Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Robertson’

Robertson, Haywood honored as heroes for NBA player-rights fights

CHICAGO – At midnight, when NBA free agency begins anew and unleashes another rush of multi-million dollar contracts, it’s unlikely that any of the current beneficiaries or their agents will take a moment to think about Oscar Robertson.

But that’s OK, because Robertson won’t be thinking of himself, either. Instead, the Hall of Famer and triple-double legend, will have a good thought or two for Curt Flood.

Robertson is the former NBA star and president of the players association whose landmark class-action, anti-trust lawsuit in 1976 paved the way to NBA free agency. Flood was the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder who, six years earlier, tried to take on Major League Baseball’s reserve clause as an individual. His unsuccessful legal fight effectively ended his career and Flood never reaped any benefits from the freedom that came, in MLB’s case, in 1975 with an abitrator’s ruling in the union-backed challenge from pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally.

The courage of both men – back in the day, many considered it to be temerity – comes together Tuesday night when Robertson becomes the inaugural recipient of the Curt Flood Game-Changer Award, presented by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. That group’s Sports Banquet is part of the annual PUSH Expo that started Saturday and runs through Wednesday.

Also at the banquet, NBA legend Spencer Haywood will receive the “Jackie Robinson Trailblazer Award” for his court challenge in 1970 that led to underclassman-eligibility rights.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who founded the Chicao-based, multi-racial, progressive organization in 1996, spoke with NBA.com over the weekend about the Robertson’s and Haywood’s honors.

“When Curt Flood filed a lawsuit providing for free agency and the freedom to negotiate in the marketplace, many players hid from their own freedom,” Jackson said. “Oscar Robertson stood up and supported the Curt Flood suit.

“His records have endured – the triple-doubles and the like – and he was a force in the NBA as we know it. Oscar Robertson carried himself with a sense of dignity and character on the floor and beyond the playing courts. … He’s paid a huge price for standing up.”

Flood’s actions pave way for free agency

Robertson has talked previously of the price he feels he has paid in NBA opportunities since his playing days. He has seen contemporaries such as Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, Willis Reed and his old teammate Wayne Embry carve out careers in teams’ front offices, while plenty of others have had enduring roles as broadcast analysts. Robertson lasted just one season on CBS’s national telecasts in 1974-75, his first upon retiring, and believes the league’s owners – the men he and the NBPA sued – blocked him from any continued work.

That pales, in Robertson’s opinion, to the price paid by Flood. The three-time All-Star and perennial Gold Glove winner next to Lou Brock in St. Louis’ outfield balked when he was traded to Philadelphia after the 1969 season. He missed the entire 1970 season while bucking the reserve clause, which bound players “for life” to the clubs that first signed them.

“I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold,” Flood told then-MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

Flood’s lawsuit was heard and rejected three times, ultimately by the Supreme Court in March 1972 by a 5-3 vote. But with the pressure it brought on MLB and the growing strength of the union led by director Marvin Miller, Flood’s case opened the first cracks of player freedom. In fact, in 1973, baseball’s new 10/5 rule (allowing 10-year veterans who had spent five with their current clubs to veto trades) became known as the “Curt Flood Rule.”

Flood’s skills and health, however, eroded in his year out of baseball. His battle with alcohol worsened, some outside business ventures ran afoul of IRS codes – Flood’s top Cardinals salary was $90,000 – and he sagged under racist hate mail and threats not unlike those heaped on Henry Aaron a few years later. (more…)

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

Dirk bumps ‘Big O’ to arrive at No. 10

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dirk passes Oscar Robertson for 10th on the all-time scoring list

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Dirk Nowitzki, with a patented fallaway jumper from a few feet off the right elbow, surpassed Oscar Robertson as the NBA’s 10th-all-time leading scorer.

Nowitzki, 35, joins the most exclusive of NBA clubs in which each member is recognized simply by first name or nickname. Dirk, the Dallas Mavericks’ sweet-shooting 7-footer and an original stretch-4, certainly has that covered.

“Amazing, amazing. I mean top 10 is unreal,” Nowitzki said following the 95-83 victory at Utah. “It’s been a crazy ride. Passing Big O, who obviously averaged triple-doubles numerous seasons, is unbelievable. It feels surreal still. All night I wasn’t really trying to think about it, I was trying to concentrate on the next shot. I knew how many points I needed, but I wasn’t really trying to think about it. I was trying to think about the next shot and how I could get open.”

Nowitzki, the 2007 regular-season MVP and 2011 champion and Finals MVP, now has 26,714 career points. He has also surpassed 30,000 total points that includes 128 postseason games.

