Forbes working hard to improve basketball fortune
Panama-born swingman trying to catch on with the Nuggets
Gary Forbes was a toddler when his father set him on his career path.
Working as a welder in his native Panama, Roberto Forbes gathered the necessary materials – plywood for the backboard and metal for the rim – and constructed an indoor basketball hoop for his youngest boys Anthony, 10, and Gary, 2.
“We used to always be running around the house,” Gary said. “He made it out of wood and steel.”
When the family moved to the United States, in the late 1980s, the homemade hoop cleared customs and continued to serve as a teaching tool for Gary Forbes as his basketball skills blossomed in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Two decades later, Forbes is tantalizingly close to realizing his dreams of playing in the NBA. He survived the first round of cuts and is one of 15 players remaining in training camp with the Denver Nuggets.
“I’ve been trying to stay positive. I’ve heard many times that I’m an NBA player but it’s not going to be satisfying until I actually get the job and actually am on a regular-season roster,” Forbes said. “I appreciate all the compliments, but it’s not going to do any justice until I make it.”
At 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, the 25-year-old Forbes is an NBA prototype: strong enough to hold his own in the paint, yet quick enough to defend on the perimeter. He can shoot from beyond the three-point line and create off the dribble.
Though he has an NBA body, Forbes has yet to reach basketball’s pinnacle. He played for Panama’s national team in 2007, averaged 17.4 points in the NBA Development League in 2008-09 and spent the 2009-10 season playing in Israel.
Forbes played limited minutes for the Houston Rockets at the 2010 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas before receiving an invitation to Denver’s training camp. He started raising eyebrows almost immediately.
“Gary’s been great. He’s had a great camp,” Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked of him. He’s a really good scorer, slasher. He’s done an awesome job. He couldn’t be playing any better.”
Forbes did some research before coming to Denver, trading text messages with friend and fellow University of Massachusetts alum Marcus Camby, who played for the Nuggets from 2002-08. Camby’s advice was simple: Arrive early to adjust to the altitude, keep a positive attitude and don’t try to do too much.
“Everybody who I’ve been talking to has been saying nothing but positive things about him,” Camby said. “Word (around the NBA) travels fast. Work hard because you never know who’s watching.”
Camby and Forbes both left their imprint in the UMass record books. While Camby was a rebounding and shot-blocking force, Forbes joined Julius Erving as the only two players to score at least 1,000 points in just two seasons in Amherst.
Scorers in the NBA are as plentiful as Internet bloggers, so Forbes must distinguish himself in other ways as he tries to earn a roster spot with the Nuggets.
“I’m able to create for people. I can play multiple positions. I’m a good team defender and a good one-on-one defender,” Forbes said, ticking off his attributes, “so I hope that they’re able to see my versatility offensively and defensively and that I can help this team win games.”
Forbes struggled in his first preseason game, going 1-for-6 from the field against Portland, but he bounced back Tuesday night in Minnesota with 15 points and seven rebounds in just 20 minutes. With the Nuggets dealing with injuries to forwards Chris Andersen, Al Harrington and Kenyon Martin, Forbes has a chance to stick around Denver for the start of the season.
“He definitely can score the basketball,” Camby said. “He’s a great defensive player and he has a great NBA body. He bounced around for a couple teams in summer league but never really caught on … There’s very few of us (UMass players) that actually play in the league, so I’m always going to be rooting for him.”
Camby said Forbes reminds him of Nuggets shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who had a breakout season in 2009-10 after being traded from Detroit to Denver. Afflalo played about 15 minutes a game in two years with the Pistons but took advantage of increased playing time with the Nuggets, averaging 8.8 points in 27.2 minutes.
While it would be nice to follow in Afflalo’s footsteps, Forbes has a more accomplished role model in mind as he pursues his NBA dream.
Rolando Blackman, born in Panama City and raised in Brooklyn, averaged 18 points in 13 seasons. Ruben Garces and Stuart Gray are the only other Panama-born players to reach the NBA.
“He’s carrying a big flag for (Panama),” Camby said. “I hope he makes it. He’s a really great kid.”
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