2014 All-Star

Stars Awkwardly Set Aside Dislike

VIDEO: Joakim Noah is happy to be at the All-Star Game with his friends

NEW ORLEANS – Working up a genuine dislike for an opponent is one of the best motivations available for NBA players. And one of the biggest challenges for some on All-Star Sunday, not just on the court but before and during the game in the locker room.

“It’s always awkward,” Chicago center Joakim Noah said. “All-Star, that locker room, it’s always awkward. At the end of the day, you realize you compete … even a guy like [Indiana’s] Roy Hibbert, I’ve been competing with Roy since college. Like, really battling. So it’s strange to be in a situation like this where we’re sitting next to each other in the locker room.”

Noah got his first taste of rivals-turned-teammates-for-a-day last year in Houston when he made his All-Star debut. One of the league’s most visibly intense performers, the veins in his neck popping after moments good for the Bulls and bad for the other guys, Noah prefers competing to cozying up.

When pressed on the sort of conversations he or others like him can manage in All-Star locker rooms – about the game, your teams, the family, your vacation plans – Noah said: “We don’t talk about [our] teams. Uh … I’ve forgotten, man.”

Hibbert, whose battles with Noah date back to their days with Georgetown and Florida respectively, shares much of his rival’s unease for the 48 hours or so the All-Star squads practice and play. And yet, their history has brought them together a little.

“The only other person I talk to on the court is just Jo,” Hibbert said. “We go back and forth. I saw him like an hour or two ago, we shook hands and said, ‘We’ll keep it cordial.’ But yeah, everybody’s been asking me about the Heat. I don’t have any words for them. They say hello. We’re all cordial to each other. It’s all small talk, so I don’t mind it.”

After nine trips to the All-Star Game, Miami forward Chris Bosh has learned how to navigate the foe vs. friend dynamic. And of course, every player’s personality is different. Some want or even need to dislike the other guy, others focus on their own games and the X’s and O’s.

“It’s only awkward if you make it awkward,” said Bosh, who has been coming to the All-Star Game the past four years with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, built-in teammates. “It can be. But we’ve been in this mode so many different times, we know how to handle it.

“This is just a time when we [All-Stars] can kind of relax, have a good time and enjoy each other’s company a little bit. We don’t have to be at each others’ throats. There will be plenty of time for that.”

Rookie MCW’s Been Smooth In Rough Spot

VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams talks about the challenges of being an NBA player

NEW ORLEANS — Philadelphia 76ers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams is getting his first taste of All-Star weekend. He will participate in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge tonight (9 p.m. ET, TNT) at the newly named Smoothie King Center.

It’s kind of an apt name for Carter-Williams, who’s been pretty smooth while being thrust into an awfully rough situation. The Sixers are an organization going through significant change, bottoming-out as a means to get better. As he’s come in, other players such as Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young are wondering if they’re on their way out.

But that’s life in the big city, and all-in-all, Carter-Williams has adjusted nicely, averaging 17.1 ppg, 6.5 apg and 5.4 rpg, making him the frontrunner to win the Rookie of the Year Award.

Carter-Williams, 22, lost just 13 games in his two seasons at Syracuse. The Sixers have lost 39 of the 54 games they’ve played. Still, the franchise has to be pleased with the progress of their baby-faced, No. 11 pick. Here he is in his own words following Friday’s Rising Stars practice:

NBA.com: You got off to such a fast start that this NBA thing might have seem easy. As the season has worn on, what’s been the toughest adjustment?

MCW: Probably just keeping your body healthy and trying to keep up with time management, and just the grind of competing every single game. There’s a lot of games so you really got to stay focused and stay competitive.

NBA.com: Have you gotten used to NBA travel?

MCW: I’ve forgotten my hotel room many a time, forgotten what city I’m in, what day it is, so it’s been tough.

NBA.com: Describe your level of play this season.

MCW: I think I’ve played pretty well. I’m definitely proud of myself of what I’ve already accomplished and I’m definitely still hungry to keep playing. It’s been unbelievable. It’s been such a fun year and I’m just looking forward to keep playing and keep pushing every single game.

NBA.com: Your first NBA game was against LeBron James and the two-time champion Miami Heat and you threw down 22 points with 12 assists and nine steals in a stunning victory. Was that the moment you realized that you belong in this league?

VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams talks with GameTime after his big NBA debut

MCW: That was an unbelievable game for me. My first game was such a fun game, and I think after that game and after the Chicago game (26 points and 10 assists in third game of the season) I think I really knew I could play with these guys and make a difference on the floor.

NBA.com: Top draft picks aren’t typically used to losing in high school or college. The Sixers started the season surprising everybody at 3-0, but reality set in and the team has won only 12 games since. How have you handled the losing?

MCW: It’s been tough. I think I have to have a lot of patience. Not everyone comes into the league and right away and is on a winning team. I’ve talked to a lot of veteran guys that have been on great teams and they told they were on a bad team when they first came in, it wasn’t easy. But it makes for when you’re on a winning team so much better and you appreciate it more and you know it takes. That’s what I’m taking out of it.

NBA.com: Next season you will be joined by the No. 6 overall pick in 2013, center Nerlens Noel, who has been out all year recovering from ACL surgery. What have you seen from him as he works his way back and what your expectations for him?

MCW: He’s been putting in a lot of work and I give him a lot of credit for it. He works hard everyday trying to get back to 100 percent. He looks great, his body looks great, he’s working real hard. He can jump higher than ever and I know he’s itching to get on the floor, so I’m interested to see just how much he impacts us next year. I don’t think he’s going to play this year. His knee isn’t 100 percent yet, so his knee isn’t completely healthy. He owes that to himself and it’ll be better off for our team if he gets his knee completely healthy.

Advanced Stats: West All-Stars

NEW ORLEANS — All-Star weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the new version of NBA.com/stats. This season brought SportVU player tracking to the site and just Thursday night, player tracking stats were added on the boxscore level, so you can see how far a player ran or how many of his shots were contested on any given night.

