Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
VIDEO: Ray Allen’s shot
Give us a personal NBA highlight of 2013; a story, a laugh, a cry.
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Great as the league’s current players are, there was no in-arena moment for me in 2013 that matched sitting down in a riverfront restaurant one day last fall to have lunch and chat for two hours with this guy. I had interviewed Oscar Robertson by phone in the past – and did sitdowns in a previous professional life with the likes of Muhammad Ali and Ted Williams – but meeting and talking with The Big O in person ranks high on my personal list. He is, at once, a giant from the NBA’s formative years, a plugged-in guardian of today’s game and a legitimate choice in barroom debates as GOAT. Three days later, the passion that I heard for Robertson’s status, in an over-the-phone earful from this NBA great clinched this as my 2013 highlight.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: My Christmas Day exchange with Ebenezer Popovich before Rockets vs. Spurs in San Antonio. Me: “What did you get for Christmas?” Popovich: “None of your business. And I’d ask you what you got, but I don’t care.” Classic Pop snarling. But I also got a wink a grin.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: This is probably really obscure, but it’s a memory that has stuck with me. Residing in Dallas and being a former beat writer covering the Mavs, I’m around that team more than any other. Last season, Dirk Nowitzki and a handful of teammates made a pact in early February not to shave until they reached .500. They had been 10 games under, and seven under at the time of the pact. No player took the no-shave agreement — or the inner challenge to accomplish it — more personally than Dirk, whose 12-year playoff run was also very much in jeopardy. The 7-footer never trimmed the unruly mess and it just grew and grew and grew. He looked like the German cousin of Duck Dynasty. There was a home game in late March against the Pacers. A win and they finally shave. Mavs guard O.J. Mayo had announced that his barber, Omar, would be in the locker room ready to lather up. But the Pacers routed ’em. With a somber expression, Dirk spoke solemnly to reporters, resembling a long, lost castaway (in a nice shirt) losing hope his ship will ever come in: “We lost to a team that is deeper, that is better in all facets of the game,” he said. “… Knowing the Lakers lost now, we had an opportunity to cut into their lead. And it sucks. It sucks.”
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: When a single shot changed history. Ray Allen guesstimated he practiced that look hundreds of thousands of times, but when he caught the pass in a real game, had the presence while backpedaling all the way from the lane to know his exact location in the corner, and hit the 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining in Miami, the Heat went from a 95-92 deficit in the game and 3-2 in the series to new life. They catapulted from that into an overtime victory and then a win in Game 7. Instead of another Finals loss, LeBron James rode in another parade. Instead of the public debate about whether management should break up the Big Three in South Florida, Miami kept the roster in place. Instead of another championship, the Spurs had months of despair.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Before the Heat played the Sixers on Oct. 30, I was in the pre-game scrum when Philly coach Brett Brown (formerly of the Spurs) was asked about facing the team that beat him in The Finals just four months earlier. He was brutally honest about how painful losing that championship was, saying that he had a feeling of “we’ve done it” as Manu Ginobili brought the ball up the floor after LeBron James’ second straight turnover in the final minute of regulation in Game 6. That game was obviously the highlight of 2013 and I doubt we’ll ever again see a team come so close to winning a championship and then lose it. It was incredible to be in the building that night, experience it first-hand and then be reminded of the Spurs’ pain again as the new season was starting. I shake my head every time I think about that sequence of events and how the entire season (1,314 games) came down to one rebound and one shot.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’ll leave the emotional stuff to John Schuhmann and Lang Whitaker, they’ve been known to get the waterworks going on Hallmark commercials. Speaking of my stat-genius colleague, it was during the time we spent in Las Vegas watching some of the best young talent in the league (and a couple of college kids) working at USA Basketball’s Senior Men’s National Team’s mini-camp in July, that it dawned on me just how fantastic it’s been to watch the game’s driving forces evolve and connect across the board over the past two decades. I’m dating myself here, but I remember when the folks running the grassroots movement and the powers that be at the NBA and National Team level were all on different pages (and they still are from time to time on certain issues). It was an absolute mess and in the years that followed the U.S. teams paid for it during international competitions, losing face and games time after humiliating time against foreign competition. To see them all come together in the form of the under-25 group that we watched go to work in Vegas is a testament to the decision by all parties to think about the greater good and get their stuff straight. Not only did the best under-25 group assemble there, but the kids from all over the country were there as well for their annual pilgrimage to the big time summer tournaments at the same time the U.S. junior teams were working out. And while we stood in the balcony at UNLV watching the workouts with Hall of Famers like Pacers boss Larry Bird watching on one end and the top prep player in the country, Chicago big man and Duke signee Jahlil Okafor, watching from the other, it reminded me how important it is to the future of the game in this country and beyond to have everyone under the same roof (at least sometimes), so to speak.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Not sure I’ll ever be able to top being in the house (along with my main men Steve Aschburner and John Schuhmann) in Miami for Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. Funny story: When the Heat were down 5 with 30 seconds left, and a bunch of Heat fans headed of the exits, I started worrying about my flight home — I had a flight to New York reserved for the day following Game 7, three days later, and I was pretty sure our NBA Digital overlords would not be happy to cover the cost of me hanging out in a Miami hotel doing nothing for three days. So during one of those final timeouts, from there in the press seats, I went on Delta.com and started trying to change my flight home. I found a flight I could switch to the next morning for minimal expense, and I clicked the button to change my flight. I’m still not sure if it was the spotty internet connection in the American Airlines Arena, the inefficiency of Delta.com, or perhaps an intervention from the basketball gods, but for whatever reason it didn’t go through. Literally seconds later, everything changed. And as it worked out, my original reservation worked out just fine. It just meant I had to let Asch borrow my rental car so he could find a coin laundry.
Karan Madhok, NBA India: Ray Allen. Game 6. NBA Finals. The shot that changed history. No moment in the NBA in 2013 was more powerful or memorable. Jesus Shuttlesworth gave us a 3-pointer that would be etched in basketball lore forever.
Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: Man, so many to pick from! I’ll pick two. On the court, the triple-OT playoff battle between the Nets and Bulls. I began watching that as just “due diligence” and as a way of passing time before going out to cover a UFC event, but the game kept going and going and getting more exciting. I threw it to my Game Time app and went to work literally with one eye on the sidewalk and another on the mobile screen. The preliminary card was already going on and I barely paid attention to it. I can’t remember what was the fight of the night, but I can remember every big bucket Nate Robinson hit. Off the court, I was very proud of Jason Collins for coming out, and even more of NBA players’ reactions to it. It took a lot of guts. I’m disappointed by the fact that he’s not in an NBA roster right now, but I can’t and won’t accuse anyone of passing on him because of homophobia — I’ll give teams the benefit of the doubt.