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David Aldridge

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Jeremy Lin's future in New York is unknown, but his present has been nothing but awfully bright.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

New spin on old underdog tale makes Lin's story shine


Posted Feb 20 2012 2:30PM

What, you thought it was going to be another story about arenas?

A million years ago, I was the beat guy covering the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. My second year on the beat, the Redskins had the third overall pick in the NFL Draft, and took one of the two hotshot quarterback prospects that year, Tennessee's Heath Shuler. He had a big arm, he could move, he was athletic and looked right out of central casting. Near the end of that same Draft, with the 197th pick, in the seventh round, the Redskins took another big-armed, but hardly noticed, quarterback out of Tulsa named Gus Frerotte, and promptly put him on the practice squad, where he was supposed to do what seventh-round picks did: run the scout team, hold the clipboard on Sundays and shut up.

Except, it became apparent to anyone with a pulse around the team that every time Shuler -- who missed much of training camp in a contract holdout -- went on the field, he, in sports parlance, threw up on himself. And every time Frerotte went on the field, he threw lasers -- in practice and in the preseason games. His nickname became "Sniper." All of a sudden the Redskins had a problem on their hands: the seventh-rounder was better than the third pick in the Draft.

Soon enough, Frerotte was starting, and Shuler was holding the clipboard, and the Redskins had poured $18 million down the drain. (Frerotte went on to play 15 years in the NFL, playing for six teams, throwing for 21,291 yards and 114 touchdowns. Shuler injured his foot, was traded to New Orleans and was out of football in four seasons, totalling 3,691 yards and 15 touchdowns. Shuler found his legs and a second career as Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), who served three terms in North Carolina's 11th Congressional District -- but announced earlier this month he would not seek re-election.)

This brings us to Jeremy Lin, and the Knicks, and second chances, and Paul Silas' kid, and race, and $54 jerseys, and Mike Tyson and neo-con columnists, and viewing parties in places where they never watched NBA games before, and viewing parties in China, where they did, and SNL skits, and horribly racist headlines, and an injection of interest and passion for a league that was drowning in post-Lockout ennui.

Floyd Mayweather says Lin wouldn't be getting all this attention if he weren't Taiwanese-American.

Floyd Mayweather is right.

The question for Mayweather is, why is that a bad thing?

The dean of the school of journalism at my beloved alma mater used to say, we don't do stories on planes that land safely, or cars that drive on the right side of the road, or leaves falling from trees. The truth of the matter is that African-Americans have come to dominate the NBA. They comprise about 80 percent of the players, give or take a point, just about every season.

No, it would not be covered the same way if a black kid did what Jeremy Lin is doing. But it wasn't covered the same way when Tiger Woods started doing what Jack Nicklaus did. That's the whole point. Jeremy Lin is different. Where Mayweather has it wrong is that Lin's ethnicity isn't the only thing that makes him different. And that's why his story, and his success, have resonated with so many people.

Think of all the different kinds of kids that can look up to him as a role model: the geeks and brainiacs (though Lin said that his former teammate, Golden State's David Lee, refers to him as "the dumbest smart guy he knows"), the 12th guys on the JV bench, the genuinely, passionately religious, Asians, non-Asians, the 5-foot-8 kid who never thinks he or she is going to grow any more.

This story transcends basketball, and if you don't believe that, you haven't been watching the "Today Show" on NBC, or "Good Morning America" on ABC, or reading that bastion of sports journalism, The Wall Street Journal. You can dismiss this as hype, until Lin asks, as he did after Video going for 28 and 14 against the Mavs, if reporters will leave his extended family in Taiwan alone and respect their privacy.

But that's not what you want to know.

You want to know how 29 other teams missed on this guy. Including the two teams that had him on their rosters in the last 12 months.

"It's a perfect case study of the inefficiencies in our business," a veteran general manager said Sunday afternoon.

We do not know what Jeremy Lin is going to become. We don't know if he's going to be a 21st century Steve Nash, or Steve Colter. Both of them played a long time in the NBA, but one did a little better, if you get my meaning. We don't know, after just nine games, what Lin's ceiling is going to be. At worst, he appears to be a guy that could be part of a three-guard rotation, a contributor. At best ... who is he?

And why didn't someone see this before Mike D'Antoni, desperate for competent guard play and out of options, ran Lin out there on Feb. 3 against the Celtics for six minutes, 36 seconds of not-very-eye-opening ball, then brought him off the bench early the next night against New Jersey, when Lin scored 25 points with 7 assists in 36 minutes.

You get Larry Riley on the phone Wednesday. Larry Riley is the Warriors' general manager. His voice is somber, because you're the 20th or 30th reporter to call and ask a variation on the same question: How on earth could you have let Lin go? The Warriors gave Lin a two-year deal in the summer of 2010 (which included guaranteed money, Riley points out,); Golden State signed him with the intention of keeping him. The Warriors liked him as a player, and it didn't hurt that a Taiwanese-American was going to play every night in the Bay, with its large Asian population.

But the Warriors cut him.

There were reasons, Riley explains.

Golden State needed to clear as much cap space as possible to get an offer sheet to the Clippers' restricted free agent center, DeAndre Jordan. Lin would have counted on the books for $788,872 if the Warriors had kept him; they also amnestied veteran guard Charlie Bell, saving another $4 million. Golden State was desperate for a starting center and wanted Jordan. (Did the Warriors think they had to have a legit big man to put in a package for Dwight Howard, whom they still harbor long-shot hopes of getting?) Also, because of the lockout, the Warriors weren't able to sign their second-round pick in last year's Draft, guard Charles Jenkins. They already had Steph Curry at the point, and Monta Ellis at the two, and made the judgment that Jenkins would be a better backup for them than Lin. It's the kind of decision teams make every day on personnel.

