Posts Tagged ‘Magic Johnson’

MVP only half the battle for Durant

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has more than just the MVP trophy on his mind this year

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Kevin Durant really was tired of being No. 2, finishing second, being a groomsman and never the … you get where this is going.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder star declared earlier this season that he was tired of leading a life filled with being second best, dating as far back to his prep days to Draft night and all the way through his first six seasons in the NBA, he meant every word.

Once the ballots come in for the KIA MVP Award, Durant should finally be able to shed that No. 2 label. He’s already achieved as much in our eyes, topping reigning back-to-back and four-time MVP LeBron James and the rest of a star-studded field for the No. 1 spot on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder.

Durant has already claimed his fourth scoring title in just seven NBA seasons. But has he played his way into that intergalactic category with some of the other universal superstars — James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Kevin Garnett rank among the active MVP or Finals MVPs still in business today?

Could be. He certainly has all of the credentials necessary for inclusion … well, everything but the official word that he is the most valuable player in the NBA. And even that might not be enough validation for Durant, who holds himself to a championship standard.

NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell agrees that Durant has only finished half the battle, provided he walks off with KIA MVP honors. Oh yes, there’s definitely more to be done this season …

Spoiler alert: Kevin Durant will win his first ever Most Valuable Player award.

Durant is average career highs in points (32.0) and assists (5.5) while shooting 50.5% from the field. K.D. winning the award may come as no surprise but the odds of him doing so in route to winning a title may shock you.

Since the inception of the MVP award (1955-56), the hardware has been handed out 57 times. There have been 36 players to win the award however only seven first time MVP winners went on to win a title in the same season.

​Surely Durant can make it eight but it’s been 20 years since we’ve last seen it done. The 1993-94 award went to Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon after which he led them to their first of two NBA titles. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the other six players to join Olajuwon in this feat are no doubt Hall-of-Famers (as seen below) but there are many other legends that didn’t make the cut.

First Time MVPs to win a title in same season
56-57–Bob Cousy (Celtics)
69-70–Willis Reed (Knicks)
70-71–Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (as Lew Alcindor)- Bucks
83-84–Larry Bird (Celtics)
86-87–Magic Johnson (Lakers)
99-00–Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers)
93-94–Hakeem Olajuwon (Rockets)

​Keep in mind 5-time MVP Michael Jordan was occupied with batting cages when Olajuwon won in 1994. As for Durant, former MVPs Tim Duncan and LeBron James still stands in his way.

Consider this, despite the greatness of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving, Jordan, Duncan and James, none of those luminaries were able to win a title the same year they captured their first MVP award.

​There’s so much energy exerted throughout an 82-game season, one can only imagine how tough it would be for a player to win the MVP award for the first time and have enough left for the post season. The edge for Durant may be his 2012 Finals appearance, which resulted in disappointment and ultimately the fuel needed to elevate his game to another level.

​Let me be the first to congratulate Durant and lead the applause on becoming the 37th different player to be named League MVP. It truly is an honor.

So prepare for your twitter mentions to hit a new high.

However, if @KDtrey5 can find a way to become the eighth player to win his first MVP award and a title in the same season, his mentions will far surpass social media.

#All-TimeGreats


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has put up fantasty-like numbers all season for the Thunder

Kobe criticism can’t all fall on Jim Buss

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Shaq weighs in on Kobe’s frustration with the Lakers organization

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Phil Jackson is gone. Mike D’Antoni remains, for now. Two parties at the top of the Lakers pyramid aren’t going anywhere: Jim Buss and Kobe Bryant.

The latter, reduced to six games this season due to injury but signed to a two-year extension for $48.5 million, last week turned up the heat on the former to put the broken Lakers back together. This summer.

As Kobe should know after signing his over-market deal, it’s easier said than done. Yet during his press conference to officially announce that his slowly healing knee will prevent him from playing again this season, Bryant dug into the late, great owner Jerry Buss‘ son-in-charge Jim – and to an extent Jeanie, Jim’s sister and Phil’s girlfriend — to set a distinct course for the future on everything from team culture to the team’s coach.