All-Star weekend also means that it’s time to dive in with statistical nuggets for all 25 All-Stars. Here are the 13 guys representing the Western Conference…

Kobe Bryant, G, L.A. Lakers

Stephen Curry, G, Golden State

Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City

Blake Griffin, F, L.A. Clippers

Kevin Love, F, Minnesota

LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Portland

Anthony Davis, F-C, New Orleans

James Harden, G, Houston

Dwight Howard, C, Houston

Damian Lillard, G, Portland

  • Leads the league with six field goals (on just nine attempts) in the final 30 seconds with the score tied or his team behind three points or less.
  • Of 181 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from both in and outside the paint, Lillard is the only one who has shot better from outside the paint (42.5 percent) than from in the paint (42.2 percent).
  • Has attempted only 16.3 percent of his shots from mid-range, the second lowest rate among All-Stars (higher than only that of Howard).
  • Video: Watch Lillard’s six baskets that tied the game or gave his team the lead in the final 30 seconds.

Dirk Nowitzki, F, Dallas

Tony Parker, G, San Antonio

Chris Paul, G, L.A. Clippers

Advanced Stats: East All-Stars

NEW ORLEANS — All-Star weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the new version of NBA.com/stats. This season brought SportVU player tracking to the site and just Thursday night, player tracking stats were added on the boxscore level, so you can see how far a player ran or how many of his shots were contested on any given night.

All-Star weekend also means that it’s time to dive in with statistical nuggets for all 25 All-Stars. Here are the 12 guys representing the Eastern Conference…

Kyrie Irving, G, Cleveland

Dwyane Wade, G, Miami

Carmelo Anthony, F, New York

Paul George, F, Indiana

LeBron James, F, Miami

Chris Bosh, F-C, Miami

DeMar DeRozan, G, Toronto

Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana

Joe Johnson, G, Brooklyn

Paul Millsap, F, Atlanta

Joakim Noah, C, Chicago

John Wall, G, Washington

A Meandering Road For N.O. Basketball

VIDEO: Fran Blinebury narrates the history of New Orleans basketball

The author Tom Robbins once said that if New Orleans is not fully in the mainstream of culture, neither is it fully in the mainstream of time. Lacking a well-defined present, it lives somewhere between its past and its future, as if uncertain whether to advance or to retreat.

That might also describe the meandering history of basketball in the Crescent City. With roots that stretch to the earliest professional leagues, the game has followed the unsteady path of an overindulgent visitor in the French Quarter to reach the glitz and glamour that is the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend.

The state of Louisiana could fill out a virtual Hall of Fame roster with native-born talent — Bill Russell, Bob Pettit, Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Elvin Hayes, Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler, Robert Parish, Joe Dumars, Don Chaney and Bob Love. But the pro game has spent more than six peripatetic decades trying to find an embrace in the Big Easy.

“Honestly, it’s not that big. It’s really not,” said Pacers forward and native Danny Granger of the basketball scene in New Orleans. “Compared to Indianapolis, if Indianapolis is a 10, New Orleans is a 4, as far as high school basketball goes … We’ve always been a football city.”

Still, at the end of World War II, the game began to take wing all across the United States. New Orleans’ first team, the Hurricanes, were part of the Professional Basketball League of America in 1947. Led by 19-year-old guard Paul Seymour, the Hurricanes and the league lasted just eight games before going out of business.

A year later, the Hurricanes were renamed the Sports and joined the second year of the Southern Basketball League. The Sports featured the league’s leading scorer in Alex “Greek” Athas, a product of Tulane University in New Orleans. The Sports went 7-24, the SBL went out of business at the end of the season and a nearly 20-year wait for another pro basketball team began.

The ABA comes to town

The American Basketball Association was the young, defiant upstart league that burst onto the scene in 1967 with a red-white-and-blue ball, a 3-point shot and a wide-open, slam-dunking style of play that challenged perceptions and authority.

And what better place to do that than rowdy Bourbon Street and New Orleans?

Larry Brown (center) of the New Orleans Buccaneers was MVP of the ABA All-Star Game in 1968. With ABA Commissioner George Mikan (left) and Rick Barry. (NBA Photos/NBAE)

Larry Brown (center) of the New Orleans Buccaneers was MVP of the ABA All-Star Game in 1968. With ABA Commissioner George Mikan (left) and Rick Barry.
(NBA Photos/NBAE)

The Buccaneers were coached by the legendary Babe McCarthy with his honey dew Mississippi drawl and his pocketful of down-home sayings:

“Boy, I gotta tell you, you gotta come at ‘em like a bitin’ sow.”

“My old pappy used to tell me, the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s butt every day.”

McCarthy’s team was loaded with talent. The first player signed was Doug Moe, the talented forward out of North Carolina who had been connected to a college basketball betting scandal. Even though nothing was ever proven, Moe, along with Connie Hawkins, had been banned from the NBA for life.

The Buccaneers then added Moe’s good buddy Larry Brown, the 5-foot-9 point guard who’d been dismissed by the NBA for simply being too short.

“I loved every minute of playing in New Orleans and playing with that team,” said Brown, 73, the Hall of Fame coach who is now at Southern Methodist. “I was an assistant coach at North Carolina at the time and figured that was it. That league and that team meant a lot to me because they gave me a chance to prove that I could be a player at the top level.

“Man, that was a team. We had a great kid that nobody ever talks about anymore — Jimmy Jones from Grambling. We had Jackie Moreland, Jesse Branson, Marlbert Pradd and Austin ‘Red” Robbins. We came within a game of winning the championship in that first year (losing 4-3 in the ABA Finals to Hawkins and the Pittsburgh Pipers).”

The Bucs played before largely empty houses at Loyola Field House for the first several months, mostly because they arrived in town the same year the Saints were welcomed into the NFL.