It was, clearly, incorrect.

"We felt there was nowhere else to go at the time and that seemed to be the best course of action," Riley said. "We didn't want to do it, but what could we do? ... We probably were going to talk to him a day before (signing Jenkins). We had just started practice, but it wasn't the first day of camp. We called him into the office and told him what we were doing, and why. He said, 'That's fine, and if it helps the Warriors, I'm all for it.' I don't think it's a fluke. I think he's going to continue to play well. Whether it will be at this level, I don't know."

You talk with a longtime general manager in the league Sunday -- a GM who had Lin in for a workout before the '10 Draft. He liked Lin, thought he was pretty tough. But he didn't pull the trigger. Why?

"The kid went to Harvard, let's face it," said the GM, who obviously didn't want to be named. "You look at strength of schedule, you look at who he was competing against (in the Ivy League) ... I saw him in Video the summer league in Vegas. I think you came away impressed. The problem in this business is if you're not in, you're not in. He outplayed Roddy Beaubois, but Roddy Beaubois was their pick. You're not going to cut Roddy Beaubois for a kid from Harvard. Here's a kid that's a little unassuming, he didn't play in the ACC, he didn't play in the SEC. We're looking at guys who are much bigger and much stronger, and sometimes you get caught up in that."

You ask the GM, because people have asked you, and it's a legit question: How much did Lin's race have to do with his falling through the cracks?

"Zero," the GM said. And, then: "If it was a white guy that was the same size, he'd have more trouble" getting signed.

You ask Tony Ronzone, who's been around the world several times in search of NBA talent for the last 15 years as an executive and international scout for Detroit and Minnesota (he left the Timberwolves' organization last year by mutual agreement with the team) and who is still working for USA Basketball as director of international personnel, scouting the teams that will be the biggest threats to the gold medal-defending U.S. team at the Summer Games in London in July.

Ronzone knows everyone who knows everyone in basketball. How did Lin's potential escape everyone's notice?

"He just got overlooked," Ronzone said Sunday afternoon. "Ivy League guys get overlooked; they're not scholarship players. But there's players everywhere around the world. It's not just Jeremy Lin people are missing on; there's other players guys are missing on. There's other guys out there like him. The miss is just trying to find him. Can you find him? That puts more pressure on NBA teams and their staff. We have to get more people on our staffs, get more people looking out there. Because if you hit on a guy like that, it's huge. If you get a hit like that, you can save your organization a lot of money."

You know that Lin is hardly the only undrafted guy who's made an impact on the NBA.

Ben Wallace helped win a championship for the Pistons as Video the spine of their Video near-impregnable defense, winning Defensive Player of the Year honors four times in five seasons, making four All-Star teams and five NBA all-defensive first teams.

John Starks became a starting guard for the Knicks after bagging groceries in Oklahoma after college. Gary Neal is having a pretty good run in San Antonio after going undrafted in 2007 and having to play in Turkey and Italy before the Spurs came calling.

It is not limited to basketball; 32 NFL teams passed on Kurt Warner, who'd starred at Northern Iowa, for seven rounds. He signed with the Packers, who were known for developing quarterbacks, as a free agent, but never made it out of the preseason: Green Bay had Brett Favre and Mark Brunell, and Warner went the Starks Route, bagging at the Hy-Vee in Cedar Falls, Iowa, until he got a shot in the Arena League and NFL Europe. But he still would have never played for the Rams if their starter, Trent Green, hadn't had his ACL torn in a preseason game in 1999.

You ask an NFL guy you respect, Michael Lombardi, who ran the personnel shops in Cleveland and Oakland and worked for the 49ers, Eagles and Broncos before crossing over to the NFL Network and NFL.com. How did that happen?

"Kurt's numbers in college were incredible," Lombardi said. "But when he got to Green Bay, whether he was hyperventaling or whatever, he didnt throw the ball. Ron Wolf (the legendary personnel man) was there, and they didn't make those kind of mistakes. They had a great quarerback pedigree."

Inspired by Lin's ascent from nowhere, Lombardi penned a piece for NFL.com Friday in which he points out the four major mistakes that personnel types can make that can lead to a Lin not showing up on anyone's radar.

The Four Mistakes, Abridged:

• 1) The Agenda, in which a team that has already drafted a player at the same position as another is less likely to give the less-heralded player an honest shot, for fear that it will make the other pick look bad;

• 2) Sponsorship, referring to players who had advocates among coaches or scouts. Players without sponsors, who are signed just to fill out rosters, usually don't get a real opportunity to show what they can do;

• 3) Pedigree Mistakes, where teams don't trust their eyes on players who may have been released by other teams, thinking there must be something wrong with him;

4) "Everyone's a GM" Syndrome, in which coaches have final or signficant say in personnel. No matter how well-meaning, Lombardi argues, most coaches -- who are, after all, judged on their won-loss record -- are interested in finding people who can help them right now, and aren't much interested in taking the time to develop someone who's raw but may need some work.

Scouting "groupthink" doesn't help, either, Lombardi said. Scouts tend to reinforce the beliefs of the guys they see on the road.

"It's the blackbird on the vine; one blackbird flies away, they all fly away," Lombardi said. "To think the other way takes moral courage. If youre 75 percent right on your evaluations, you're not a good scout, you're a great scout ... the only way you learn is you learn from your mistakes. You've got to go back and analyze where you make your mistakes. Why did we take this guy? Why didn't we take that guy? That's where Bill [Belichick] is so good. Everybody starts from last year's draft. He tells guys, I don't care if you were drafted in the first or second round; if you don't produce, you're gone. And I don't care if you're a free agent; if you don't produce, you're gone."

Lombardi also recalled what his mentor, the late Bill Walsh, used to say.

