Posts Tagged ‘Kenny Smith’

Hang Time Road Trip: Breakfast With The Jet And Sunday Surprises


VIDEO: Hang Time Road Trip Day 6

By Sekou Smith

Los Angeles — By the time the clouds gave way to a gorgeous Sunday the Hang Time Road Trip bus had already invaded the neighborhood. TNT’s very own Kenny Smith invited us out to Encino for breakfast and a visit with his beautiful kids, in their pajamas, mind you, to kick off Day 6 of The Hang Time Road Trip 2.

And we made sure to show up early.

It was an excellent way to start a day that included a couple of surprise guests who made their way to the bus and turned Sunday into one of our longest and most satisfying days yet on this journey.

Hollywood stars Kunal Nayyar (who plays Raj on The Big Bang Theory) and Ben Schwartz (Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Rec and Clyde Oberholt on House of Lies) both made their way to the couches in the front of the bus to crack us up and talk hoops, Hollywood and plenty more.

Hanging Hollywood style with Kunal Nayyar of The Big Bang Theory. #nbahangtime

A photo posted by Sekou Smith (@sekou3000) on

Between visits we found time to help Rick with his HeadGum Fantasy Draft (after some Draft day smoke and mirrors we made sure Fox made the right choice with the No. 1 overall pick, and it wasn’t a tough sell to select Anthony Davis).

Our final full day includes an early morning visit with Doc Rivers and his Los Angeles Clippers, a fitting end to a trip that has seen us chase down the reigning champs, the 16-time champs and the crew that aims to become the future champs all within the borders of this state.

Roll with us to the finish line on The Hang Time Road Trip 2 by following us at …


VIDEO: Confident Lakers rookie D’Angelo Russell joined us on the bus during The Hang Time Road Trip

Hang Time Road Trip: Beach Boys


VIDEO: Hang Time Road Trip Day 5

By Sekou Smith

Los Angeles — You don’t  need but a few minutes is this dynamic city to see what all the fuss is about. From the oceans to the mountains to the beaches all along the Pacific coastline to the east for as far as you can see, the Southland has everything you need.

Seeing it from the inside of the bus on The Hang Time Road Trip 2, however, offers up a completely different perspective of Los Angeles. And on Day 5, we tried to soak up as much of it as we could starting early at Venice Beach and weaving our way around town through Beverly Hills and Hollywood and to Los Feliz and a stop at the Griffith Observatory and back again.

What looks like nothing but pure, unadulterated fun on social media was exactly that. Oh, it wasn’t necessarily easy — you try riding a beach cruiser on Venice Beach while filming without crashing into an innocent bystander trying to get a selfie with Rick Fox. But we realize there are much tougher ways to make ends meet, so no complaining from around here.

Kicking things off at the beach was definitely the right move (even if it turned out to be a bit more of a workout than any of us expected)…

Venice Beach #nbahangtime

A photo posted by Lang Whitaker (@langwhitaker) on

We still have plenty on our schedule, including a planned visit with TNT’s own Kenny Smith and Monday’s trip up the road to see the Los Angeles Clippers (there are a couple of other surprises we have planned but we’ll save those for later).

As mentioned previously, we did visit with Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott. He’s in fighting shape and sounds like a man with a chip on his shoulder after the struggles the Lakers endured during his first season at the helm. Take a look:

VIDEO: Lakers coach Byron Scott joins us on the bus to talk about the upcoming season

Saturday wasn’t all sunshine and beach fun. Some of us has a tougher time making it through the drama than others, given the ending of a certain college football some 2,240 miles away.

With friends like these …

… who needs enemies?

I’m putting all of the negativity behind me for the final days of our trip. It’s the professional thing to do and nothing should interfere with what we’ve got going on here. We’re trying to dig down and examine the DNA of these SoCal NBA representatives and see if it matches up with what we saw earlier on our trip in Oakland with the Golden State Warriors.