“I went to the very first Saints game ever,” Brown said. “Guy takes the opening kick back 99 yards for a touchdown and the place went crazy. We all figured they’d never lose a game. Of course, with that passion for the Saints, nobody paid attention to us until football season was over. But when it was, the stands were packed. The enthusiasm and interest was great.

“I loved playing for a phenomenal coach in Babe. He had a great feel for the game and he cared about his players. He reminded me of a southern Frank McGuire and that’s the greatest compliment that I can give anybody.”

Even though Brown won the MVP award at the first ABA All-Star Game and Moe was named to the All-ABA team, they were both traded after just one season.

“I think it was about money,” Brown said, “even though Babe always called me his pissant guard and he did get back a 6-7 guard in Steve Jones. That’s OK. Doug and I went to Oakland and won a championship the next year.

“But I wouldn’t trade that experience — that one year — in New Orleans for anything.”

The Buccaneers survived just two more seasons in New Orleans before the franchise moved to Memphis in 1970.

The Pistol Pete era

VIDEO: Ultimate “Pistol” Pete Maravich highlight reel

It was four years later when the NBA finally came to town with an expansion team. The aptly named Jazz fittingly brought in the greatest improvisational artist in the game in “Pistol” Pete Maravich, who’d played college ball at Louisiana State in Baton Rouge and made music with a basketball like Louis Armstrong did with his trumpet.

Avery Johnson, who won an NBA championship with the Spurs, coached the Mavericks to The Finals and is now an ESPN analyst, grew up on the streets of New Orleans’ Sixth Ward, within walking distance of the Superdome. He joyously recalls watching the show.

“As a young kid, the Jazz really sparked my interest in basketball,” he said. “Growing up, my two favorite guys to watch were Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald and ‘Pistol Pete.’

“Since the Jazz were playing at the Superdome and had all those seats to fill, they were practically giving tickets away. So my friends and I were going to as many games as we could, even on school nights.”

“All the kids in our neighborhood wore our [floppy] socks like Pistol and anytime we saw him make a great shot or an amazing pass, we’d all be out there on the schoolyard or playground the next day trying to do it. For a kid my age, it really didn’t get any better than that.”

Trouble was, most of the NBA was always better than the Jazz. In five seasons, the Jazz never finished with a record of .500 record. When Maravich was beset by a series of knee injuries and couldn’t play, the big show lost its headline attraction.

“It was sad when he could no longer be Pistol,” said Brown. “I grew up with Pete and from the time he was young he had a quality on the court that wouldn’t let you take your eyes off of him.

“I saw him play in the state high school tournament. He loved the game. He made players better. He made you enjoy going to watch the basketball game. You didn’t know what was going to happen, but you knew something great would happen.

“I have always been known as a perfectionist coach, talking about playing the game the right way. Pete didn’t play the right way, but he had to play the way that gave him the best chance to win. A lot of people would look at the shots I let Allen Iverson take in Philly and say, ‘That’s not right.’ But when you have greatness like him, you let him do the things he’s capable of doing. The same held true for Pete and there was nobody capable of doing the things he was doing.”

But with Maravich hobbled and fan support hemorrhaging, the franchise was sold in 1979 and the Jazz name was incongruously relocated to Utah.

Post Pete

“In 1979 the Jazz were leaving, a channel called ESPN came on my TV,” Johnson recalled. “It seemed like the world was changing and you couldn’t hold things back.”

“It was playing in the Superdome,” Brown said. “It wasn’t a real basketball facility. Too many seats. And you know, the South was still kind of funny then. I don’t think people were ever passionate about basketball after the Buccaneers left. They were never really attracted to the Jazz, just Pete.”

At that time, a young David Stern was general counsel to NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien and worked hard to try to find a local owner in Louisiana. He couldn’t.

“I never thought even at that time that the NBA couldn’t work in New Orleans,” Stern said. “I always thought the NBA could work anywhere and we’ve proved that over the years with the so-called small markets in San Antonio, Orlando, Utah, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Portland and Sacramento. So even as we were leaving, I never thought there was a reason the NBA couldn’t come back.”

It took 13 years, but when the Hornets could not work out an agreement for a new arena in Charlotte, they relocated. The beat of pro basketball was again in New Orleans.

The Hornets played at the New Orleans Arena, built adjacent to the Superdome. They were coached by Paul Silas and with a veteran roster led by Jamal Mashburn, George Lynch and Elden Campbell, and immediately made two playoff appearances. But a miserable 18-64 record the next season was the worst in the league.

The Hornets parlayed that misery into making Chris Paul their top pick in the NBA Draft in June 2005 and plotted their comeback. But real tragedy struck on Aug. 29 of that year when Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States.

More than 1,800 lives were lost, $108 billion in damages suffered to the city and the Hornets were forced to set up a temporary home for two seasons in Oklahoma City.

Former Hornets player P.J. Brown visits a Katrina memorial in 2007. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Former Hornets player P.J. Brown visits a Katrina memorial in 2007. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

“I was so happy when the team had returned to New Orleans and my hometown got another chance,” Johnson said. “Then came Katrina and all you could wonder was ‘What next?’ Would they come back again?”

With rabid fan support for the Hornets and a hunger for the first pro sports franchise in OKC, the question of whether the Hornets would return to the Big Easy continued to be asked. As the city slowly and steadily picked up the pieces and began to put itself back together, Stern — now the commissioner — remained the city’s greatest champion. He gave his steadfast approval to New Orleans as an NBA town.

“Apart from my own previous history with the city, I have an affection because of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that followed,” Stern said. “It was important to me for us to be the first sport to play a regular-season game again in New Orleans after Katrina. We scheduled an All-Star Game [2008] there and people said we were crazy. So it gives me enormous pleasure to see where the franchise is today.”

“That was a very strong statement made by commissioner Stern,” Johnson said. “ ‘We are not going to leave you at the time of your greatest trial.’ It was a sign faith, of hope, of possibility for the future.”