“You got to start with Jim,” Bryant said. “You got to start with Jim and Jeanie and how that relationship plays out. It starts there and having a clear direction and clear authority. And then it goes down to the coaching staff and what Mike is going to do, what they’re going to do with Mike, and it goes from there. It’s got to start at the top.”

Of course no one, not Kobe, was fanning distress signals at the start of the 2012-13 season when the conversation was whether the Lakers would win 70. They had pulled off a deal for Dwight Howard (no complaints at the time in Lakerland), a move the club had planned to come after trading for Chris Paul following the 2011 lockout, but everybody knows that story.

Then-commissioner David Stern, acting as decision-maker for the then-New Orleans Hornets because the league owned the team at the time, vetoed the trade that would have joined Paul with Kobe. A week later Stern stamped Paul’s ticket to the Clippers, leaving Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak fuming. The next summer, as consolation, the Lakers made the swap with Phoenix for Steve Nash, again prompting praise void of complaint.

Only nobody could foretell the freak leg fracture Nash would suffer in his second game in purple-and-gold, an injury that spawned relentless nerve damage and could well end his career next month.

Mike Brown was fired five games into the season. The hiring of D’Antoni over Jackson was, yes, mishandled, messy and ill-advised, deserving of criticism. The maniacal Kobe despised the happy-go-lucky Dwight. Dwight pouted over D’Antoni’s no-post offense. Then Kobe blew out his Achilles in the final days of the regular season. Conveniently lost in the clutter was the 28-12 finish to the season. Before Kobe’s injury and before injury would again force Nash to bow out, experts on TV, including the highly critical Magic Johnson, were calling the Lakers a serious threat to beat the Spurs in the first round.

Only now, as this injury-plagued disaster of a season limps to the end, it seems so long ago.

Now, as Jackson takes the controls of the Knicks to Kobe’s dismay, the Lakers’ future, as murky as it is, will have to unfold one step at a time, regardless of how quickly Kobe wants a contending team to magically appear around him.

Jim Buss might not be his father, but it’s also not the same NBA. The collective bargaining agreement doesn’t make a quick rebuild easy even for big-market, high-revenue teams. Kobe’s high-priced extension eats into this summer’s cap space, making it next to impossible to re-sign Pau Gasol along with a max-level free agent despite Kobe’s constant lobbying to the front office keep Pau on board.

In fact, Jim Buss believed he had already secured contending seasons for Kobe’s final years by securing the franchise’s next superstar in Howard.

Kobe had no tolerance for Howard’s playfulness nor did he hold an interest in convincing him to stay. And now Kobe is short on teammates, patience and time. He says he’s not interested in a drawn-out rebuild, even as few other choices are plentiful.

His turning up the heat on Jim Buss can’t come without also looking in the mirror. The Lakers will have cap space to work with this summer and next, and a high draft pick this June. That’s Jim Buss’ new starting point.

“It’s my job to go out there on the court and perform. No excuses for it, right?” Kobe said. “You got to get things done. It’s the same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court is the same expectations I have for them up there. You got to be able to figure out a way to do both.”

Unfortunately for Kobe and the Lakers, it’s easier said than done.

Spurs’ Big 3 top Showtime in stability

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

San Antonio's Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

San Antonio’s Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

For a dozen seasons, coach Gregg Popovich has been able to walk into the locker room and write those names into his lineup.

Earth, wind and fire. Like the fundamental elements, we just expect them to be there. The years have practically blended them together into one multi-syllabic name with a single identity.

TimTonyManu. Working, playing, synchronizing and simply moving on, the basketball version of a Swiss watch.

Tick, tick, tick.

In a sport where knees tear, tendons break, tempers snap and egos explode, only two other trios in NBA history have stayed bound at the hip for so long and experienced such success.