VIDEO: Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes on the bus with Hang Time Road Trip crew

Our time here is winding down. Cali’s been so good to us, thus far. We’ve survived the mudslides and even our fair share of bumper to bumper traffic along the way. The beach is always an excellent elixir for whatever is ailing you, so we’ll keep that in mind as we keep doing what we do. #NBAHangTime

Morning shootaround — August 3

VIDEO: Steve Smith shines a light on the offseason winners and losers


Noah active, energized this summer | Thunder coach Donovan tough as they come | Okafor has great expectations for Sixers

No. 1: Noah active, energized this summer — Change has been good for Joakim Noah. The Chicago Bulls’ All-Star big man has been active this summer and energized this summer, both in the community and where basketball is concerned. Noah feels good. His mind is clear and his focus is sharp. And as far as his new coach, Fred Hoiberg, is concerned, the vibes are good. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune has more on Noah’s big summer:

Given that Joakim Noah spoke Saturday at an anti-violence community event his foundation organized, the Bulls’ big man placed last season’s personal struggles in perspective.

“Last year was a tough year for me. I feel it was very humbling,” Noah said. “We went through a lot. Right now, I’m feeling healthy both physically and mentally. I’m really excited about our upcoming opportunity. I never take anything for granted.”

Noah, who attended Saturday’s ONE CITY youth basketball tournament at the Major Adams Community Center near the United Center with his mother and sister, has been working out this offseason in California. Recently, new coach Fred Hoiberg visited.

He’s confident his summer at a sports science academy has put the health issues he experienced last season after May 2014 left knee surgery behind him.

“I feel great,” Noah said. “This is the first time I’ve taken a lot of time for myself to just focus on what I need to get done. Sometimes when you go through humbling experiences, (you) hungrier than ever. And I feel ready to prove I can help this team win big.”

Noah said he enjoyed “vibing” with Hoiberg.

“We got to break bread together,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed talking to the coaching staff, spending time with Fred. I think it’s going to be very different.”

Asked to elaborate, Noah smiled.

“Time will tell,” he said. “But it will definitely be different. We had a lot great times with Tom Thibodeau. He’s a great coach. I learned a lot from him. I’ve experienced a lot with him. I only have good things to say about him. I’m looking forward to this new chapter in my career.”

Before the tournament, Noah and his mother, Cecilia Rodhe, unveiled his Noah’s Arc Foundation’s latest public service announcement centered on its “Rock Your Drop” movement. It’s centered on peace, unity and positive change in the face of Chicago’s rampant gun violence.

Spike Lee, Bears running back Matt Forte, “Chicago Fire” actor David Eichenberg and St. Sabina’s Rev. Michael Pfleger are some of the spot’s prominent cameos.

“‘Rock Your Drop’ is a movement that started with my mother. It has been part of my vision as a basketball player since I was a kid,” Noah said. “For it to be finally here and feel this love really means so much to me and to my family. To launch this PSA is huge. To be able to play for the Chicago Bulls is something other than just basketball. When I see people wearing their drops, it means the world to me and my mom.”

Rodhe, an artist, chiseled the small drop out of stone 18 years ago. Noah wore one on a necklace.

“We’re all one. We’ve all been given life,” Rodhe said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re from. I’m from Sweden. You may say, ‘What are you doing here, blonde lady, on the South Side of Chicago? This isn’t your problem.’ I say no. When something is as strong as gun violence and you see the pain of moms, that’s all of ours problem.”

Noah is very hands-on with his foundation. He joked about converting now-teenage kids who razzed him about Kevin Durant fans five or six years ago.

“This will be my ninth season here and I don’t take that for granted,” Noah said. “Guys move around in my profession. They get traded. To be with a team for that long is special.

“I’m working as hard as I can on the court and this is a part of what I wanted to do since I started playing basketball. This is like home. We’ve been putting in a lot of work here. This is not a gimmick. It’s for the right reasons. To be able to do all this work makes me happy.”


No. 2: Thunder coach Donovan tough as they come — Anybody wondering what kind of transition Billy Donovan will make to the NBA after years as one of the nation’s elite college coaches need only peek into his past. Donovan is as tough as they come, having honed his game and his basketball sensibilities in Queens and, later, the Big East. If Donovan’s pedigree is any indication, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and the Co. are in good hands. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:

After the Big East formed in 1979, basketball interest in the northeast spiked. The early ‘80s produced a golden age for high school point guards in NYC, meaning the 1983 Wheelchair event, the 10th annual, was a must-see edition.

That graduating class had Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, the playground legend and soon-to-be Syracuse star, and future NBA starters Kenny Smith and Mark Jackson.

