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Mr. Big Shot | Chris Duhon

Mr. Big Shot
Chris Duhon “Du has shown that he’s not afraid to step up and take—and make—critical shots," said Head Coach Scott Skiles. He’s a tough-minded kid who refuses to back down.”
Chicago's Chris Duhon fires up his game and
takes his team to the next level


Chris Duhon Photo Gallery

By Conrad Theodore | Posted March 30, 2006

Chris Duhon is among a select few in this world who make a living as a professional basketball player, yet at this point in his life he is perhaps better known as a former starter for Duke University.

And why wouldn’t he be, what with four very memorable and successful seasons playing under a legendary college coach in the sleepy little town of Durham, North Carolina?

Early during his freshman year, Duhon replaced an injured teammate in Duke’s starting lineup, and the Blue Devils went on to win the 2001 NCAA National Championship. The feisty freshman from the Louisiana bayou was also tagged the Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year that season.

After his sophomore year, Duhon’s stellar reputation continued to grow throughout college basketball for stifling defense, exceptional court vision, and impressive versatility. He quickly became a team leader during his junior season, guiding a very young Duke squad to the NCAA Sweet 16. He and the Blue Devils then made yet another Final Four appearance his senior year, where he averaged 10 points and 6 assists per game. All in all, Duke posted a remarkable 123-21 record during his four-year tenure.

So in late June of 2004, with his name still in the NBA Draft hopper, Bulls GM John Paxson opted to select Duhon with the 38th overall pick. An intimidating tribute, especially for someone just a hair over the six-foot range, Duhon, at the time, was considered a long shot to ever wear a Bulls uniform.

“I just stayed focused,” Duhon recalls about his first Bulls training camp. “I tried to not put any added pressure on myself. I didn’t try to be anybody else but me. I just went out and played hard and tried to learn from my coaches and my new teammates each day.”

What the Bulls quickly learned was that Duhon is a smart, fiery competitor who refuses to be denied. He picked up Chicago’s system quickly, gave his all at every practice and was deserving of a final roster spot.

A charming story, really, if it were to end right then and there—but it doesn’t.

Duhon was hungry for more. As the Bulls sputtered to a 0-9 record to start the 2004-05 season, Coach Scott Skiles decided to mix things up and put the first-year guard into Chicago’s starting lineup. The somewhat wide-eyed rookie responded just as impressively as he did as a Duke freshman. With Duhon in the starting lineup, the Bulls went 47-26 the rest of the way, which was good enough for Chicago to earn a berth in the NBA playoffs for the first time in seven years.

So, if the story were to end now, you would call it alluring—but not so fast.

Now established as an astute floor general and a better than solid defender, Duhon has convinced most that he’s not a fluke but a valuable asset that any team would love to count as its own.

As a second-round draft pick, Duhon’s first contract was not guaranteed, nor was it long-term. Thus, over this past summer, he was a restricted free agent and drew plenty of interest from other teams.

Chris Duhon Now established as an astute floor general and a better than solid defender, Duhon has convinced most that he’s not a fluke but a valuable asset that any team would love to count as its own.
“We learned rather quickly last year that Chris was very important to us,” says Bulls boss John Paxson. “He demonstrated the ability to effectively run a team and lead an offense. He proved himself to be an excellent decision maker. I knew I couldn’t let him get away and play for somebody else. Re-signing him was a top priority for us last summer.”

And that’s exactly what happened as Paxson and the Bulls inked Duhon to a rich, guaranteed three-year deal.

Okay, now the story is getting downright gaudy. But it still hasn’t ended. In fact, it’s just beginning.

After the contract was officially signed, Paxson had some constructive advice for Duhon. “If Chris continues to improve his outside shooting to where teams have to respect his shot, it’s going to make him even more valuable,” declared Paxson, who certainly knows a thing or two about being a deadly perimeter sniper, as evidenced by his storied 11-year playing career and sizzling .650 shooting percentage during the 1991 NBA Finals. “I know he’s going to continue to work hard on that part of his game, and I know he’ll succeed because he won’t have it any other way.”

When his rookie season ended, Duhon was the first to admit that he needed to work on his outside touch if he were ever to ascend to celebrity status. “It’s not a secret that the biggest weakness I have is consistently knocking down the open jump shot. That’s something I’m going to work real hard on,” Duhon insisted last May.

Any guesses as to what he did over the summer?

“I feel as if I’m shooting the ball a lot better now,” said Duhon an hour before the opening tip-off of the 2005-06 season. “I’m shooting with a lot more confidence. Expect me to play the game a lot more freely this year.”

Of course, Duhon had a few built-in excuses if things didn’t pan out for the best on opening night. At the time he was recovering from a sore neck and a concussion after enduring a scary fall during the Bulls final preseason game in Minnesota a week before. And a 25-point deficit late in the third quarter that night didn’t seem to help matters. But when the final buzzer sounded in Chicago’s thrilling 109-105 come-from-behind overtime victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, the final box score showed that the second-year pro had registered the first triple-double of his career. Duhon finished the evening with 18 points on 5 of 9 shooting (including 2 of 3 from beyond the three-point arc), 12 assists, and 10 rebounds.

To prove this wasn’t just beginner’s luck, Duhon continues to pull off surprises. During Chicago’s annual November West Coast “Circus Trip,” he shot 7 of 12 from the field against the Los Angeles Lakers to lead the Bulls to victory, and then five days later in South Texas he hit 6 of 11 shots to help defeat the defending World Champion San Antonio Spurs.

Perhaps his most valuable contribution so far this season has been developing into a bonafide shooting specialist, which in turn has forced opponents who used to focus only on slowing down Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon, to worry about someone else.

