Posted Nov 23 2009 11:36AM
There's a lot to talk about this week, from the Mavericks' surge to the Hawks' maintaining their rise into the top five, to the Hornets starting over again with two rookies, to the Knicks' not-so-heavy reasoning for passing on Allen Iverson, to continuing misery in the Swamp for the Nets. But we should start, this week, with your Blackberry. Or Droid. Or iPhone. Whatever you've got.
If you're like me, you have not only become addicted to the various apps and features on your PDAs, you have changed how you process and disseminate information because of them. You read newspapers and magazines on them; you check your e-mail on them; you watch movies and streaming videos on them; you text your friends and loved ones on them; you work out with them; you might even still make phone calls on them. You check how your fantasy team is doing on them and you get the latest scores on them and you download and take pictures on them. Basically, you live your life on them.
Michael J. Fox does none of this. He has no cell phone. No Blackberry. Nothing
"My wife thinks I'm a Luddite," Fox said Friday afternoon, in a hotel on the Upper West Side, and if you take more than a moment to think about it, you think, Of course, he doesn't. Hands that tremor make an iPhone impenetrable; connections and possibilities lost on a man that can't control the spasms long enough to be able to push the buttons and press the icons.
Brian Grant, who was sitting next to Fox, has this to look forward to.
Grant still has an iPhone. I know because it started chirping just as Fox, the Emmy Award-winning, immensely popular and beloved actor, was in the middle of explaining how his Michael J. Fox Foundation has raised, and distributed, $150 million since its inception in 2000 for research and for clinical trials looking for a cure for Parkinson's Disease. The neurological disorder attacks the body's central nervous system, slowly but thoroughly, causing symptomatic tremors in the hands, arms and legs, rigidity throughout the body and impairing the quality of speech. It is a disorder that has no known cure, impacting the famous -- Muhammad Ali, former Attorney General Janet Reno and boxing trainer Freddie Roach all have some version of it -- and the anonymous.
Grant, who played 12 rugged NBA seasons for the Kings, Blazers, Heat, Lakers and Suns, who threw his 250 pounds into nightly battle with power forwards often taller and usually thicker than he, has all that to look forward to. For now, only his hands shake, because he is a relative newcomer to this nightmare, having been diagnosed with "early onset" Parkinson's last January. At 37, it has thrown his life into a tailspin from which he is only now starting to recover.
Brian Grant made a name for himself in the NBA as a bruising power forward with Sacramento, Portland, Miami, the L.A. Lakers and Phoenix.
Donald Miralle/NBAE via Getty Images
His friendship with Fox -- perhaps one of the most famous people living with Parkinson's -- has provided Grant with a compass, some sense of direction of what to do with his new life.
They first spoke on the phone, just days after Grant was diagnosed in January. They became fast friends, unlikely brothers in a fraternity. Indeed, Grant was in New York to attend Fox's major fundraising gala, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's, this past Saturday.
"I was starstruck," Grant recalled of that first conversation. "I'm just going to put it out there. I mean, Back to the Future, Teen Wolf, everything. As soon as I heard his voice, I was like, wow, that's Michael J. Fox calling. I didn't know what we were going to speak about. I didn't know what it was going to be ..."
"We had a long conversation," Fox interjects.
"A long conversation," Grant says. "But it was a real conversation, just as if we were behind closed doors and we're talking and we're being real with one another. That's the thing that I'm finding out about this young man. He's very real. He's very optimistic. And he gives everyone hope, especially people with Parkinson's. He's given me tremendous hope, especially with not only just dealing with Parkinson's, but dealing with other issues, being able to just pick myself up and realize that, hey, it's just another battle, just like going out on the court and battling Shaq for a night."
"Just life in the paint," Fox says, and damned if you're not thinking the same thing Grant was: That's Marty McFly over there.
Today, Fox carries his burden with humor, with detailed knowledge of both the body and the medical system with which he has been dealing for 18 years. Diagnosed in 1991 while at the top of his game, the future star of the hit sitcom Spin City hid his ailment for seven years, fearful that if he went public, he'd no longer be able to make people laugh. How could people think he was funny if they knew he was sick? Like Grant, he had made a living with his body. Fox used his body to portray all the emotions of humanity at a level few in his profession reached. And, now, at such a young age, that body began to betray him. So he knew what Grant was going through.
