, McCarty lasted 10 seasons and even sang a few National Anthems before the game.

RON MERCER The 1996-97 Celtics had visions of Tim Duncan in the lottery after a 15-win season and settled for Mercer fve picks later. Mercer had the rare opportunity to go from playing for his college coach to playing for him as a pro (Pitino had left Kentucky for the Celtics job after the 1996-97 season). While he possessed athleticism and showed scoring ability (career 13.6 ppg), Mercer never really stuck with any team long-term, playing with seven teams in his eight NBA seasons. NAZR MOHAMMED Mohammed has had the longest lasting power among his Wildcat peers. Currently in his 17th NBA season, Mohammed has dutifully provided eight franchises with dependable backup center play.

SCOTT PADGETT Padgett was technically part of the 1995-96 Kentucky team, but was not eligible to play due to academic reasons. While his NBA career (eight seasons, four teams) was unspectacular, Padgett did stick around as a contributing role player.

MARK POPE Pope was a big man reserve on Kentucky and his role remained the same after he was drafted in the second round in 1996, albeit to a much lesser degree. Pope alternated between stints in the CBA and six seasons on three NBA teams.

JEFF SHEPPARD A sharpshooting guard, Sheppard never got much of a chance to showcase his game in 18 games with the Atlanta Hawks in 1998-99.

WAYNE TURNER Boston head coach Pitino gave Turner a brief three-game look with the Celtics in 1999-00, but that wasn’t enough to keep his former Kentucky recruit on an NBA team.

ANTOINE WALKER Easily the most distinguished NBA player among that Wildcats squad, Walker was the rare multipronged forward who can score (more than 15,647 career points), rebound (6,891) and pass (3,170 assists). Walker copped three All-Star seasons and even a championship ring (along with Kentucky teammate Anderson) with the 2006 Miami Heat, while innovating the shimmy to great heights. While it’s unfortunate he’s known for being the poster boy of squandered wealth as he went bankrupt post-NBA, Walker is now working to help educate today’s players to avoid repeating his mistakes.

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“Basketball’s been great. It was a part of my life, and now I’ve moved on, and I look forward to doing something great with the rest of my life.”

This fall during the '01 playoffs would injure his shoulder and end Anderson's season.

Anderson wanted his dad to come to games during the season, but the surgeries he was having made it impossible. His dad was losing a lot of weight. Three weeks after Anderson won his frst NBA title, and 10 months after he had reconnected with his father, he passed away at the age of 62. Despite how abrupt everything felt, Anderson was glad his four kids got to meet their grandfather. During this time, Anderson also rekindled ties with his mother. Someone had called his offce to tell him that a lady who claimed to be his mother was in an alley, struggling and drinking with nothing but a small purse. Anderson brought his mom to rehab, and even stayed with her for several days. It took several years for his mom to come around to accepting help from others to overcome her alcoholism. It also took time for Anderson to forgive his mother for how she neglected him during his childhood. “I think we both had to get our emotions out of the way,” says Anderson. “We both had to let it go. I didn’t ask her about the past. I just asked her how she was doing. It was like the start of a new relationship. I didn’t want to offend her. We were both very cautious. I would say it took four to fve years to build that trust. After awhile, it just became natural. She started opening up, and telling me things from my childhood that I didn’t even remember. We had missed so much of our lives together and now we try to create these new memories and that’s what matters most.” Last year, mother and son fnally had Mother’s Day dinner together. Anderson says his mom is doing much better these days. Anderson’s sons are 4, 6, 20 and 26. His two older sons know about the situation with their grandparents. He has not talked to his two younger sons yet, but that time will come. But his own experiences have shaped him to want to make sure he doesn’t go through the same things with his children. “I tell them to not have that type of relationship with me,” he says. “If they have anything on their mind, they can talk to me. They can be open. Any conversation we have is about helping each other. My kids are growing up, they’re being better people now.” For the longest time, Anderson was angry, but reuniting with his parents allowed him to not have to bury those feelings anymore. He admits to pretending his parents BONUS POINTS didn’t even exist for a time. If anyone asked about his parents, 1. Anderson was placed there as a result of the school system not he would mention his Uncle George, who was a tremendous knowing his social security number. infuence in his life as he grew up without his parents. He says 2. OSU was coming off a season where it lost in the Elite 8 against the Fab Five Michigan team. reconnecting with his parents has allowed him to move on. 3. Anderson fnished second to future NBA player Lawrence Funderburke’s 15.2 ppg.

4. Per NCAA rules, transfer student-athletes have to sit out a season. Anderson’s work ethic has not changed. Instead of jumpers and ballhandling, he’s now putting 5. Mercer was drafted seven spots ahead of Anderson with the No. 6 pick in the time into expanding his business portfolio while continuing to spend time on his Foundation. the 1997 NBA Draft. 6. Of the bunch, only Walker went on to become an All-Star in the NBA. Anderson—who said he spent most of his downtime during his NBA career watching movies, 7. Syracuse was led by future NBA player John Wallace, who scored 29 points and and has been a flm buff since he was a kid—has forayed into the world of directing and grabbed 10 rebounds in the title game. 8. The consensus No. 1 pick going into the 1997 NBA Draft was Wake Forest’s Tim screenwriting. He produced and directed a documentary about the 1995-96 Wildcats called Duncan. The Untouchables of Kentucky, and is currently working on several television and feature flm 9. The Wildcats narrowly missed the rare NCAA threepeat as they lost to Arizona in projects. He’s also released an autobiography titled Stamina, which details the trials and the national championship game, 84-79, in 1997 (they would go onto to win it all in ’98). tribulations of his childhood. 10. Previously operating under Nike, Jordan Brand spun off into a wholly-owned After a basketball career and personal life that often seemed less than ideal, there are subsidiary of Nike in 1997. 11. All Jordan Brand athletes are handpicked by Jordan himself. fewer questions now for Anderson. When asked whether he was content, he did not 12. Anderson’s time in Cleveland mostly comprised of coming off the bench to provide hesitate with a reply. 11.3 ppg. 13. Anderson was swapped with Johnny Newman for Lamond Murray. “Absolutely. I’ve understood I’ve done things that people will never get a chance to 14. It was around this time that the NBA outlawed Mutombo’s trademark fnger wag at do,” Anderson says. “They could have a billion dollars, but they can’t say they won the opposing players after a block, not that he had reason to on this particular moment. championship in high school, in college and in the NBA. It’s not what I don’t have, it’s 15. Anderson was the second-leading scorer on the team behind Tim Duncan. 16. The juggernaut 2000-01 Lakers actually swept every playoff series that year, with the what I do have. Those are the things I’m thankful for. Basketball’s been great. It was a exception of the Finals against Philadelphia. part of my life, and now I’ve moved on, and I look forward to doing something great 17. Anderson’s Portland numbers—12 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.1 rpg and 1.1 spg—were virtually in line with his NBA career averages. with the rest of my life.” 18. Anderson played just 8.3 minutes per game in the 2006 playoffs.

072 SAM FORENCICH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES; TOM HAUCK/GETTY IMAGES


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PLENIPOTENTIARY adj; invested with full power

T

he prep star hype, the magazine covers touting future greatness, the tattoo of “Chosen One” aside, nothing about LeBron James’ current place in the NBA was predestined. After the Cavaliers found out they’d won the 2003 NBA Draft Lottery, they contemplated the pick for about two seconds before deciding to go with the close-to-hometown kid as the top pick. Everyone expected instant domination from the can't-miss, high-school wunderkind, but he didn’t—that says a lot about his expectations when he registered a 20-5-5 rookie run. That output put him in same airspace as Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan, but ask Tyreke Evans if it guaranteed future success. LeBron would ascend, winning a couple MVPs and taking his team deep into the playoffs, once even all the way to the Finals. The messy departure to Miami came with James’ reputation taking a hit, leaving many to question the power move by someone who wasn’t even a Don yet. James recruited a capo in Chris Bosh and joined the Dwyane Wade family, but fell short as many hate-watched the Heat during the 2011 Finals. For many, playing in the Finals is a career highlight; for James, rock bottom. He regrouped his men, recruited a wise consigliere in Shane Battier and went back to work, this time making his bones

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with a Finals MVP in 2012. Finally with a ring on his hand, people came to pledge their allegiance to James. Hopeful ring bearers focked to Miami. His Nike signature shoe started taking off. Endorsements... er, partnerships continued to grow. Any comparisons to outgoing dons (Kobe) and fedging ones (Kevin Durant) were squashed, especially when the second title and another two MVPs were secured. The Miami venture proved to be successful. It was time to go home to square away unfnished business. With it came a new lieutenant in Kevin Love and Don-in-the-making in Kyrie Irving. Even back-to-back No. 1 picks were sacrifced to make it all come together. Every other team and free agent waited until James made it offcial before going forward

with their offseason plan. This time around no one questioned the move. No jerseys were burned. A prime-time hour-long PR stunt announcing his new address became a humble, gracious and heartfelt (but still with plenty of crafted PR) letter in a print magazine. He even booked a meeting with the British royal couple. The 2010-11 Heat were viewed as heels; the 2014-15 Cavaliers are a sentimental favorite to win it all. LeBron James, made man? LeBron James made it, man.—Ming Wong #2

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QUIET

adj; tending not to talk very much.