"You know why Bill hated scouts?," he asks. "'Cause he always felt scouts were bad coaches telling good coaches what to do."

Lin has benefited, another NBA GM texted Sunday night, from playing in a system that's perfect for him. The GM did not add, though others have, that playing for D'Antoni, who gives his guards free rein to make decisions on the floor, or shoot -- "he's got that purple light," Kings guard Tyreke Evans said -- and who favors pick-and-roll sets in the halfcourt, the very sets that Lin has shown a great ability to run, has allowed Lin to shine. D'Antoni used to always say that the reason Steve Nash had as many turnovers as he did was that he had the ball in his hands almost every time for Phoenix when he ran D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds or Less" offense there.

And, Lin has gotten better at just about everything since he came out of college. He's a better shooter. He's a better passer. And, importantly, he's stronger. When he first got to Harvard he could barely lift any weight; now, he can clean-and-jerk with anyone else at his position.

"Just watching him keeping his dribble alive, keeping players on his hip, and knowing where the pass goes," said Kings coach Keith Smart, who was Lin's interim coach last season at Golden State.

"I mean, he sees the play now before it happens," Smart said. "Before, he saw the rim. He would just fly to the rim, and then he was always on the floor. But now, you see he knows when to go, where to go, where the ball needs to go. He has run up the ladder so fast, it's amazing what he's doing. Just watching him run the game, run the floor, end of quarter ... now, you see him looking at the clock. The ball's away from him -- and young point guards don't do this -- (when) the ball is away from him, you catch him every now and then peeking at the shot clock. So if it gets back into his hands, he knows I have a shot, or a drive."

Lin worked tirelessly with Warriors assistant coaches Stephen Silas and Lloyd Pierce last season.

"We had a thing set up for how our guards needed to work and operate," Smart said. "And all of them are doing those things. But Stephen Silas started the process with him, and really did a great job -- from film work in the morning, grouping players together -- Nash, Stockton -- to show him what he needed to do. All of our guards were that way ... when I took over, then Stephen left to go with his dad (Paul Silas, who became the Bobcats' head coach in December, 2010) in Charlotte, and Lloyd Pierce came in, and Lloyd continued the process.

"And so those two guys had a big hands-on approach with him, daily, coming into film room, coming into on-floor work. I would look out my office sometimes, early in the morning, and there this kid was, just finished his breakfast, and on the floor, already working. So he's a definite leader. He has a personality that's infectious, that people want to be around him. You see everything that's happening is because this guy has an outgoing personality that everyone loves."

Sunday was just another day in the suddenly dramatic life of Lin.

The Mavericks threw 6-foot-8 Shawn Marion on him, and doubled him hard every chance they got. They tried to get the ball out of his hands, yet he still strafed them and had the Garden rocking -- even Spike Lee had on Lin's Harvard jersey. Earlier in the week, Spike was still wearning Landry Fields' No. 2, saying he couldn't turn his back on his guy. (Sunday, Lin had seven more turnovers. Lin commits a lot of turnovers; more than anyone in the history of the game in his first eight starts. Then again, he scored more points than anyone in league history had in his first six starts, and the Knicks are 7-1 with him as a starter. That seems like a wash.) He is a story that simply is too good to be real: living on his brother's couch, a fiercely humble and religious fellow who is, in his own words, constantly struggling with how to live a life in this world that gives the proper glory to God.

Earlier in the week, I had asked D'Antoni what finding a real point guard means for the Knicks' fortunes going forward.

"It changes everything," he said. "We knew that we gave up Chauncey (Billups) to get Tyson (Chandler), and we knew that was a problem that had to be resolved as we went along, and we didn't know exactly when that opportunity comes out or when it happens. This changes everything up ... the only reason we won six in a row is because we kind of found a way to shore that spot up."

Lin has shored things up, all right: a team and its coach's future, and a league, and NBA League Pass, if the anecdotal evidence from people saying they want to watch this kid work is anywhere near real, and the Time Warner Cable-Madison Square Garden Network dispute, and if you give him time, he might get those arenas built in Sacramento and Seattle. The guard works in mysterious ways.

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Meanwhile, the Heat have gone back to bludgeoning.

Since losing to Orlando 10 days ago, when the Magic rained threes on them, Miami's Finest have pummelled the opposition. Sunday, they got their pound of Magic Flesh, swamping Orlando with punishing defense and the occasional LeBron/Wade sortie above the rim. The Heat are 25-7, the best mark in the league and the best start in franchise history, having won nine of their last 10 by an average of 15.3 per game. Only one of those nine wins was by less than double figures. Which begs the question: How good can these guys be? And how can you tell in a season as cockamamie as this one?

"What we talk about all the time is we have to be really disciplined as a group on evaluating what's real and what's not real," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You can get knocked off off course very [easily] ... there are a lot of different circumstances this year. The back to backs, the no practices, the three games in three nights, they're all opportunities for us to grow."

There is so much that's going good for the Heat right now, from Mike Miller's health and Mario Chalmers' emergence as a consistent scoring threat, to the shooting tear Wade has been on all month, to James' continued excellence. But titles are won with attention to detail. There is no time for such attention this season. And a team that is drilled the way Miami normally is would seem to be susceptible to false readings. Spoelstra is a true believer when it comes to practice and how it makes a team better. That the Heat are rolling on muscle memory is frightening to the rest of the league.

James and Wade have taken to Spoelstra's new emphasis on pushing the ball and forcing tempo on offense seamlessly. James has attempted just 59 3-pointers; even adjusted for the shortened campaign it will be the fewest three attempts by far in his career. Yet Miami is crushingly good offensively, averaging a league-best 107.5 points per 100 possessions, topping John Hollinger's True Shooting Percentage (which takes threes into account) at 57.1 percent. James and Wade are 1-2 in Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating.