"You know, for all my talk about picking yourself up and moving on and opening new doors and all that stuff, I mean, I sincerely believe that, but I don't discount the fact that, I mean, it's a shocker," Fox says. "Especially someone who's young, an athlete, used to having their body do extraordinary things at a high level. And then you realize you don't have control. Life is geared toward controlling your movements, controlling what you do, having some kind of authority, physical authority, over how you perform."
Grant had been a premier power forward in the late 1990s with the Blazers, earning a mega-contract from Portland for $86 million in what became a sign-and-trade with the Heat. (Ironically, the championship-level team that Pat Riley built in Miami, with Grant, Anthony Mason and Alonzo Mourning as its physical centerpiece, never got off the ground because of another life-threatening disorder -- Mourning's kidney disease.) Grant moved to center for the Heat and did fine, but injuries ultimately caught up with him, and he was a throw-in piece in the trade that sent Shaquille O'Neal to Miami for Caron Butler and Lamar Odom in 2004.
Grant finished playing in 2006, after one last season in Phoenix, ready to live the high life of retirement back in Miami. But he realized he didn't like the scene as much as he thought, and that his family would be better off back in Portland. He moved everyone back to the Pacific Northwest, and soon, his kids and wife were happily living life. But he wasn't.
"I had Vinny Del Negro tell me that all players go through some form of depression, or letdown, after their career is over," Grant said. "So once I retired, and I got hit with the heavy bout of depression, I just thought it was because I had retired. I thought it was strictly because I retired. But in hindsight, if I look back, I quit exercising, I had quit doing the things that had kept my body so active ... now that I had come to a total stop in my career and had time to think and had time to let things settle down, the depression just sank in."
Athletes believe they are bulletproof, that nothing can rock their world. So Grant did not believe anything was wrong with him -- and did not know that depression is a well-known precursor for the onset of Parkinson's. The disease impacts the part of the brain that produces serotonin, a chemical that has been linked to depression, and attacks the frontal lobe of the brain, which regulates mood.
"I did not want to admit, for eight months, that I was depressed," Grant said. "As much as my wife tried to get me to go see someone, friends tried to get me to see someone. I was in total denial. I was like, 'I can't be depressed.' When I knew, 'Come on, B, you're on that couch eight hours a day. Something's not right.' "
A series of tests conducted over several months finally connected the hand tremors and depression, gave it all a name. Grant is still struggling with the implications, and so is his family.
"I think I'm still in this phase where I realize I actually have it, but at times, I think this is as far as it's going to get, or this is as far as it's going to go," Grant said. "I think I'm beyond the point of wondering if I have it or not. I think I have it. But it's still surreal a little bit. I'm beginning to look at it more as a gift, as all these doors are opening up, being able to meet Michael J. Fox, the Alis, being able to make a difference doing something."
Grant initially was thinking of starting a fundraising foundation. But he quickly realized that Fox was already doing that, and had been for almost a decade. The Fox Foundation tries to fill in the gaps where government and other industry funds fall short, bankrolling experimental or high-risk programs that can't get money elsewhere. (Sort of like what the reclusive billionaire J.R. Hadden did in the book Contact.) It's the largest private-funding resource for Parkinson's research in the world, bringing scientists and advisors together to go through 800 grant proposals a year.
Unlike many other foundations, the Fox Foundation doesn't aggregate the money it raises into a giant pool, keeping money to dole out here or there. As soon as the money comes in, it goes right back out, to whatever research or clinical trial the Foundation deems worthy.
"I'm not a banker," Fox said. "I didn't want to start a bank. I wanted to identify the best research and get the money in the hands of those researchers as fast as possible ... it's very hard for scientists to get grants, to get grant money. It's a very long process. A lot of times, institutions, like the government, can get a grant to prove that the world is round. Because they know it's round, and so they know they're going to get a good result. So they'll happily give you that grant. If you want to prove something a little trickier, it gets more complicated. When it comes to high-risk, that's a niche we wanted to fit. We wanted to fill the niche of people that were going to take chances on new kinds of research, a wide variety of research endeavors."
