Chat Room

by Jeramie McPeek
VP, Digital

Posted: Oct. 25, 2003

The Phoenix Suns took a timeout on Saturday to spend an afternoon with their loyal fans out at CrackerJax, the Family Fun and Sports Park in Scottsdale. The club's annual season ticket party featured bumper boats, Indy cars, arcade games, batting cages and, as has become a popular tradition, the Chat Room. A large tent was set up on one of the sand volleyball courts to give fans a chance to chat with some of their Phoenix favorites in person. The following are excerpts from several of the question-and-answer sessions:

Casey Jacobsen |
Stephon Marbury |
Shawn Marion |
Rick Welts |
Mark West


Question: How does it feel to not be a rookie anymore?

Jacobsen: What a difference a year makes. I’m definitely more comfortable and more excited about this year because I’ve got a year under my belt. A year with the coaches, with the system… It’s only natural that if you do something the first time, the second time you’re going to be more confident and comfortable with yourself that you’re going to succeed. That’s the boat I’m in this year.

Question: Have you reworked your shot at all?

Jacobsen: I’ve been working hard all summer and the preseason, getting my shot right. I feel good about it. It’s a matter of getting the right look in a game.

It wasn’t really changing my release. It was changing a few minor things. I didn’t have to overhaul my shot or anything. You guys probably won’t even notice the change in my shot. There is a subtle change. I don’t jump as high on my three-pointers anymore. I’m shooting more with my legs. Those are the only two things.

Question: What does basketball mean to you?

Jacobsen: What’s your favorite hobby? That’s what basketball is for me. I get to do what I love for a living. When I wake up, the only actual thing I have to do is play basketball. I would do that even if I didn’t have to. That’s what you call lucky. Not many people truly love what they do for a living. This is my first real job. I did construction with my pop, but this is my first real job. I don’t think it’s going to be any better than this for the rest of my life. I’m going to try and enjoy it for as long as I possibly can. Even when we lose, it consumes me. I just want to get back out onto the court the next day. Even when I don’t play well, I love the game of basketball and I always will. Even when I’m 90 years old and I can barely walk, I’ll have a hoop in my backyard.

Question: Do you have any advice for rookies Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James?

Jacobsen: The way Carmelo’s been playing, he doesn’t need any advice from me. And LeBron James is in a position that nobody here, nobody that played in the NBA before and nobody that’s playing now can understand. He is in a category all by himself. Whether or not he’s earned that, that’s not up to us or him to decide. That’s just the way it is. It’s a circus around that guy. I feel bad for that guy. The pressure he’s under, it’s going to take him a while to really adjust to the NBA. Just like anybody. The NBA is a tough league and if you’re coming from high school, there’s definitely going to be some ups and downs this year. The only thing I would say to him after a full season is “Don’t let the critics get you down. He is in a situation this year where a lot of people will praise him and lot of people trying to tear him down. If he keeps a level head and realizes this is a game, if he takes care of himself, he can be in the NBA for a long time.

Question: Were you impressed by Amare Stoudemire's play last season?

Jacobsen: The jump from college to the NBA was crazy. I can only imagine the jump for Amare, going from high school to the NBA. The NBA is the cream of the crop, the best players in the entire world. In college, it’s just the best players in the United States ages 18 to 22 or 23. There is a big difference going up against guys that are 33 or 34 and outweigh me by 100 pounds. They’ve played the game 10 or more years more than I have. That’s a big difference. It’s really hard. This league is unforgiving. Even the worst teams in the NBA have really good players on them. They can embarrass you. If you think of it that way, the NBA is really tough.


Question: How does the team's chemistry look?

Marbury: Our team chemistry is good, but we’re still trying to feel each other out. Us not being that big, we have to push the ball. We’re going to be playing a lot of zone and helter skelter defenses. We’re going to be pretty good this year.

Question: How will the new players do this season?

Marbury: You can’t view the trade for a year or two to really see where we’ll be, but the two rookies we have, they’re really good. They know how to play basketball. They’re not just guys who are talented or athletic. They really know how to play basketball. That makes it a lot easier when you go out on the basketball court playing.

Once (Leandro) learns the language, the sky’s the limit.

Question: Where can Amare go this season?