"The best way we can get better right now is through film sessions and walk throughs," James said late last week. "There's not much room for practice times where you can have that hour, hour and a half, two-hour sessions where you can kind of go over things, because you have four, at most five games a week. It's tough to gauge how you get better in a practice session. The good thing about our team (is) we have a veteran ballclub. We understand what we didn't do. In the game, say, the Orlando game, what we didn't do well, we were able to break down the film and transfer it to (the next) game. That's the good thing about our team. We're able to bounce back quickly."

Other than Chris Bosh, Miami is still seeking consistent play from its bigs. Joel Anthony starts out of necessity, and Udonis Haslem is still trying to find his timing after missing most of last season with torn ligaments in his left foot. His foot is healed, but the lockout killed all but a couple of perfunctory days of training camp this season, leaving Haslem to have to come in on those precious days off to get some shots up to get his rhythm back.

"I think our best basketball is ahead of us," Haslem said. "We're working on something different a little bit offensively. Defensively we're still fine-tuning and getting to a top-five defense, where we want to be. We've proven we have everything we need to win. We went up against the best, and we've been successful against the best so far this season. Who knows what the peak of this team is, once we get everything rolling in the right direction?"

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(Last week's ranking in parenthesis)

1) San Antonio (1) [3-0]: Incredible save Saturday by Tony Parker and Gary Neal to beat the Clips in OT, but lose Ginobili. Again.

2) Miami (2) [4-0]: Heat one of just two teams (Chicago) with a point differential of more than nine points per game.

3) Oklahoma City (4) [3-1]: One of just three teams (Miami, Denver) averaging more than 100 points/game.

4) Dallas (6) [3-1]: Six-game win streak gets Lincinerated Sunday at the Garden.

5) Chicago (3) [3-1]: Have done as well as you can expect without D Rose. Then again, you are not Tom Thibodeau.

6) L.A. Clippers (5) [2-2]: Chris Paul would like to have the last few seconds of regulation back against the Spurs Saturday, if you don't mind. (Was I the only one who thought of this when I saw Paul Video do this?)

7) L.A. Lakers (8) [3-1]: Jim Buss tells the Los Angeles Times he doesn't care if Mike Brown's Lakers aren't exciting, as long as they win in the playoffs.

8) Orlando (15) [3-1]: Scary: Jason Richardson scratches from Sunday's game with Miami, complaining of chest pains. Will be re-evaluated on Monday.

9) Atlanta (9) [1-2]: Still running on empty in the middle, Hawks sign Erick Dampier to second 10-day contract Sunday night.

10) Philadelphia (7) [2-2]: Sixers want more out of guard Jrue Holliday, who'd gone 16 of his previous 53 from the floor (30.2 percent) before scoring 20 in Sunday night's loss to Minnesota.

11) New York (11) [3-1]: Here's an idea: Carmelo, Sixth Man! Well, it's not any crazier than an undrafted kid coming out of nowhere to electrify the league in the biggest media market in the league.

12) Houston (12) [2-2]: Rockets have been owned by the Timberwolves, who beat them last week for the third time in four games this season.

13) Memphis (NR) [4-0]: Won six of seven, including consecutive last-second tip-ins, to get back into the playoff race in the west.

14) Indiana (10) [2-2]: Maybe Pacers have pulled out of their nosedive. Hard to tell, since they played Charlotte on Sunday.

15) Denver (14) [1-3]: Lost last two in tough fashion, making it eight losses in last 10.

Dropped out: Utah (13)

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New Orleans (3-0): Read this slowly, because you'll likely not see the Bugs get this honor again for a long, long time. But the Hornets deserve props for ending an eight-game losing streak with a win over Utah, then following that up with road wins at Milwaukee and New York, the latter ending the Knicks' seven-game win streak and throwing some cold water on Linsanity. That the streak happened as Chris Kaman was brought back to the team after the Hornets had agreed to shelve him while they sought trades for him is pure coincidence, we're sure.

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Sacramento (0-4): Don't get me wrong; the Kings' defense is awful, allowing 105.5 points/100 possessions. But they're also really struggling to find a guard who can get them into their offense. Evans/Jimmer just aren't point guards.

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How do you expand a young man's horizons?

Former NBA players Darrell Walker and Elliot Perry ask this all the time of their ex-teammates, and players they still know in the league. Perry still has reach as vice president of the board of directors of the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation; Walker just finished a long stint as a Pistons' assistant coach under former head coaches Michael Curry and John Kuester.

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Grizzlies executive Elliot Perry is trying to use art to help broaden the minds of current players.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Their joint mission: to try to open up the eyes of anyone who will listen that there is another world out there besides the court, and the hotel, and the club. There are paintings and sculptures and collages, and a whole different universe that is theirs for the taking. If only they will reach, get outside of their comfort zone. Since their playing days ended, both Walker and Perry have become avid art collectors.

"I try and tell these guys, you should consider being an art collector," Walker said Sunday. "There's money to be made. It would be great to get some of these young players to see: instead of that third car, or another Jacob the Jeweler watch, why don't you come over here to this museum and see some of these pieces? Those cars will go down in value, but these Catletts will go up."

Walker and Perry were both solid points guards in their day. Now, they use their eyes for something much different than finding the trailer on the break or the shooter coming off a stagger. Perry has a collection so large he put it on an exhibit that spent much of the last year on the road touring in Memphis and Houston. With no NBA schedule this season, Walker -- who is also taking classes at his alma mater, the University of Arkansas, toward a degree in human resources -- continues to visit museums across the country, looking for pieces from both contemporary and "old school" artists like the sculptor Elizabeth Catlett (her classic, "Family", is one of her most popular works).

Walker and Perry will be in Washington, D.C., next Sunday at the National Gallery of Art to take part in a panel discussion about their art collections, how they developed over the years and how they acquired a taste for what they wanted to buy.