When Grant came to New York earlier this year to tour the Foundation's headquarters, he decided that instead of starting his own, competing foundation, he would partner with Fox.
"The things that they're doing with their panel of scientists, people who sit on their board ... it was almost overwhelming," Grant says. "It was something you could see had been built over time, and with a lot of careful thinking and thought. That's not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a part of something that was already there. Because I really feel if a cure is found, it's going to be through the grants that go through the Foundation. I really believe that. And it gives me hope to work alongside him."
You'll see more from our talk in a companion piece for NBA TV and NBA.com that will run early next month. It was an inspiring afternoon, seeing these two men forthrightly dealing, in public, with something that's so very private.
Saturday was a disappointment for those expecting to see historically bad basketball between the 0-12 Nets and the 2-9 Knicks. Something along the lines of, say, 61-50.
Instead, there was a reasonably well-played game between two bad teams. The Knicks have a promising forward in Danilo Gallinari, and the Nets have a promising center in Brook Lopez, and they went back and forth most of the game, but the Knicks held on to keep New Jersey winless. At 0-13, with a four-game western road swing starting Tuesday in Denver, the Nets have a reasonably good chance of tying the league record for losses to start the season, 17, set by the 1988 Heat and the 1999 Clippers. It's at times like these that Bill Parcells's axiom "you are what your record says you are" is especially tough to swallow.
"I hope this isn't who we really are," guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said afterward. "At the end of the day, you see positives, but we're losing. And this game is always about wins and losses. I've never been a fan of moral victories. We're losing. That's all I see at the end of the day."
New Jersey has been devastated by injuries, with Devin Harris missing 10 games with a groin injury, the same malady that has kept Courtney Lee sidelined since Nov. 6. Yi Jianlian has been out three weeks with a sprained knee. Jarvis Hayes strained a hamstring in the season opener and hasn't played since; Tony Battie (knee) hasn't played at all. And Douglas-Roberts was the first NBA player to be diagnosed with the H1N1 virus.
"I still have a little cough," CDR said, which made me rethink that pound I had given him.
A slimmer Eddy Curry (center) drew attention in last week's Nets-Knicks game in New Jersey.
Ray Amati/NBAE via Getty Images
I had asked coach Lawrence Frank -- who won't be evaluated until everyone is back on the court -- if he believed the Parcells code applied to his team, despite all the injuries.
"I think, especially since I have the highest regard for coach Parcells, and it's based on his line, yeah, I think you are," Frank said. "Now, no one probably cares, nor should they, because when the game's over, you guys want to know why we won or why we lost. But I feel more sorry for our guys, in that, you know, 0-12, the blemish that comes with that, why it's a story because you're 0-12, when it's eight guys who truly have worked their tails off.
"If they were coming in half-a--ing practice, or not focused at shootaround, I'd say, 'Hey, there's not much hope.' But they're not. They work every single day ... these guys care. I feel bad for them because of the blemish. I'll take 100 percent responsibility for where we're at, because these guys have worked their tails off."
The Nets are probably somewhere in the middle -- they're not very good, but they're not this bad. Meanwhile, the Knicks were moving on after their dalliance with Allen Iverson. After going back and forth on the idea of offering him a contract for three days, the Knicks decided that Iverson would be too much, an overwhelming force that would take minutes from rookie Toney Douglas, who's had a good last couple of weeks. And they weren't sure if Iverson could play with Gallinari. But it was the sveltiness of Eddy Curry that, um, tipped the scales.
Curry finally got back on the court last week, about 40 pounds lighter, and teased with his production, as he has for eight seasons. After a double-double against the Pacers, the Knicks want to see more. Coach Mike D'Antoni said that the Knicks had their best practice on Friday since he became their coach, and Curry was a big reason why. Iverson's presence would have smudged the lens.