SPEAK SOFTLY‌ 076

AN


AND CARRY A BIG STICK

Many players say that they want their game to do the talking. Kawhi Leonard won’t even utter those words. BY DARRYL HOWERTON #21

JENNIFER POTTHEISER; JESSE D. GARRABRANT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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THE FACE

H

is legendary basketball coach, Gregg Popovich, has said as time goes on, he will be the face of the San Antonio Spurs. So, frst we study The Face. And when you study his physiognomy up close—like tonight, after this latest Spurs-Lakers game in L.A.’s Staples Center—you see exactly what Pop means. Up close, you see sweat pouring forth, which is as much a trademark of his game and Spurs basketball1 as anything else. You see the Band-Aid over his right eye,2 a souvenir that covers up the fve stitches he just received from an accidental elbow3 from Kobe Bryant earlier in tonight’s game. Bryant was struggling, on his way to a 1-for-14 shooting night. Now take a look back at the young Spur’s face. Or should I say, look back at the 23-year-old man wearing silver and black, even out of uniform. Study the cornrow braids on his head. Peer into the windows of the soul and see his doe-eyed, shy expression never change as he makes his exit from the locker room. You see it is this expressionless mien,4 which is neither mean nor nice, neither happy nor sad, but so very-Spurs-like. It is a poker face that would make his legendary nononsense teammate Tim Duncan proud. “He is unassuming,” says the 38-year-old Duncan. “He is a kid that you don’t know what’s going on with him. You don’t know if he’s having a good day or bad day or anything in between. He stays so evenkeeled that it’s amazing. He’s able to keep himself at a certain level, which is great. Which is what you need from someone young like that. You don’t need them to be up and down. You need them to be as steady as possible and he shows exactly that. I appreciate and enjoy that more than anything.” As the young Spur is leaving the premises, you see him talk to a reporter, but you cannot hear him. He does not even stop in his tracks, explaining in a muttered word or two or three to the stranger that he won’t be able to do any interviews tonight (or the next night, or the night after that), leaving his legendary backcourt mates Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili behind to handle the L.A. press overfow in the crowded road locker room. “He has composure,” says 37-year-old legendary teammate Ginobili. “Usually kids 23 years old are demonstrative or arrogant. They think they can take a whole team or league by storm. He is just calm. He works hard. He waits for his time.” In case you had not noticed, the young Spur doesn’t talk much. Looking back, journalist folk can count on one hand the number of group interviews he did with the Spurs media in 2014 and they can use their other hand to count the number of one-on-one interviews he took with national media, from the TV outlets to the biggest brands in the biz who have millions of eyeballs wanting to chronicle NBA players’ every move. The length of these short sessions normally ranges from two to fve minutes, hardly the amount of time for anyone to properly psychoanalyze

the game’s most private player. But that is just the way he likes it. The Face is as close as you will get to him, because he simply will not ever let you get inside his head.

THE HANDS Or better yet, The Claw. His hands are so huge, the joke goes, that if you added three-quarters of an inch to one, it wouldn’t be a hand, it would be a foot. Indeed, his hands measure 11¼ inches from end of pinky fnger to end of thumb, giving him the largest mitts of any NBA small forward. Truth be told, it is hard to fnd seven-foot centers with hands as massive, much less swingmen. It is this trademark, among many, that has made him an especially attractive endorser for Michael Jordan’s Jordan Brand,5 who signed the young Spur two years ago. Jordan himself was known for his large hands and saw a little of himself in the kid when Jordan Brand signed him at the time. Jordan loved how the young Spur palmed the ball at the top of the circle, waiting for the Spurs' motion offense to ignite, similar to how MJ

“He is a kid that you don’t know what’s going on with him. You don’t know if he’s having a good day or bad day or anything in between. He stays so even-keeled that it’s amazing he’s able to keep himself at a certain level, which is great. Which is what you need from someone young like that. You don’t need them to be up and down. You need them to be as steady as possible and he shows exactly that. I appreciate and enjoy that more than anything.”—Tim Duncan

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palmed6 his way through the triangle offense from time to time. Jordan wasn’t the only fan. Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra marveled at how the young Spur’s hands came up with 90-something percent of all rebounds he touched in two Finals matchups7 with the Spurs. Opposing ballhandlers were in shock and awe at how many loose-ball turnovers8 his hands caused with those almost-foot-long claws tap-tapping the ball away, time and time again. Many in the media compared him to another Spurs All-Defensive wing, Bruce Bowen, who played on the Spurs’ 2003, ’05 and ’07 NBA championship teams. But Duncan, the all-time king of All-Defensive teams (NBA-record 14-time honoree), thought that comparison was a slight to his younger teammate. “He is different than Bruce, and Bruce was absolutely a stopper,” says


Duncan. “But he is a different breed. I think he is going to be unbelievably special when it comes down to it. If he continues to improve. Just like every other aspect of his game, he continues to improve. He has really improved his length, his hands, his reaction time—all those things. You see it!” Duncan is especially animated now. “He is really special with what he does out there. His ability to guard, not only the wings, but to put him on actual point guards and have him out on the foor and doing that stuff. It’s a special thing for us.” When the young Spur was named 2014 Finals MVP, his Spurs teammates on the championship stage all raised their right hand with fve open fngers in tribute to him, grabbing the right wrist with their left hand, while chanting the nickname of their heroic brother. “The Claw! The Claw!” The good people at Jordan Brand were impressed as well, even blessing him with a player exclusive this offseason, nicknamed—what else?—“The Claw,” which has a most creative design where the K and the L of his frst and last names are stretched out as fnger-like appendages to symbolize a gold-claw logo on the back of the shoe. For Mike, the saying once went, “Gotta be the shoes.” On the other hand, for The Claw, the saying now goes, “Gotta be the hands.”

THE WINGSPAN As impressive as his hands are, equally so is his wingspan.9 From middle fngertip to middle fngertip stretched wide out, he measures 7 feet, 3 inches, which belies the 6-6 height10 he measured at the 2011 NBA Combine. Those extra nine inches of reach11 are what enables him to be the game’s best perimeter defender of the moment. On a recent California road trip—where the Spurs knocked off the Clippers, Warriors and Lakers—it was his wingspan that made highlights again and again, whether he was picking the ball clean from Chris Paul to preserve a fnal-minute Spurs victory over the Clippers; helping challenge Stephen Curry to 0-for-7 threepoint shooting in a decisive win over the Warriors; picking Jeremy Lin twice for fastbreak points the other way, only to have Pop call him off, putting him back on Bryant, who, as previously noted, having a hard time getting anything going on this particular night. He did all this while scoring 57 points in 90 minutes during these three California DAVID LIAM KYLE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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CORNBREAD & CORNROWS

games, while also posting a .723 true shooting percentage on the offensive end. “When we call his number—which we’re doing Two of the most unlikely players ever to win an NBA more this year than we have in the past—he is Finals MVP award shared a lot more in common than there to score,” says Popovich. “But he has to Cornbread for a nickname and cornrows for a hairstyle. understand he is playing with his teammates and Indeed, Boston Celtics small forward Cedric Maxwell if the defense plays such that it’s a wiser move to and San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard are kick it, fnd somebody, he’s does that. But I want among the only non-All-Stars to elevate their play during the him to be aggressive and think ‘score.‘” championship round to win outstanding player honors. It is indeed this 87-inch wingspan that has Cornbread, who played in a time before Kevin McHale joined allowed the young legend-in-the-making to take the Celtics, was the 3 to Larry Bird’s 4 and Robert Parish’s 5 on fight from both ends of the 94-foot foor. that 1981 NBA Championship Celtics squad that defeated the “Basketball-wise,” Ginobili says, “it is his Moses Malone-led Houston Rockets, 4-2. strength and length that stands out. If you put It was a three-pronged frontline attack of Maxwell-Bird-Parish that him next to me, size-wise, maybe I’m an inch overcame the dominating Malone, with Bird and Parish both averaging taller. But he raises his arms and he’s maybe 15 points per game to Malone’s 22-point average in the Finals. six inches bigger. That’s a big advantage—those But Maxwell, with his 18-point Finals scoring average, was able to huge hands, that wingspan. He is very athletic. steal the Boston vote over the popular Bird, based on his Finals stats He can make shots. He has the whole package. outshining Bird's. He needs to keep working on it.” After all, Maxwell’s 16-point and 8-rebound average during the 1981

postseason didn’t even compare to Bird (22 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists per game), even with Cornbread’s NBA-best .644 postseason true THE BODY OF WORK shooting percentage. His name is Kawhi Leonard. But that is not to say Max, as We have not used his name in the story thus he was affectionately called, far because Leonard is not about making a didn’t deserve the recognition. For name for himself. he was the ultimate teammate, He would rather let his body of work a Celtic who could average 19 do the talking. points per game one season and When approached for this story, Leonard then sacrifce his scoring to take turned down our interview request, saying, “No, on more of a defensive stopper thank you,” via a Spurs spokesman. role one year later when Bird Nothing personal, we were told. He simply joined the team. doesn’t care about media attention and just In time, Bird would go on to win wants to play basketball. his own FInals MVPs, in 1984 and He would probably prefer we wrote nothing 1986—though truth be told, it about The Face, The Claw, The Wingspan … but was Maxwell who again pulled the The Legend of Leonard simply cannot be ignored storied clutch heroics, telling his anymore because he has most certainly taken teammates to jump on his back in fight now at age 23. Game 7 of the 1984 Finals and then Leonard may be one of the 10 best all-around delivering a 24-8-8 point-reboundplayers in the game today,12 and he already assist stat line while also making has gotten some national shine during the 2014 all 14 of his free throws. playoffs when the media voted him as the best You can be sure Red Auerbach player. And of course what recognition can and the Boston faithful noticed. be bigger than capturing the most esteemed On Dec. 15, 2003, the Celtics accolade of basketball's biggest stage, the 2014 retired Maxwell’s #31. Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP.13 On the fip side, Leonard was another man camoufaged as a role player whose real identity was that of a star. He too had a legendary teammate worthy of earning Bill Russell trophy votes, in mentor Yes, indeed, his body of work is flling and three-times Finals MVP Tim Duncan, who averaged 15.4 points and 10.0 rebounds with a .608 true out now: NBA champ; Finals MVP; Allshooting percentage during the 2014 Finals. Defensive Second Team. Leonard’s box-score Finals numbers weren’t that much better—17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds with .753 Soon to come: All-Star, All-NBA, maybe more true shooting percentage—but his outstanding perimeter defense on LeBron James was so impressive, MVP awards. Not that Leonard is campaigning for limiting James to 20 assists contrasted with 19 turnovers during the fve Finals contests, that he won any of these material things. the media vote. He is just all about the work. Odds are, Leonard will play in many All-Star Games of the future, but that shouldn’t stop the special bond “Kawhi just needs to keep playing,” says these two sacrifcing stars share today.—#21 Ginobili. “Keep healthy. Keep working, as he does. He’s a hard-working kid. And even after 081 CHRIS COVATTA; RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES; NOAH GRAHAM; NATHANIEL S. BUTLER; DICK RAPHAEL/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