Gregg Popovich (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Gregg Popovich (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

When Duncan, Parker and Ginobili take the court for tonight’s game at the AT&T Center against the Lakers (8:30, NBA TV) for their 664th game together, they’ll pass the “Showtime” Lakers trio of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper as the second-mot durable trio in NBA history. Their 490 wins currently ties L.A. Holding down the No. 1 spot is the Celtics combination of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

“Being a human, sure, one takes it for granted when you don’t stop and think about what those guys have done and how long they’ve been together and what they’ve gone through listening to me for all these years,” said Popovich. “One does have to stop and really think about what that’s meant to our program and how consistent those three guys have been. Because that doesn’t happen that often in the league. We all probably need to appreciate it more around here in San Antonio, for sure.”

When Ginobili was first learning to throw his body all over the hardwood in his hometown of Bahia Blanca, Argentina, the only way to see the high-flying act of Magic, Kareem and Coop was on snippets from highlight tapes. “We were not watching those games live,” he said. “It was not easy to watch the NBA then. You could get tapes and things like that.

“Of course, I remember. The Showtime thing — [James] Worthy flying for dunks, great defense and Magic flying to find open guys in the lane. Bryon Scott to Kareem. I never watched a full game. But I saw plenty of highlights and for sure they were an inspiration and those games against the Celtics were legendary.”

They are as disparate a trio as one might find and yet symbolic of the NBA’s globalization in the quarter-century since the Lakers were winning five championships from 1980-89. A lanky swimmer from the U.S. Virgin Islands, a Belgium-born Frenchman and an Argentinian whose games possesses all the hot passion of the native tango.

Most games played together
729 — Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish (Celtics)
711 — Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson (Pistons)
663 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper (Lakers)

663 — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili (Spurs)
632 — Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Satch Sanders (Celtics)

Most victories by an NBA trio
540 — Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish (Celtics)
490 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper (Lakers)

490 — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili (Spurs)
468 — Bill Russell, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones (Celtics)
463 — Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Satch Sanders (Celtics)

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili won a championship in their first season together in 2003 and added another in 2005 and one in 2007.

“A great run and it feels very special,” Parker said. “I feel very blessed to play with Timmy and Manu and I feel very lucky and privileged to be named next to Magic Johnson and Kareem and Michael Cooper. I grew up watching them and never thought in my wildest dreams that my name would be next to them. It’s crazy just to think about it. Once I retire, I can look at it and enjoy it. Now I try to stay focused on the season, but it’s unbelievable.

“Growing up in France, soccer’s the main sport and they’re changing all the time. You go and buy [players] and stuff like that. In basketball, it’s a little bit harder to trade guys. But it’s still rare to have the same guys, us three for all those years, and the same coach.”

Toss in Popovich as the only coach that any of them have ever played for in the NBA and the stability and constancy of the Spurs is a little more understandable, yet it remains unprecedented. The Lakers were coached by Jack McKinney, Paul Westhead and Pat Riley during their run in the ’80s. The Celtics were led to their three championships in that decade by Bill Fitch (1981) and K.C. Jones (1984 and 1986).

“It is remarkable,” Ginobili said. “I guess we’re going to win a few more [games]. But even if you didn’t tell me about that stat, we know we are in a very unique position and situation having played together for 12 seasons with the same coach.”

Parker plays without his teammates during summers for the French national team.

“So sometimes I’m used to it,” he said. “But in a Spurs jersey, they are both gonna retire before me, so it’s definitely going to be weird. Hopefully it’s not anytime soon.”

It takes durability, compatibility, a shrewd front office plan and just plain good luck for three players of All-Star caliber to last so long together. In this era of free agency, LeBron James and Chris Bosh can choose to bolt for Miami to chase titles, Carmelo Anthony can go from Denver to New York and maybe have his sights set elsewhere this summer. Even Shaquille O’Neal, the most physically dominating player of his era, bounced to six different teams.

Then there are the debilitating injuries that this year alone have taken down Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have never seriously looked to leave San Antonio.

The once-proud Lakers team staggering into San Antonio tonight, potentially the worst team in the Western Conference this season, demonstrates how long the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili combo has endured and prospered. It’s bad enough in L.A. that the Spurs have sympathy for their long-time rivals — especially Bryant.

“It’s very odd, very unusual after so many playoff games and a very tough, great rivalry,” Ginobili said. “They’ve had so many injuries and, of course, you have two of your best players — Nash and Kobe — out for so long. I’ve never been been through anything like that. Achilles is as bad as it gets.”