Marbury: He’ll be totally different. He has experience under his belt. Experience is the best teacher. He’s added a few things to his game. By him working out his summer and doing the things he needed to do, I think he’ll be a lot better than last year.

I was surprised (early last season). As time went on, I could see he was really talented. That’s the kind of kid he is. He’s exciting. He’s a playmaker.

Question: Who's your toughest opponent?

Marbury: They’re all good. The hardest thing about the NBA is you have to adjust every night to another player. Nobody plays the same. Everybody plays different. One night you play against a guy like Steve Nash. The next night you play against a guy like Earl Boykins. They play totally different. No individual is better than another.

Question: What do you do to prepare for a game?

Marbury: If I didn’t play well against a team, I’ll watch film on what I did wrong and what I did good. Where I make plays at as far as scoring or setting ups players. Studying who plays me on pick and rolls. Normally when I come off pick and rolls, I’m going to get trapped. I’m double-teamed, so before a game I’ll do that.


Question: What goes through your mind on a dunk?

Marion: The moment seizes you when you’re up there, and you can do something for the fans. That’s what it’s all about. I get creative. Other than that, “Get a quick basket.” That’s what’s going through my mind. That and, “Don’t miss.”

Question: Who's your toughest opponent?

Marion: The three squad. Everyone’s 7-foot tall. I’m only 6-7. It’s hard to guard the big dudes, man. Those guys can post. I can use my quickness on them and play defense on them. Once they get the ball, it’s hard. They’re bigger than I am. I can’t block their shots. I can’t get no taller.

Rasheed Wallace… I can’t block his shots. He shoots way up here. All I could do was put a hand up. I can’t block his shots.

Question: Do preseason rankings bother you?

Marion: I don’t think about that stuff. I just think about getting myself better and my team better. That stuff comes when you’re winning. When you get “W’s” everything comes. My first losing season was two years ago. You get nothing. Once you win, everyone’s on your (side).

Question: Did you bulk up during the offseason?

Marion: I picked up about 10 pounds. It was 15, but I sweated it out once I got here. Couldn’t keep it on. It felt a little weird. I’ve had it the most of the summer. During pick-ups, I could feel I was a little heavier. Now I just go out there and play normal. Stronger and I post up a lot easier.

Question: Is there anyone in the NBA you can compare your game to?

Marion: As far as small forwards, I don’t think so. That’s the difference with me. What I do, nobody does a lot. The way I approach the game and way I go play every night, I don’t think so.

Nobody looks as good either.


Question: What happened to Jeff Munn? Is he temporarily out or did you make the change?

Welts: Would you just beg him for us? I’ve used my best persuasive skills and I haven’t been able to convince Jeff that we’re more important than his family. He hasn’t retired. He’s still working for us fulltime, but he’s working during the day. He doesn’t want to work at night anymore. He’s been doing for a long time and his family has kind of tapped him on the shoulder, saying, “You know, we need Dad home a little bit more than we’ve had Dad home.” It was his choice, not ours, believe me. We’d love to have Jeff do it forever, but he’s still around. He’s still a very big part of the organization. He’s just not going to be working nights this year. But totally his choice, and you can’t argue with his priorities.

Question: What was the reason for the broadcasting switch?

Welts: I’m really excited about that. For those of you who have followed the Suns for a long time, you know that historically we have simulcasted our games. That used to be what every team did, but we were one of only three teams last year that was actually doing a simulcast.

The reason teams moved away from it is because you can’t really do a really good job on either one if you’re the broadcaster. If you’re watching on TV, the radio broadcast has too much talk, and if you’re listening on radio, you need a lot more than you get from television. We made the decision to take the best play-by-play guy there is in Al McCoy and let him do what he has historically always done the best. I don’t know if you’ve listened to any of the preseason games, but it’s awesome to listen to him on radio doing the games. He can describe three times more stuff as he was describing on TV.

For the television audience, you’ll see a lot more replays and I think you’ll be able to have a much better television broadcast. It’s a lot more expensive for us because we’re hiring a lot more announcers. I think we’re going to have a much better television broadcast and a better radio broadcast. Al is the best doing what he does and I think he’s a treasure for the Suns and I listened to him at Portland and it’s just great to hear him doing play-by-play on the radio.

Question: Can you picture eventually seeing a picture of Al McCoy at the mic in the Ring of Honor some day?