But it was a sub 6-foot white kid from an affluent area of Long Island who stole the show in that showcase game. His name was Billy Donovan.

“Oh, Billy went off,” said his high school teammate, Frank Williams.

Donovan’s Queens team faced the Brooklyn squad led by Pearl Washington, the game’s headliner. Months earlier, Donovan battled Washington’s in a six-quarter high school scrimmage. Pearl had 82 points.

“We pressed the whole game and he just weaved in and out,” Donovan said. “I learned a lot.”

Donovan was a game-control point guard. Slick ball-handling was his greatest strength. Pearl was a wizard with the ball, his moves legendary. At the Wheelchair Classic, Donovan put his mental notes from the scrimmage to use.

“I don’t think Pearl was ready for it,” Williams laughed.

In the highlight play of his highlight day, Donovan sent Pearl sprawling on a left-handed, inside-out crossover dribble, cruising past him for a layup.

“Pearl nearly fell down,” said Billy’s childhood best friend Kevin Quigley. “The crowd went nuts. Just hooting and hollering. The little white boy just juked Pearl out of his shoes.”

Billy Donovan made a career out of willing himself to success. Too small and athletically limited to compete against premiere athletes? He molded himself into a player and led Providence to an unlikely Final Four run. Florida is a second-tier hoops program at a football school? He quickly turned them into a national powerhouse. Too inexperienced to coach in the NBA? Sam Presti just handed him the keys to the most important season in the Thunder’s brief franchise history.

But before there was Billy Donovan the iconic coach or Billy The Kid bombing 3s at Providence College there was Billy the kid, a Long Island youth addicted to basketball.

“It was almost an obsession,” Quigley said.


No. 3: Okafor has great expectations for Sixers — Philadelphia 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor is well aware of the struggles that have gone on prior to his arrival in the City of Brotherly Love. But that has not soured him on what could be. He has great expectations for what he and the Sixers will get done in his rookie season. Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer has the details:

Okafor averaged 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in two Las Vegas Summer League games. Before that, he averaged 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in three summer league games in Utah.

“I was satisfied,” Okafor said of his summer performance. “I got better every game and worked on everything.”

Covington said Okafor has already made an impact.

“He has brought a whole lot of excitement to this team,” Covington said. “He is a big man who has made his presence known already.”

Another big man, Joel Embiid, will miss a second straight season because of another procedure on his foot.

“It is hard to do, but he is doing well, and he is keeping his head high,” Covington said.

Just as the focus last season was on Nerlens Noel, this season it will be on Okafor. He said he can’t wait to get settled in the Philadelphia area and is looking for a place to live.

Okafor won’t lack confidence. He expects a lot from a Sixers team coming off an 18-64 season. He knows the expectations will again be low, but he doesn’t care.

“Everybody knows we have expectations, and the fans have expectations, and that is all that matters,” he said.

Okafor will be a trendy choice for rookie of the year because he is expected to play major minutes.

“It’s definitely a possible goal,” he said about earning the award. “Definitely.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Michael Jordan is still the G.O.A.T., just ask Jimmy ButlerNancy Lieberman called Muhammad Ali after joining the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach … Got cash? You’ll need plenty of it to buy the New York penthouse of former Brooklyn star Deron Williams

All-Star starters announced tonight on TNT

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Can the King stay on top?

The race between Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Stephen Curry to be the overall leader in voting for the 2015 All-Star Game looks to be coming down to the wire.

NBA All-Star 2015We will discover the winner tonight with the announcement of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game starters, which airs live on TNT at 7 p.m. ET.

LeBron has led in both the Eastern Conference and overall voting since initial totals were announced, totaling 971,299 votes in the most recent returns. Right on James’ heels was Curry, with 958,014 votes.

Sandwiched around the announcement of those voting totals, James missed eight games to rest injuries. Whether that absence will cut into James’ overall vote total remains to be seen. Since returning, he’s played in five games, averaging 30.6 ppg, 7.o rpg and 6.0 apg.

With attention focused on Curry and James at the top of the charts, it’s probably also worth keeping an eye on New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis, who at last count was third overall with 922,381 votes, nearly 50,000 behind James but making Davis the only player besides James and Curry with over 900,000 total votes.