what he’s accomplished in the last two years, if he keeps being humble and wanting to get better. It’s just a matter of time. It’s hard to be LeBron James or Kevin Durant after three years. He needs time. He is talented. He works hard. He is competitive. So he has a lot of potential. But he is still young.” Leonard’s actual body is long and lean—6-7, 230 pounds, to be exact— but it is his body of work that tells the tale of young legend. His college coach at San Diego State, Steve Fisher—he of Michigan Fab 5 fame—once called Leonard the hardest-working player he ever coached. His professional coach in San Antonio, Pop, pays him the ultimate compliment, by not treating him as a young prospect, but rather heaping praise on his young star as if he were already a member of the Spurs’ Hall-of-Fame Big 3. It’s a far cry from the chew-out sessions Parker and Ginobili got in their younger years. “Kawhi never got criticized like we did,” says his 32-year-old legendary teammate Parker. “Not even close. Pop calmed down since then.”

“When we call his number—which we’re doing more this year than we have in the past—he is there to score. I want him to be aggressive and think ‘score.‘” —Gregg Popovich Leonard is no longer the future face of the Spurs, but more like a present face of the Spurs. For he has certainly proven his bigness to the Big 3. Should Duncan and Ginobili retire after this 2014-15 season, the Spurs will likely offer Leonard a max contract to return with Parker and teammates, while the franchise still retains enough cap room to offer some other big man a max contract as well. Should the Spurs win another championship, with Duncan and Ginobili holding off retirement for yet another season, you can almost count on the Spurs locking BONUS POINTS 1. Did you know that fve of the 26 most active players in 2013-14 up Leonard at that time with a max (500-minute minimum), according to the NBA’s SportVU cameras, were contract this summer. all Spurs? Patty Mills (4.8 miles per hour average speed); Danny Green Such is life when you are The (4.6 mpg); Cory Joseph (4.6 mph); Tony Parker (4.5 mph); Kawhi Leonard (4.4 mpg). Face, have his Body of Work and 2. In the preseason, Leonard was afficted with an eye infection. already earned an Finals MVP award 3. An inadvertent result of a Leonard foul off a baseline move by Kobe. 4. Even during his greatest professional triumph, being awarded the 2014 before the age of 23. Finals MVP trophy, save for one scream (see feature opener) Leonard’s You really begin to believe your expression never strayed too far. 5. With an All-Star roster headlined by Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo press clippings…even if you never Anthony and Blake Griffn, Leonard was seen as a curious addition by some. read them yourself. 6. Jordan was famous for his one-handed ball-fakes where he would deke the “It’s hard to say how good he can be opponent with a fake pass. 7. In the 12 Finals games between the Heat and Spurs, Leonard averaged 9.2 one day,” says Parker. “We’ll see. Once rebounds per game. the Big 3 and Pop retire, we’ll see. We’ll 8. Kevin Durant had seven turnovers in series-clinching Game 6 of the 2014 Western Conference Finals, while LeBron James had seven TOs in the pivotal Game 3 of the see if they get good players around him 2014 NBA Finals. Both current MVP (Durant) and four-time MVP (James) were primarily and stuff like that for him to reach his guarded by Leonard. 9. The average wingspan of an adult male is 2.1 inches more than their height. potential. So it’s hard to say right now. 10. Since the combine, Leonard sprouted another inch. “But in the meantime, I’m not even 11. The average NBA player’s wingspan is 4.8 inches more than his height. In Leonard’s worried about Kawhi. He knows what case, it’s 8 inches. 12. Leonard’s +3.02 Real Plus-Minus score in 2013-14 was the best for any NBA player he wants to do. He wants to be great. 22-and-under, while his 19.43 Player Effciency Rating trailed only Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving He works hard at it. He’s in a great and Andre Drummond in that same age bracket. He averaged 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in 29 minutes per game, with a .602 true shooting percentage. environment with the Big 3 and Pop, 13. During the 2014 Finals, Leonard averaged 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in 33.4 minutes per so I’m not worried about him. He game with a .753 true shooting percentage, while his +173 playoff plus-minus score was second only to teammate Ginobili (+181) will be fne.” 082 NATHANIEL S. BUTLER; ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


PASSION

CHANGES THE WORLD

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REDUX

adj.; brought back.

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he saddest thing in life is wasted talent,” Robert De Niro tells his son throughout the 1993 flm A Bronx Tale. Sometimes it happens by one’s own means through poor decisions they make. It could occur by pure happenstance. In the League, the cause is often due to devastating injuries that rob us far too quickly of seeing top talents perform at their best. With one Most Valuable Player Award, six All-Star appearances and four Team USA gold medals between them, it would be unfair to label Derrick Rose or Deron Williams as wasted talents, as both have accomplished more on the court than 99.9 percent of folks who get a taste of playing basketball at the highest level. But before people argued over Russell, Kyrie and CP3 being the best at the PG spot, Deron and D-Rose had as fair a claim to the throne as anyone. Back in his Utah days, D-Will and the Jazz were not only contenders, but among the most fuid offenses in the game. He was not only considered perhaps the best point guard, but a pure MVP talent. Since the messy breakup with the Jazz though, Deron’s days in Jersey and Brooklyn have shown few glimpses of that elite play. Sure, there were some bad lineups when the Nets played out their days in the swamps, but Deron’s ankles have been a constant detriment. He showed us he still is among the best during his 2012 run with Team USA, but he hasn’t been the franchise player the Nets’ envisioned when they acquired him in 2011. While Deron was struggling adapting to life on the East Coast, Derrick Rose was just beginning his ascent in the Chi. Already with a Rookie of the Year and two All-Star berths under his belt, he

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became a household name by 2011, becoming the youngest to ever cop the MVP. The local boy done did good and the Bulls fnally appeared to have an “air” apparent. But in an instant, it was all gone. A knee injury in the 2012 postseason took him away from the Bulls for the entirety of the next season. Soon after, another knee injury knocked him out for most of the 2013-14 season. Both players have shown glimpses of greatness early this season—D-Will already earned an Eastern Conference Player of the Week award in November. But their fragility is ever present—during a preseason game, D-Rose took a nasty spill after a drive to the basket. As he lay motionless on the ground for a few moments, the entire Bulls bench rushed over to check on their star. And other small injuries to his ankles have kept him out here and there. There are other young Johnny-come-latelys who may have surpassed these two in popularity—Steph Curry, John Wall and Kyrie Irving come to mind—not to mention contemporaries who have been in the Point God conversation the entire time

(Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo). But don’t put these two studs out to pasture just yet. No two teams may be as dependent on their point guards’ success as the Bulls and Nets. As Taylor Swift says, the “haters gonna hate” but we’ll point to another New Yorker (real NYCers, forgive us) to put it more succinctly. Earlier this year, when asked about Rose’s injuries and criticism heaped upon him, Joakim Noah said “everybody just needs to chill out.” Got’cha Joakim. Loud and clear. Now let’s all just sit back and watch and enjoy the journey as these two get back to the top of their game.—#91

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SAUDADE

noun; a Portuguese or Galician word that has no direct translation in English; It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves; Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return.

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t is, perhaps, quite appropriate that Michael Jordan’s basketball career be defned by a word that doesn’t readily translate into English, since

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efforts to describe his game can be equally futile. Saudade is a Portuguese word that roughly translates to something that one longs for that will never happen again, and quite possibly never happened in the frst place. Simplifed, maybe it’s a happiness that brings sadness. There will never be another Michael Jordan. This is simple fact, in that players only come around once, period. Not only will there never be another Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, there will never be another Eddie Robinson or Smush Parker. Bad players are as unique and irreplaceable as great ones. The great ones just happen to be snowfakes with signature shoes. Which of course doesn’t stop fans and media alike from seeking the next ones, all along perhaps failing to appreciate fully each new

star on his own merits. Indeed, we judge them as failures for not living up to some arbitrary standard set by those who came before, even if it’s impossible—whether because of expansion or rules changes or simply the way the game is played—for history to repeat itself. This even applies to the way players are perceived to begin with. Michael Jordan, for example, came up in a world dominated by daily newspapers and Sports Illustrated, when ESPN was in its infancy and the Internet was but a dream. Nike could hone his image with no fear of a 24-hours news cycle disrupting it, and the myth became the reality. Which is where saudade comes into play. It’s not just Michael Jordan himself that current players are compared to, it’s the idealized depiction of Michael Jordan that we all grew up on, that we all accepted as truth. The numbers and accomplishments are diffcult enough to match—the fve MVPs, the six titles, the six Finals MVPs, the 10 scoring titles, the nine frst-team all-defense nods, the 29 signature shoes (and counting)—it’s the being Michael Jordan part that’s impossible. It’s something that can’t be quantifed, can’t even be defned, and thus can never be equaled. We are all left wanting, even those who never actually saw him play. There is another layer to this as well. Jordan’s rise accompanied that of the NBA itself, as it went from something of a niche sport to the international pastime. Jordan was just one of the reasons for this growth, but there is no denying that he played a major role. This, of course, is growth that can only happen once. Every player that has followed Jordan has played in Jordan’s shadow, as will every player yet to come. No matter how big a star gets, there will always be that shadow. A shadow that stays all too real, as Jordan’s heralded shoe line (which also began in a far different time) continues, and Jordan himself stays front and center, now as a team owner. But as Jordan’s playing career falls further and further back into the past, as both those who play the game and write about it only hear of Jordan’s exploits and see them in replays, the saudade will only grow greater.—#43 085


THRESHOLD

noun; the point or level at which something begins or changes.