Welts: I think that’s a pretty good suggestion, but my hope is that it’s years and years away.

Question: How did the NBA’s All-Star Weekend come about and what was your role in it?

Welts: It all started in 1984. We were going to play the All-Star Game in Denver and back in those days, it was one day, one game on Sunday. Six hundred people would come in and we have the All-Star Game and that was it. I don’t know if you can believe it, but that was 20 years ago this February. Larry O’Brien was the commissioner of the NBA and some guy that nobody had ever heard of was about to become commissioner at the All-Star Game and that guy’s name was David Stern. David had a very different vision of what the NBA was doing right and wrong. He thought we had done a horrible job staying in touch with the history of the game. He really felt that once the players had played in the NBA, we had done nothing to try to keep them involved and get them interested.

I don’t know if any of you will remember this, but I was a young marketing guy in the league trying to figure out what the heck I could sell to people and baseball did something the summer before that All-Star Game, where in Washington, DC, they staged what they called the Crackerjack Old-Timers Game. I remember watching the news that night and some guy who was fifty years old and used to be a really famous baseball player, got up and hit a home run out of the park, and it was on every news show in the country. And they were really honoring the history of their game. And I said, “Bingo, I get it. We ought to have an old-timers game.”

The other thing that happened was that Denver was in the old ABA, the American Basketball Association, and had a very proud heritage in the ABA. In 1976, everybody in the city of Denver, if you talk to them today, was in McNichols Arena to see the famous ABA slam dunk contest when this young guy named Julius Erving started at one end of the court, ran down the court, took off from the free throw line, no one had ever seen that before, and dunked the basketball and won the ABA slam dunk contest.

Well, we were going to Denver for the NBA All-Star Game and Denver still had a very proud ABA heritage, so their general manager, Carl Shear, wanted to bring back the slam dunk contest. He wanted to do it at halftime of the game and I said, “You know, I think we’re on to something here. What if we did that old-timer’s game and combined it with a slam-dunk contest and staged a whole second day of events the day before the All-Star Game and called it All-Star Saturday? Think we can sell tickets?” “Oh, I don’t know.” So we charged two bucks a ticket and managed to sell out McNichols Arena. And what happened that day was really magic.

The players that came to the old-timer’s game included Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, John Havlichek, some of he greatest names ever. We discovered shortly thereafter that the best part of that was announcing the players. Once you have to watch them play it’s not too pretty. Julius Erving agreed to come back and play at the end of his career in the NBA, and participate in the slam dunk contest. ESPN, which was a fledgling network wouldn’t agree to broadcast it live because they weren’t sure anyone would watch it, but they ended up taping the show and then airing it 100 times during the next few months and winning any award that could possibly be won in television for their coverage.

I’ll never forget the magic in McNichols that day when, at the very last dunk of the contest, everyone in the arena knew what he was going to do. So, he picked up the ball and did exactly what he’d done in the ABA. He just slowly walked to the other end of the court as the crowd was going crazy. I saw him run down the court, take off, the truth be told at the back stage of his career I think it was a little inside the foul line and dunk the ball. He ended up losing to this young upstart, some guy named Larry Nance, you may have heard of, who was tearing up the league as a young player at the time. That was really the genesis.

We added a three-point contest in Dallas a few years later and there’s a funny story behind that too. We tested it in the CBA over and over again for months and it was awful. We discovered something very different in the NBA players. Instead of all the shots missing, all the shots went in and it got very exciting. There was this other guy, who may have heard of, who for the first two years owned the contest. Have you heard of Larry Bird before? This guy was unbelievable. He had the perfect shot for this contest because jump shooters, guys that really jump up, have a hard time making 20 or 30 shots. A guy who like Larry Bird and never left the ground could just nail those shots. He was an amazing competitor and year after year just knocked off everybody who took a shot at him. I wish I were nearly smart enough to envision what it would become. I wasn’t and I had no idea. But it’s really turned into a pretty nice part of the NBA.


Question: Where did you go to school?

West: I went to Old Dominion University. I went there all four years and graduated with a degree in finance.

Question: Did you ever think of coming out early?

West: It wasn’t really a big deal when I came through college. There weren’t many players who came out early. I think probably the biggest name of those that did come out early when I played was James Worthy. He came out as a junior. Even Ralph Sampson, who was college player of the year at that particular time, played all four years at the University of Virginia. Dominique Wilkins, who was a great player, played all four years (in college), so most of us came out at as seniors at that time.