There haven’t been any changes in either Conference’s starting five since the initial voting totals were announced, but a significant surge happened in the last announcement totals. Toronto’s Kyle Lowry leapfrogged Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving to move into third among Eastern Conference guards behind John Wall and Dwyane Wade. The Raptors have mounted a significant social media campaign to get out the vote for Lowry, though at last count Lowry was still well behind Wade (406,974 votes to Wade’s 507,326).

If voting patterns hold, joining James, Wall and Wade as starters for the Eastern Conference should be Carmelo Anthony and Pau Gasol.

For the Western Conference, Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol look to hold on to their spots alongside Curry and Davis in the starting lineup.

With last night’s Atlanta win over Indiana, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer clinched the job of coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars and Golden State’s Steve Kerr will helm the Western Conference. Yet aside from Curry, no other players from either team were in the top five at any position in either conference in the most recent voting.

The starting lineups will be revealed during a special one-hour edition of the Emmy Award-winning pregame show “Inside the NBA,” featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Spurs at the Bulls (8 p.m. ET) and the Nets at the Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET).

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets.

Horry’s HOF scale … does it exist?

VIDEO: Robert Horry, a seven-time NBA champion, earned his nickname “Big Shot Bob” the old-fashioned way!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Whenever his name is mentioned, the words “NBA legend” usually accompany Robert Horry.

How else should one refer to a man who in 16 NBA seasons collected seven championship rings, played alongside some of the game’s all-time greats, earned the nickname “Big Shot Bob” for his clutch shooting heroics on the biggest stage and has become a cult figure with his own measurement for big shots (All Ball’s famed Horry Scale)?

Horry piled up championship experiences during his playing days that many of his more celebrated contemporaries would trade All-Star nods for. And perhaps even some of that cash they made. What would you want more, the adulation, fortune and fame — all of which inevitably fades over time — or the timeless prestige of seven, count ’em seven, championship rings?

I’d have to think long and hard about that one, really!

The purists have every right to laugh off the Horry belongs in the Hall of Fame argument. He never averaged more than 12 points per game during any season in his career, and he didn’t reach double digits once during his final 12 seasons in the league. Horry only started in 480 of a possible 1,107 games he played in during the regular seasons of his 16 years.

Still, few players were feared the way Horry was with the ball in his hands late and the game on the line. And therein lies the dilemma for a specialist, a role player extraordinaire like Horry. There is no metric available that would bolster his case for entry into the Hall of Fame, his individual numbers (a ho-hum 7,715 career points and nary an All-Star bid) just do not stack up to the Hall of Fame water line. And yet you feel like there has to be some sort of recognition for someone who has accomplished the things Horry did during his career.

He was eligible for consideration with the 2014 class and didn’t make the cut. Horry will join a deep pool of carryover candidates for the 2015 class, headlined by newcomer Dikembe Mutombo, and a star-studded group that includes the likes of Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Spencer Haywood, Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway. They all have stronger individual cases than Horry but possess none of the championship hardware he brings to the party.

Horry reminds me of the NFL specialists who have struggled for years to gain entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It took Ray Guy, arguably the greatest punter in football history, forever to crash through that glass ceiling.

Complicating matters for Horry and others is the fact that the recognition in the Naismith Hall of Fame isn’t just about what a player has done during his professional career. It’s a culmination of an entire life in the game, from high school to college and all the way up to the very top of the heap.

Horry played a significant part in Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers like Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant gobbling up the championship rings that highlight their respective credential lists. If you don’t believe it, ask Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich, all-time great coaches who know the worth of a truly game-changing role player.

While I’m not ready to argue that Horry deserves to be immortalized in Springfield the way the best of the all-time best have been and always will be, and deservedly so. I do think there needs to be some sort of special recognition for a an elite specialists like Horry, a guy whose accomplishments, even in a supporting role, are unparalleled by anyone else during his era.

Can’t he get a plaque or commemorative brick or something to acknowledge his unique contribution to the game?

Ultimately, Horry might have to settle for the scale, the universal love he gets from all corners of the basketball galaxy and the knowledge deep down that there are plenty of men already in the Hall of Fame and on their way who would do anything for just one of his seven rings!

24 – Second thoughts — May 31

VIDEO: Ginobili steps up in crunch time for the Spurs


The Spurs Way.