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nthony Davis merely intended to acknowledge the success of a friend, but after sending a congratulatory text to League MVP Kevin Durant in May, Durant’s return message stunned the New Orleans Pelicans power forward. “You on your way to get it,” Durant responded. “It was shocking,” Davis says of KD’s encouraging words. “For a guy who knows what it takes to win an MVP award, telling me that I’m on my way, it means he sees something in me.” Less than a year later, everyone around the NBA is seeing the same thing. Touted as the game’s next great player since his All-Everything, championship season at Kentucky, Davis is now poised to cement his status as one of the League’s biggest stars. Not of the

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future—of the present. As if to signal that he was planning to take over as the NBA’s premier power forward in 2014-15, the 6-10, 242-pounder tipped off the regular season with a 26-point, 17-rebound, nine-block

performance versus Orlando. That kind of stat line would represent a career night for many players, or at least a season-best, but Davis followed that up with 31 points and 15 boards against Dallas in the very next game. A week later, he posted a 27-point, 11-rebound, six-block showing at San Antonio in the Pelicans’ ffth game, which also included a layup in the fnal seconds to beat the Spurs by a point on their home foor. Just two-plus years into his NBA career and at age 21, the Chicago native is making many of his peers wonder where his ceiling might be. His on-court progress has been nearly as rapid as his famous growth spurt in high school, when he transformed from a modestly-recruited 6-2 guard to a 6-10 nationally-ranked force. “You can tell he’s getting bulkier, getting bigger, more confdent,” says Durant, a USA Basketball teammate in 2012. “You can tell he’s working. I’m excited for him. He’s a good friend of mine. I’ve seen him since he was a junior in high school. His growth from then to now is just phenomenal. He’s just growing every single day. He’s moving up the ladder every single day. It’s scary. Scary.” “He has a similar skill set [to Pau Gasol],” Kobe Bryant described after a 25-12-6 game by Davis against the Lakers. “Pau’s the most skilled big man I’ve ever seen. AD still has a little ways to go in terms of matching that skill, but if he ever gets there, watch out.” One of the few items remaining on the superstar checklist for Davis is to make his frst playoff appearance, which would bring some of the national exposure he’s lacked while playing in the NBA’s smallest city. A trip deep into the postseason would give a whole new audience the chance to see what some of the NBA’s marquee names already acknowledge, that Davis belongs in their elite group. “I know how good he’s going to be,” Durant says. “I know how good he is now, but I know how good he’s going to be. He’s an MVP-caliber player. So he’s next. He’s next in line—a guy that has grown so much in just a year. I’m excited to see what he does from here.”—Jim Eichenhofer #12

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UNITASKER

noun; a tool that does only one function well.

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ames Harden, one of the most skilled offensive players we’ve seen in years, gets arguably as much attention for his struggles on the opposite end of the foor as he does for his ridiculous scoring ability. In the haste to upload Vines and YouTube clips of missed defensive rotations and seeming aversion to stay in front of his man, we need to be sure we do not miss out on celebrating Harden’s offensive prowess. On the night that Harden was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets, people wondered how the Sixth Man of the Year would transition into franchise player. Harden’s response was a 37-point, 12-assist, six-rebound, four-steal performance in Houston’s season-opening win against the Detroit Pistons. That stat-stuffng offensive performance hasn't slowed down much, either. Harden has proved himself to be an effcient scorer as a No. 1 option. In his frst two seasons with the Rockets, he averaged at least 25 points per game and

is on pace to do it again this year. Making nearly two and a half three-pointers per game, he has also been second in the League in made free throws over the past two seasons and is leading the League again this year. Not sure if the expansive beard helps draw contact, but there isn’t anyone in the game better at getting offcials to use their whistle during a drive to the basket than the 6-5 Harden. When Harden isn’t getting to the line or drilling three-pointers, he’s making his teammates look better. An underrated passer with great court vision, Harden has the distributing skills of a point guard. He also has quick hands and anticipation, averaging more than 1.5 steals per game in each of his past three seasons (that’s some defense). Most important for Harden, and for those critiquing at home, is wins and losses. Harden has never missed the playoffs in his career. In his frst year with the Rockets (one year after making it to the Finals with the Thunder), Houston was eliminated by the Thunder in the frst round. In his second season in Houston, they were eliminated by the Portland Trail Blazers in the frst round thanks to a heavenly buzzer-beater courtesy of Damian Lillard. This season, the Rockets are off to another hot start in a terrifyingly competitive Western Conference. Harden is putting forth a stronger effort

on the defensive end of the foor and at print time the Rockets ranked second in the NBA in defensive effciency with a 96.3 rating, up from 12th last season. If Harden is to be called a unitasker, perhaps some additional context is needed. When it comes to the ffth-year guard, the sole task he is concerned with is winning. Also, even if Harden did play lackluster defense (check his numbers this year, he’s a much better defender), his offensive brilliance still means the net effect is better than most 2s. In the grand scheme of things, outside of YouTube, Vine and Instagram accounts, the ffth-year guard is doing quite all right.—#32

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VESTIGIAL

adj; forming a very small remnant of something that was once much larger or more noticeable.

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magine the stress felt by Miami Heat season ticket holders this past summer. The 2014-15 invoice arrived, and a deposit was necessary. Perhaps the whole pile had to be pushed to the middle— before LeBron James decided where he would be playing basketball this season. Talk about a tough decision. Pay up, and you risk paying some serious money for 41 games of LeBronless Heat action. Fail to renew, and you run the risk of missing out on another run to the Finals, something that was a given the past four Junes. Once James announced he would be heading back to his ancestral home, those Miami fans who decided to renew their commitments to the team no doubt wondered what exactly they would be seeing on the court. Even though two-thirds of the Big Three had returned, and the addition of Luol Deng had removed some (okay, a little bit) of the sting of James’ departure, there was a profound sense of loss. Dwyane Wade and his three rings were back. Chris Bosh had re-signed and was poised to resume his Alpha Male ways. But without James, did any of it matter? Once mighty and the main focus of fans and media throughout the League—Heat check? Lukewarm, perhaps—it now commands a fraction of the attention it once

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did, even with Wade and Bosh, who were big stars in their own rights. That, of course, was before James decided to play in South Beach. His arrival pushed them into the background somewhat, and his departure failed to return them to the spotlight, at least in the short term. Think about that. Two All-Stars are cast in with a megastar and lose their cachet. It’s unprecedented. Losing James hurts, of course. He’s the best player on the planet. But Bosh was putting up huge numbers before he joined the Heat and became part of the cast, rather than the headliner. And despite his cranky knees, Wade is still capable of putting up impressive numbers and at times carrying the team. After four years of James’ being the complete focus of the team and all it did, there is clearly a large hole in the Heat franchise, one that will require time to close. Not only did the team lose its best player; it also lost its identity. And no matter how good Bosh and Wade are or how much they have won, there has to be a

period of mourning. That’s why, even in an Eastern Conference that is still somewhat shaky, Miami struggled early. The Heat began the season known more for what it wasn’t than for what it was. Bosh and Wade, who played the parts of Options Two and Three so well—if not always so willingly—are grappling with the process of adjusting. “I’m still fnding my way with this team and this offense,” Wade said in an interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in October. “So I’m still trying to see where I ft in. I know I can get my shot any time I want, but it’s about the quality of it more so than anything. I’m just playing the game and just seeing.” That wasn’t some rookie talking. It was a veteran and a likely Hall of Famer. James is gone, and the Heat has been reduced—for a while, anyway—to a group of players searching for ways to play together again. And to be whole.—#53

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WEATHER

verb; come safely through (a storm).

