NBA: 5 Things We Learned This Week

    
December 7th, 2008
By: Travis Heath 
 
It's Sunday which means it's time to take a look at what the wonderful world of the NBA taught us this week.

The NBA's Deepest Player

There are some pretty common stereotypes that exist about NBA players.  And to be honest, you will bump into guys in NBA locker rooms who uphold such stereotypes.  However, you will also run into some wonderfully complex and intelligent people.  Unfortunately, fans rarely get to see this side of certain NBA players because the mainstream media rarely talks about such things.

One guy who shatters all of the typical NBA stereotypes is David West of the New Orleans Hornets

.  Along with Carlos Boozer, he might be my favorite NBA player to speak with.  And almost always, our conversations have very little to do with basketball.

I first met West two years ago writing a piece for the late, great SWISH Magazine.  We hit it off pretty quickly and started talking about history and psychology.  Ever since that time, whenever I see West we shoot the breeze about current events and other things much more meaningful than basketball.

When I caught up with West recently, my question was a simple one:  "Any knowledge you want to drop on the readers?  Any philosophical ideas that have been going through your head?"

Asking such an open-ended question to some players would draw a bewildered stare or a trite response.  With West, though, what a question like this does is allow him to write your column for you, which will help allow the public to see a different side of the player.

Here was how West responded to my question:

"With the recent election, I think that shows some growth in this country and in the minds of people in this nation.  I thought that was good.  One thing I try to tell some young guys I speak to on a daily basis is be proud to be alive at this time and relish the moment that we're in.  I'm a history buff, so it may be a little bit more meaningful to me, but just relish the time that you can see with your own eyes, the life that you have and the progress.  There's a whole generation of folks that lived and died and never saw legitimate stops towards progress.  As a nation we really took a step forward.

"We did something in terms of the global perspective that really inspired not just Americans but people all over the globe.  Regardless of where we feel like we sit in the hierarchy of nations, people look to America as a leader and they follow our lead.  The wife of the President of France said that if the U.S. can select a person of color, then why can't we?  You hear nations all over the world starting to make comments about it that if America has taken growth and steps in their ideology then everybody else should try and do the same."

Put that in your stereotype pipe and smoke it.

Yes, West is a great basketball player.  However, he's also an amazingly complex person who spends his free time studying history, playing the tuba and judging the quality of essay's written by young people during Black History Month.

If you look hard enough, you can always find examples of people who fall into the stereotypical categories created by society.  However, you can also find plenty of people who reside well outside of the box the public often tries to squeeze them into.

David West is one of a kind.

Tim Duncan Under Appreciated?

During my time covering the league and talking to fans, I've found that Tim Duncan seems to be severely undervalued.  Due to the fact he's so quiet and not very demonstrative, I'm just not sure people realize how great he is.

It seemed crazy to even pose such a question to Gregg Popovich, but I asked him if he, too, believed Duncan wasn't appreciated as much as he should be by the fans.

"Well, they do vote him onto the All-Star team every year, so I guess they know that he's there," Popovich told me.  "But I still think he's underrated and probably not talked about as much or probably forgotten about to some degree.  It's just because of his personality.  He could care less about adulation or that type of thing.  He stays in the background purposefully, and I think in today's world those people are easily forgotten.

"He could spend his time doing a lot more commercials and that type of thing, but he really has no interest in it.  He'd rather spend his time doing other things.  To each his own."

To each his own, indeed.  And thank goodness there are quiet and businesslike superstars like Duncan.  Decades from now, something tells me we're all going to wish we appreciated Duncan's greatness a little bit more than many of us are right now.

The Good Old Days in Denver

Last Tuesday was a reunion of sorts in the Mile High City when the Toronto Raptors arrived in town.  Both Alex English and Mike Evans, who are assistant coaches with the Raptors, were in town.  Bill Hanzlik, now a NBA analyst for Altitude TV in Denver was also in the house to cover the game.  Prior to the game, the three met and talked for a few minutes about old times.

In the 1980's all three players played under head coach Doug Moe on some of the best Nugget teams in the history of the franchise.  English was the scorer (and by the way, scored more points in the decade of the 80's than any other player in the league), Evans was the point guard and Hanzlik was the defensive specialist.

Of course, the Nuggets didn't exactly play tons of defense under Moe.  But they got up and down the floor and could score with any team in the league.

Prior to Tuesday's game, I had a chance to chat some with Evans about old times.  For someone who grew up in Denver watching and listening to these teams play, it was a real treat.

I asked Evans what he remembered most about playing for Moe and with players like English, Hanzlik and others.