Sheer basketball beauty.

Explain it any way you can. But know this, the San Antonio Spurs were clearly meant for this, for this moment and for this rematch they have earned against the Miami Heat in The Finals — starting Thursday night in San Antonio.

You don’t go on the road for a close-out Game 6 against the MVP (Kevin Durant) and the force of nature (Russell Westbrook), lose your superstar point guard (Tony Parker) at halftime to ankle soreness and be anything but destined for The Finals.

Ultimately it was the ageless wonder that is Tim Duncan (aka The Big Fundamental, aka Old Man Riverwalk, aka Timmay, aka … you get the point) who went right at Serge Ibaka in overtime for the game-clinching baskets.

He had tons of help. Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and others chipped in to send this crew back to The Finals in back-to-back years for the first time in the #SpursWay era.

Heat-Spurs Round II is on … history in the making!


Let’s do it again San Antonio and Miami … see you Thursday!


They call it the #SpursWay my friend!


24 – Second thoughts — May 27

VIDEO: Serge Ibaka was feeling just fine in Game 4 against the San Antonio Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Time travel is real.

Don’t believe it? Just look at how much damage Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and the Oklahoma City Thunder did to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. They partied like it was … Game 4 of the 2012 Western Conference finals.

What looked to be a whitewash a few days ago is suddenly a series. The Spurs were up 2-0 and in complete control with Ibaka supposedly done for the postseason with that calf strain. Two games later and the momentum has shifted in an entirely different direction with Ibaka, the ultimate rim protector, back in the mix.

Now we have to wait 48 hours to see the next twist and turn in this series. The Thunder reeled off four straight in 2012 to advance to The Finals and face the Miami Heat.

Could we be headed for a repeat performance?

If these two have anything to say about it …

The #WCF are even 2-2 as the @okcthunder defeat the @officialspurs 105-92.

A photo posted by NBA (@nba) on

… you never know!


#RelentlessRussWest joins Michael Jordan in that elite playoff category … the 40-10-5 club!


The two true #forcesofnature in these playoffs …


Morning Shootaround — May 6

VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 5


Game belongs to CP3 | LeBron focused on title, not MVP | Wall and Beal lead young Wizards past Pacers | Spurs look to their bench for boost | Hibbert’s teammates fed up, need more from All-Star big man

No. 1: CP3 answers the bell, silences his critics in opener —  Silence. That’s what Chris Paul did to his critics in Game 1 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ conference semifinal in Oklahoma City Monday night. Folks who questioned whether or not he was ready to play through whatever pain he’s experienced with a sore hamstring and aching thumb found out early, and often, that he was not going to be denied. And a determined Paul, with all that he has been through recently,  is still a force to be reckoned with in these playoffs. Bill Plaschke of the The Los Angeles Times explains:

Chris Paul entered this postseason famous for a ring he doesn’t have, a city he doesn’t own, and a television commercial featuring a twin brother who doesn’t exist.

Maybe that’s why, on a wind-stopping Monday night in Oklahoma City, he spent three hours shouting, “Enough.”

Enough of the talk that he’s too injured and weary to lead the Clippers to NBA greatness, as the smallest starter ducked his head and shouldered them to a stunning 122-105 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the opener of their second-round series.

Enough of the idea that his sore hamstring and thumb limit him offensively, as he missed just two of 14 shots and just one of nine three-point attempts, scoring 32 points in the best pure shooting postseason game of his career.

Enough of the talk that he’s too slow defensively, as he led a swarming Clippers defense that deadened the dazzling Thunder offense into 18 turnovers, resulting in 23 points.

Enough, enough, enough of the idea that Donald Sterling has anything to do with this anymore.

Paul’s role as president of the players’ union meant he was especially stressed during the Sterling-stained opening series. He led the players in their jersey protest while wearing black socks and sleeves. Until the final quarter of Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors, he struggled throughout the series with his strength and focus, and even admitted that he was one of several Clippers who fell asleep during Sunday night’s film session here.

A day later, biting through the Thunder and its roaring college-type crowd as if they were his dangling mouthpiece, Paul made it clear that everything was different.

“Maybe with all that stuff that happened, winning that series allowed him to breathe a little bit,” said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers afterward.