Said Parker: “I don’t wish that on anybody. I wish everybody was playing. I wish D-Rose was playing. I hope [LaMarcus] Aldridge is OK. I don’t like injuries. I wish everybody was healthy and we are competing against each other.

“We definitely miss the Lakers. When the Lakers are good, it’s great for the NBA and it’s great for everybody. I love that rivalry — Spurs-Lakers. I miss that a little bit. We definitely are gonna miss Kobe (tonight) and hopefully he’ll be back 100 percent next year.”

The fundamental elements — Duncan, Parker and Ginobili — will be waiting.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 150) Featuring Bestselling Author Jeff Pearlman

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Transcendence for NBA players is an interesting concept. Does a player who starred in the 1950s or 1960s have any chance of being the same type of player today? What would the stars of this day and age look like if they plied their trade in the 1980s or 1990s?

Just because you ruled the basketball world in one era doesn’t guarantee you could do it again in every other era. Just how relevant a player is from one era to the other, however, is a debate that will rage on for generations. Where would the stars of yesteryear rank today?

Just because you score a career-high and franchise-record 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats, as LeBron James did Monday night, doesn’t mean Hall of Famers like Dominique Wilkins are going to be impressed.

We gave it a good run this week on Episode 150 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring The New York Times bestselling author and fellow hoops head Jeff Pearlman, whose definitive work on the “Showtime Lakers” is available now and absolute must-read. The story of the origins, Hollywood roller coaster that Dr. Jerry Buss, Magic Johnson, Pat Riley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the Showtime Lakers took us on was one of a kind. The back story on how the dynasty was built and maintained is one that you won’t want to miss.

We frame the discussion with some great stories about guys like Kurt Rambis, Michael Cooper, Mike Tyson (yes, Mike Tyson) and so many others who played a role in the Lakers becoming arguably the most famous franchise in NBA history and one of the most storied in all of sports.

Our friends at NBAE also provide us with a fantastic look back at Allen Iverson’s top 10 career plays, fresh off of his jersey retirement ceremony in Philadelphia Saturday, in Sounds of the Game. And the leader of the pack remains on his throne in this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights.

Check out all of that and more on Episode 150 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring The New York Times bestselling author Jeff Pearlman …

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: The Starters talk LeBron’s big night and its place in history

‘Nique Not Impressed With LeBron’s 61




VIDEO: LeBron James talks about his 61-point night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Complete honesty is a beautiful thing, even when it steps on the toes of the narrative of the day.

Hall of Famer and former Atlanta Hawks great Dominique Wilkins is a straight shooter. So when he went on a Twitter roll Tuesday night and mentioned that he was not impressed with the career-high 61-point night Miami Heat superstar LeBron James put up against the Charlotte Bobcats Monday night the basketball world responded.

Some agreed with ‘Nique, plenty more disagreed with his analysis … sampled here:

Revisionist historians will certainly see some merit in ‘Nique’s tweets and argue that LeBron performs on the regular against a diminished human product than what ‘Nique and his Hall of Fame contemporaries faced.

I would caution the Human Highlight Film, however, from suggesting that we all go back and watch the tape from start to finish. All we see these days are quick two and three-minute highlight clips of their exploits. The dunks, and fantastic shots and legendary plays and moments of their careers.

The full tape might show something else. Not every team played top-flight defense in the past. And you didn’t have to battle Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird every single night.

No one is more wistful about the past than I am. I grew up on the NBA ‘Nique is comparing and contrasting to the league LeBron is currently working in and dominating. So I understand exactly where he’s coming from. I just don’t agree completely with his thoughts.

LeBron and some of his contemporaries are doing things that haven’t been done in decades, since before Nique’s era …

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 148) Featuring Cleveland Cavaliers Guard Dion Waiters

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Listening to the rumors and not paying attention to the real story is how you find yourself sideways in the NBA this time of year. That’s true for Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline and the league in general.