"Okay, I can sum it all up for you," Evans said with a smile.  "At that time, we were a member of Doug's fast break team.  We ran the motion offense, the passing game.  The thing that Doug always told all of us coming in -- me, Bill, T.R. Dunn, Elston Turner, Fat Lever, all of us when we came in -- he told us push the ball down the floor as hard as you can.  Then, pass the ball to Alex, Kiki (Vandeweghe) or Dan (Issel)... and if you get it back, you can shoot it."

With that, Evans let out a hearty laugh.  

And based on how many points English, Vandeweghe and Issel scored during their respective tenures with the Nuggets, I'm betting Mike -- even as great of a shooter as he was -- didn't get the ball back nearly as frequently as he might have liked.

A Classic Abe Lemons Story

Not sure how many readers out there know about Abe Lemons, but he was a legendary college basketball coach.  Lemons spent a good portion of his career at Oklahoma City University.  However, he also coached at Pan American University as well as the University of Texas.

Lemons was well known in media circles as one of the best quotes in the game.  He was also notoriously hard on officials.

In the final game he coached, the team lost by a single point.  The win would have given Lemon 600 victories for his career.  After the game the coach said: "Damn referees. I'll miss them less than anybody."

This was just one of many colorful quotes Lemons dropped over the years.

Another one of my favorites is what he told one of his centers after a game in which he was able to corral only one rebound.

"You out rebounded a dead man by one," Lemons told him.

Here's another Lemons' gem for you: "We went to Alaska once and they made us honorary Alaskans.  Then we went to Hawaii and they made us honorary Hawaiians.  We're going to the Virgin Islands this year."

As you can see, Lemons had quite the personality.  This week, George Karl -- who was once an assistant coach under Lemons -- shared one of his favorite stories.

Lemons was coaching a game at Texas where he was working the officials all night.  At one point, Lemons was well outside of the coaches box and actually out on the floor.  Karl said one of the officials finally had enough and came up to Lemons and said: "I'm going to give you one technical foul for every step it takes you to get back to the bench."

Karl indicated Lemons stopped to think for a split second and called a timeout.  He then asked two of his assistant coaches to come out on the floor and carry him back to the bench at which point Lemons stared at the official during his entire free ride back to the team huddle.

Classic.  Absolutely classic.

Man, what I wouldn't have given to have covered just one of Lemons' games.  Sounds like a journalist's dream. 

And now I certainly better understand where some of Karl's colorful personality comes from.

Thinking of Rodney

I was very sad to hear this week that Rodney Rogers had been paralyzed from the neck down in an ATV accident near his home in North Carolina.  My heart sunk as soon as I heard the news.  Obviously, our thoughts here at HOOPSWORLD are with Rodney Rogers and his family.

If you haven't taken the time to read Wendell Maxey's fine piece on Rogers, do yourself a favor and check it out by clicking here.

In honor of the tough times Rodney is going through now, I thought this morning would be a great time to pay tribute to Rogers' career on the hardwood and the joy he brought to fans by performing his craft.

Growing up in Denver, I followed Rogers' career very closely.  I was in attendance at the game when Rogers scored nine points in nine seconds. 

Yes, you read that correctly.  I said nine points in nine seconds.

The game took place on February, 8th 1994.  The Nuggets were down to the rival Utah Jazz 94-86 late in the game.  Most of the faithful had already departed from McNichols Sports Arena.

All of a sudden, lightening struck.

I still remember it like it was yesterday.  Rogers received a pass from Robert Pack at the top of the key and nailed a three to cut the lead to 94-89.  Pack then stole the inbounds pass near half-court and kicked it to Rogers at basically the same spot at the top of the key at which point he drilled another three-point shot all net to make the score 94-92.  The Jazz then struggled to get the ball in again and Pack stole the inbounds pass near the baseline and dove into the crowd to save the ball.  The ball landed in the hand of Rogers in the right corner where he nailed another three-point shot to put the Nuggets up 95-94 with a little over 20 seconds to play.

I remember being at the game with my mother and us jumping up and down, hugging and giving each other high fives.  To this day, I've never been in attendance at a basketball game and seen anything more miraculous.

Of course, as they always seemed to during the John Stockton and Karl Malone days, the Jazz found a way to comeback and win the game.  If I recall correctly, the guy who hit the game-winner for Utah was Jeff Malone.  He hit the shot with about 12 seconds to go and the Nuggets couldn't respond.

I will never forget being in attendance for that game.  And it's for that reason I will never -- and I mean never -- leave a sporting event early for as long as I live.

Get well, Rodney.  The people of Denver are pulling for you and haven't forgotten you.