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Thursday August 3, 2006 6:05 pm

My Love Song to the NBA Part 2

Posted by Alvin Lai Categories: Editorial, Props, Site Features, Talent,

Larry Johnson AKA GrandmamaSometimes things come along and it changes the way we live forever. Good examples would include the CD, e-mail, the digital camera…and seedless watermelon. Yet whether it’s launching three-point shots against my buddies with shots of vodka on the line, or just chatting about the pros with friends I have never met face to face, hoops is and always will be, still hoops. Continuing my NBA Love Song:

15. Larry Johnson: As someone who does not have the luxury of being immersed in NCAA hoops (living north of the border does that to you), LJ represents the discovery I made of the college game. I watched them win the title and then their run at an undefeated season the following year die at the hands of Duke. Charlotte was his first NBA stop, and I still vaguely remember the HUGE contract that he signed. In the end, injuries hampered him big time and he became a jump shooter by necessity. Still wish he would raise the “L” one more time after a trey. Hope you are livin’ large, ‘Grandmama.’

14. Yao Ming: To me, Yao symbolizes how truly international the game has become. From that awkward high-five with his parents on draft day to where his game is now, Yao gives kids across the world a reason to make dreams a reality.

13. Lebron James: The hype machine was running at full speed when Lebron was barely in Grade 10. I am truly amazed at how he has met and exceeded expectations placed on him at such a young age. After all, a lot of folks thought he should have been MVP in 2005-06.

12. Kobe Bryant: KB81. Phil Jackson slung a lot of accusations at Kobe in his tell-all book, but the two of them have decided to grow up and move on. We should all do the same. “The next Jordan” has been a catchphrase for over a decade now. Kobe will never earn the universal love that embraced MJ, but who knows? We might end up talking about MJ vs. Kobe the way golf fans are talking about Jack Nicklaus vs. Tiger Woods right now.

11. Grant Hill: GHill is my sister’s favourite player. She started at guard for her high school team, and had posters of him up in her room. Something about the combination of nice guy persona with crazy mad skills and a shaved head called to her, I guess. I remember reading an interview where he talked about expecting to be one of the NBA’s top 75 players of all-time when the NBA turned 75. Well, Hill has unfortunately seen his career derailed by injuries, but continues to show true character in making one more comeback each time.

10. Kevin Garnett: It seems like such a no-brainer pick now when you look at the draft class of 1995, but back then, high school kids were an unknown commodity. Playing in Minnesota, KG is also part of the transition where the league stopped talking about “cities” and more about “markets.” If we’re lucky, the Fun Police will be around for a minimum of another five years.

9. Allen Iverson: The Answer is about sheer guts. He plays with his heart on his sleeve. His awe-inspiring dribble moves and drives to the basket get ignored by the critics who only look at this field goal percentage. A.I. was also a trend-setter with his cornrows, elbow sleeve and tattoos.

8. Vince Carter: Here we have the best example of a love/hate relationship I have had with a player. He won Rookie of the Year in Toronto, turned a hockey town basketball-crazy with his amazing aerial moves, and led the Raptors to consecutive playoff appearances. His slam-dunk contest performance in 2000 and then jumping over Fred Weis’ head in the Olympics was more than incredible. I should have clued in when everyone started calling him, “Air Canada”; over a long flight, the service will stink more and more. In the end, Carter made his power play out of town, and the cloud of him tanking games and babying injuries still sits badly with his ex-fans. If only he had not flown back to North Carolina right before Game 7 against the Sixers and hit that shot…things might have turned out differently.

7. Jalen Rose: I was in high school when the Fab Five burst onto the scene in Michigan. The baggy shorts, the black socks in black high-tops, the attitude…it is still so easy to picture them on the court after all these years. This was before hip-hop became more than just about the music; it was not yet the clothes, the style, i.e. the whole package that it is today. Jalen and his crew started that for me. I especially dug Jalen’s point-forward type game, and was thrilled to see him suit up for the Raptors for a couple of years… even though they thoroughly sucked during that time.

6. Stephon Marbury: Every fan has an unexplainable man-crush on a player. Starbury is mine. I have been following him since he was the writer for “SLAM” magazine’s high school diary. Though true that his teams have never garnered ultimate success, the “loser” label is unfair. How many point guards would look good in getting traded for Jason Kidd, I ask you? Steph just gives me the vibe that he keeps it real, on and off the court. I hope he bounces back with a solid season.

5. Steve Nash: The reigning two-time MVP has done all of Canada proud. The greasy hair and his team-oriented style should have a shelf-life of another few years, hopefully. Maybe he will win a title for the desert and then come to Toronto to finish off his career. That would be sweet!

4. Charles Barkley: “I’m not a role model.” That is probably definitely (as my fellow dime-dropper Dennis Velasco likes to say) the most famous thing an NBA player has said, ever. They do not make ballers like this anymore. Who in the league right now could lead the league in rebounding standing 6-foot-4? For one year he told Jack Nicholson to shove it, because he was as good as it gets. After starring on the gold-medal winning Dream Team, he set up shop in Phoenix, had an MVP season and took his team to the Finals. Maybe under different circumstances, “Sir” Charles, KJ and Dan Majerle could have taken MJ and the Bulls.

3. Larry Bird: One day when we look at a player, we won’t see their skin colour, just his game. It does Bird injustice to pigeon-hole his greatness because of the family he was born into. Bird and Magic, Lakers and Celtics, east coast against west coast…that was a great time to be a fan. Bird also is the best example of a player who transitioned well into upper management. And would the 3-point contest still be around if not for Bird and his “Who’s finishing second?” swagger back in the day?

2. Magic Johnson: My favourite player of all-time. My uncle introduced me to the NBA during one of those classic Lakers vs. Celtics finals. My sister and I used to spend hours in the backyard doing no-look passes and finger rolls. Showtime, baby! A big man handling the rock, able to rebound and hit the trey… there might be “another” Bird AND a Jordan before there’s ever another Magic Johnson.  I hid in the library at school to read the Sports Illustrated article about him contacting HIV. Him coming back to play in the all-star game and getting hugs from the other players played a role in debunking a lot of untrue assumptions about the disease, assumptions that seem so ludicrous now. Thanks for showing me this beautiful game, Magic.

1. Michael Jordan: There are too many memories of MJ to list them all here… the ultimate competitor… Be like Mike… the iconic poster shot of him leaping from the baseline… the six rings… my friends crawling under a fence to take a picture with his statue at Chicago Stadium… leading the league in scoring AND being named best defensive player… how he started the jersey phenomenon… the backlash of his jersey because it got “too popular”… hanging out in my buddy’s basement playing NBA on Sega Genesis and yelling “Jordan!” every time he had the ball… The shoes. It’s gotta be the shoes… the “HORSE” commercial with Bird… dragging my then-girlfriend-now-wife to see a kid’s movie cuz MJ was in it… 50,000-plus fans packing into the then-Skydome-now Rogers-Centre in Toronto to watch him play… averaging 20 ppg as a 40-year-old… slacking off studying for final exams to watch his games… “The Shot”… the fact that my mom even knew who he was… #23, the best ever, baby.


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