We can’t do anything about the trade deadline rumors. But there’s another rumor that we can put to bed now that we’ve gotten the real story from one of the main players in the ongoing saga that is the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season.

Kyrie Irving, fresh off of his MVP performance in Sunday’s 63rd All-Star Game, and his backcourtmate Dion Waiters are just fine. Rumors of their troubled relationship are, to put the words of Waiters kindly, are simply “BS!” It’s good he set the record straight during our All-Star weekend chat. It’s been all good for the Cavaliers here recently, too, as they are in the midst of a five-game winning streak and pushing their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

In addition to talking to Waiters, we also give our spin on the LeBron James-inspired Mount Rushmore debate, detail some of our All-Star weekend escapades, talk transcendent players and decide whether or not a certain role player extraordinaire from the Lakers’ Shaq-Kobe dynasty teams is a true “legend” of the game.

You get all of that and more on Episode 148 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters …

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about how he measures greatness

Live From The 63rd NBA All-Star Game




VIDEO: LeBron thanks the fans before the East and West All-Stars get going

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No one, and I mean no one puts on a party like New Orleans and the NBA for ALl-Star Weekend.

And it all culminates with tonight’s 63rd All-Star Game here at the Smoothie King Center. From the kicking player intro concert from Pharrell Williams, Nelly, Diddy and Busta Rhymes to all the action that will follow from LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the fellas from the Eastern and Western Conference squads, we should be in store for a relentless night of action.

Dig in with us all night here for the best tweets, notes and observations from the festivities right here.

– And no, that wasn’t me on stage with Pharrell. But that is Snoop joining the party now. Keep coming back because you never know when your Tweet will show up here …

Kobe Bryant showing up for the intros in a clean suit was a nice touch for the West. Player/coach?

– My main man and Hang Time Podcast partner Rick Fox of NBA TV is all over the style scene down here in New Orleans. Check him out while wait for this game to start … (Pharrell is almost as tall as Rick with that hat on)


VIDEO: Pharrell and Rick Fox talk fashion at All-Star Weekend

– Get your MVP predictions in now. I’m going with KD. It’s his year. He might not be on your Mount Rushmore … yet, but he’s trying to get there.

Carmelo Anthony and Blake Griffin handling the opening tip is a nod to the small ball that has become the rage around the league.

– Generation Next wants a seat at the All-Star table and it’s showing on the rosters …

– You wonder why the stars from nearly every walk of life turn out and turn up for NBA All-Star Weekend … you’ve been watching it since the opening tip. These guys are the best and most jaw-dropping athletes on the planet, IMO. Nothing like seeing these guys work like this.

– East up 30-27, btw, with Blake on course for a wicked night along with LeBron, Durant and Melo!

– 44-42 West lead at the end of the first quarter of the 63rd NBA Dunk Fest

– Classy tribute to Bill Russell from Magic Johnson and the other Hall of Famers … Happy Birthday Sir! Magic leading the Happy Birthday serenade from the entire arena, All-Stars included. So classy!


VIDEO: Happy Birthday Bill Russell

Dwight Howard scores a bucket and there is absolutely no reaction from the crowd. A couple of years ago his every move drew oohs and aahs from the crowd. Now he gets nothing. It’s just weird.

– The NBA making sure Bill Russell has the best seat in the house every year is pure class. No one treats their former greats better. No one!

– West 89, East 76 at halftime and now we get a sick halftime show led by Trombone Shorty that also includes a little Earth, Wind and Fire!

– Lil’ Chris giving the West a halftime pep talk?

– https://twitter.com/HPbasketball/status/435253824794546176

– MVP Watch … Blake, Durant, LeBron, Kyrie, Melo? They are all having monster nights.

– You know why I love Joakim Noah? Because any other guy would concede a that layup to Durant. But not Noah.

– Sitting here having a wild chat with NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and Leigh Ellis of The Starters and we’re trying to figure out if the U.S. sent two teams to international competition could they win gold and silver? I say yes. Think of the preposterous depth they have on the Men’s Senior National Team. It could happen.