Paul showed up in a white sleeve and white socks. He took his first shot midway through the first quarter. It was a three-point attempt. He swished. He missed his next shot moments later. He didn’t miss again until there were barely five minutes left in the third quarter. During that time, he hit jumpers against seven different Thunder defenders, and ended any last Thunder gasp early in the third quarter with a tumbling three-pointer from the corner with Russell Westbrook in his face.

“That’s what I do. That’s what I do. [Pause] That’s a lie,” said Paul with a laugh when asked about his treys. “This one will definitely go down in the history books for me. Don’t count on it for Game 2, I’ll tell you that.”


Russell’s 80th Highlights Legends Brunch

VIDEO: Bill Russell tribute at the Legends Brunch

NEW ORLEANS – With so much talk leading up to and through the NBA’s 2014 All-Star Weekend about “Mt. Rushmore” candidates of monumental greatness, it was L.A. Clippers guard Chris Paul who gave the fun exercise a little spin. Speaking at the annual Legends Brunch on Sunday in the Great Hall of the city’s sprawling convention center, Paul set up his selection of all-timers as some sort of personal half-court playground game.

“If it’s a 2-on-2 game, it’s going to be me and Bill Russell,” said Paul, still wildly popular in the host city this weekend after spending his first six NBA seasons with the New Orleans franchise. “If it’s 3-on-3, it’s me, Bill Russell and another guy. If it’s 4-on-4…

“One thing for sure, Bill Russell is going to be on my team because all he did was win.”

Eleven NBA championships in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, to be exact, the most prolific winner in major U.S. team sports. Russell was honored with a special tribute at the Legends Brunch, pegged to his 80th birthday Wednesday. A big cake in the shape of “80” (green icing, naturally) was wheeled out at the end and the crowd stood to sing “Happy Birthday,” accompanying a trumpet player on the tune.

The five-time NBA MVP and the man for whom the Finals MVP trophy is named was front and center Sunday, feted not just for his birthday but because – as a native of Monroe, La. – he also fit nicely with the Legends tradition of acknowledging great players with connections to the host market. Three others with ties to the Big Easy and Louisiana were celebrated, including future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who burst on the scene as a freshman at Louisiana State. Three years later in 1992, O’Neal was the league’s No. 1 draft pick; he was named Legend of the Year Sunday.

O’Neal was introduced by new NBA commissioner Adam Silver, a lanky 6-foot-3 who nonetheless found himself scooped up and carried like a small child by the massive O’Neal. The 15-time All-Star, who played for six NBA franchises, stood 7-foot-1 and weighed somewhere in the vicinity of 325 pounds, reminded the audience that he was big even when he was little.

When he first met LSU coach Dale Brown, O’Neal was a 6-foot-9 teenager. The Tigers coach mistook him for a member of the military. “He asked, ‘How long have you been a soldier, son?’ ” O’Neal said. “I said, ‘I’m only 13.’ ” The big man pantomimed Brown in a state of shock: ” ‘What?! Huh?!’ He wanted to hide me from the other coaches.”

Hall of Famer Karl Malone, who grew up in Summerfield, La., and was something of a sleeper pick (No. 13) out of Louisiana Tech in 1985, was presented with the Community Service Award. In a nice touch to connect the NBA’s greats to its budding Legends of tomorrow, Philadelphia’s dynamic rookie Michael Carter-Williams introduced Malone.

“A long, long time from now, I hope to be sitting in the audience,” Carter-Williams said. “You guys have no idea how much this means to me.”

Malone, No. 2 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (36,928) behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), has been active with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and has traveled to Afghanistan and elsewhere to visit U.S. troops. “This honor is great,” he said of the award. “But it’s not about me. We’re a taking society. I try to be a little more about giving back.”

The third honoree with local roots was a HOF power forward who set the league’s standard for Malone and so many others. Bob Pettit – of Baton Rouge, LSU and the Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks – was honored with the Hometown Hero Award.

“I don’t have a lot of sympathy for your 50th birthday,” Pettit told Malone after the former Utah forward introduced him (Malone hit that milestone last summer). “I’ve been retired for 50 years.”

Then, referencing a video clip of his old-school game from the 1950s and ’60s that was shown on multiple screens in the vast ballroom, Pettit poked a little fun at himself. “You saw that hook shot? The first time I shot my hook shot against Boston, Bill Russell caught it,” Pettit said. “I retired that shot after that.”