Question: When you played, did you think it was more like a business or a game?

West: When I first came out, it was certainly a game for me. I learned very quickly that it was a business, though. Unlike college where you find for four years you’re in this cocoon, they’re in it to win and if you don’t perform, you’ll be released. There was no chance I would be cut from my college team. Certainly, it happened in the pro ranks. If you couldn’t cut the mustard, you could be let go and never heard from again. It’s very competitive just to stay on a professional team. First of all, if a guy gets drafted and makes it to training camp, he’s come a long way. He could consider himself one of the best players on the planet.

Question: Is it fun?

West: For the most part. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, it’s fun. But there is that one percent of the time that it become frustrating because of things like John Paxson hitting the last second shot when you’re trying for a world title. That’s not too fun. But mostly, yeah, I wouldn’t have changed anything; it was great, and it still continues to be great now that I’m in the management side.

Question: When was the last time you talked to KJ?

West: Probably about three weeks ago. He’s back in Sacramento and he’s doing some renovating in the neighborhood he grew up in. In particular, a school that was closed down by the city, Sacramento High. He turned it into a charter school and the last time I contacted him, he was trying to build that school a sports facility. He called our ex-strength and conditioning coach to try to put their weight room together. He was in that process and we also do a couple of other projects together, via by fax or phone. Most of the time I fax him. I don’t want to go through his secretary. I’m like, “Hey, if I can’t talk to you directly…” click. So if he picks up the phone I’ll talk to him (laughs).

Question: What are your main responsibilities as assistant general manager?

West: There are a lot of things. For the most part, what I’ve found I do the most is bridging the gap when it comes to the communication between the coaches and players, and between the players and management. You would think there would be a lot of communication, which there is. Everybody has the same agenda, but they have different perceptions of how to meet those goals. So I try to make sure that everybody gets on the same page, or at least closer to the same page.

Question: What did you do as a player to prepare yourself for where you are now, and what are you goals for the future?

West: I got my degree in finance. I was a business major with an emphasis in finance when I was in college. Beyond that, I got my brokerage license, so I became a stockbroker back in ’92. I’ve always been interested in the financial market. I think that was a precursor to being in the job I’m in, even though right now, like I said, I do a lot of problem solving as far as communication rather than the financial end right now. Eventually, I guess I will get to the point of saying, “Should we give this dollar amount to that guy.”

It’s going to be kind of funny, because as a player I wanted every dollar that was out on the table, and as a manager I’m not going to want to give every dollar that’s out on the table. It’s an interesting kind of dynamic there. But I think for me, it’s kind of a weird place for me right now. I’d like to manage a team. I think it would be a very intriguing job, but I don’t want to leave Phoenix and i don’t think Bryan is going anywhere for a long time. He’s younger than I am. So I’m enjoying what I’m doing now. I’m learning a lot and I think I’ll head towards learning how to run a team so if I ever have to do it, I can do it. But if I don’t have to do it, I’m all right with that. I really have no big desire to move away from Phoenix or to travel again. Right now, I’m happy at the place where I’m at, being the assistant to the general manager.

Question: Do you enjoy the traveling?

West: I do, but I don’t like traveling as much now because I have two little boys. It’s kind of hard to travel having two little kids at home. When I first got out of the league, I didn’t want to have a job where I traveled as much I did when I was a player. That was one of the reasons I didn’t necessarily go into coaching. There were some opportunities to become an assistant with different organizations and I didn’t want to entertain those because I didn’t want to travel and be away from my family.

Question: The number keeps going up with every telling of the story, but rumor has it you scored 112 points now in a game recently. Do you have any desires to play again if your body would let you?

West: They had an employee league and I didn’t want to go back to the office with the guys in my office saying that they beat me playing. So I happened to take over the game and ended up scoring 71 points. They wouldn’t let me play like that if I could go back anyway, and my knees wouldn’t let me play any kind of way because my knees and my back hurt. Whenever I play in those pickup games, I’m out for another week just kind of recuperating from playing in that one game that I played. No chance of that anymore, but I still enjoy playing. I still enjoy playing the game. I love playing pick-up ball. I think that’s a big part of being successful in anything you do is having a love for what you do.