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or most of its time since arriving in Oklahoma City, the Thunder have been the ones pelting the opposition with gale-force drives, tornado-like spin moves and thunderclap dunks led by their All-NBA duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But during the frst month of the season, the Thunder were the ones who had to batten down in the absence of their power tandem due to injuries. The losing start was disappointing, but every bit expected. Playing without their two stars meant the Thunder went into each of its frst 16 games minus 53.8 points, 13.1 rebounds, 12.4 assists and 3.2 steals (Durant and Westbrook’s combined totals in 2013-14). To make matters worse, injuries to the existing roster further thinned the Thunder. Complementary players Serge Ibaka and the-emerging Reggie Jackson did their valiant part to help ride out the storm. As a third option with Durant and Westbrook on the foor, Ibaka feasted on preoccupied defenses to shoot open midrange jumpers and get easy putbacks; as a frst option, he struggled to duplicate his usual 15-ppg scoring despite taking more shots. Jackson did show some playmaking ability (ironically making things that much tougher for GM Sam Presti at the end of the year as Jackson is entering restricted free

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agency) as he upped his point and assists. A pair of third-year players proved to be valuable future parts of the team: Perry Jones showed some scoring knack in seven games before a knee injury slowed him down while Jeremy Lamb showcased a budding three-point stroke. Despite all the positive signs, the Thunder were left in a wake of tatters without their two studs. The return of Westbrook after 16 games (and Durant three games later) brought back some normalcy. Ibaka went back to blocking shots and getting open catch-and-shoots. Jackson went back to picking apart opponents’ second units. All the other rotation players who stepped up during the stars’ absence gained newfound confdence. But the damage might be done. The 4-12 hole might seem repairable, but in the hyper-

competitive West, that setback might be the difference between postseason and lottery. In the 66 games left with Durant and Westbrook back in the fold, if the Thunder play .720 ball (their win percentage last season) they would fnish this season with 51 wins (the No. 8 seed Mavericks had 49 wins last year), and that’s not factoring any lingering rust or further injuries to the roster. With the ever-nearing free agency of their MVP Durant in 2016, this potential lost season puts the once-darling Thunder franchise in a predicament. A playoff-less campaign might make Durant reconsider his future in OKC. However, if the Thunder can manage to squeak into the playoffs, they’d undoubtedly get the clichéd title of “the team no one wants to face in the playoffs.” You’d have to think it’s the latter. After all, there’s no rainbow without the rain.—#2

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XEROPHILOUS

adj; (of a plant or animal) adapted to a very dry climate or habitat, or to conditions where moisture is scarce.

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t’s not supposed to be like this for the great talented ones. Not for someone with a point godly game who, if he can crack 10 points in scoring, can net a triple-double with ease. Surely not a scoring machine who might be the most gifted bucketmaking small forward in the game since another Brooklyn-born shotmaker with the money turnaround jumper (Bernard King). Defnitely not to someone with over 32K points and fve rings. Yet that is the fate shared by Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant: All-Star talents mired in no—or should we say little— win situations. Rondo, the PG who’s never seen a pass he wouldn’t rather make, is in a situation a far cry from the heyday of passing to the likes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. No knock intended, but Rondo is now hoping for dimes from Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and Avery

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Bradley, making notching 10 assists almost as tough as 10 points for Rondo these days. The triangle offense was supposed to change things up in 2014-15, but the Knicks have just gone in circles with Melo in the center of it all. Credit Anthony for being a team player, doing his best to adapt while resisting his natural urges to put the ball in the basket, a skill where he has few peers. In many ways, Anthony’s entire career has been this, but he’s at least been on a (mostly) winning outft, all the while putting his complete scoring repertoire (he’s averaged at least 25 ppg in seven seasons) on full display. The hometown boy was supposed to come back and change things In many ways, Bryant is mirroring the Michael Jordan career arc. The start and the middle is a little different—Kobe started out with three chips early before establishing alpha dog status and adding another two rings while MJ more or

less did the opposite—but the ending is looking eerily familiar. In Kobe’s case, he didn’t swap out his uniforms, but he’s mostly operating on sheer will, compiling points and stats while trying to singlehandedly get his team to some form of respectability. There are nights he’s in vintage form—a 44-point night in November, a December triple-double—but with it, some forgettable moments (1-of-14 shooting for 9 points and a 10-turnover debacle). At this point Kobe is not playing to move up the standings and ring count, but the scoring ledger (he moved past Jordan in December). There was that famous breakfast date in early December between Kobe and Rondo. A possible commiseration over pancakes? Perhaps. Should’ve invited Melo.—#2

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YARE

adj; characterized by speed and agility.

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ost among the shuffe of premier point guards in the NBA is Mike Conley. Even on his team he might get overlooked by teammates Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and even the loquacious Tony Allen, but it's Conley that is the PG that drives the ship. Underrated? More like ignored. But in many ways, it’s easy to. Conley does not possess the uber athletic ability of a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, who are able to scale bigs and fy through the air. He doesn’t possess the thrilling offensive game of a Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry or Tony Parker. Nor the ohhand-ahh passing acumen of a Ricky Rubio

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or Rajon Rondo. In many ways he’s the closest thing to the game’s most complete point guard, Chris Paul, minus the commercials, signature shoe deal and high altitude lobmates. Conley does everything right on the basketball court. He doesn’t turn the ball over (over seven seasons, Conley has averaged just two per game), fnds the open man and takes high percentage shots. That’s not to say he’s boring. Conley has been known to occasionally put a man in skates and he’s hit some clutch shots in big moments. It’s only because you won’t see Conley’s skills on display in highlight reels. But pay attention and you’ll notice the little things Conley brings that are integral to the grit-and-grind Grizzlies’ success. Like Conley’s masterfully-honed ballhandling skills that have kept his miscues low. Or Conley’s stout defensive approach of bodying up opposing 1s and fghting hard through every screen while his quick hands pickpocket passes with regularity. As the longest tenured player on the Memphis Grizzlies, Conley has been the unquestioned leader, leading the team to four straight postseason appearances. While he has been successful running a roster that consists of All-Stars Z-Bo and Gasol, he tends to go unnoticed. Which actually makes sense since as the point guard, it’s his job to put the shine on others ahead of himself.—#3

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ZYMURGY noun; the study or practice of fermentation in brewing, winemaking or distilling.

I

t’s the last word in the dictionary. Or at least in a few dictionaries, and it has to do with the fne art of fermentation. For those of you who didn’t pay attention in chemistry class, you may just have missed some valuable lessons on how to make good wine or beer. Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough must have been taking good notes, because he has put together quite an interesting concoction. It’s an unusual one, too. Instead of setting out to create a team that includes a balanced collection of guards, forwards and centers, McDonough has chosen to collect as many good basketball players as possible, regardless of position. How else do you explain the Suns’ offseason acquisition of scoring point man Isaiah Thomas, when they already had high-volume scoring PGs Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, not to mention Gerald Green and frst-round pick Tyler Ennis? It looks like the Suns have signed up for a 6-6-and-under league, rather than the NBA, but it just might work. “It might be a little counter to what most people are thinking, but we felt like we’d add Isaiah and make

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what we think is a strength an even greater strength,” McDonough told Bleacher Report during the offseason. The Suns missed the playoffs by a game last year (48 wins doesn’t get you very far in the competitive Western Conference) with a team that few fgured would be even close to contention. McDonough saw that when Bledsoe or Dragic (or both) was out of the game, the team’s offensive production dropped off. So, he decided to bet big—er, small—by going all-in: adding Thomas, drafting Ennis and maximizing the team’s backcourt options. There is certainly some potential pop in the Phoenix backcourt. Thomas scored 20.3 ppg last year, while Dragic (20.3 ppg) and Bledsoe (17.7) were highly productive, too. Green (15.8) is another weapon that can cause rivals

big trouble. The ability to play them together and run an attack in which three players can initiate the offense from the perimeter— and set up Green—is quite enticing, and giving head coach Jeff Hornacek the opportunity to mix them up throughout the course of the game to create the optimal matchup situations is interesting, too. The Suns aren’t playing with fve guards, as the presence of the brothers, Marcus and Markieff Morris, Alex Len and Miles Plumlee demonstrate. You still need to have some big people to have NBA success. But as the Suns’ preoccupation with backcourt talent proves, McDonough believes in being a good microbrewery. By April, we’ll have a good idea of how it all tastes.— #53 BARRY GOSSAGE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


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

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© 2014 Home Box Offce, Inc. All rights reserved. HBO® and related service marks are the property of Home Box Offce, Inc.


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9/10/14 1:02 PM


CHECKIT 96 SPIN MOVES 98 GOODS 100 GEAR 106 WEAR

STAY CALM AND CARRY ON

Call it #sneakerheadproblems, but travel for the shoe connoisseur presents unique challenges. Besides setting up the weekend (let’s not even get into the trips spanning a week or more) rotation (a dilemma in and of itself) there’s the logistical concern of how to properly stow away the precious pairs. It usually comes down to the separate shoe bag or cramming clothes and gear around the shoes. Between airlines levying ever-increasing check-in and even carry-on luggage fees and the less-than-ideal packing of footwear and clothes and other gear, what is a sneakerhead supposed to do? The Shrine has it covered with its line of packs that serve that exact consumer in mind. Outftted with dedicated compartments for grails and beaters alike, with still enough space to stow away the necessary clothing and assorted gear, it’s got our co-sign, and even the NBA’s, as it will be given away to VIPs and celebrities taking part in NBA All-Star 2015. Pictured here is the one All-Star edition of it (sorry, not for sale) but the ones available can be seen on page 106.

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CHECK IT SPIN MOVES

BY HOLLY MACKENZIE #32

Eric Bledsoe

Good things are happening in Eric Bledsoe’s world. In the first year of a five-year commitment from the Phoenix Suns, Bledsoe and the Suns are continuing to come together as a team. The 25-yearold point guard is thankful to have contract negotiations behind him and is excited about the future he is aiming to build in Phoenix. First order of business on Bledsoe’s 2014-2015 season to-do list: “To make the playoffs. It feels great to know I’ll be in Phoenix for a while. Not to be moving anywhere. It feels like home. Last year it just felt like home. The fans, I love the organization.” When Bledsoe isn’t carving up an opposing defense or getting called the “Mini LeBron,” he keeps things pretty low-key: “Just hang out with my family and friends. We go on go-kart rides, play videogames, sit home and talk. Just having fun.”

MOVIES

My all-time favorite movie—I have a lot of them—but I think all-time favorite, it’s probably Friday. [On actor to play you in a movie]: I’d probably say Ice Cube and if I could be in a movie with anyone I would say Samuel L. Jackson.