NBA’s All-Time Top 10 Scorers

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 38,387

2. Karl Malone, 36,928

3. Michael Jordan, 32,292

4. Kobe Bryant, 31,700

5. Wilt Chamberlain, 31,419

6. Shaquille O’Neal, 28,596

7. Moses Malone, 27,409

8. Elvin Hayes, 27,313

9. Hakeem Olajuwon, 26,946

10. Dirk Nowitzki, 26,714

Nowitzki finished Tuesday night’s crucial 95-83 victory at Utah with a game-high 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. He scored 13 points in the first half and moved past Robertson to open the fourth quarter off a pass from Devin Harris.

Fresh off being named the Western Conference’s Player of the Week, a four-game stretch in which he averaged 25.3 ppg, Nowitzki has propelled Dallas to a 4-0 road trip that has it in the driver’s seat to secure one of the final two playoff spots.

The Mavs (48-31) have three games left. They play San Antonio at home on Thursday and then finish with critical games against Phoenix at home on Saturday and then at Memphis on Wednesday.

Nowitzki, who struggled to regain his All-Star form last season after undergoing knee surgery during training camp, was devastated when the Mavs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000.

He started this season, his 16th, at No. 17 on the league’s all-time scoring list. Along the way he’s moved ahead of Jerry West, Reggie Miller, Alex English, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins and now the Big O.

Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, No. 4 on the all-time list with 31,700 points, 592 behind No. 3 Michael Jordan are the only active players in the top 10.

This is Nowitzki’s final year of his contract, but he has made it clear that he plans to re-sign with the Mavericks for another two or three seasons.

“This is my 30th year in the NBA and one of the few times I’ve truly been in awe of an accomplishment,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who has been with Nowitzki since the start of the 2008-09 season. “Top 10 all-time scorer is an unbelievable accomplishment because it’s a level of excellence that’s beyond belief, and then it’s being able to do it over an extended period of time with consistency. So one of the really unique accomplishments.

“And he’s going to keep eating up more people. He’s got a long way to go.”

By this time next season, Nowitzki very well could be the No. 7 all-time scorer in league history. It won’t take him long to track down No. 9 Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946), then No. 8 Elvin Hayes (27,313) and No. 7 Moses Malone (27,409). It might take into the 2015-16 season for Nowitzki to catch No. 6 Shaquille O’Neal, now 1,882 points ahead of Nowitzki.

If he ultimately moves ahead of Shaq, Nowitzki will nestle in nicely, likely for good, behind No. 5 Wilt Chamberlain (31,419).

Not bad for the one-time floppy-haired kid imported from Wurzburg, Germany.

“Like I always say, I think this stuff means more to me when my career is over,” Nowitzki said. “But this is a sweet one. Top 10 is definitely unbelievable.”

MVP Ladder: Durant’s streak impresses

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com



VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks to the Fan Night crew after dropping 42 on the Houston Rockets

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Six times in the last 50 years a NBA player has strung together a streak of 29 or more straight games of scoring 25 or more points. Just six times in five decades.

Oklahoma City Thunder scoring ace Kevin Durant has done it twice … in the past four seasons.

He’s on the elite streak scoring list that also includes Michael Jordan (40 straight in 1986), Spencer Haywood (31 straight in 1972), Bob McAdoo (29 straight in 1974) and Oscar Robertson (29 straight in 1964). Scoring isn’t the only thing that helps a player built his MVP case, but scoring at a transcendent clip certainly strengthens one’s case.

Durant’s all-time great scoring ability and his better-by-the-day all-around game has propelled him back to the top of the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder this week … and perhaps for good, if he keeps this up.

LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Joakim Noah and James Harden round out the top five of the Ladder this week.

Dive in here for more on who made the cut on this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!


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.”

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.’ “

Boom!

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].”

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

***

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

***

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

Expect Dirk To Get 12th All-Star Nod


VIDEO: Dirk has 28 points and nine boards as the Mavs stop the Pistons

DALLAS – In his final game Sunday night before the Western Conference coaches head to their bunkers to select seven All-Star reserves, Dirk Nowitzki left them with one of those vintage performances that this season has spawned the phrase, “He’s still Dirk.”

“Twenty-eight points in 32 minutes,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, glancing over the 10-for-16 shooting, the nine rebounds and the four assists. “I guess he’s an All-Star.”

Is he? That is the question.