VIDEO: Kyrie Irving steals the show and MVP trophy from LeBron James and Kevin Durant

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.’ “

LeBron: Time To Build Another Mountain


VIDEO: LeBron speaks at Friday’s All-Star Media Day

NEW ORLEANS — LeBron James wasn’t backing away from his Mt. Rushmore comments that stirred up a fuss. The other day he told Steve Smith on NBA TV that he hoped to one day knock either Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan or Oscar Robertson off and claim his own spot.

But he did offer a creative solution.

“It’s hard to knock anybody off,” James said at the NBA All-Star Media Day. “There needs to be another mountain built. I mean there’s too many guys.

“Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and Kobe (Bryant) were two guys that came to my mind, too. I definitely was thinking about Kobe as a top four of all-time. Kareem, for sure. There are so many greats that played this game.”

Give the four-time MVP credit. He also didn’t back down from his stated goal of becoming known as the greatest player of all time.

“There’s no reason I couldn’t be No. 1,” he said. “That’s my goal. That’s my personal goal.

“Anytime I bring up a subject or answer a question, guys like to dissect it and make it bigger or smaller than what it is.

“My personal goal is to be the greatest of all time. I don’t really care what other people say, where they put me, how they define me. You could have a poll of 100 people, what do they think, that’s not for me to care about. For me, I have an opportunity to maximize my career and be the greatest of all time. I feel like I can do that. That’s my personal goal.”

It’s the fishbowl world that James lives in. Most of the time we hear athletes dance around questions, never put themselves out there on the line with an honest answer. Then LeBron steps up to the line with a direct response and he gets whipped from some corners for it.

What’s wrong with a 29-year-old who is already a 10-time All-Star, with an armload of individual awards, two championships and four NBA Finals appearances saying that he wants and expects the most out of himself? He didn’t disparage anyone. If anything, he simply put more pressure on himself to perform and deliver.

James sat for 30 minutes before a horde of TV cameras, microphones and notebooks and was engaging with every answer on Friday.

He was told that when Kevin Durant was asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much does he dislike being compared to James, K.D. said 25.

“I don’t mind,” James said. “You’re always gonna be linked to somebody. Early in my career I was linked to Kobe. Now I’m linked to K.D. You’re always gonna be linked to somebody. It’s how you handle it. I don’t get caught up in it.

“I don’t think I’m compared to him. They just talk about the two best players in the game and which one is better. Which one can score better? Who’s the MVP? Who’s gonna win the next championship? They don’t ever compare our games too much. We’re two different players.”

He was asked about his 36-point, 13-rebound, nine-assist game when he nailed down a 111-110 win at Golden State with a 3-pointer to beat the horn.

“I just had a conversation with Steph Curry,” James said. “He talked to me about what I was doing. I asked him what was he doing shooting all them step-back 3s in the third quarter. The hesitation on Rio [Mario Chalmers] and going for the and-1. It’s great to be around your peers. People recognize what others are doing throughout the NBA season. I’m happy I was able to put on a performance right before All-Star to be fresh on guys’ minds.”

Then James was asked if his proclivity in the last couple of years to step up big late in games was the result of any work with a psychologist.

He grinned.

“Yeah, I work with a psychologist,” LeBron said. “Her name is Spalding. She goes into the rim and that’s what happens.”

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Motivated LeBron backs up Rushmore talk | Latest loss strikes a nerve with Lakers | Bennett’s big night lifts Cavs | No comeback for Rose, Noah problem for Bulls

No. 1: Fired up LeBron fuels Mount Rushmore talk himself – Agree or disagree all you want with LeBron James and his assertion that he’ll be on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore when his career ends, you have to like what all of the chatter is doing for his game and the Heat’s season. The Heat might not be on their way to another 27-game win streak, but James has found the motivation needed to overcome the rough patches of this season. LeBron is feeling his words right about now, Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com writes, he’s walking the walk and backing up all of his own talk:

James’ seasonal slogan might just as well be what he said Tuesday, “I’m feeling good right now.”