"That was definitely a factor," D'Antoni told me Saturday. "To add two new pieces without knowing if one works or another was risky. And we did have, and it did look good. It was like, 'Are we just being too rash?' I'm really comfortable with what we decided, and hopefully it'll work out. You never know at the end of the day. But that was a big reason."
(By the way, it's laughable to hear New York scribes ripping the Knicks for not signing Iverson, supposedly because it would be a sop for the team's long-suffering fans. Oh, I see; bringing in a 34-year-old mercenary for four months is supposed to show Dolan and Company really care? Oh, please. These are the same guys that would line up to destroy Iverson in print and online the moment he said something impolitic, or had a disagreement with a teammate, or dropped an F-bomb within earshot of some little old lady or kid with front-row seats. Iverson is nothing more than a useful foil for them to bash Donnie Walsh again.)
Of course, there is another refraction in the Curry lens that the Knicks won't acknowledge. They know that the Road to LeBron -- or Bosh, or Wade, or whomever -- runs through being able to find a home for Curry and his $11.2 million salary next season. If they can find a trade partner for him, they'll really be in business -- no matter if the salary cap drops next season. They'll be able to bring in two big-time free agents instead of just one. He's the one guy on the roster that can gt it done. It seems logical, then, that the Knicks would want to showcase Curry as much as possible before the trade deadline, and then, the rest of the season, get him as many touches as possible. No point in giving Iverson 15-20 looks that could go to Curry ...
• The Hornets looked like a different team this week. They're playing with passion for their new coach, Jeff Bower, who was their old general manager. Why players who were the first out the door after Byron Scott practices are now sticking around for extra shooting, and showing a pulse that wasn't there when Scott asked them to do the very same things Bower is now stressing -- move without the ball, set screens for your teammates -- is one of those great NBA mysteries. Some coaches' ice is colder, I suppose.
At any rate, Chris Paul's severely sprained ankle has opened up gobs of playing time for rookie Darren Collison, and Bower got another rookie, guard Marcus Thornton, out of cold storage. Bower has shortened shootaround to less than an hour -- Scott would often go 90 minutes, sometimes longer -- and assistant coaches do a lot more talking. Not just newcomer Tim Floyd, either; Bower let first-year assistant Rob Werdann go over Phoenix's sets before last Thursday's game.
And David West, who made no secret that he thought a change was necessary, stands to be a major beneficiary. West and Peja Stojakovic were forgotten for large chunks of quarters, and even Stojakovic, who says the team didn't quit on Scott, says the Hornets were "too predictable" on offense.
"Against the good team, we got exposed," he said.
That should no longer be the case, even when Paul returns. With his rear end on the line now as well (after being down in the Easy for a couple of days, I am more convinced than ever that this story that Bower volunteered to add coach to his GM duties is made of whole cloth), the new coach is determined to get more out of the rest of his roster and is trying to put in more sets to get more weakside action.
"Actually, we're trying to put in some things where we're not as freelance as we have been," West said, "a little bit more structure. Not so much taking away our ability to play, let our abilities take over, but just having certain principles that we're going to stick to. Kind of give us something to go to when we need baskets. When we to get a stop, we can rely on our principles, aot giving the ball to Chris and saying, 'Make something happen.' "
The Hornets say they've also benefitted from the ongoing love affair between the city and its unbeaten NFL team, the 10-0 Saints. You'd think the Hornets would suffer by comparison; the locals are devoted to their football team, dreaming of its first trip to the Super Bowl. But all the attention has left the basketball team under the radar.
"The fact that we're doing poorly, we're probably getting less scrutiny because of that," team president Hugh Weber told me the night Scott was fired. "People maybe haven't turned their eyes to it yet ... we made a promise to our fans. We've made a promise to our brand. And this team ain't about the brand right now. This team is broken."
Paul said he's moving on and is over the hurt he expressed at Scott's firing. West tried to turn the team's superstar toward the future as well.
"When a business decision needs to be made, you have to kind of let how you feel about someone emotionally, you kind of have to let that go," West said. "You have to remove yourself from that space and look at it from a business standpoint. Again, it's cool to have feelings for Coach; I've got love for Coach. But we've got to move on. We've got to be adults about this and approach it in the manner that we've got a job to do. Hopefully the decision was made is going to help us do our jobs better"..