“Nowadays our opponents have to pick a poison out there,” Coach Skiles says with a smile while pointing to the court. “‘Who do we try to stop? Kirk, Ben or Chris?’

“Du has shown that he’s not afraid to step up and take—and make—critical shots. So far, he’s made his share of big shots this season. I suspect that’s going to continue for many years to come. He’s a tough-minded kid who refuses to back down.”

Chris Duhon The devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina prompted Duhon to establish the Stand Tall Foundation in an effort to lend and helping hand to his hometown of Slidell.
(Randy Belice/NBAE/Getty Images)
Duhon simply wants to do whatever is needed most, whether it means focusing his attention on playing defense, setting up a teammate for a better shot, or hitting the big shot to win the game.

“There are a lot of selfish players in the NBA,” states teammate Eric Piatkowski who has spent a dozen years on several teams in the league. “Chris is definitely not one of them. He’s smart, he’s savvy, and he’s a team-oriented guy. Because of that, he’s going to enjoy a very long and productive NBA career.”

Fellow backcourt starter Kirk Hinrich also has high praise for his runningmate. “We talk a little during the game, but now a lot of what we do out there is just instinct. Chris really knows how to play, and I try to feed off him and he does the same with me. We work really well together.”

About the only thing that Chris Duhon works on harder these days, other than helping to guide the Bulls back to winning ways, is to help rebuild his hometown of Slidell, Louisiana, after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina last August. Thousands were left homeless and are now faced with the challenge of starting their lives over from scratch.

Almost immediately after the storm had passed, Duhon, with the help of his mother, Vivian Harper, agent, Bill Duffy, and the Bulls organization, organized a massive relief effort to aid the citizens of his hometown. Because of his efforts, the Chris Duhon Hurricane Relief Fund received an overwhelming response from the public that included over $800,000 and three truckloads of much needed food and supplies.

“It’s hard to grasp the fact that so many of my childhood memories have been washed away,” Duhon says slowly while shaking his head. “It’s tough for me to accept, but at the same time I’m blessed that I’m able to try and do something about it and help out as much as possible. A lot of people lost everything. They lost their homes and their jobs, and now they don’t have any income. It’s going to take a long time for things to get back to normal—if ever. I just feel it’s important to do everything I can to help. Slidell is my home, and in my heart it’ll always be that way.”

Chicago is also Duhon’s home, and the incredibly mature 23-year-old point guard is planning on staying put in the Windy City for a long time to come.

“We had a great season last year, and it was a fun year, too,” recalls Duhon. “I believe we’re going to keep improving, and I’m excited to be a part of that. It’s great to be back with all of the coaches and so many of the same players.”

One who no longer dons a Bulls uniform still sings Duhon’s praises from afar. Former Bull and long-time NBA veteran Antonio Davis believes Duhon was the Bulls’ most valuable player last year.

“Chris helped make Ben Gordon great last year by always guarding him hard in practice. He never let Ben get comfortable, or walk out there and get open. He forced Ben to learn how to use picks, and he also forced Ben to become a better defender by having to guard him in practice,” remembers Davis. “That’s what makes a team good. It’s pushing each other to improve every single day. It’s about having guys who are willing to work hard and not complain about petty stuff. It’s about putting the team’s success ahead of individual goals, and Chris’s personality and will to win played a big part in our success last year.”

In addition to his uncompromising work ethic, Duhon has grown to be more vocal this season—always quick with words of encouragement to teammates on and off the court, or, on the other hand, a stern look or speedy chat when someone takes it easy on a play. And he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, which was evident early in the year during a heated confrontation with San Antonio’s Robert Horry.

Chris Duhon When it comes to standing up for what’s right and protecting a teammate, Duhon’s more than willing to go to battle against giants.
(Chris Brick/NBAE/Getty Images)
Horry, who happens to stand nine inches taller and is roughly 50 pounds heavier, got an earful and a chest bump from the spunky team leader after he shoved Bulls teammate Luol Deng into the basket support.

“If we were to fight, I’d probably lose nine out of ten times,” Duhon said after the game. “But I’m always going to stand up for my teammates.” It’s that type of fiery attitude and loyalty that compelled the rest of the Bulls squad to select Duhon as one of this year’s team captains before the start of the season.

It hasn’t even been two complete years since Duhon was fighting for an NCAA tournament bid versus a spot in the NBA playoffs. Although he puts forth the same amount of energy and effort for both, he claims you simply cannot compare the two experiences.

“The NCAA Tournament and the NBA playoffs are two entirely different worlds,” Duhon states rather matter of factly. “In the NBA you’re playing the same (professional) team over and over again. They’re able to watch film and see what they did wrong before and what was effective while we do the same. In the NCAA tournament, you’re going against one team, and if you win, you play someone different the next time out. I think it’s actually easier in the NBA because you’re covering the same guy five or six games in a row. Most likely you’ve also played against him a couple of times during the regular season, so by the time the second playoff game rolls around, you should pretty much know what his strengths and weaknesses are.

“The toughest thing to do is to actually go out there and stop him. Everyone who plays in the NBA is great. There aren’t any ‘bad’ players in this league.”

There seems to be no stopping Chris Duhon’s rise to the top. His individual numbers are climbing as are his experience and familiarity with his teammates. And of course, his work ethic is already set on full throttle. It’s been a while, but Bulls fans certainly can see that something special is brewing over at the United Center.

“Chicagoans want a team that is going to go out and play hard every night, and that’s what we try to do,” Duhon campaigns. “We’re now adding wins to that rule and I think everyone’s pretty excited.”

With that kind of thinking, it may not be too long before Chris Duhon’s known for something other than being a former Duke starter—say, maybe, NBA Champion?