Now 81, the trim, 6-foot-9 Pettit – Malone called him a “spry young man” – still ranks eighth all-time at 26.4 points per game, third at 16.3 rebounds per game, ninth in minutes (38.8 mpg) and seventh in player efficiency rating (25.3). He was an All-Star in each of his 11 seasons and the game’s MVP three times.

Pettit – also on hand this weekend to remind current players of the 1964 All-Stars’ near-boycott of the showcase game, a tactic to earn their union clout with the owners – won the league MVP award in 1956 and 1959 and finished as low as sixth in the balloting only once. In 1957-58, he averaged 24.6 points and 17.4 rebounds – and scored 50 points in the Game 6 Finals clincher – to help St. Louis beat Boston and win the only NBA title the Celtics didn’t from 1957 through 1966.

And here’s a fascinating what-if: He was two years into his career when the Hawks drafted Russell with the No. 2 pick in the 1956 draft. They traded him that day to the Celtics for eventual Hall of Famers Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley, but still…

Russell sat, nodded and occasionally cackled that famous laugh of his through a steady stream of stories and tributes Sunday. Rev. Jesse Jackson talked about the Celtics star’s career in terms of “knocking down walls and building bridges,” less as a pro athlete than as a civil rights activist marching at the elbow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A panel of other NBA greats – Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Clyde Drexler – also shared impressions and tales about Russell. Abdul-Jabbar, for instance, said that through studying Russell’s style of play he realized how it was possible for someone to dominate from the defensive end of the court.

Johnson said he chased Russell in terms of championships won (he fell six short) and now chases him for impact away from the game. And Erving spoke of the friendship the two have had dating back to 1970 or so, when the man later known as Dr. J still was at the University of Massachusetts. At 19, Erving said, “I sat down and talked with him for three or four hours about everything but basketball.” The two eventually stayed at each other’s homes and became golf buddies.

Russell admitted that he never much enjoyed participating in All-Star Games because, in his heart, he only played basketball for the Celtics. But in 1963 in Los Angeles, he invited his father to the game and told him, “We’re going to win and I’m going to win MVP.” The next day, Russell did just that with 19 points and 24 rebounds in a 115-108 East victory.

His father’s reaction? “I didn’t know you were that good.”

“I never talked about basketball with my family,” Russell said. “But my father was my hero. He taught me to be a man by being one.”

And now, when Russell sits in the stands to watch the game’s current elite performers in the All-Star Game? “I hate to admit it,” he said, revving up for another cackle. “My thought is, I can kick his ass.’ “

Live From New Orleans … It’s State Farm All-Star Saturday Night!

VIDEO: Distance is never a problem for Stephen Curry and won’t be during All-Star Saturday night

NEW ORLEANS — Showdown Saturday night is here, finally.

We’ve been waiting for days down here in New Orleans for things to get officially started and for years All-Star Saturday served that purpose for the NBA’s showcase weekend. This year is no different, as we come to you live from the Smoothie King Center and State Farm Saturday night well into the wee hours.

This has long been the domain of the league’s best and brightest, from Dr. J, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter and so many other of the league’s greatest dunkers, not to mention the most prolific 3-point shooters and skilled technicians.

Is there someone in tonight’s field for the Sprite Slam Dunk contest … say someone like this Paul George fella below?

VIDEO: Paul George has all of the tools to become one of the league’s all-time great dunkers

Your All-Star Saturday night schedule can be found here. And we are going to provide you with a non-stop in-arena feel for what’s going on down here in the Big Easy.

First up is the Sears Shooting Stars competition, followed by the Taco Bell Skills Challenge , followed by the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and, we saved the best for last, the Sprite Slam Dunk contest.

I’m going to go ahead and get my predictions out of the way now. Here are my winners …

— Sears Shooting Stars: Team Curry looks lean and mean. They win this one for the Western Conference.

— Taco Bell Skills Challenge: The West has two wicked teams in this one (Trey Burke and Damian Lillard on Team 1 and Goran Dragic and Reggie Jackson on Team 2). I have to roll with Team 1! Another win for the West.

— Foot Locker Three-Point Contest: The Currys need to adopt me, because in Steph Curry I trust when it comes to a shooting contest. (East coast bias … where?)