SNEAKERS

I like [playing in] the LeBrons. [Favorite of all-time] would be the Jordan VIII’s—the Aquas.

MUSIC

I like Young Jeezy’s new album, Seen It All: The Autobiography. I like Drake’s albums. I listen to a variety of stuff. Before games I usually listen to something I can relate to and keeps me in a focused mindset going to the stadium. From Young Jeezy, I listen to “No Tears.” It’s got Future in the song.

VIDEOGAMES

I’m a big gamer. I like a lot of videogames. I like the Xbox One. I like to play Call of Duty. I play NBA 2K. I play with the Suns the majority of the time to start the game off. Once we play a couple times, I’ll start picking other players. It’s unbelievable to see yourself on the videogame that you’ve been playing since you were so young. It’s fun.

TV SHOWS

Martin and Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad is a great show. The whole team watches movies and TV on flights. I have one more show, too: Orange is the New Black. I like that show. I’m looking forward to the next season. 096

SOCIAL MEDIA

I like Instagram (@ebled2) the best. [On his favorite follower] Hmm. I would say LeBron. [On “Mini LeBron” nickname] I mean, I don’t mind it. He’s one of the best players in basketball. [laughs]. [It’s kind of crazy] because everyone always says if he was a smaller guard, I would probably be a version of him.

ILLUSTRATION: MATT CANDELA; CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES


© 2005-2014 Take-Two Interactive Software and its subsidiaries. All rights reserved. 2K, the 2K logo, and Take-Two Interactive Software are all trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. The NBA and NBA member team identifications are the intellectual property of NBA Properties, Inc. and the respective NBA member teams. © 2014 NBA Properties, Inc. All Rights Reserved. “PlayStation” and “PS” Family logo are registered trademarks. “PS3” and “PS4” are trademarks of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. © 2014 Valve Corporation. Steamworks and the Steamworks logo are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Valve Corporation in the U.S. and/or other countries. The ratings icon is a trademark of the Entertainment Software Association. All other trademarks are property of their respective owners.


CHECK IT GOODS

Braven BRV-BANK

Power banks are generally low-tech utilitarian devices: You charge it up and it charges your devices. For those who like the added bells and whistles, the BRV-BANK has it—Bluetooth (to connect with your phone via app to show you its functions and added controls), two ports (charge two devices simultaneously, including a phone and tablet), IPX5 water resistant certifcation, and fashlight. The 6,000 mAh battery will handle all your portable power needs, even in the most inclement of conditions.

$129.99

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

The smartphone game is competitive and makers have had to think outside the box—or in Samsung’s case, outside the traditional screen—with the Galaxy Note Edge. Basically a Galaxy Note 4 at its core (from the screen size to the stowable stylus), the Edge shows a unique side, literally in the form of a display on the edge of the screen, much like an infnity pool. The added strip on the right side of the screen might not seem like much, but Samsung makes sure it’s as functional as it is beautiful to look at, using the real estate for notifcations (Twitter updates FTW), app shortcuts, camera controls and even mini-games. The one caveat is that southpaws might have some problem as the edge screen sits on the right side of the screen, putting the touch functions on the fngertips of leftys.

$945.99 (or $31.54 over 30 months)

Nintendo 3DS XL Retro NES Edition

Anyone who grew up on Michael Jordan will appreciate this throwback-themed 3DS XL. While the outside might be stylized like a classic NES controller (feel free to go up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A Start), inside the clamshell is the dual-screened (touchscreen on the bottom, stereoscopic 3D screen on top) 3DS that remains the best portable gaming device on the market, which at three years in, has a vast collection of games available.

$199.99

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WHERE TO BUY: Braven BRV-Bank, braven.com; Holdfast Ruck Strap, holdfastgear.com; HTC Re, htc.com; Monster 24K, monsterproducts.com; Nintendo 3DS XL Retro NES Edition, gamespot.com; Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, att.com

Holdfast Ruck Strap

Do yourself a favor and ditch the OEM strap that came with your camera; using it makes you look like every other schmuck with an SLR camera. Upgrade it to the Ruck Strap from Holdfast which secures your camera onto the duck canvas, leather and microfiber suede strap secured by durable metal rivets (pictured is classic camo, but other colors are available). On the strap are also two pockets and an elastic band to stash away small necessities like memory cards and for the purists, film.

$145

Monster 24K

Personal headphones, which are a product to keep audio to oneself, have become louder and more expressive than at any other point in audio history. For those looking for ultimate showmanship, may we suggest the 24K? Monster has long prided itself as being the gold standard for audio products, which makes the 24K a personification of its credo. While it’s not for everyone, we can attest that the sound quality is every bit as high end as its looks.

$319.95

HTC Re

Point-and-shoot cameras are all but dead in today’s world of megapixeled smartphones, but HTC is betting on the Re, a periscope-like camera that is easy to use (one button operation and turns on via touch sensors) and begs to be passed around, making it a fun party cam as users can snap off a few pics or shoot some video in the included 8GB microSD card (expandable to 128GB). The picture quality will likely not compare to your high-end smartphone and the lack of a viewfinder (the wide-angle lens is very forgiving and the accompanying Re app uses your smartphone as a viewfinder at the risk of redundancy) but that’s not the point of the Re. It’s meant to be a fun and durable (it is submersible in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes) and unofficially, can take a fall or five from 10 feet, making it a cheap option to a Go-Pro for your next basketball highlight reel.

$199.99

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CHECK IT GEAR

02

Padded achilles notch adds comfort and reduces slipping at the heel.

Jordan

Super.Fly 3 Price: $140 Weight: 13.9 oz.

01

A sonic wave inspired design is inserted into the material. Just like the AJ XX9 the outsole pattern enhances multidirectional traction. 02

05

Flight Web provides maximum energy efficiency for optimum performance.

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FlightPlate Technology has become a signature feature in the Jordan Brand innovative process. It delivers stabilizing lockdown that transfers energy between the heel and forefoot.

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Synthetic overlays fused on the heel and toe using no-sew construction add structure and support.

OUR TAKE: Jordan Brand dedicated 2014 to dominating the basketball performance market: first unveiling the Jordan XX9 in April, then debuting the eighth installment in the CP3 line in August. Anchoring the calendar year is the Super.Fly 3. Like with the Super.Fly 2, Jordan stayed with Blake Griffin as the shoes’ inspiration. As the name and Griffin’s game blatantly suggest, the Super.Fly is about reaching heights, be it literally or figuratively soaring to another level in one’s game. The SF3 features an evolved FlightPlate that provides you with efficiency and no wasted energy in every move you make on the floor. Beginning with the Air Jordan XX8, Jordan Brand realized it hit upon a winning solution to providing the best heel-to-toe transition with minimal energy loss, and has wisely stuck by the formula with its shoes. It is really easy to make a cut and transition with the help of the enhanced Nike Zoom Unit at the forefront of the shoe, a big reason why guys such as Griffin, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul all have some of the best first steps in the League. With a strong emphasis on technology, the sneaker succeeds from a performance standpoint. The SF3’s Flight Web system provides a stabilizing lockdown and a lot of support during games. One of our favorites is the webbed straps that wrap around the foot and integrate the laces for fit throughout the midfoot. Since the shoe was made to fit like a glove we will recommend going a size up, especially for those with wider feet or who prefer more space at the forefoot. Adding to foot comfort is the sock-like inner sleeve and a padded achilles notch to keep your feet both stable and comfortable. In many ways the SF3 is right in the middle of the Jordan product line with the AJ XX9 more focused on pure explosiveness and vertical and the CP3.VIII about lateral mobility and being quick.The SF3 is a nice median between the two, making it one of the best all-purpose shoes this year. —Jarrel Harris #3

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03

Rear ankle pad and tab for foot security and ease of entry.

adidas

J Wall 1 Price: $115 Weight: 16 oz. 03

02

Durable mesh upper for maximum ventilation.

01

Fused overlays in the toe and eyestay provide additional durability.

04

FitFrame, much like adidas’ SprintFrame but in a more reduced package, provides support and integrity. 06

The outsole has a cool storytelling element, highlighting the different places in the country that Wall has played: Seattle (Space Needle), New York (Statue of Liberty), St. Louis (The Arch) among others.

05

Midsole cushioning is comprised of adiprene+.

OUR TAKE: After three largely unsuccessful signature models from Reebok, John Wall was mercifully moved to parent company adidas and this season the company rebooted Wall’s signature line with Three Stripes, the J Wall 1. Gone is the Zigtech that was a mainstay on the Reebok Walls that provided energy return and cushioning. It’s been replaced with...nope, not Boost, the bouncy foam that adidas has been rolling out across its basketball line this season, but with adiprene+ across the length of the shoe. We’d much prefer Boost, but the adiprene+ was fine, provided you get enough break-in time. While full-length, the adiprene+ in the heel was more plentiful while the forefoot was more dense. The J Wall 1 could use better transition from rear to front. While the storytelling outsole was very cool to look at, there were concerns that it would take away from the performance. We were wrong; the J Wall 1 has plenty of court grip, be it north-south or laterally. The FitFrame kept the foot cupped into the shoe, but it was definitely aided by the very helpful midfoot wings that are integrated into the lacing system to help secure the foot when strapped in. Both were very necessary features since the mesh upper, while providing great ventilation during long sessions, would likely not hold things together by itself. The J Wall 1 is a good redux of Wall’s signature line. He’s in the midst of a breakout season and the shoe should do better based off that coupled with adidas’ better (compared to Reebok) presence in the basketball market. Still, the J Wall 1 has some catching up to do before it matches Wall’s improvement on the court.—Frank Capa #28

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CHECK IT GEAR

adidas

D Rose 5 Boost

02

03

Interior mesh ankle pockets for air flow and increased comfort.