“This year [I'm] right up there, and we understand there’s always going to be some guys that deserve it and don’t make it, so that’s just the nature of the game,” Nowitzki said after raising his averages to 21.2 ppg and 6.0 rpg in a win over Detroit. “The power forward spot in the West has always been loaded and somebody is going to feel like they’ve been snubbed, but that’s just part of the game.”

The power forward position, plus a couple centers tossed into the new “frontcourt” designation, is loaded with young, thriving talent. The three starters voted in by the fans are 25 (Kevin Durant and Kevin Love) and 24 (Blake Griffin). Two sure-fire reserves, Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge are both 28. On-the-bubble candidates DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are 23 and 20, respectively. Serge Ibaka, 24, almost gets lost in the discussion because of the superstar teammates who overshadow him. David Lee, an All-Star last season, is like the older brother of the group at 30.

Nowitzki, 35, and Tim Duncan, 37, are like the godfathers. The West coaches put Duncan back on the All-Star team last season after his 13-year run was snapped in 2012, and seemed over for good. Knee surgery during training camp last season sabotaged Dirk’s 11-year run. Now there’s likely room for only one, if that, legendary old-timer on the 12-man squad.

Have fun, coaches. The reserves for both conferences will be announced Thursday night on TNT.

“He’s a Hall of Fame player, as we all know,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who is prohibited from voting for his own player, and would seem a prime candidate to give Dirk, his decades-long nemesis, the nod. “Dirk basically — modern times so to speak — has really personified that stretch-4 because he scored from everywhere on the court and from distance … and he hasn’t slowed down much, if at all.”

Prevailing wisdom suggests this is Dirk’s — and Duncan’s — best chance to add one last All-Star appearance considering the aforementioned list of bursting, young talent. Dirk, who ranks seventh among forwards in usage percentage and fifth in true shooting percentage, might still have a few more fine seasons left in him beyond this one, just as Duncan has proved post-35, but the next generation will likely be too strong and push him out of All-Star consideration.

Dirk’s edge this season is lifetime achievement. How heavily will coaches weigh career milestones? Likely heavily. He’s surged up the NBA’s all-time scoring list, starting the season at No. 18 and passing Reggie Miller and Jerry West, among others, to move all the way up to No. 13. He’s 412 points from passing John Havlicek for 12th and it’s possible he will catch Oscar Robertson at No. 10 by season’s end.

Dirk recently collected the 1,000th steal of his career and joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Garnett and Karl Malone as the only players with 25,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,000 steals.

“I’ve looked at it pretty closely,” Carlisle said. “He’ll make it. I just have the feeling that he will. You look at his stats, what he’s carrying, the production and the minutes; if he was playing the minutes most of those guys were playing, he’d be a 25-point scorer. So, we’ll see. We’ll see.”

Dirk didn’t think he deserved a spot on the 2012 squad after a slow start to the shortened lockout season. But the coaches weren’t about to let the Finals MVP be swept out of the All-Star Game that easily. They won’t this year either, especially when he’s not exactly a hardship case. In fact, if he does’t make the team, it will be a first of sorts. Five players 35 or older — Malone, Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan and Alex English — have averaged 21 points or more in 11 different seasons. Each time they made the All-Star team.

When his streak did end last season, Nowitzki had little control over it. His right knee required the first surgery of his career during training camp. He missed the first 27 games of the season, probably came back too soon to help save a sinking season and didn’t regain his All-Star form until the second half.

Fending off Father Time (with an eye on a semi-concerning sleeve he again donned on his left knee), Nowitzki has shouldered another near-totally retooled roster to a 26-20 record, good for the last playoff spot in the ultra-competitive West. The Mavs, while inconsistent, not unlike like Nowitzki’s shooting performances, are just 1.5 games behind No. 6 Golden State and three games back of No. 5 Houston, a so-called contender Dallas will attempt to defeat for a third time in four tries at home Wednesday night.

“They still have that big guy from Germany. He’s pretty good,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said earlier this month. “And when you have a player like that, you can put a lot of people around him and they’re going to be better. That’s the effect of a Dirk on your team. I bet Monta’s never seen open shots that he’s seen when you come off a pick and roll with Dirk setting it, so he does make you better.”

Monta Ellis would agree. A fringe All-Star candidate himself, Ellis is averaging 19.2 ppg, about what he averaged last season with Milwaukee, but his 46.2 shooting percentage blows away last season’s mark and is at its highest since 2007-08 with Golden State. He’s finding wide lanes to drive and open jumpers to fire thanks to the defensive attention Dirk draws and the spacing he brings.