— Sprite Slam Dunk: The defending champ, Terrence Ross, and the East will be tough to beat. I’ve been hearing rumblings around town that Ben McLemore has some crazy stuff planned. We shall see. In the meantime, I’m rocking with my man “Ross” and George and John Wall.

Get your popcorn ready …

Sears Shooting Stars

— Team Bosh vs Team Durant in the championship for the Sears Shoot Stars.

— Team Bosh with the repeat thansk to Chris Bosh … ain’t nothing but a winner! Durant finishes second again … unreal.

Swin Cash going all Seattle Seahawks and Doug Baldwin on the TNT crew after Team Bosh was handed the trophy was a most appropriate way to finish off the opening event of the night. Straight Cash homie!

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

— East rookies MCW and Victor Oladipo representing for their side with a 43-second run in their run through the course. Too easy for two youngbucks like that.

— It’s still not the Year of the Dragon. Burke and Lillard come through with a 40.6 second-run on the course and keep my prediction alive.

— 45.3 second run for the rookie team in the finals. Always believe in Burke baby! West delivers a 45.2 to take the title. My dude Burke has mad quicks (not that’s John Schuhmann has noticed. He’s too busy hating on the best rookie in the league.)

— A little controversy on All- Star Saturday never hurts! We’ve got to get the replay.

Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

— Redemption time for Steph Curry. This is your night sir. This is your event. Do what you do!

— Chuck picks an upset and goes with Bradley Beal (his mom calls him Bradley, so I’m going with Bradley).

— Great field in this competition. All-Stars in Lillard, Curry, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

— Who jinxed me and the Curry clan tonight? Steph is watching the finals like me. Ugh!

— RapCam turns up shots of Ludacris and Nelly sitting courtside. These young rappers clearly need to step their game up if the vets are getting all of the major Jumbotron play tonight. #whereyouatDrakeand2Chains?

— Nice theme music for Arron Afflalo, Robin Thicke‘s Magic Touch playing as he hits the stage and his 15 is the new score to beat.

Bradley Beal has the high-mark with 21. Kid has wicked range and an absolutely pure shooting stroke.

— The Kendrick Lamar concert/interlude is coming up soon. Just FYI

— Belinelli didn’t smile at all during the final round tale of the tape interview with Nick Cannon and Beal. Not sure how to take that. I know you want to win and everything but have a little fun with this thing fella. His method worked, though. Dropped a 19.

— Beal struggles on his money ball rack but rallies down the stretch for a 19 to tie it and now we get these guys in a 60-second tiebreaker.

Belinelli wins it with a monster effort in the OT. Fantastic showing by both guys.

— Kendrick Lamar’s tearing it up. perfect intro for what I hope will be a spectacular Sprite Slam Dunk contest.

Sprite Slam Dunk

— So I’m 0-for-everything going into this final contest of the night. Somebody on this East team needs to get greasy from the start so I can get back on track. Judges are Dr. J, Dominique and Magic. No worries with those judges.

Kevin Hart and Cannon doing their two-man routine before we get started. Mr. Box Office himself is picking Lillard. And Hart goes with McLemore (who got roasted by Barkley and Hart for his ‘fro … cold blooded).

— East had one day of practice for that routine they turned in for the freestyle portion of their program. Impressive!

— West had a couple of decent dunks but the choreography was way off.

— East wins that freestyle round easy!

— Someone pulled Vanilla Ice out of uh, moth balls … I’ve seen it all now. Bring on the battle round!

— Ross comes out with Drake as an assistant. Battle Round brings out the human props and a cape … and a between-the-legs jam that looks way better on replay after he missed it the first time.

— Lillard’s nights end mercifully without any hardware. The effort was outstanding, though.

Harrison Barnes has some explaining to do after this NBA2k14 dunk …

— McLemore dunking over Shaq and getting crowned had the crowd on its feet. Dunk looked much better on replay, of course. But no one has nailed that all-important first attempt …

— Until now. Thank you JohnWall, the reverse over the mascot and the Nay Nay with George after the dunk. Energy back up just like that. Even the judges agreed on that one. The East wins it. The new format is still being digested as we await the word on the individual champ … well, the dunker of the evening. Wall!