Price $140 Weight 14.3 oz.

New EVA fit-cage to provide strength and support.

01

SprintWeb and SprintPlate for lightweight support and stability.

04 05

Enlarged TPU plate aids arch support. 08

Separated heel and forefoot outsole to maximize the feel of full-length Boost.

Full-length Boost for maximum performance and heightened energy return.

06 07

Traction zones on the outsole and square pattern on the heel ensures ideal court feel.

Torsion system for mid-foot stability.

OUR TAKE: The D Rose 5 Boost is the most personally detailed shoe in the point guard’s signature line, featuring full shoe Boost cushioning for maximum energy return and comfort. Weighing in at 14.3 ounces, the shoe is on the sturdy side, but, thanks in part to updated SprintWeb and SprintPlate technology that the D Rose 5 provide, isn’t restrictive in its stability or support. The eye-catcher is the full-length Boost, which is a first in the basketball category for the three stripes. The Boost on the D Rose 5 has been tweaked and is a firmer version than the bounciness of the Boost found in its running category, but still responds well to jumps and cuts. After a few games, you begin to feel the benefit of the cushioning, and if you have achy knees, you’ll feel less stress after long runs. Because of the EVA fit-cage and TPU plate, the shoe might take a few games to break in. Your patience will pay off as the shoe should fit like a second skin and improve with added wears. The ventilation is a step up from the Crazy Light Boost because of the perforations on the upper, and the SprintWeb underneath helps provide moderate breathability compared to past models in Rose’s line. [Ed Note: We played in the “Brenda” colorway, which consists of a synthethic upper. Other colorways will consist of different materials for the upper.] The wave-like pattern on the forefoot, followed by a square rubberized pattern on the midfoot and heel, provides great traction, especially on lateral cuts and stop-and-go movements. The addition of full-length Boost, along with a lockdown fit, adequate traction and a reasonable price point for a signature shoe, makes the D Rose 5 Boost an excellent option. Choose against the colorways where the upper is comprised of synthetic leather, as they crease quickly and cosmetically take a beating, in terms of the color wearing off. In some ways, the D Rose 5 Boost is a more beefed-up version of the Crazylight Boost, with the fulllength Boost that we thought the CL was missing. All in all, the D Rose 5 is a good return to the court, much like Rose himself.—Christopher Cason #24

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04

On the shoe’s upper, a molded collar optimizes fit and enhances ankle support.

Jordan

05

Melo M11 Price: $160 Weight: 12.5 oz.

The collar features a distinctive pattern produced by repetition of the letter M.

03

A webbed strapping system wraps the foot to provide lockdown.

02

The upper features synthetic leather for support and lightweight durability.

01

Perforated details enhance breathability.

06 07 08

FlightPlate features a moderator plate placed directly over the forefoot Nike Zoom unit to create a larger sweet spot and ample cushioning.

Upgraded FlightPlate is designed to harness and return energy from every step for explosive liftoff.

The foam heel counter integrates into the midsole, bringing strength and support.

OUR TAKE: As Jordan Brand’s longest tenured signature athlete, it is remarkable that Melo has 11 signature kicks to his name. Melo acknowledged that he has matured a lot since entering the League and for his 11th signature sneaker he wanted something that gave a sophisticated look. With the clean color palettes he was able to sink in patterns to explain the narrative behind the shoe. Through four distinct colorways and titles, the M11 draws inspiration from Melo’s strong connection to New York City. The “Concrete Island” colorway meshes the colors of NYC with a gray forefoot representing the cement and the detailing on the tongue is homage to the city’s great graffiti scene. The “Red Hook Sunset” color scheme draws from Melo’s childhood growing up in Brooklyn and the sunsets in Red Hook that he remembers vividly as a child. The “Jordan Family” features the traditional colorways worn by MJ (black, red, and white) a symbol to pay homage to the brand that has been behind him his whole career. The last colorway features a premium black and gold palette that sparks his love for luxurious things. It is also a tribute to his fans and will let them decide the official name for the shoe via social media. Performance-wise, the sneaker is one of the lightest Jordan Brand products to date. Sticking with its innovative FlightPlate system (found on most of its basketball offerings), the M11 is another example of the the Jumpman team steadily building a lineup of some of the best performance sneakers. FlightPlate gives great energy transfer from heel to forefoot, giving the wearer a feeling of “springboard” off every step. The sneaker provides you with a serious lockdown system in the forefoot, creating tremendous balance and everything you need to maneuver on the court. If you need some kicks that test high in performance, these are definitely worth giving a shot.—#3

103


CHECK IT GEAR CHECK

Tech Coaches

Wearable tech has infltrated the basketball court, helping ballers get better in the form of metrics, motivation and feedback to their game. The following connected devices all excel in a particular area of the game, and combined will serve as a virtual basketball coach that should reap dividends to your game, while telling the entire world—or at least those in your social circle—about it.

ShotTracker The ShotTracker has the ballplayer in mind, as it was co-designed by former D-III college player Davyeon Ross, who once led the nation in feld-goal shooting percentage and studied computer science while at Benedictine University. The ShotTracker is comprised of a wrist sensor, a net sensor and the app. Combined it sends signals from the wrist sensor (worn either in the included wristband or shooting sleeve) of a shot attempt, the net sensor (attachable to the basketball net) tracks makes and misses to the app, which gathers all the data into your smartphone. STRENGTHS: When it comes to shooting the basketball, nothing on the market beats the ShotTracker. From our tests, we found the results of makes and misses to be accurate over 99 percent of the time (rare anomalies like a front rim bounce or a toilet-bowl roll on the rim might trigger a false reading). The long battery life (8 hours on the wrist sensor; 3 months on the net sensor) means it doesn’t require too much micromanaging between sessions. For coaches, the ShotTracker gives the added beneft of allowing personalized workouts for their players, while being able to remotely keeping tabs as they watch them improve. WEAKNESSES: As a shooting-centric device, the ShotTracker doesn’t really focus too much on things outside of shooting. Things like ballhandling and speed drills are virtually nonexistent.

Price:$149.99

94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball From frst looks, the Smart Sensor Basketball looks like your average ball (most folks who tried it didn’t even give it a second look) and it even feels like a good quality ball, but embedded inside are nine sensors (accelerometer and gyroscope) that track dribbling and shooting, all via Bluetooth on your Android or iOS device. The ball is charged inductively, or wirelessly, by placing it atop the included ball stand. STRENGTHS: The 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball really excels in dribbling drills. The sensors are able to pick up the nuances of good ballhandling—dribble speed, dribble power, fgure-8s, crossover speed (with both hands)—to really improve on one’s handle. The included drills will push you to improve and the immediate data after each one will serve as motivation to keep you going. WEAKNESSES: The ball does focus on shooting—things like shot arc and backspin are tracked—but unfortunately, makes and misses have to be tracked the old-fashioned way (pen and paper) as the ball cannot determine if the shot goes in. It’s not a huge drawback, but going low tech does take away from the experience a bit.

Price: $249.95

Blast Basketball Less basketball training device and more a social sharing basketball experience, Blast Basketball is a wearable sensor that will capture performance metrics like vertical jump height, body rotation and hang time. This data can be incorporated into video (separate Blast ActionCam needed) highlights to be shared via email and social networks. STRENGTHS: It’s a cinch to use. Just clip the pin-sized sensor onto your shorts and you can start making SportsScienceworthy clips. For the athletically inclined who yearn to show off to the world their dunk game and vert, Blast Basketball is hard to beat. Consider it the best narcissistic basketball tech device in the marketplace. WEAKNESSES: Outside of showing off your game, there’s not too much to Blast Basketball. Perhaps it’s best to start with the basic training the 94Fifty Smart Basketball and ShotTracker afford to develop your skills before you start stunting with Blast Basketball.

Price: $149.99

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CHECK IT 02

WEAR

01

01

adidas Originals ZX Flux

The ZX Flux is a modern update to the ’80s-inspired ZX shoes from adidas, stripping everything from the past, leaving just a clean silhouette with technical attributes like the midfoot Torsion shank. The real draw is the photo-print possibilities (try out the mi ZX Flux app) on the upper.

$90 04

04

Neff Trooper Jacket

The Trooper Jacket won’t get you through a Northeast winter, but for those residing in a temperate zone—besides drawing the ire of those (including us) who are braving polar vortexes—this all-cotton military-style jacket should be all they need for those “frigid” conditions.

$89

06 07

Canada Goose Northern Glove

You can wear the warmest coat, but if your hands are cold, it’s not going to matter. The Northern Glove should come with a warning. Once you stick your hands through the goose down-lined goatskin leather soft shell, the feece liner and the extended cuff, your hands will heat up. Don’t expect to operate your smartphone with the gloves on or attempt to make a snowball, but you can guarantee the hands will stay toasty.

$224.95

06

adidas Originals Tiger Camo Parka Tiger camo and suede shoulders cover this timeless parka. The polyester lining, slit pockets and shirt tail on this snap-up parka will get you through a moderately chilly winter day. And if it warms up, it can transform into a vest as the sleeves are removable. The tiger camo print and suede shoulder pads ensure you do so with plenty of swag.

$270 106

07


02

03

Jordan S. Flight

The S. Flight jacket is a refned basketball jacket that can easily work overtime. The Dri-FIT fabric keeps you cool while on the court while the simple and clean design can transition off court with ease.

$90

Under Armour Undeniable Heatseeker Shooting Shirt Winter workouts necessitate a good warm-up shirt before going full speed. This one by UA keeps you warm, but is light and ventilated to not overheat. The stretch mesh back gives freedom of movement and the three-piece hood has a bungee cord adjuster to wrap head perfectly.