When the Hornets returned, the team was in full bloom with Paul as its leader. He was joined on the 2008 All-Star team by New Orleans teammate David West. The Hornets finished 56-26, their best record ever, were the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, and defeated Dallas in the first round.

But things again turned sour two years later when the NBA was forced to purchase the team from owners George Shinn and Gary Chouest in a bid to keep basketball in the city. The league, with Stern acting as the de facto owner, ran the franchise for 1 1/2 years. Paul, who’d been an All-Star four times in six seasons in New Orleans, said he wanted out and, after one deal that would have sent him to the L.A. Lakers was turned down by Stern, Paul eventually was traded to the Clippers.

CP3 and the Big Easy

Chris Paul in 2008 (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Chris Paul in 2008 (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Now, three years later, Paul still holds an affinity for the city. New Orleans is more than just a team in a city where his NBA career began.

“[It’s] everything. Everything,” said Paul, who will return this week as a member of the Western Conference. “It’s going to be emotional going back. Obviously I was already going to All-Star regardless because we have some players’ association events and things like that. I still have a lot of my close friends and family there in New Orleans. My pastor lives in New Orleans. I’m doing my daughter’s christening when I go back and stuff like that. My brother’s doing his twins. It’s going to be pretty cool to be back.”

Even though he actually played his first two NBA seasons in Oklahoma City with the displaced Hornets, Paul sank his teeth and his roots into America’s most colorful, most unique city.

His brother got married in New Orleans.  Paul still runs an after-school program in the city.

“It’s crazy because I’m older and a little bit wiser now from when I was there in New Orleans, but it’s the people of New Orleans that make it what it is,” he said. “Everybody talks about the food and the environment and the nightlife and all this different type stuff. But it’s the people. There’s nothing like it. It’s its own language. It’s its own everything. And me being born and raised from the South, the people of New Orleans became my family.

“I did those [first] two years in Oklahoma City so I had no idea. I was going off what everybody was telling me about New Orleans. It’s crazy to hear some people talk about, ‘Oh, New Orleans, I can’t go there, I can’t do this.’ And I tell people, ‘I loved it. I absolutely loved it.’ What you learn is that some people will say that in front of the camera and stuff like that, but when it [the camera] moves, they’ll be like, ‘I hated it.’ But, you know, I’ll talk about New Orleans. I absolutely loved it there. That ‘07-08 season was something special that I’ll never forget. When you’re winning and playing in New Orleans, there’s nothing like it. Nothing like it.”

A new beginning

In April 2012, Tom Benson, the owner of the NFL Saints, bought the team from the NBA. In June the team made Anthony Davis the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. And for the start of the 2013-14 season, the Hornets were rechristened as the Pelicans, a nod to the state bird of Louisiana and a source of local pride. Now New Orleans will host its second post-Katrina NBA All-Star Weekend.

In his second season in the league, the athletic forward Davis has exploded at both ends of the court as a franchise player and future All-Star. Jrue Holiday, an All-Star a year ago, has been added to the roster. It’s the fourth season for coach Monty Williams.

“I was disappointed they had to let Chris go,” said Brown. “But I believe in Monty Williams. He’s a smart young coach who used to work for me. They’ve got an unbelievable kid there in Davis. I’m telling you, that kid is the truth.

“I’ll always have a love for that city because of one special season of playing basketball. But after all those years and all those teams and all those different problems, I think they’re finally going in the right direction.”

Walkin’ to New Orleans, as the great Fats Domino sang, goin’ back home to stay.

All-Star On-Court Events Begin Tonight

VIDEO: 2013-14 NBA rookies have roundtable discussion about their first halves

NEW ORLEANS – Hometown favorite Anthony Davis of the Pelicans, reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers and 2013-14 favorite Michael Carter-Williams of the 76ers are among 18 first- and second-year players scheduled to participate in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge as All-Star festivities move to the court tonight at the Smoothie King Center.

Also tonight, the Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game will be held at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

The team selected by Chris Webber includes Davis, Carter-Williams, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger (Boston), Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn), Tim Hardaway Jr. (New York), Steven Adams (Oklahoma City), Victor Oladipo (Orlando), and Trey Burke (Utah). It will be coached by Rex Kalamian, part of the Thunder staff under Scott Brooks that will coach the Western Conference All-Stars in the main event Sunday.

The team selected by Grant Hill is comprised of Lillard, Miles Plumlee (Phoenix), Dion Waiters (Cleveland), Harrison Barnes (Golden State), Terrence Jones (Houston), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto) and Bradley Beal (Washington). Atlanta’s Pero Antic had originally been selected, but will miss the event because of injury. Team Hill will be coached by Nate McMillan, part of the Pacers staff under Frank Vogel that will coach the Eastern Conference squad Sunday.

Warriors’ Curry Quite A Playmaker, Too

VIDEO: Steph Curry finds Andrew Bogut with a wonderful assist

NEW ORLEANS – The praise is a curse, the compliment a perception problem, the respect a hurdle.

Stephen Currypoint guard Stephen Curry – is an offensive tour de force for the Warriors and this weekend a starter for the Western Conference All-Stars in a sign of his rise to worldwide popularity. He just isn’t fully appreciated.

As a shooter, absolutely. Curry is a feared threat from the perimeter, at 41.5 percent on 3-pointers, No. 12 in the league, and 46.3 percent overall, a good number from the backcourt. He is a walking migraine for scouting reports trying to counter his attack on the pick-and-roll and the defenses that subsequently usually get shown up. He is fifth in the league in scoring, at 24.6 points per game. All hail one of the great weapons of the game.

But as a distributor, one of the true measures of a point guard? Deafening silence by comparison.

Coaches rave about his scoring. Oracle Arena gets electric as Curry sets his feet behind the arc for a flick release. And USA Basketball welcomes him as part of the future of the program for international competitions. But few realize his standing on the assist-leaders list at the break.