• The coach is not ever supposed to be happy, but this time, he shouldn't be.
"We have to play better as a whole," Rick Carlisle texted Sunday night, after being asked if Dirk Nowitzki could keep carrying the Mavericks as he has the first month of the season. Indeed, Dallas' 10-3 mark is a bit of a mirage, as Nowitzki is doing it almost all on his own. Jason Terry is shooting his lowest percentage from the floor (.437 percent) in five seasons; Shawn Marion was out of action last week with a sprained ankle; Josh Howard has only played three games after offseason ankle surgery, and was shut down indefinitely last week.
But the Mavericks are winning because of the depth that GM Donnie Nelson brought in this summer. Vets Drew Gooden, Kris Humphries and Tim Thomas have each contributed to victories; rookie guard Rod Beaubois averages 7.2 points off the bench. They're winning because they're holding opponents to 43 percent shooting. And they're winning because the 31-year-old Nowitzki has never been better.
His current average of 26.9 points would be a career high. He's rebounding at a solid 8.9 boards per game; not his best, but very good. And he's even blocking a career-best 1.6 shots per game. Against the Spurs on Wednesday, he was as good as anybody can be in leading their team to victory over a quality opponent. But if Dallas is to be anything more than just a playoff team, the Diggler needs his fellow starters to pick up their games ...
• You want to know one of the biggest reasons the Hawks have gotten off to a blistering start? Last week, Josh Smith tried his first 3-pointer of the season. "And they booed him," said a scout in attendance, proving Atlanta fans know their hoops.
Nothing drove Mike Woodson crazier than watching Smith, a career 26.9 percent 3-point shooter coming into this season, hoist rocks from behind line. Inside the arc, Smith shot 49 percent last season and is shooting a career-best 54 percent so far this season, filling up the box (15.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.6 blocks) as well as anyone in the league. Smith's maturation has been as important as anything happening in Atlanta this year, and he's doing it off the court as well: He's hosting several battered and homeless women at Thursday's Thanksgiving Night home game (on TNT) against Orlando.
1) Atlanta (11-3): Loss to Hornets doesn't diminish great week.
2) Dallas (10-3): Mavs 5-0 at AAC since losing home opener.
3) Orlando (11-3): Over/under on Van Gundy's positive phase: 10 days.
4) Phoenix (11-3): When they rebound, they're tough to beat.
5) L.A. Lakers (10-3): Just noticed Jordan Farmar has changed his number.
6) Boston (10-4): Looking very sluggish at times.
7) Cleveland (10-4): Jamario Moon becoming a contributor.
8) Denver (9-4): Won 15 straight RS games at home.
9) Milwaukee (8-3): Still winning with Bogut, Mbah a Moute out.
10) Portland (10-5): Miller back on the bench.
11) Miami (8-5): Can't keep depending on Wade to bail them out.
12) Houston (8-6): McGrady Follies are getting tiresome.
13) Oklahoma City (7-7): Didn't win their seventh game last year until Jan. 14.
14) Utah (7-6): Weathered early storm without Williams.
15) Chicago (6-6): What can I say; it's hard to find 15 good teams.
Atlanta (3-1): Hawks beat three playoff teams in a row before losing in New Orleans Saturday. So, why doesn't Mike Woodson have a contract extension, again?
Charlotte (1-3): Can't give it to Minnesota and New Jersey every week, so the Bobs, losers of eight straight overall until Sunday, are the pick.
Isn't Mike Dunleavy the spitting image of the actor Ed Lauter, who played Captain Knauer in the original Longest Yard movie and has been in dozens of movies and TV shows? (I just realized, this is my third Clippers NAMB in four weeks; that's got to be some kind of record.)
And you responded to my proposals for altering the six fouls disqualifiction rule:
The best option that penalizes the team and is hard to manipulate by the offending team is the Technical Foul shot and possession. And it ought to escalate to 2 shots on the seventh foul and 3 shots on the eighth.