He has the occasional frustration with a wayward loss, such as over the past weekend in Utah when he played a dud game. He’ll get a little irked when it’s mentioned that Kevin Durant may have closed the gap on him for best player on the planet status. But, generally, James has been skipping on air since he stood on top of the podium after Game 7 in Miami last June holding both gold trophies with that “what can you say now” grin across his face.

The mindset will eventually be challenged but not for awhile. Until then, James will be feeling quite good about himself.

That was at the root of why he was willing to declare in a recent interview with NBA TV that, “I’m going to be one of the top four that’s ever played this game, for sure. And if they don’t want me to have one of those top four spots, they’d better find another spot on that mountain. Somebody’s gotta get bumped.”

When James listed what he felt was the current NBA Mount Rushmore, he named Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson. It is hard to decide which would create more conversation, James’ statement or his choices of the peer group.

Feeling so good about himself and put at ease by interviewer Steve Smith, James continued by claiming that he’d been cheated in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting the past two years.

“To be honest, I feel I’ve been snubbed two years in a row [on the award], and I’m serious,” James said. “And that’s one selfish thing about me … I feel like I should have won it.”

Yes, that is James insisting that he’s not getting enough credit for something. He’s just letting it all go. In the golden era of his career, he clearly figures, why shouldn’t he? He fears no reprisal and, at least now, isn’t too worried about any opponent.

“We’ll play anybody, it doesn’t matter,” James said as he was basking in the win. “It doesn’t matter who it is. We’re not running from anyone.”



VIDEO: LeBron James talks Mount Rushmore with Steve Smith

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No. 2: Latest loss strikes a nerve with Lakers – Steve Nash exiting a second straight game with a nerve issue is problem enough for the Los Angeles Lakers. But dropping yet another game on their home floor is perhaps even more troubling for the Lakers, a team quickly falling down the rabbit hole of this season. Tuesday night’s loss to the Utah Jazz marks the Lakers’ sixth straight home loss at Staples Center, once a fortress of solitude for the team … but no more. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times explains just how severely off track things are for Kobe Bryant‘s crew:

Home bitter home.

The Lakers used to consider Staples Center a haven of victories, a bedrock of five championship runs since the building opened in 1999.

Now they might as well play at a local park.

They lost to the lowly Utah Jazz on Tuesday, 96-79, falling to 8-15 at home and losing six consecutive games at home for the first time since 1992-93.

It’s the cherry on top of several scoops of problems.

Steve Nash left the game for good at halftime, felled again by the same nerve irritation in his back that sidelined him almost three months.

The nerve damage starts in the back and presents itself in his hamstring, making it feel as if it’s strained or pulled.

Whatever euphoria he felt last Friday — 19 points and five assists against Philadelphia on his 40th birthday — was almost absent after Tuesday’s game, though he tried to be upbeat.

“I think I need a little more time to get over the hump,” he told The Times.

He considered sitting out before tipoff but knew the Lakers were short-handed without six injured players.

Nash didn’t look quite right while he played, totaling two points and two assists in 17 minutes. He made one of four shots in his 10th game this season.

The Lakers are shrugging. They don’t know exactly what to do.

“I imagine it’s day to day. I don’t know anything else,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said of Nash’s status. “I haven’t really talked to him.”

Nash’s injury dented some mild excitement the Lakers felt before the game. They were expecting five of their six injured players back shortly after this weekend’s All-Star break.

The lone lingering one, though, was Kobe Bryant, who might be the last Lakers player to return, according to a person familiar with the situation.

He continues to have swelling and pain in his fractured left knee and figures to trail Pau GasolJordan FarmarJodie Meeks and maybe even Xavier Henry in getting back to the court.

***

No. 3: A breakout night for rookie Bennett lifts Cavaliers – It’s taken a while, months basically, but Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Anthony Bennett has finally decided to join the party. Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft had his breakout game in a win over the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night in Cleveland. It was a much-needed breakthrough for Bennett, whose season has been anything but spectacular up to this point. While Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo have all moved past him in the Rookie of the Year race, Bennett is doing well to just ease his way into the public consciousness right now. Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Plain Dealer explains:

Rookie Anthony Bennett drilled a 3-pointer and threw his arms up into the air to celebrate late in the Cavaliers 109-99 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night at The Q.