Many current and former NBA players have become investors in art. Isiah Thomas is an avid collector. Chris Webber has an extensive collection of African-American art and artifacts, from a first-edition book by the 18th century poet Phyllis Wheatley to autographed pieces by Muhammad Ali and singer Marian Anderson, which have been put on display in his native Detroit. And Suns forward Grant Hill, who favored classical artists like Bearden and Catlett, as well as Hughie Lee-Smith and John Biggers, put his extensive collection of works on a seven-city tour, "Something All Our Own," that ran for almost three years. (Full disclosure: I wrote a blurb for the jacket of the accompanying book.)

Perry, 42, credits Walker for getting him interested in art in the late '90s.

"Charles Barkley took a team of us over to Japan for some exhibition games, and Darrell was one of the coaches," Perry said Sunday. "We just sat on the plane and he started talking to me about art, showing me all these books and catalogues. I was like, I'm not interested in art. But he stayed on me. He said, 'Go see (abstract painter) Sam Gilliam. Go see that gallery or this artist.' He would send me a lot of books. I spent that first year going to shows, training my eye. I was dropping my bags and heading out the door when I got to every town."

The first piece Perry bought was a serigraph of artist Paul Goodnight's Tennessee Tea Taster. Quickly, Perry was hooked.

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Former NBA guard and assistant coach Darrell Walker has an extensive appreciation and knowledge of art.
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

"After that, I bought a few pieces and I was looking at some of the prices," he said. "I really didn't know what I was doing. I wanted to see a show with Dr. Walker Evans. He was living in Detroit at the time and he was a surgeon, and he had one of the best collections of African-American art, master artists. I just saw that show and it just blew my mind. All of the people that I had been reading about, he had all of their pieces."

For several years, Perry bought pieces of great, older artists.

"Then, I went back to read Walker Evans' catalogue again, and figured out how he started collecting work," Perry said. "He said when he started collecting, he got to know the people who did the pieces. I started meeting the artists. Not only was he buying the work, he was supporting the artists as well. I was like, I could do that. I did a 180. I stopped collecting the old masters and started going for the more contemporary work." Now, Perry estimates he has around 160 pieces.

Said Walker: "We talk about basketball a little, but we talk about art 90 percent of the time. You go to Elliot's house, it's like a museum. He's very passionate about that."

Walker was turned onto collecting while playing with the Knicks in the mid-80s. His teammate, Bernard King, was a collector of the late Romare Bearden, whose collages depicted African-American life from the 1920s through the '70s.

"BK turned me on to it," Walker said. "He was always in my ear. When I played in Detroit I started buying pieces. BK was my mentor."

Walker likes the works of Rashid Johnson, whose photographs and pieces represent what is often called the "post-black" movement in the arts -- works that often refer to and use African-American cultural symbols, but reflect modern aspirations of people of color rather than the historical and more traditional depictions of slavery, Jim Crow or other debasements that were foisted upon them. But Walker also likes Radcliffe Bailey, an Atlanta artist who uses more traditional inspirations for his work -- and who was honored by the Atlanta Hawks earlier this month in a ceremony during a game at Philips Arena. (Part of the reason is to broaden the collection, part of it is financial: Younger artists tend to sell their works for less than older ones.)

Walker says a budding collector has "got to go with what speaks to you. But you have to do your homework. You've got to go to artists' studios and see how the work is made." And while many active players haven't followed up when he tries to reach out, one has -- Miami Heat forward Juwan Howard, who had already started collecting when he and Walker connected in Miami. Walker, 50, says he didn't immediately listen, either.

"Bernard tried my rookie year, and I was like, 'I'm going to the club,'" Walker said. "He said, 'You should come with me and get some culture.' We got togehter again in Washington and he kept on me, and I finally started going with him ... I always had somethingto do in every city I went to. I was going to a gallery or talking to an artist. Juwan is a prime example of it. Back then there was no Google and people couldn't send you images and all that stuff. Juwan reads the e-mails or things that are sent to him, and he calls and says, 'I'm going to be in L.A.; is there anyone I need to go see out there?'"

Walker, whose collection Images of America: African-American Voices, was displayed at the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery in Cincinnati a few years ago, is hoping to show some of his newer work in April in his native Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Among his favorite newer artists is painter Mickalene Thomas, who uses acrylics and enamels in her portraits. Perry likes the works of Deborah Grant and Jennie C. Jones, and he is "really, really on" Theaster Gates, a Chicago sculptor who uses discarded materials to make much of his new art. Perry loves Gates's In the Event of Race Riot, a creation using an old decommissioned fire hose and refinished wood.

"What he does that's so interesting is that he's everything," Perry said. "He's an urban planner, so he's a guy from Chicago, south side of Chicago, finding all these boarded up homes that used to be in affluent areas, but now they're not. When he started redoing the homes, he's using all of the stuff from those homes to do his pieces. But he's living in the community, too. All of the material is from the homes he purchases."

Perry has tried everything he could to interest Grizzlies players and anyone else who'll listen to get into the art game. You don't have to be a big buyer; you can appreciate the art for the work itself, and nothing more.

"I think it's just what moves you," he said. "That's what art should be about. When you look at the work, what moves you? For me, its about more than that. My ultimate goal is to have a conversation in our own community, the African-American community, about what is art? There's all these young artists right now, and most of them are bypassed by our community, because we don't know about them. We don't see enough of them ... it's not just this two dimensional piece that hangs on a wall. It's three-dimensional."

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Great players don't fall from trees ... or from grace. From Eric Fitzgerald:

You state Seattle's chances of re-gaining an NBA team will only come at the expense of another city losing its team, because expansion is impossible given the lack of talent: "There aren't enough good players to go around for 30 teams; how on earth could you add two more (and it would have to be two, for the obvious logistical and conference balance reasons) to the mix?"