-- Earl Sims
The NBA already has a mechanism in place to allow players to play with 6 fouls. From Rule 3: "If a player in the game receives his sixth personal foul, and all substitutes have already been disqualified, said person shall remain in the game and shall be charged with a personal and a team foul. A technical foul shall also be assessed against his team. All subsequent personal fouls, including offensive fouls, shall be treated similarly. All players who have six or more personal fouls and remain in the game shall be treated similarly." Why not just apply that rule on an optional basis if substitutes are in fact available?
-- Tim Francis-Wright
I'm not as learned with statistics and game tapes to mention a particular incident or cook up a scenario, but I'm sure there have been some games where a star player gets into early foul trouble, then this bench guy comes in and works his a-- off to spark energy off the bench that people never knew was there. That way, he works himself into the rotation, and didn't need an injury to one of the regular rotation guys to prove his worth.
-- voLtaire, from the Philippines
A fair point, V. That's one way a piner can get some playing time. But, as you mentioned, injuries provide another opportunity, as do four games in five nights, shooting slumps, recalcitrant significant others, etc. Over the course of a season, everybody who can play usually gets a chance to show what they can do. And, of course, the best place to show you deserve more PT is in practice, or so every coach since Noah first instituted animal-to-animal defense.
Dwyane Wade (24.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.6 apg): Scored 29 percent of Heat's points this season.
Carmelo Anthony (33 ppg, 6 rpg, 5.7 apg, .600 FG): Shooting career-best 86 percent from line.
Dirk Nowitzki (31 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, .478 FG, .862 FT): Sensational in wins over Bucks, Spurs.
LeBron James (34.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 9.3 apg): Sore wrist doesn't keep him from shooting, evidently.
Kobe Bryant (29 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 6.7 apg): Scored 40+ in a game for 100th time.
Steve Nash (14 ppg, 11.7 apg, .500 FG): Again playing with joy in his game.
Dwight Howard (12.8 ppg, 12 rpg, 1.5 blocks): Only one 20-point game since first week of season.
20 -- Consecutive games Utah had lost in San Antonio before finally defeating the Spurs there Thursday, ending a losting streak that dated to Feb. 28, 1999.
23.4 -- Average age (in years and months) of the starting lineup in Oklahoma City -- 21-year-old Kevin Durant, 23-year-old Jeff Green, 26-year-old Nenad Krstic, 25-year-old Thabo Sefolosha and 21-year-old Russell Westbrook -- the youngest starting quintet in the league.
1,000,000 -- Number of Twitter followers Gilbert Arenas says he must have before he will actually start Twittering. Early Monday morning, he had 4,903 persons signed up. You know what to do: http://twitter.com/gilbertarenas
1) The Nuggets' Ty Lawson in a foot race from anywhere to anywhere handling a basketball. My goodness, that kid is fast.
2) Gallinari's stroke. Wet.
3) Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans doing work in smaller markets. Any league is only as strong as its most vulnerable team. The community-owned Packers thrive in the NFL with revenue sharing dollars the NBA doesn't have, but the point is Green Bay can compete with major markets for players. The NBA needs stars in small cities. It may have two in Milwaukee and Sacramento.
4) The Hornets' "NOLA" home unis that they'll wear during Mardi Gras. They even have beads on the sides!
1) Boobie Gibson's barber. The Eyes of Texas should not be shaved into your noggin.
2) Political correctness run amok. The Clippers' broadcast duo -- the legendary play-by-play man Ralph Lawler, and color man Michael Smith -- were suspended a game by Fox Sports for comments during L.A.'s game with Memphis on Wednesday. The two were discussing Grizzlies center Hamed Haddadi, the first Iranian-born player to play in the NBA. I didn't see or hear the game, but this, according to the Los Angeles Times, is the entirety of the conversation:
We're not into Daniel Gibson's creative new hairstyle.
Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images
Smith: Look who's in.
Lawler: Hamed Haddadi. Where's he from?
Smith: He's the first Iranian to play in the NBA.
Lawler: There aren't any Iranian players in the NBA.
Smith: He's the only one.
Lawler: He's from Iran?