That would be No. 1, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Stephen Curry is averaging more assists per game, 9.0, than anyone who has met the qualifying minimum, with the likelihood that Chris Paul (11.1) will soon re-take the lead now that he has returned to the Clippers from a shoulder injury. The same Stephen Curry who in preseason read the NBA.com surgery of general managers, got to the part that asked about the best shooting guard and saw:

1. James Harden, Houston – 56.7%

2. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers – 20.0%

3. Stephen Curry, Golden State; Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City; Paul George, Indiana – 6.7%

6. Dwyane Wade, Miami – 3.3%

There was obviously some liberal use of the category if Durant is getting votes in the backcourt while also receiving support at small forward and power forward, but still. It struck Curry.

He says now he found it more funny than anything, except that if even people within the game regarded him as impactful off the ball without putting him on a single ballot at point guard, his actual position, being so good at shooting that it overshadows other positives is not such a humorous perception issue.

When asked if he gets enough credit for his point-guard skills, even Curry had to admit “Not really, but it doesn’t really matter. We play the way coach (Mark) Jackson has encouraged me to, with how I see the game, to use my strengths to my advantage. Whatever kind of notoriety comes from me getting the other guys involved, distributing the ball, playing the point guard in a more-traditional way doesn’t really matter to me.”

This season should solve a lot of the problem. While turnovers remain a bugaboo — Curry averages 4.08 as part of a team-wide turnover issue for the Warriors — going from 6.9 assists (in 38.2 mpg last season) to 9.0 (in 37.7 mpg this season) is drawing attention to the damage he can do without shooting.

It’s not like this has come out of nowhere, either. Don Nelson, who coached Steve Nash with the Mavericks and a young Curry with the Warriors, once said Curry had a Nash-like ability to score and pass at an elite level. Curry — like Nash — won’t beat you with athleticism, but is a deadly shooter anywhere within 30 feet of the basket. By midway through Curry’s fifth season, Nelson’s words don’t so bold with the possibility of several 20-10 campaigns ahead.

“I think he’s starting to get the credit he deserves,” said Kings coach Michael Malone, a former assistant with Curry and Golden State. “I’m very happy for him to be named a starter. I sent him a text when I saw that. You talk about a class kid, and I’m sure the whole Warriors organization is thrilled because he’s going to represent that franchise in the right way. But right now, he’s known as Steph the shooter and a shooter only. People don’t realize that his assist numbers this year are off the charts.

“Obviously his turnovers are an area where he has to get those numbers down and he’s aware of that. But he’s much more than just a shooter. By calling Steph just a shooter, I think, is doing him a disservice because he’s got a very high basketball IQ. He is a willing playmaker and he’s not afraid of the moment.”

Said Pacers coach Frank Vogel: “People don’t understand, he’s nine assists a game. That’s Rajon Rondo-level stuff. And on the top of his scoring that he adds to the equation, he’s clearly in the conversation for being the best point guard in the game.”

The free-agent departure of Jarrett Jack, after Curry played off the ball a lot more last season with Jack running the point, has been an obvious factor in the rise in Curry’s assists. He is having to be a true point more than before as the Warriors struggle for backups, first signing Toney Douglas and planning to use Andre Iguodala in the role, then trading Douglas and hoping Jordan Crawford will deliver heading toward the playoffs.

But this has been the progress of Curry, who, based on Nelson’s comments, had it in him all along.

VIDEO: Steph Curry gets in some practice for the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

The All-Star Game That Nearly Wasn’t

NEW ORLEANS – In the months, weeks and days leading up to the 1964 All-Star Game, the NBA players and their still-budding union had been blown off more than once by the franchise owners and the league’s hierarchy. Officers and player-reps of the National Basketball Players Association would travel to a Board of Governors meeting, encouraged that they would have an audience with the bosses, only to be left cooling their heels outside the room.

Until the evening of Jan. 14, 1964, when the owners of the NBA’s nine teams were the ones on the wrong side of the door, banging and pleading to get in.

“The owners kept putting us off and putting us off,” said Tom Heinsohn, the Boston Celtics’ Hall of Fame player, coach and broadcaster who was NBPA president at the time (owing mostly to his offseason job in the insurance field). “Finally, we decided, ‘We’re not going to play the All-Star Game.’ ”


Golden State Warriors vs. Boston Celtics

Tom Heinsohn was the NBPA President during the NBA’s 1964 labor negotiations at All-Star weekend. (Getty Images)

The NBA won’t exactly be celebrating the 50th anniversary of this pivotal moment in its history at All-Star Weekend in the Big Easy. But without it, the league might look nothing at all like it does now, with players and owners building it into one of the most popular sports options on the planet.

Like the union itself – founded in 1954 by Celtics guard Bob Cousy – the issues of 1964 had been on the table for most of a decade. The players were trying to institute a pension plan to cover their some portion of their retirement years. There were concerns about working conditions, such as meal money, full-time trainers (home and road) for each team and schedule considerations (for example, no Sunday matinees after Saturday night games). There also was the sheer recognition of the NBPA as the collective bargaining voice of NBA players, with Larry Fleisher as their executive director.

“They’d tell us they were going to do all these things,” Oscar Robertson said this week, “and then they’d change their minds.”

According to Heinsohn, it was the NBA’s first commissioner, Maurice Podoloff (for whom the MVP trophy is named), who was most resistant to a unionized labor force for the league. The otherwise genial Podoloff, on orders from the league’s nine owners, “did everything possible to thwart our efforts,” Heinsohn said. His successor, J. Walter Kennedy, was said to have fallen right in line with that tactic.

That offseason, one more attempt to pitch their demands to the Board of Governors got dashed. So in the months leading up to the All-Star Game – a Tuesday night affair, not the weekend it is now – Heinsohn and union VPs Lenny Wilkens and Bob Pettit had notified management of their last-ditch plan.

An unexpected opportunity to negotiate

No one took it seriously until that day. A major snowstorm over the nation’s Eastern half led to All-Stars players and NBA owners arriving through the afternoon. Heinsohn met his guys in the hotel as they did, getting them to literally sign onto the petition to boycott the game that evening.

