The Nets' Jefferson sees himself on the outside looking in on a talented field
ATLANTA, Feb. 7 -- Richard Jefferson
sat among the tape recorders and microphones during the All-Star media availability in a navy blue velour sweat suit looking cool and comfortable.
Jefferson plays it cool during Media Day.|
If he felt the pressure of facing two former champions and an explosive rookie in the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk competition on NBA All-Star Saturday Night presented by America Online (8 p.m. ET, TNT), Jefferson didn't show it.
As a matter of fact, last year's champion Jason Richardson is convinced Jefferson's trying to lay low.
"I don't think he's a sleeper," Richardson said. "I know Rich and I know he gets up pretty high. I don't think he's a sleeper.
"I think he's playing that role like he's not gonna win, but he's got a good shot at winning it. It's going to be a tough competition. Most times when he dunks, his head is up over the rim, so I know he's got some tricks up his sleeve."
Jefferson, who has participated in friendly competitions among teammates and sanctioned events, noted his last win came three years ago.
"My last win was against my teammates during Midnight Madness in college," Jefferson said. "I did this dunk over a fan and a cheerleader -- they were standing up and I dunked over them.
"None of this sitting in a chair stuff. They just had their heads down, and I cleared 'em."
There won't be any of that this year as teammates and inanimate objects are out. And, yes, the wheel from last year's contest is gone.
"I'm glad they took the wheel out," Richardson said, "because some of those dunks on the wheel weren't for me."
Still, combined with his reverse windmill in the final attempt, Richardson mimicked the dunks on the wheel well enough in last season's contest to win. His triumph completed an unprecedented All-Star Saturday double-double, where he won the got milk? Rookie Challenge MVP and the dunk contest. If he wins this year's contest, he'll be the first player to repeat since Michael Jordan won back-to-back titles in 1987-88.
Yet, it's another former two-time champion and Atlanta Hawk, who Richardson believes he is most like when he attacks the rim
"Dominique," Richardson said of legendary Hawk Dominique Wilkins. "I think my windmill is pretty similar to his. His might be a little harder, but I think they're close."
Another player in the field who brings down the rim -- and sometimes the house -- with a Wilkins-like wallop is Suns' rookie Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire, who is participating in his first NBA All-Star Weekend, pays respect to his elders when it comes to picking a winner.
"I'd say Jason Richardson," Stoudemire said. "He won it last year and he's the defending champion, so he's the one to beat."
In a field with two former champions, Richardson and Seattle's Desmond Mason, Stoudemire took a page out of Jefferson's "Guide to Humility" when he referred to himself as a "high school guy."
"I think I surprise people with my quickness and strength," Stoudemire said. "Most don't think a high school guy can be so strong and so quick. Also, I'm mentally ready. I understand the game a lot more now."
Meanwhile, Jefferson, who also is taking part in the got milk? Rookie Challenge on Saturday, understands that he must take all his events very seriously.
"As much fun as it is, it can do a lot for your career, it can do a lot for you, your team and your name," Jefferson said. "I'm definitely not going into that rookie game just to have fun. I'm going out there to compete, to play, to win and to play extremely hard. And I'm going to do the same thing in the dunk contest. I think it did a lot for Jason Richardson.
"If I could raise that dunk trophy at the end of the weekend, that would be unbelievable."