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.”