Cincinnati’s Wayne Embry, who arrived with Royals teammates Robertson and Jerry Lucas after being diverted from Cincy to Minneapolis to Washington, with a train to Boston, said: “Tommy was in the lobby. He says, ‘Here’s what’s happening.’ ”

Said Heinsohn: “[That list] was the ‘Magna Carta’ of the players association.”

Wayne Embry

Cincinnati Royals star Wayne Embry was a big player in the 1964 NBA labor talks. (Getty Images)

Interestingly, there was a wild card in play that worked in the union’s favor: For the first time, the All-Star Game was being televised live in prime time. The window of air time was finite.

“You can imagine what was at stake for them,” said Embry, the burly center who became pro sports’ first black GM with Milwaukee in the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar era. “But there was a lot at stake for us, too. It got pretty tense, with owners threatening players.”

The clock was ticking. Kennedy was sweating. ABC made it known that it would pull the plug on the telecast if the impasse wasn’t broken.

Owners such as the Celtics’ Walter Brown came to the East locker room at Boston Garden, each imploring his players to reconsider. Brown, of course, represented the host team and felt more pressure than his peers for what was unfolding. “He wound up calling me the biggest heel in sports,” Heinsohn said, “and saying, if there’d been a team out in Hawaii, he’d have sent me there.”

Legend has it that Bob Short, the Lakers owner, tried to barge into the room but had to settle for barking some orders to the cop posted outside the door. Said Heinsohn: “He tells this old Irish police guy, ‘I’m Bob Short, the owner of the Lakers. You go tell Elgin Baylor that if he doesn’t get his ass out here fast, I’m done with him!’

“So Elgin gets the word and said back to him, ‘Tell Bob Short to go [expletive] himself.’ ”

‘It was something we had to do’

As tempers flared, the players’ resolve intensified.

“We weren’t quite united at first but we soon got there,” was how Robertson recalled it. “It took a little conversation but we got it done. People came in the locker room making threats, telling us we were going to ‘kill basketball’ and ‘What are you doing?’ It was a TV game and we could understand that, but it was something we had to do. If you negotiate in good faith and you agree to do something, you should be true to your word.”

Oscar Robertson

Oscar Robertson, an NBPA exec in 1964, was one of the loudest voices calling for change in the NBA’s labor agreement. (Getty Images)

The “good faith” view of ownership rapidly vanished. Jerry West, Baylor’s L.A. teammate, told the Los Angeles Times in 2011: “The players were controlled by the owners. All of us felt like we were slaves in the sense we had no rights. No one made anything then. You had to work in the summer. It was the stone ages of basketball.”

With ABC executives in his ear and game time fast approaching, Kennedy conferred with his owners. Then he knocked on the locker room door, entered and told the players that, yes, their concerns would be addressed: a pension plan, the working conditions and the rest, giving the NBPA a real voice and solidified seat at the bargaining table.

Pettit and Embry recalled a vote taken by show of hands, with an 18-2 outcome in favor of playing the game.

“There was a lot of discussion, pros and cons among the players,” Pettit said, “and there were players who still thought we should not go out and play. I think it was Wilt Chamberlain who said, ‘We’ve got the commissioner’s guarantee that he’ll do everything in his power. We need to go out and play the game.’ I guess we went out three or four minutes before what was supposed to be tip-off, took one or two layups [as warm-ups] and started the game.”

Embry recalled a delay of about 15 minutes. Others have referred to the near-boycott as “the 22-minute strike.” That night, Robertson was named MVP after scoring 26 points with 14 rebounds and eight assists in the East’s 111-107 victory. Bill Russell had 13 points and 21 rebounds, Chamberlain went for 19 and 20 and Pettit had 19 and 17.

NBPA’s stance paves way for today’s players

The real winners, of course, were the NBA’s rank-and-file players and their union. In time, the pension plan initially designed for only active and future NBA labor was extended back to cover pre-1965 players. That and the other benefits laid a foundation for much of the players’ condition today, including (after subsequent lockouts and wranglings) a $5.7 million average player salary in a league generating $5 billion in annual revenue.

“You talk about money, there wasn’t a whole lot of money in that [locker] room in terms of salary,” Robertson reflected. “Today, I think it would be very, very difficult when guys are making millions and millions of dollars per year for playing basketball – I don’t know if [a threat to boycott the All-Star Game] would have happened today or not. I don’t think a lot of players today are even aware that this happened.”

The NBPA will try to educate them a bit this weekend. Ron Klempner, acting executive director of the NBPA while a search for Billy Hunter‘s replacement continues, told NBA.com this week that the 1964 All-Stars’ stance will be remembered in a video shown before the union’s annual players-rep meeting Saturday.

“Our players are being made very aware of the importance of that stand taken by the 1964 All-Stars,” Klempner said. “It was a watershed moment for labor relations in sports, in terms of the recognition of our union and really in terms of fairness.”

Klempner said the union hoped to have one or two of the participants attend the meeting and possibly other weekend events. Pettit, who lives in Baton Rouge and is a season-ticket holder for the New Orleans Pelicans, is a handy and natural choice. Robertson’s name was in play, though at midweek he said he still had a schedule conflict.

Said Pettit: “It’s important to let [current players] know. Hopefully I’ll have that opportunity to touch base with them on what happened.”

Sixteen of the 20 All-Stars from 1964 still are alive, 50 years later, and it remains a source of pride for those who interviewed. That year was a big one across America, with the Civil Rights Act out of Washington under President Lyndon Johnson. And the stand taken by the NBA players had a ripple effect across other pro sports.

“It was very much a defining moment, 50 years ago, in the history of the NBA and its players,” said Embry, who went onto serve in management roles with Milwaukee, Cleveland and currently Toronto, in addition to private business opportunities such as McDonald’s franchise ownership. “Having been on both sides of unionization in later life, as it turned out, it worked well for both. You’re always going to have labor negotiations, but think about what it would be if you didn’t.”

