Lists and More Lists
As a former NBA player and current analyst for our beloved Timberwolves, I get a lot of questions that require me to make lists of my basketball experiences. Anyone who has played professional sports gets these types of questions at basketball camps or during a Q & A at any corporate event. Here are a few examples...
Five Guys I loved To Play Against
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - We all have heroes growing up — people who were larger than life who we dreamed about wanting to be like. I grew up playing imaginary games in my backyard as Kareem against Wilt, shooting skyhook after skyhook until the sun went down. Guarding Abdul-Jabbar at the Forum in Los Angeles back in the 1980s was like being cast in a Al Pacino or Robert De Niro movie for a young actor. It was a surreal, almost out-of-body experience for a young kid from Minnesota. The first time he stuck his elbow in my chin and threw his skyhook on me, I almost crapped my pants because the moment fulfilled all of my boyhood dreams. Next to working with my man Tom Hanneman, beating the Lakers for the Western Conference Championship is one of my greatest memories as a professional.
2. Kevin McHale - I used to love playing against Kevin McHale because he was a player from Minnesota whom I greatly admired and because he was perhaps the greatest power forward of his era. The games against the Celtics always included a lot of drama. They were usually nationally televised, and at that time there was no bigger stage in basketball than playing against Bird, McHale and Parish at the Boston Garden. Unless you experienced the feeling of walking on to the parquet floor against that group of players, nothing I can write here can explain the energy and excitement competing on that level.
3. Mychal Thompson - I have a picture of myself at a basketball camp when I was 15 years old standing next to a then 21-year-old Mychal Thompson of the University of Minnesota Gophers. Like Kevin McHale, I looked up to Mychal as a role model and someone I wanted to emulate as a young player. When I got to Houston I wore #43 in honor of Thompson. The first time I had to guard him in a game was also a moment I will never forget, and to this day we remain very good friends.
4. Karl Malone - Malone scored 36,928 points and currently ranks second All-Time on the NBA scoring list behind Abdul-Jabbar. My claim to fame is that he scored his first two on me. I loved to play against Mailman because it usually meant going to war, and I was always up for a fight. The Rockets and Jazz were in the same division back then, and some of the battles Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon and I had with Malone, Thurl Bailey and Mark Eaton were epic. We would kill each other like crazy during the game and then go out for some good old Texas barbeque with John Stockton and Marc Iavaroni afterward. Life was good.
5. Sam Perkins - I first met Sam when we were McDonald’s High School All-Americans together back in 1980. He was this lanky, laid-back kid from New York and one of the coolest people you will ever meet. In 1984, Perkins was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks, and because I played in Houston, there were always a tremendous amount of competition between the two Texas teams. Playing against Perkins was a blast because he was someone I could just score on regularly. It wasn't that he was a bad defender, it was just one of those matchups that made me comfortable because I knew his game so well.
Five Biggest Trash Talkers
1. Larry Bird (The Prophet) - Julius Erving once said of Larry Bird that “he was a basketball genius who wore this mask of a ‘Hick from French Lick’ as his calling card, and if you believed that for one second you were going to get beat.” Bird was the “Nostradamus” of trash talkers because he would tell you what he was going to do before he did it. He would tell you what was coming before he caught the ball, when he caught the ball, as he was shooting it, and then after it went through the net... all on one possession. I switched out on Bird one game, and as I came out to contest his shot, he calmly stated, “I'm using your head as a gun sight Petey.” Splash! As he backpedaled back on defense he quipped: “You might want to get out here a little quicker next time.” Cold blooded.
2. Michael Jordan (The Executioner) - The great St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean once stated: “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up!” That quote is the foundation of Michael Jordan’s trash talking. Jordan was the “Buford T. Pusser” of trash talkers because he liked to bludgeon you with the big stick of clutch jump shots and gravity-defying dunks. Jordan always had a mismatch every time he walked on the court. He knew it…you knew it. Great players like Jordan use trash talking to motivate themselves to compete at the highest level against other great players. They also use it as a psychological weapon to demoralize weaker opponents and defeat them quicker. Jordan was a kung fu master of trash talking. He didn’t just want to intimidate you…he wanted to humiliate you.
3. Charles Barkley (The Intimidator) - Muhammad Ali made trash talking an art form and used it to intimidate opponents in the process. Charles Barkley is this kind of trash talker. Anyone who has watched Sir Charles on TNT broadcasts understands that trash talking is part of his DNA. Barkley was blessed with tremendous physical ability, a gregarious personality and a razor sharp wit — a combination tailor-made for great trash talking. Of course if words didn’t do the job, he could also hock a loogie on you… or just throw you through a plate glass window. He did all of them. One thing you have to admit is that the man is funny.
4. Cedric Maxwell (The Comic) - The current radio analyst for the Boston Celtics certainly has the gift of gab and is one of the funniest people I ever played with. Max is also the most unique trash talkers on this list. He was a “Richard Prior” type trash talker because the stuff he said was so funny even the other team would laugh at his material. He used humor as a weapon to disarm his opponent, which was the key to his brilliance.
5. Bill Laimbeer (The Jerk) - Most great trash talkers are gifted in some way. They can shoot lights out, dunk on you, block your shot...or dominate you with their athleticism. Bill Laimbeer had none of these physical abilities, but was one of the great trash talkers of his era. He was a “Michael Moore” type trash talker, because like the filmmaker he had no discernible talent and would use any means necessary to further his cause. Laimbeer was a polarizing personality. You either loved him or hated him depending on if you were a Pistons fan or not. He was a super competitive player who knew he was limited physically and needed an edge to throw better players off their game.
Five Favorite Teammates
1. Craig Ehlo - Best known for having Michael Jordan draining “The Shot” over him while with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is living happily in Spokane, Washington, with his wife and three kids.
2. Chris Mullin - Chris was the hardest working teammate I ever played with. He’s a better person than he was a player.
3. Alton Lister - Heart of gold…and kept me laughing every day we played together. He’s an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks today.
4. Hakeem Olajuwon - I learned low post footwork from one of the greatest of all time.
5. Tom Tolbert - His sense of humor landed him an analyst position with ESPN and a cushy popular drive-time radio show in San Francisco. He’s a complete character and a very good friend.
Five Hardest Opponents to Guard
1. Charles Barkley - Barkley was a nightmare to guard because he could rebound, dribble, post up and shoot the three.
2. Tom Chambers - Chambers was 6-11 and could jump out of the gym and shoot with range. He was a scoring machine.
3. David Robinson - When Robinson first came into the league I had never seen anyone of his build. He was 7-1, built like a middleweight fighter…and had the speed and agility to beat point guards down the floor while dribbling the basketball. Amazing.
4. Alex English - He was slow and deliberate…but you couldn’t stop Alex English. He could run all day long and had the sweetest jumper ever.
5. Karl Malone - He ran the floor like someone stole his mother’s rent money.
Five Toughest Enforcer Type Players
1. Darryl Dawkins - The only player who ever scared me on the court.
2. Maurice Lucas - Once fought the only player who scared me on the court.
3. Rick Mahorn and Jeff Ruland - Their nickname was “The Bruise Brothers” ‘Nuff said.
4. Charles Oakley - The John Shaft of NBA players. Cool, tough and could back it up, baby.
5. Buck Williams - The most gifted tough guy I ever played against. Total class act…but don't ever cross him because he would knock your block off.
Five Favorite Arenas Arenas
1. Old Boston Garden
2. Old Chicago Stadium
3. Oracle Arena (Golden State)
4. Rose Garden (Portland)
5. US Airways Arena (Phoenix)