“I was just having fun,” said Bennett, who registered his first double-double with career highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds in 29:45 as the Cavs avenged a 124-80 loss in Sacramento on Jan. 12 and improved to 19-33, winning three in a row for the first time since Dec. 7-13.

When was the last time he had fun on the basketball court?

“I don’t remember,” Bennett said. “Today?”

The timing was bittersweet as Bennett, whose selection as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft has been widely criticized, and his slow start undoubtedly contributed to the firing of general manager Chris Grant last week.

“I’m sure Chris Grant is smiling at home, and deservedly so,” said Sacramento coach — and former Cavs assistant under Mike BrownMike Malone, whose team dropped to 17-35.

Bennett, who had shoulder surgery before the draft last summer and was unable to participate in summer league, has been coming early to practice and staying late, working to regain the form that made him a star last season at UNLV.

His teammates celebrated with him after Tuesday’s breakout game.

“He played a heck of a game tonight,” Kyrie Irving said. “It was awesome. I was a fan.”

Added Luol Deng, who led the Cavs with 22 points, “He’s going to get it. These kind of games are going to come more often.”

***

No. 4: No return for Rose this season, Noah problem for the Bulls? – Hoops fans in Chicago have played this game before and lost, so there is no reason to dive in again this time. Derrick Rose, no matter how many times he hits the floor to shoot before the Bulls play, is not coming back this season. It is NOT happening … right? But if All-Star center Joakim Noah has his way, the dream of a Rose return is still alive. That said, if Noah keeps up his current ways (a triple-double Tuesday night in a win over the visiting Atlanta Hawks), it’ll be much easier for Bulls fans to stomach another season without Rose in uniform. Joe Cowley of the Sun Times delivers the details:

The door was closed — slammed shut months ago by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau when he said Derrick Rose was lost for the season after tearing his right meniscus Nov. 22 and undergoing surgery.

On Tuesday, center Joakim Noah wedged his size 18 foot into that door, keeping the dream alive for a small minority that believes in unicorns, dragons and quick Rose recoveries.

Asked if he thought Rose could play this postseason, Noah said, ‘‘That’s not my decision. That’s nobody’s decision. It’s all about how he feels. Regardless of what happens, we’re going to be supportive.’’

It went by many different names last year: ‘‘The Return,’’ the Rose watch, the story that wouldn’t die. But in the end, the Bulls never ruled Rose out for the season in his recovery from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, so hope stayed alive until the final minutes of a Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs.

The consensus on ‘‘The Return II’’ has been that there wouldn’t be one. But Noah’s comments came on the same day Rose was going through shooting drills with reporters watching, and the story gained legs again — little ones.

‘‘He’s working really hard,’’ Noah said. ‘‘He’s always around the team, being a great leader, showing support to his teammates. Just watching him work every day, I think, is extra motivation for us to go out there and go harder.

‘‘He’s doing a lot more than shooting around. He’s in the gym nonstop, just working on his body getting better. That’s what it’s all about. He’s a big part of this team. He has that mentality of having no regrets. Just give it everything you got. If you can go, you can go. If you can’t, you did everything you could to make it.’’

Thibodeau said Rose was running on the treadmill, but when asked if that was a new development, he quickly said no.

‘‘Still nowhere close to practicing or anything like that,’’ he said, ‘‘but he’s doing well overall.’’


VIDEO: The Fan Night Top 10 delivers a dazzling array of highlights for your viewing pleasure

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Charlotte Bobcats, following the lead of the Phoenix Suns, are simply playing too well to tank … Portland forward Nic Batum can’t fight it anymore, gives up the kudos to Kevin Durant as the best (one-on-one player in the league) … The streak continues for Kyle Korver, thanks to his work in his old stomping grounds … The Miami Heat’s core group is doing the heavy lifting right now and might have to the rest of this season

ICYMI of the Night: NBA TV’s Steve Smith dives deep with LeBron James in this exclusive interview, and yes, there’s more to the interview than the Mount Rushmore talk …


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about what motivates him with NBA TV’s Steve Smith