How dependent are the Mavs on Dirk? With him and Ellis on the floor, they’re averaging a potent 109.1 points per 100 possessions. With only Ellis on the floor, it drops to 102.7.

Dirk’s net rating of 4.0 is easily the highest among Dallas’ starters, a group in which only center Sam Dalembert (1.6) and Jose Calderon (0.2) also boast positive net ratings.

So is Dirk an All-Star? Bet on the coaches granting him the grand stage, if not for one last hurrah, and leaving the lure of a February beach vacation for the years ahead.

“It always means something to be among the best 12 or 13 players in the West,” Nowitzki said. “It has always been an honor. I’ve always had fun going there and representing the Mavericks the right way — but, I did have some fun at the beach last year, too. Either way, I’ll be happy to go, obviously, and always represent the Mavericks. And if not, then I’ll find something else to do.”

MVP Ladder: Good Luck Catching KD!



VIDEO: Good luck trying to catch Kevin Durant on or off the court this season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Is it too soon to declare this race over?

If Kevin Durant keeps it up, someone better find that checkered flag because no one will catch the Oklahoma City Thunder star on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder. And that includes Miami Heat star LeBron James, who like the rest of us has admitted to marveling at Durant’s exploits this season.

Durant has already established himself as the most diabolical scorer of his generation, an absolute assassin capable of destroying opposing defenses from basically anywhere on the floor. But his current run of nine straight games with at least 30 points, not to mention his preposterous 37.0 scoring average for the month of January, has helped vault him into the all-time great category alongside the likes of James, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul- Jabbar, Nate Archibald and Oscar Robertson.

His coach, Scott Brooks, has even crossed sporting lines by comparing him to an all-time great from the NFL.

“Kevin Durant, Peyton Manning,” Brooks said Tuesday night. “You just look at the parallels between the two. They just come in, they do their job every day. They don’t have to tell the world what they do, they just do it every day and it seems to work perfectly fine.”

It certainly does!

Dive in here for more on who made the cut on this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!


VIDEO: The Inside crew on the current state of the MVP race

Blogtable: A Personal Best For ’13

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Fixing the lottery | A 2013 highlight | One bold prediction for ’14



VIDEO: Ray Allen’s shot

Give us a personal NBA highlight of 2013; a story, a laugh, a cry.

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati, Nov. 2013

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati, Nov. 2013
(Steve Aschburner, NBA.com)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Great as the league’s current players are, there was no in-arena moment for me in 2013 that matched sitting down in a riverfront restaurant one day last fall to have lunch and chat for two hours with this guy. I had interviewed Oscar Robertson by phone in the past – and did sitdowns in a previous professional life with the likes of Muhammad Ali and Ted Williams – but meeting and talking with The Big O in person ranks high on my personal list. He is, at once, a giant from the NBA’s formative years, a plugged-in guardian of today’s game and a legitimate choice in barroom debates as GOAT. Three days later, the passion that I heard for Robertson’s status, in an over-the-phone earful from this NBA great clinched this as my 2013 highlight.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: My Christmas Day exchange with Ebenezer Popovich before Rockets vs. Spurs in San Antonio.  Me: “What did you get for Christmas?”  Popovich: “None of your business. And I’d ask you what you got, but I don’t care.”  Classic Pop snarling.  But I also got a wink a grin.

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas, March 2013 (Glenn James/NBAE)

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas, March 2013
(Glenn James/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: This is probably really obscure, but it’s a memory that has stuck with me. Residing in Dallas and being a former beat writer covering the Mavs, I’m around that team more than any other. Last season, Dirk Nowitzki and a handful of teammates made a pact in early February not to shave until they reached .500. They had been 10 games under, and seven under at the time of the pact. No player took the no-shave agreement — or the inner challenge to accomplish it — more personally than Dirk, whose 12-year playoff run was also very much in jeopardy. The 7-footer never trimmed the unruly mess and it just grew and grew and grew. He looked like the German cousin of Duck Dynasty. There was a home game in late March against the Pacers. A win and they finally shave. Mavs guard O.J. Mayo had announced that his barber, Omar, would be in the locker room ready to lather up. But the Pacers routed ‘em. With a somber expression, Dirk spoke solemnly to reporters, resembling a long, lost castaway (in a nice shirt) losing hope his ship will ever come in: “We lost to a team that is deeper, that is better in all facets of the game,” he said. “… Knowing the Lakers lost now, we had an opportunity to cut into their lead. And it sucks. It sucks.”