Smith: I guess so.
Lawler: That Iran?
Lawler: The real Iran?
Lawler: Wow. Haddadi, that's H-A-D-D-A-D-I.
Smith: You're sure it's not Borat's older brother?
Smith (again): If they ever make a movie about Haddadi, I'm going to get Sacha Baron Cohen (the actor who played Borat) to play the part.
Lawler: Here's Haddadi. Nice little back door pass. I guess those Iranians can pass the ball.
Smith: Especially the post players.
Lawler: I don't know about their guards.
Now, apparantely, Smith and Lawler pronounced "Iranian" with an emphasis on the "EYE" part, and that's what upset someone who was watching the broadcast. Again, I didn't see or hear it, so maybe they were doing it in a mocking way. But, still, did they say anything derogatory about Iran? About Haddadi, other than he looks like Borat? (I get compared to Carlton from "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" every other day.) What, exactly, required an apology?
3) Lightweight heavyweights. Did you know someone named David Haye is considered the heavyweight champion of the world? Did you even know there was a heavyweight title fight last week, when Haye beat someone named Nikolai Valuev to win the WBA crown? A Brit, Haye will now fight the wildly uninteresting John Ruiz. Dozens may watch.
Dismay. A tech for 23. He is amazing; but can't believe it when the rules apply to him.
--CNN reporter and huge Wizards fan John King (@JohnKingCNN), Wednesday, 10 p.m., courtside at Verizon Center with a TwitPic after LeBron James picked up a techincal foul in the fourth quarter of Washington's 108-91 victory over Cleveland.
This week's Mr. Fifteen is center Johan Petro. The 23-year-old native of Guadaloupe has only gotten four garbage minutes so far in this, his fifth NBA season. At seven feet, 247 pounds, and the athletic ability of men a foot shorter, Petro certainly has an NBA body. But he's yet to show he's consistent enough to deserve more minutes. He got big minutes immediately during his rookie season in 2005 (Petro started 41 games) after the Sonics took him late in the first round as a 19-year-old. But one great game was often followed by a nonexistent one. His starts went down the following season, though he still appeared in all but one game, and he was still in Seattle's rotation in 2007. But the minutes disappeared when the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City and brought Nenad Krstic back to the league from Russia late last year. The renamed Thunder traded Petro to Denver a week after Krstic signed. The Nuggets didn't tender Petro last summer and he became a free agent, but they re-signed him before the start of camp. It's been an uneven last couple of years for a young man who didn't grow up with the game and is still trying to find his way.
Me: What are some of the things you're doing extra after practice, and what coaches are working with you on your game?
Johan Petro: I'm definitely trying to work on everything that might be a problem for the coach, and try to work on my weightlifting, definitely try to work on my strength, too, try to work on my body, try to be stronger. 'Cause it's kind of hard for a young big guy to just dominate the paint. I just try to really work hard on that.
Me: Which coaches are helping you?
JP: Honestly, all of them are helping me out through the whole process. They're all trying to work with me on the defense and stuff. Everybody's pretty much involved.
Me: How did basketball find you when you were growing up in Guadaloupe?
JP: Actually, I was a kid. I was just staying home on Wednesday and Saturday and seeing how big I was getting, and my dad just pushed me into it. That's how it really started. It was pretty late. I was already 12.
Me: I imagine you were playing soccer then?
JP: Oh, yeah. I mean, it was the main thing to do. But starting at that point, I couldn't find any shoes and it was getting late for me.
Me: Did you know the Pietrus brothers growing up (like Petro, Mickael Pietrus, a top reserve for the Magic, and Florent Pietrus, a forward playing for the Spanish team Valencia, are from Guadaloupe, a French territorial island in the West Indies)?
JP: Yeah, I knew them growing up. We weren't in the same (city), but Guadaloupe is kind of small. It has like 500,000 people on it. It's very small. So everybody kind of knows everybody. We weren't on the same pro team but I knew them.
Me: You were 14 when you first went to INSEP -- the French national athletic academy that was the developing force behind French stars in the NBA from Tony Parker to Boris Diaw to Ronny Turiaf. Did you idolize Parker and those guys?