In the moment, though, that sort of clarity didn’t come easily. Back in 1964, Embry was a 26-year-old from Springfield, Ohio, manning the middle for the Royal, living pretty much paycheck to paycheck and letting others in that East locker room do most of the talking.

“I thought, ‘Well, there goes my job.’ I was an All-Star but I wasn’t a superstar,” Embry said. “I was scared [sick].”

Three Flavors Of All-Star PF

A lot of people don’t like Neapolitan ice cream. They say it’s nothing but a boring compromise, maybe even a sign of commitment issues. Chocolate and strawberry and vanilla? Pick one!

But the NBA fans and coaches who put together the Western Conference’s All-Star roster this season felt neither sheepishness nor pressure when choosing their favorite flavor of power forward. The final verdict was more inclusive than decisive, an opportunity to have their cake and their ice cream, too. And their ice cream and their ice cream.

Blake Griffin and Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Pick any comparison of three you want. Even select, Goldilocks-style, the one with whom you’re most comfortable. The fact remains, each of them takes an interesting and different route to reach, more or less, pretty similar destinations. In this case, New Orleans for the 63rd NBA All-Star Game.

Percentage of shots by location

Player Paint Mid-range 3-point
Aldridge 35.8% 63.4% 0.8%
Griffin 64.3% 32.2% 3.6%
Love 44.3% 22.5% 33.1%

“When you mention each of those guys, you envision a different type of power forward,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said the other day. “With LA [Aldridge], I think it’s his length and his mid-range shooting that come to mind. All of ’em have improved. But they score in different ways, they rebound in different ways, they defend in different ways, they have different ways in how they move.

“The only comparison is when you look at their numbers and the impact they have on their teams.”

Here are snapshots of the three West All-Star power forwards – Griffin and Love were voted in as starters, thanks to the openness of the “Frontcourt” category, with Aldridge added by the conference coaches – along with some eyewitness testimony:

Blake Griffin

Los Angeles Clippers
6-foot-10, 251 pounds
Key stats:
23.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 3.6 apg
53.7 FG pct, 28.1 3FG pct., 70.2 FT pct.
Misc.: 16.6 FGA, 0.6 bpg, 1.1 spg, 24.1 PER

VIDEO: Blake Griffin’s Top 10 this season

Karl Malone, the NBA’s second-leading points leader and a Hall of Fame prototype for a traditional power forward, recently gushed about all three of the big men. But he especially lavished attention on the Clippers’ brawny “four” man.

“I would love to spend some time with Blake Griffin,” Malone said while sitting in on the TV broadcast of the recent Golden State-Utah game. “The first hing I’d do is say, ‘Blake, the next time a guy cheap-shots you, just lose your mind. I’ll pay your fine. If a coach grabs you, throw him too and [later] say you’re sorry. I don’t like the cheap-shots people are taking at him.”

Griffin’s muscle-beach build is tailored for physical play, and his notorious posterizations of foes with spectacular, vaulting slam dunks has a lot of them on guard even before the opening tip. But it’s his game that has grown in Kia-leaps and bounds, particularly during L.A. point guard Chris Paul‘s recent injury layoff.

Here are some who have noticed:

Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “He’s seen a lot of different defenses now. I think he knows what he’s trying to get to. They’re doing a good job of moving him around. They play off him well.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers: “He’s facing up guys far more. That’s the only thing I wanted him to do more. He’s a big with a tremendous first step, and the way I look at it, if you face ’em, you can use your first step. If you play with your back to ’em, you can’t use your gift and they are allowed to get their hands on him. When he turns and faces, the guys guarding him, you’ve got problems.”

Griffin, in a recent Los Angeles Times story: “My biggest pet peeve is probably the ‘All I do is dunk’ thing, just because I’ve felt like even from day one, I’ve done more than that. But you understand that people are going to … be critical of you no matter what.”

Kevin Love

Minnesota Timberwolves
Key Stats: 6-foot-10, 260 pounds
25.5 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 3.9 apg
45.5 FG pct., 36.4 3FG pct., 82.0 FT pct.
Misc.: 18.3 FGA, 0.4 bpg, 0.9 spg, 27.3 PER

VIDEO: Kevin Love’s top 10 this season

The opportunity for Love and Griffin to play on the same floor might give fans a chance to see some dazzling power forward-to-power forward alley-oop dunks. If, that is, Griffin can pinpoint his outlet pass downcourt timed perfectly to Love’s skywalking.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what everyone’s going to see,” Love said, smirking at the tease.

What folks will see is a hybrid player, somewhere in between Griffin’s power and Aldridge’s finesse along the talent spectrum. Love is a dominant rebounder who isn’t much of a leaper and he’s a 3-point shooting champion who will try to win that title again on All-Star Saturday.

Here are some views of Love, his game and the competition:

Love: “I’m a little more of a stretch-4 than Blake. I’m sure we’ll split our share of rebounds, but if I’m rebounding the ball and trying to outlet the ball to him, you’ll see some of those highlight dunks. Going against him when he’s dunking like that, it’s not too much fun, but playing with him, I’m hoping it will be a lot of fun.”

Rivers on Love’s uncanny nose for rebounds: “I played with Dennis Rodman in San Antonio – we’d laugh when we were watching the film. You could see him breaking toward the ball before it hit the rim. I just thought that was crazy, and he did it over and over again. So you just felt like he kind of knew where it was going. Kevin’s like that.”

Veteran NBA power forward Al Jefferson: “Kevin Love was my rookie when he first came in [with Minnesota] and I knew right away he was going to be something special, because his IQ was so high. Then me and LaMarcus been going against each other since high school, so the things he do out there don’t surprise me. I knew he was a very talented player and works his butt off. But the guy I have to say has really surprised me on another level, just so quick, is Blake Griffin. [Early] he was more about athleticism – he really couldn’t shoot, he really couldn’t make free throws. Going toward the rim, he was amazing but I always said, if he ever loses that athleticism, he’s not going to be a top player. The last two years, the way he just improved his game – his post game, his jump shot, his free throws – now if he loses all his hops and athleticism right now, he still could be a 20-10 guy in this league.”