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: When a single shot changed history. Ray Allen guesstimated he practiced that look hundreds of thousands of times, but when he caught the pass in a real game, had the presence while backpedaling all the way from the lane to know his exact location in the corner, and hit the 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining in Miami, the Heat went from a 95-92 deficit in the game and 3-2 in the series to new life. They catapulted from that into an overtime victory and then a win in Game 7. Instead of another Finals loss, LeBron James rode in another parade. Instead of the public debate about whether management should break up the Big Three in South Florida, Miami kept the roster in place. Instead of another championship, the Spurs had months of despair.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Before the Heat played the Sixers on Oct. 30, I was in the pre-game scrum when Philly coach Brett Brown (formerly of the Spurs) was asked about facing the team that beat him in The Finals just four months earlier. He was brutally honest about how painful losing that championship was, saying that he had a feeling of “we’ve done it” as Manu Ginobili brought the ball up the floor after LeBron James’ second straight turnover in the final minute of regulation in Game 6. That game was obviously the highlight of 2013 and I doubt we’ll ever again see a team come so close to winning a championship and then lose it. It was incredible to be in the building that night, experience it first-hand and then be reminded of the Spurs’ pain again as the new season was starting. I shake my head every time I think about that sequence of events and how the entire season (1,314 games) came down to one rebound and one shot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’ll leave the emotional stuff to John Schuhmann and Lang Whitaker, they’ve been known to get the waterworks going on Hallmark commercials. Speaking of my stat-genius colleague, it was during the time we spent in Las Vegas watching some of the best young talent in the league (and a couple of college kids) working at USA Basketball’s Senior Men’s National Team’s mini-camp in July, that it dawned on me just how fantastic it’s been to watch the game’s driving forces evolve and connect across the board over the past two decades. I’m dating myself here, but I remember when the folks running the grassroots movement and the powers that be at the NBA and National Team level were all on different pages (and they still are from time to time on certain issues). It was an absolute mess and in the years that followed the U.S. teams paid for it during international competitions, losing face and games time after humiliating time against foreign competition. To see them all come together in the form of the under-25 group that we watched go to work in Vegas is a testament to the decision by all parties to think about the greater good and get their stuff straight. Not only did the best under-25 group assemble there, but the kids from all over the country were there as well for their annual pilgrimage to the big time summer tournaments at the same time the U.S. junior teams were working out. And while we stood in the balcony at UNLV watching the workouts with Hall of Famers like Pacers boss Larry Bird watching on one end and the top prep player in the country, Chicago big man and Duke signee Jahlil Okafor, watching from the other, it reminded me how important it is to the future of the game in this country and beyond to have everyone under the same roof (at least sometimes), so to speak.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Not sure I’ll ever be able to top being in the house (along with my main men Steve Aschburner and John Schuhmann) in Miami for Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. Funny story: When the Heat were down 5 with 30 seconds left, and a bunch of Heat fans headed of the exits, I started worrying about my flight home — I had a flight to New York reserved for the day following Game 7, three days later, and I was pretty sure our NBA Digital overlords would not be happy to cover the cost of me hanging out in a Miami hotel doing nothing for three days. So during one of those final timeouts, from there in the press seats, I went on Delta.com and started trying to change my flight home. I found a flight I could switch to the next morning for minimal expense, and I clicked the button to change my flight. I’m still not sure if it was the spotty internet connection in the American Airlines Arena, the inefficiency of Delta.com, or perhaps an intervention from the basketball gods, but for whatever reason it didn’t go through. Literally seconds later, everything changed. And as it worked out, my original reservation worked out just fine. It just meant I had to let Asch borrow my rental car so he could find a coin laundry.

Karan Madhok, NBA IndiaRay Allen. Game 6. NBA Finals. The shot that changed history. No moment in the NBA in 2013 was more powerful or memorable. Jesus Shuttlesworth gave us a 3-pointer that would be etched in basketball lore forever.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: Man, so many to pick from! I’ll pick two. On the court, the triple-OT playoff battle between the Nets and Bulls. I began watching that as just “due diligence” and as a way of passing time before going out to cover a UFC event, but the game kept going and going and getting more exciting. I threw it to my Game Time app and went to work literally with one eye on the sidewalk and another on the mobile screen. The preliminary card was already going on and I barely paid attention to it. I can’t remember what was the fight of the night, but I can remember every big bucket Nate Robinson hit. Off the court, I was very proud of Jason Collins for coming out, and even more of NBA players’ reactions to it. It took a lot of guts. I’m disappointed by the fact that he’s not in an NBA roster right now, but I can’t and won’t accuse anyone of passing on him because of homophobia — I’ll give teams the benefit of the doubt.