JP: To be honest, I didn't know that much about basketball when I started. I was only 12, and then two years later, they came to my house and said okay, you have to come to this program for three years, away from your family and stuff. So it was like a big change for me. I didn't really grow up watching those guys play or anything like that. My first year was tough. I mean, school was tough. I was by myself. My dad came, he quit everything and came the year after. And then my mom did the same thing. That's how hard it was.
Me: When did you feel you were starting to get good at basketball?
JP: I guess when I started to have people come over from places to watch me play. I didn't realize that I was any good. I just thought I was just like any other kid that was in there. Then the one scout from Barcelona, or places in Europe started coming to the games, I was like, okay, that might be a big deal. So I have to really focus. I was sixteen.
Me: What was Pau Orthez like (Petro signed with the powerful French club team in 2003)?
JP: It was tough. At the time, Pau was the big team in France. It was tough, to be starting from the top school and go pro. I was only 17 when I joined Pau. It was a big change. I just tried to stay focused and keep working.
Me: How did you learn to be a pro while you were there?
JP: It was easier when I turned pro, because I had my mom, my dad, I mean, everybody came, followed me there. It was like a job. It was way more easy for me to be professional about it, because I had that foundation. I had my family with me.
Me: And you played for the French national team at the World Championships in '06, with Diaw, the Pietrus Brothers and Mickael Gelabale. What was that experience like?
JP: I mean, it was great. I had some trouble with coaches because of my style of play, but it was great. To be with the guys, the best guys from France, to represent the country, it was a good experience. With what we experienced that year (France finished fifth, one of its best showings ever), it was an awful good experience for me.
Me: If you had it to do over again, do you think you would have turned pro as young as you did?
JP: Probably not. I think, thinking about it now, I think I would have a couple of changes, maybe, in my life. But I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know, like, how it was going to turn out. I mean, it turned out pretty good, but it definitely could be better, a different direction.
Me: At least Seattle was fun, because you got to play right away.
JP: It was shocking. Because when I got here, I didn't expect to play right away, and I did. I started pretty much the whole season. It was a great experience. But unfortunately for me, the coaches got fired, the organization got fired. So from there, it went downhill.
Me: Do you need a specific coach to appreciate your game?
JP: I mean, I don't know. I don't think it's fair to say that from the other coaches I had, but the only coach that really let me enjoy myself on the court was Bob Hill. He definitely put me out there and told me to just do me and not think too much about stuff and just play my game. He was the only coach to give me that freedom to just enjoy myself. I don't know what kind of style he has, but he was the one that really just let me enjoy the game of basketball.
Me: So what keeps you positive now?
JP: You know, I have no idea. I have no idea. I'm just not the type of guy who says 'well, I'm not playing, or I'm just going to quit,' stuff like that. I can't allow myself to do that. So I guess, just try to be better. I'm only 23. I still have a lot of stuff to improve on. And I know that not playing now doesn't mean I won't play later. It's tough. 'Cause that's pretty much my life, playing basketball. When you don't have that, you pretty much don't have anything else. So you just have to try to find a way to stay positive.
"We probably don't deserve to be on the radar. We're a team that's just trying to prove ourselves, just trying to improve every day. I think that while we don't deserve it, it's also good for us. Other teams that we've had here in the last five years, I wanted us to be on the radar. I wanted us to have a target on our backs, so that we could face that every day and grow from that. But this team, I think we've gotta develop at our own pace."
-- Suns guard Steve Nash, happy that the Suns are still in the shadows in the Western Conference despite having one of the conference's best records.
"Dickens, Frank, Emerson, Thoreau. Who doesn't belong in that group?"
--Nets coach Lawrence Frank, making fun of his own "poetic waxing" about his winless team's struggles this season.
"I heard that comment. I have mixed emotions about that. A great athlete? Yes. A football player? No. Yeah, LeBron, I said it."
-- Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, to local reporters, responding to LeBron James's contention that if he committed to it, he could help the Browns. James was an all-state wide receiver in Ohio in high school (see?) before concentrating full-time on basketball his senior year.
Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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