$74.99

03

05

05

Canada Goose Expedition Parka As its name suggests, the Expedition Parka will serve you fne, regardless of whether your expedition involves observing emperor penguins or fetching coffee on the coldest day of the year. It’s well suited for the former since the parka was developed for scientists working in Antarctica in sub-zero (-30 degrees Celsius) conditions. The parka is packed in Hutterite down to retain warmth, and the many features in the parka—coyote fur hood with adjustable bracing wire on the bill, feece-lined handwarmer pockets, insulated windguard, storm fap, elasticized snow skirt and ribknit cuffs—are all designed to keep in body heat and keep out snow and cold.

$844.95 WHERE TO BUY: adidas Originals Tubular, ZX Flux, Long Down Field Parka, Utility Knit, Tiger Camo Parka, Down Shirt Jacket, adidas.com; Alpha Industries Stabilizer Vest, alphaindustries.com; Canada Goose Expedition Parka, Northern Glove, canadagoose. com; Jordan S. Flight, Hyperply Jacket, Flight Runner 2, jordan.com; Mitchell & Ness 1996-97 Authentic Warm Golden State Warriors Warm Up Jacket, mitchellandness.com; Neff Dia De Los Muertos Beanie, Scratch Beanie, Trooper Jacket, neffheadwear.com; Shrine Sneaker Weekender Sneaker Backpack, Sneaker Duffel, theshrine.com; Stance Basketball Fusion socks, stance.com; Under Armour Undeniable Playmaker Shorts, Undeniable Heatseeker Shooting Shirt, underarmour.com

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Under Armour Undeniable Playmaker Shorts Under Armour took lightweight fabric from its running shorts and applied it to a basketball cut. The stretch-woven fabric, with a winter-themed camo print, makes for a dependable go-to short for those winter runs.

$59.99

08

The Shrine Co. Sneaker Packs

The proper packs for the discerning sneakerhead on the go, Shrine has a few options for stowing away the weekend rotation. Both the Duffel and Weekender can safely house two pairs (up to size 20) in the divided ventilated section (tie–down straps keep it all secure). The bags also have all the necessary accoutrements of modern travel. There’s a separate compartment for clothing, slip pocket for tablet or laptop, two watch pockets and a retractable sling to store 2-4 baseball caps (Weekender only).

Weekender Sneaker Backpack $199 Sneaker Duffel $185 107


CHECK IT 01

WEAR

adidas Originals Long Down Field Parka

Unlike its more festive seasonal siblings, winter gets shafted with very staid designs and color schemes. The folks at Originals decided enough is enough, giving a winter parka a much-needed injection of personality in the form of this jungle camo print.

$320

02

01

02

adidas Originals Utility Knit

You know the old saying, “Elbow pads make everything better.” OK, we admittedly made that up, but in this instance, it works. The classic shawl collar sweater, on its own, is nothing spectacular, but the addition of the fused elbow pads makes for an interesting basic in the wardrobe.

$150

06

Mitchell & Ness Warriors Jacket

Technically this Golden State Warriors warm-up jacket isn’t from the Run TMC era (1989-91) but it’s close enough. It is authentic to the 1996-97 season which marked the NBA’s golden anniversary (with the arm patch), an moment used to celebrate the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.

$150 05

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05

Jordan Flight Runner 2

JB’s follow-up to last year’s running category debut doesn’t veer off from what makes a good running shoe—lightweight, good ventilation and cushioning—but ups the ante with visible Flywire and a lower profle dual density midsole with strategically placed rubber in running strike areas.

$160 09

09

adidas Originals Down Shirt Jacket

Winter wear doesn’t have to be heavy and bulky to be warm. This down-flled light shirt jacket by adidas Originals packs plenty of warmth into the featherweight package with an aesthetic that makes it an ideal staple for the cold season.

$150

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03

Stance Basketball Fusion Socks

04

Yes, the Basketball Fusion socks from Stance will inject plenty of personality to your game, but there’s also performance benefts, too. The Advanced Cushion Support System puts a denser weave in areas where more padding is needed, the silicone matrix keeps the foot from sliding in the shoe, and the Quik Wik fabric helps extract heat and moisture.

$18

04

Alpha Industries Stabilizer Vest The two-toned nylon vest has all the details of the classic fight jacket, just minus the sleeves. Alpha Industries does it right since it used to be the outftter for the U.S. Department of Defense.

03

$105

08 08 07

Jordan Hyperply Jacket

Neff Dia De Los Muertos and Scratch Beanie

Insulated with 700 down fll and Thermore insulation with a water-resistant shell, the Hyperply Jacket is designed to keep you warm and dry whether on ground or in fight. The mesh-lined pockets (which sit right off to the signature elephant print side panels) zip for ventilation when things get too toasty and zip-up hood cinches up to the chin to keep the elements out.

When it gets cold, the dependable beanie should be the go-to winter accessory as the head loses a great deal of body heat. We think these two from Neff are fantastic options.

Dia De Los Muertos $18 Scratch Beanie $26

$235

07 10

10

adidas Originals Tubular

Like the ZX Flux, the Tubular is an update to the 1993 Tubular runner, re-imagined as a lifestyle shoe. The neoprene upper is adorned with just minimal leather overlays while the EVA tube outsole takes infatable bike tires (hence the name) for inspiration.

$110

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STEP BACK

Western Conference Finals, Game 4 May 30, 2006 US Airways Arena

The Phoenix Suns would blow out the Dallas Mavericks 106-86 to tie up this series, but the Mavericks went on to win the next two games to advance to the Finals.

The 2005-06 Suns smoked every team that season in scoring with 108.4 points per contest. The next closest team was the Seattle SuperSonics at 102.6.

Boris Diaw was another gem taken in the 2003 draft as the 21st pick by the Atlanta Hawks.

The 2005-06 season was Diaw’s finest. He showed off his versatile game with season averages of 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1 block and 0.7 steals.

Keith Van Horn was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft by Philadelphia, but was traded to New Jersey as part of an eight-player trade. Van Horn would retire at the end of the playoffs after nine NBA seasons with five teams and averages of 16 ppg and 6.8 rpg.

Part of the vaunted 2003 NBA Draft, Josh Howard was a steal as the last pick (No. 29) of the first round.

Howard was selected to the All-Rookie Second Team for his first-year production of 8.6 ppg and 5.5 rpg.

Howard would be selected as an All-Star the following season. Devin Harris was the No. 5 pick in the 2004 NBA Draft.

Harris was acquired to replace Nash as part of a draft-day trade along with Christian Laettner and Jerry Stackhouse in exchange for Antawn Jamison.

Harris played the role of a defensive specialist as a rookie, averaging 2.4 steals per 36 minutes.

Harris’ career season was in 2008-09 when he averaged 21.3 ppg, 6.9 apg and 1.7 spg and was selected to his lone All-Star. 110

LISA BLUMENFELD/GETTY IMAGES


After six seasons of being Dallas’ point guard, Steve Nash signed as a free-agent with Phoenix, where he would earn back-to-back MVPs in 2005 and ’06. Nash scored 21 points and dished out 7 assists in the victory.

Nash would face his former team in the postseason in 2005 and ’06. Nash got the first laugh, eliminating Dallas before the Mavericks exacted revenge the following year.

One of Nash’s best friends Dirk Nowitzki would take home the MVP trophy in 2007 after Nash’s consecutive MVP seasons.

In six seasons as a Maverick, Nash averaged 14.6 ppg and 7.2 apg with two All-Star appearances. As a Sun, he averaged 14.4 and 9.4. with six All-Stars.

The 2005-06 season was Nowitzki’s best scoring season in his career as he totaled 2,151 points while averaging 26.6 per game. This season Nowitzki became just the ninth player in NBA history to eclipse 27,000 points.

Nash is third all time in assists with 10,335. He is one of just five players to surpass 10K dimes.

Drafted by Phoenix with the 15th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Nash and Kobe Bryant are the only remaining players of their draft class left on an NBA team. Among active players, only Kobe Bryant has more points than Nowitzki.

By the time you’re reading this, Nowitzki will likely leapfrog to No. 7 on the NBA’s all-time scoring ledger as he trailed Elvin Hayes (No. 8) and Moses Malone (No. 7) by less than 300 points.

The 2005-06 season was the first of five consecutive seasons where Nash shot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free-throw line. Currently injured, if Nash were to retire, he’d finish his career as the NBA’s greatest free-throw shooter at .9043, .0004 better than Mark Price.

Much is being made about the Suns’ current troika of point guards Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, but during Nash’s rookie year, he was on the same roster as Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd. 111


CALL OUT

He might be Manimal by name only, as Kenneth Faried is still very much a little boy as he takes a student from North Middle School on a holiday shopping spree. GARRETT ELLWOOD/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

Kevin Durant didn’t get up in Santa garb but he played the role when he passed out Christmas gifts to students at Positive Tomorrows. LAYNE MURDOCH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

Will Ferrell might not, but we’ll give Gordon Hayward and Steve Novak a pass for not properly dressing as elves as they play Santa’s helpers during a holiday party for families in need. MELISSA MAJCHRZAK/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

Much like he does on the court, Zach Randolph handles the heavy lifting, but instead of rebounds and putbacks, Z-Bo is helping an elderly woman with her holiday food basket at an event for local families in Memphis. As a rookie, Andrew Wiggins has to sometimes help the Timberwolves’ vets do some shopping, making him an excellent candidate to assist in some holiday shopping for the team’s Fastbreak Foundation Season of Giving event. DAVID SHERMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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JOE MURPHY/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES


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