To that I direct you to the "Nobody Asked Me, But..." section of your column. There is no shortage of basketball talent and breakthrough players like Jeremy Lin are proof that there are players ready to take an opportunity and explode given the right circumstances. It's getting very old listening to the smaller markets say they just can't compete.

There are more than a few markets that could support an NBA team. It bothers me to no end that the NBA has accepted that there is a finite number of NBA markets and only a handful of those markets are large-market championship contenders. The NBA needs to get more creative with its markets outside of New York, Boston, Miami, Chicago, Dallas and L.A.

The NBA should do everything in its power to keep teams in cities where the NBA is the only pro sport in town. Sacramento would be a terrible loss to the NBA, even if Seattle were to be a greater gain.

Just don't agree with the notion that there are more than enough players to go around, Eric. The game has been watered down for years by expansion. Just think about the rosters of teams like the Lakers and Celtics in the 1980s. The Lakers started Magic Johnson, Byron Scott, James Worthy, A.C. Green and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They brought guys like Michael Cooper and Mychal Thompson off the bench. Boston started Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, and brought Bill Walton off the bench. That kind of depth meant the quality of play in those days was almost always high, no matter who was on the court at a given time. I do agree with you that the one-pro team markets have to be protected, but those teams have to help themselves, too. Again, San Antonio and Utah have managed to field competitive, winning teams year after year despite being in very small markets. Sacramento had a great run for several years with the Video Chris Webber-Vlade Divac teams. It can be done. But there's no guarantee. You have to have good management in place that makes good decisions.

Some in the 206 prefer their city NBA-free. From Patrick Dwyer:

I just want to clear something up that I've seen in print a lot recently. This idea that people in Seattle want to steal another city's team is completely bogus. In fact, most people here don't want anything to do with the NBA at all. We don't "feel" the league was complicit, as you say in your article; they WERE complicit. We were an example to every other NBA city that unless they give into the demands of multimillionaires, they'll lose their team. Now this lie that we want to do the same thing that was done to us, only advances the league's agenda. "It's ok to extort the public for an arena. Look, even Seattle wants us back!" As long as David Stern is in power, as long as Clay Bennett heads up the Relocation Committee, and as long as Kevin Durant continues to evolve into the best pure scorer since MJ, the NBA can stay the hell out of our city. Obviously I miss basketball -- I miss the Sonics enough to rant at a stranger over email -- but nobody here misses it enough to abandon all principle and any sense of dignity. Please don't print otherwise.

Patrick, I believe you believe that. Unfortunately, your mayor, city council and many of the city's richest people are not listening to you, and are proceeding with exactly what I stated last week -- greasing the skids to take whatever existing team becomes available in the near future. When and if Seattle gets an NBA team again I am sure that many people such as yourself (and including yourself) will stay away out of principle. But there will be others -- I've spoken to them; they're not imaginary -- who are ready to step in and take your place. A lot of people want the NBA back in Seattle. And once an arena deal is in place, it will happen.

We've all lost a couple of inches since the high-top fade days. From Jim Phelan:

...(A) footnote to James Brown's comments about his playing days at Harvard. I was a walk-on at Boston College then, and in those days, Harvard, BC, Boston U, and Northeastern played an early-season tournament called the Beanpot. We got to play in the old Boston Garden for nothing more than bragging rights. Chuck Daly was the BC coach (it was his first head job -- he'd been an assistant at Duke and he took over in Chestnut Hill in 1969 after Bob Cousy, tired of the grind of recruiting, stepped down). We drew Harvard in the Beanpot during Brown's sophomore year, the first year he was eligible for the varsity. The 6-foot-6 Brown was sporting a huge Afro that made him look at least 6-foot-9, and his reputation as a great leaper also preceded him. In giving us the scouting report, Chuck couldn't get over the fact that Harvard had Brown playing guard. I still remember the line with which Chuck expressed his incredulity: "If James Brown is a guard, then I'm a basketball."

You should see J.B. now, Jim. He's not a guard; he's a tackle.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and losing Powerball tickets (I have plenty!) to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently interesting, thought-provoking, funny or snarky, we just might publish it!

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(Weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (27.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 5.8 apg, .623 FG, .905 FT): Hard to imagine he could be any more effective. If there's someone else you want to seriously suggest for MVP, I'll listen. I won't consider it, but I'll listen.

2) Kevin Durant (32 ppg, 8 rpg, 2.8 apg, .585 FG, .917 FT): Surprised just about everyone by severing ties with longtime agent Aaron Goodwin last week.

3) Kobe Bryant (26 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5 apg, .448 FG, .769 FT): Became just the ninth guard in league history to grab more than 6,000 career rebounds with nine boards on Friday against Phoenix.

4) Tony Parker (26 ppg, 3 rpg, 10.3 apg, .466 FG, .800 FT): TP9 makes his MVP Watch debut, having played some of the best basketball of his career to help carry the Spurs all season and six straight wins to start the Rodeo Trip.

5) Chris Paul (16.5 ppg, 4 rpg, 6.8 apg, .377 FG, .875 FT): Shooting dips. Maybe it's just a mini-slump.

Dropped out: Derrick Rose (DNP-back).

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16 -- Losing streak of the Bobcats, which finally ended Friday when Charlotte Video defeated the Raptors -- on owner Michael Jordan's 49th birthday, no less.

20 -- Years since Magic Johnson's memorable -- and final -- appearance in the 1992 All-Star Game in Orlando. That game did so much to change how many in the NBA felt about HIV and helped change a lot of people's minds about the stigma that then accompanied so many who had the virus. Magic's one-on-one defense against Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan, followed by his three-point hook with 13 seconds left, was the stuff of a fairy tale.