Aldridge, who hears a little too much gushing about Love when their teams meet because the Wolves’ forward grew up in the Portland area, was a little more tight-lipped. “He’s just versatile. A good rebounder. Really good passer. And he can shoot it.”

Houston coach Kevin McHale: “All those guys are unique. Aldridge long, with his high release, beautiful 17-, 18-footers. Love has taken his game out to the 3-point line. Griffin is just so athletic off the dribble. If you took Griffin and said, ‘We want you to get a high release and be a 17-foot jump shooter only,’ he would suck. If you took Aldridge and told him, ‘I want you just to drive and spin and dunk,’ he would suck. And if you took Kevin and said, ‘I want you to be them’ … they’re all individuals. Kevin’s one of the few players – him and Ryan Anderson – in our league who can make shots and rebound. Most of those guys who are making shots at that position aren’t getting anywhere near the boards.”

LaMarcus Aldridge

Portland Trail Blazers
6-foot-11, 240 pounds
Key Stats: 23.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.8 apg
46.5 FG pct., 11.1 3FG pct., 81.8 FT pct.
Misc.: 21.0 FGA, 1.0 bpg, 0.9 spg, 22.4 PER

VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge’s Top 10 this season

Aldridge might be the most defensive of the three PFs – not in his game as much as in sticking up for his game. Playing in Portland, making it to New Orleans as an All-Star sub rather than starter, he tapped into his pride when talking about his season and his style.

“I do post up. I do go to the basket,” he said after a shootarond in Indiana last week. “I do have a jump hook and a fadeaway, but I have to bang to get to my fadeaway. I still get a lot of my points on the block and I do go to the basket. I’m shooting something like 60 percent at the rim, so if I was just a finesse player, I wouldn’t be so high.

“I feel like people get so caught up in, ‘If you’re a power player, you should be at the rim.’ If I’m blessed with the skill level to be able to do both, then why not do both?”

Aldridge recalled the game at New York last week when he had to adapt to what the Knicks were throwing at him. “They doubled me on catch every time I caught it on the block. I ended up finding my rhythm going isolation at the elbow and on pick-and-pops. If I’m one-dimensional, I don’t score. They’d have totally taken me out of the game. The fact that I’m versatile, it was easier to find a rhythm by taking my jump shot out there.”

He need not protest so much. The admiration society for Aldridge is a large and growing club.

Chicago’s Taj Gibson: “He runs like a deer still and he’s more physical down low now. But yet he’s so finesse and has so many counter-moves. Other guys, they tend to have one or two moves. But he has a load of options in his pocket.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel: “It’s his shot-making. He’s got that unguardable turnaround. His quick release on the catch-and-shoot. His pick-and-pop game is awful tough to guard, and he can put it on the deck and make plays off the bounce. With that high release and that quick release, it’s near-impossible to get to it sometimes. He’s playing with such confidence, you have very little margin for error.”

And here’s Love summing up the rivalry among them and how it most often shows itself:

“There’s not much talk. The media try to make it out that we don’t like each other. But really, we just all have an edge to us and a competitive spirit that we want to be the best.

It’s no secret when I take the floor, I want to kick their ass. And they would say the same about me – I hope so.”

Trust Binds Brooks, Young Stars To OKC

VIDEO: Take a closer look at Scott Brooks’ coaching style and strategy

OKLAHOMA CITY — Scott Brooks does a bad job of bragging. As he continued to redirect credit for Oklahoma City’s ongoing success to a meticulous organizational structure and its young stars, the Thunder’s coach, self-deprecating to a fault, spotted Wilson Taylor in the distance.

Taylor is the club’s 30-year-old manager of team operations. The morning shootaround had ended moments earlier and Taylor was busily attending to some normally behind-the-scenes tasks at the other end of the team’s sprawling, immaculately lit training facility eight miles north of downtown. Like Brooks and multiple members of OKC’s staff — general manager Sam Presti, superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, roster rock Nick Collison — Taylor’s been with the team since it opened shop here in the summer of 2008.

“People don’t talk about this, but Sam has done a great job hiring, not necessarily me, but everybody in this building,” Brooks said in an interview last week with NBA.com. “You talk to Wilson right there, he understands that his job is to get our players better. And we all have the same mentality, from our therapists, from our sports scientists, from our trainers, from our equipment managers; we all understand our job is to get our players better, and I take pride in all those guys.”

Still, Brooks, 48, is the coach. And he’s overseeing one of the most unique and potentially historic team-building processes in the modern, free-agent-frenzied NBA. From the start of his career, Brooks has been coaching a rising icon (Durant), a perennial all-NBA player (Westbrook) and a roster that boasts, even after Jeff Green and James Harden‘s departures 20 months apart, seven homegrown players and six who are 25 or younger.

In the last four seasons, the Thunder have challenged the Lakers in the first round, made the West finals in 2011 and the NBA Finals in 2012 before last season’s hope got short-circuited in the West semis after a Westbrook knee injury.

Now here they are again.

The bedrock for all this success lies deeper than shrewd drafting. It lies with the bond Brooks forged early on with his two divergent stars. That put the youthful crew on a developmental fast track and put OKC on the map.

On Sunday, Brooks will coach the Western Conference All-Stars in the 63rd All-Star Game in New Orleans because his Thunder sit atop the heated Western Conference with 42 wins in 54 games. Holler if you called that following Westbrook’s third knee surgery the day after he dropped a Christmas Day triple-double at Madison Square Garden.

The only team in the league to rank in the top five in offensive and defensive rating? The Thunder. They’ve popped East powerhouses Miami and Indiana by a combined 41 points.

This is arguably the deepest OKC squad ever and, assuming Westbrook resumes his season in the coming days, the Thunder are the favorite to win the West. (more…)