$154,000,000 -- Reported career salary of Allen Iverson, according to basketball-reference.com, which most media outlets picked up last week while detailing that Iverson has not yet paid $860,000 in bills to a Georgia jeweler. Those outlets went on to assume that Iverson is now broke. Whether or not that's true, Iverson is still trying to find work playing, and reportedly reached agreement over the weekend with a team in Venezuela.

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1) Durantula, with a Video career-high 51 points in the overtime win Sunday. And a kiss for mom afterwards.

2) The Tim Duncan-led Spurs may not win another championship, especially if they can't keep Manu Ginobili on the court for more than a couple of games at a time. But they are a tough, tough bunch of guys, and should be celebrated for the way they've honored the game by maxing out just about every game of every season.

3) Glad to see others are taking up my idea. And it was my idea.

4) The Wolves are a game out of the final playoff spot in the west. Nikola Pekovic is playing like Sabonis, K-Love is signed up for three more years, and even though Rubio's tailed off a little, he's proven he can play. This should make everyone outside of the 504 very happy.

5) All due respect, but this guy seems like he was the Most Interesting Man in the World.

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1) LeBron James has been around for a while; he does not say things he doesn't mean. And he knows that his every utterance will be parsed, analyzed and interpreted. So I do not believe he spoke inarticulately or mistakenly when he said he'd be willing to go back to Cleveland when his Heat contract expires in two years. And you wonder what the reaction of Mr. Patrick James Riley, of Miami, Fla., will be to that, given that he turned his franchise upside down to bring LBJ to South Beach. No one would expect James to pledge eternal loyalty to Riles, like Riles is General Zod or something. But laying the groundwork for an eventual homecoming when you just left home an hour ago could be a little off-putting to the team that gave you $110 million.

2) Oh. No.

3) We are not supposed to believe Dwight Howard's spin that his trade demand has not at all affected the Magic, according to Jeff Van Gundy. That is a perfectly reasonable position to take. Yet we are supposed to believe Van Gundy's spin, as he said Sunday, that his brother Stan, who coaches the Magic, completely disagrees with Jeff's position and thinks things are fine. I don't mind that Jeff Van Gundy covers his brother's team; he's an analyst, paid by ABC and ESPN, to cover NBA games and the top teams in the league, like Orlando. But why is Van Gundy's word any more believable than Dwight Howard's in this case?

4) MJ says he has to restore the Bobcats' image in the Charlotte community. Yes, that is probably true.

5) Googs! Corch! Wha' happened?

6) Hey! Boxing! You had yet another heavyweight title fight Saturday, in the middle of the day, that nobody knew about, just as college basketball is reaching a fever pitch nationwide. Do you guys give any thought to what you're doing?

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This week's Mr. Fifteen is Washington Wizards forward Mo Evans.

One of the league's true stand-up guys, the 33-year-old Evans is in his ninth NBA season, playing for his seventh NBA team after being acquired from the Hawks last year in the Kirk Hinrich trade, and is in Washington to provide some veteran stability for one of the league's worst teams, which is struggling to rebuild around second-year guard John Wall.

Evans had a much bigger role during the offseason as a vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, serving on the Executive Committee that negotiated the new 10-year deal with the NBA that finally ended the lockout in December. On the court, Evans has appeared in eight games this season for the Wizards, averaging 2.4 points in almost 10 minutes per game.

David Aldridge: How you stay positive when the losses keep piling up (Washington was 7-24 entering play Monday)?

Mo Evans: I think in this situation, you keep positive because you have to look at the big picture. A lot of times as athletes, you want instant gratification. You get gratification from a win. You make shots, you get instant gratification. This is something where we have to look at the big picture. They're in a rebuilding phase. It was just last year that Gilbert Arenas was here and they had all the turmoil that they've had. You have to take that into consideration. This team has made great strides. Our team is closer than its ever been. We have veteran players that don't even play a lot of minutes that have a great role. They play a huge role in the locker room, and really have the ears of these young guys, have the ears of management, the coaching staff. And we're all getting better, and you can see that. Obviously it's still inconsistent, but you can see that on a game by game basis that we're really, really buying in and getting better.

DA: Since Randy (Wittman) took over (for Flip Saunders, fired in January), it certainly seems like there's more activity, especially at the defensive end. Why do you think that is?

ME: I think guys are obviously playing a little bit harder. But again, I think the closeness of the team is really what's allowing guys to finally start turning the corner and growing, because these guys are listening again to one another, and we're starting to self-coach one another. The best teams in this league aren't the teams where the coach has to go out and give them Xs and Os and show them each and every play, how to execute his strategy and his game plan. The best teams in this plan have floor generals. That's where the Steve Nashs, or the Kobe Bryants and the Dwyane Wades, LeBron James, those caliber of guys, they're coaches on the floor. Everybody always says, coaches always say they've got to have those type players. I think we're finally starting to have those type of guys. Like John Wall is taking more leadership on this team. He's finally starting to figure out how to make the right basketball plays in situations, whether that be shoot or whether that be pass. He's making the people around him better. And I think that's something that you also have to take into consideration as to why we're being a little more successful on both ends of the floor.

DA: John seemed a little down at the start of the season. Has he picked that up as well?

ME: Yeah...you have your frustrating moments when you're in, again, this rebuilding stage. You have a situation where you lose five games in a row, and you go and play your heart out every game, where you have 30-plus, and multiple assists, and you still come out on the short end, that's frustrating to anybody. And you've got to come in and you keep practicing, you keep working, you keep grinding it out, a 2-15 start, that's not something that anybody would smile about.

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Maurice Evans, a veteran presence on the young Wizards, has played in eight games this season.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

DA: How do you stay ready to play when you don't have regular minutes?

ME: Well, it's difficult, in the sense of the timing issue. 'Cause when you do get to play, now you have to go out and try and get your timing back. You don't have a lot of reps to get your rhythm. But, you know, as I was always taught, as a professional, if you stay ready, you don't have to get ready. And that's the mentality that I bring. Conditioning has never been a problem for me, because I've always stayed in really good shape and taken care of my body.

DA: What do you hear from guys around the league about the new CBA, and what they think of it?

ME: I've had an overwhelming majority of players come to me and thanked me countless times. Referees have come to me countless times and thanked me and the executive committee for the job we did, commending on us on the job we did. Even Buck Williams (now a Blazers assistant coach), the other night in Portland, had great complimentary things to say about the job that we were able to get done. I think that I'll go as far to speak to Billy (Hunter, the union's executive director) as well. He really did a great job in sticking to it. And you have to take your hat off to Mr. (David) Stern, and Adam Silver, and Mr. (Peter) Holt (the owner of the Spurs), and (Timberwolves owner) Glen Taylor, everybody involved. This is the big picture. Now BRI is up. The Knicks' franchise value is going through the roof. I mean, this is why we stayed in there and fought all those long hours to save basketball. Because people love it. They want to support it. And we have awesome blessing in this great game of basketball.

DA: No complaints or questions about contract lengths or limits on the amounts players can get?

ME: No one's approached me with anything like that. Those players who are getting these maximum contracts, they still have the option to opt out, or extend the contract. It still pretty much functions as the last CBA did, where players are still able to maximize, repeatedly, their ability to get paid.

DA: So, bottom line, you think it was worth it?

ME: I think it was very much worth it, and I was very happy to be a part of it, and I'm very happy to have basketball back.

DA: There have been stories that Jeremy Lin is going to be involved with the union. Have you heard about this?

ME: We've talked about putting him on the committee. We have two vacancies coming up, and he's expressed some interest, and we're going to see about that possibly putting him on the committee. And, obviously again, my agent (Roger Montgomery) represents him, and he's a great young guy who's very intelligent, obviously, and will be making a strong impact in the NBA for a long time to come.

DA: Do you think that maybe the executive committee needs a younger voice?

ME: Without a doubt. We need people on the committee that are going to be intricate parts of helping the game grow. This is a guy who has international reach, and who has made an instant impact in such a short amount of time, that already he is a pivotal player. And even BRI and the way the game is, he's positively affected by a lot of these (new) rules. You know, his contract, he qualifies for the Bird, for the rules that we put in place where now a guy who's in his position has to be paid his market value. So who better to have on the committee than guys who are positively affected by these rules?

DA: Has he said he'll do it?

ME: I haven't personally had a confirmation from him, but he's, I'm sure, joining the executive committee at this time is probably not, you know, the foremost thing on his plate. He's having such a great time, he's just really focused on trying to continue this great run he's having, and the appointments for our committee probably won't be made anyway until the summer, the All-Star meetings. We just signed up for a 10-year deal, so it's not like we're going to be negotiating any time soon.

DA: What do you think of the league's general future with that 10-year deal, and the labor peace it provides -- for six years, at least, until either side can re-open it?

ME: I think the game is going to continue to grow and thrive. And I think at the end of this deal, be it six years or 10 years, everybody is going to be very happy about how this CBA functions throughout that contract.

DA: Are you going to stay on the committee?

ME: Yeah, I'm going to stay, continue to stay on the committee for as long as I'm in the league. Once that ends, I'm going to transition to the next career.

DA: Coaching?

ME: Not coaching. I'm thinking more general managing.

DA: So you would have discovered Jeremy Lin if you'd been in charge of a team?

ME: Yeah, I would have discovered Jeremy Lin. I remember making the phone call to Jeremy on behalf of my agent. I remember researching his stats and thinking to myself, this guy is leading the team in five difficult categories. I remember researching just so I could have some talking points when I spoke to him. He was really down from the first time I spoke to him. Really cool. Really, really cool.

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Great job @Hornets! Way to "Curb the LINthusiasm!!!"
-- Injured Hornets forward Emeka Okafor (@BigMek50), Friday, 10:25 p.m., after New Orleans led wire to wire Video to snap the Knicks' seven-game win streak -- which was Jeremy Lin's first loss since becoming a starter in New York.

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"That bench gets hard."
-- 76ers coach Doug Collins, on what may have helped motivate forward Lavoy Allen to lose weight, which Collins wanted, and get into the Sixers' regular playing rotation. Collins said Allen, the Sixers' second-round pick, has first-round talent if his motor improves.

"I've worked hard for many years to be that player that guys want to play with. To not be playing, and not have any reasons behind it, it's kind of disrespectful. At the end of the day, I'm 33 years old.
"I'm not a 22-year-old guy that you're coaching. I'm a grown man who has probably done more than a lot of people in this locker room in this league, including coaches."
-- Bucks guard Stephen Jackson, who has had his minutes reduced sharply in the last few weeks and lost his starting job to Shaun Livingston, to reporters Video before Friday's loss to the Magic. Jackson said his relationship with coach Scott Skiles has deteriorated, and the veteran is looking to be traded.

"I'm trying to win. And right now, coach is a stats guy. His background is video coordinator or whatever. So he's all stats. But Ron Artest is all feel. He doesn't understand that. Having me in the game at the end, he was worried about me shooting bad from the free-throw line. And I was like, 'I could care less because I'm gonna get a stop at the end of the game.' He didn't understand the rhythm that we had -- me, Fish, Kobe, Pau and Drew."
-- Metta World Peace, referring to himself in the former (?) person, and taking down his current coach, Mike Brown, last week. The two met on Wednesday and Brown said he didn't have any problems with what Metta/Ron said.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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