The purpose of this posting is to address a very talked about issue in the NBA as of today. I read some comments online recently that got me fired up and I felt that I wanted to write about the John Amaechi Book that just came out. I do not believe my blog is an appropriate forum for me to discuss my personal views on this issue in general and I have instructed my webmaster NOT to allow users’ comments either for or against the topic on this website. The issue I will address is the prospect of having a teammate like Amaechi.
When I played for the Lakers, Phil Jackson would get the team together after Sunday games and lead us in “The Lord’s Prayer” as found in the New Testament. During the prayer it was almost like a magnifying glass showed a huge range of differences in the room. Some prayed with Phil while others stayed on the side in a moment of silence. Others bowed their heads. Still others watched the scene in silence. Everyone probably did something slightly different but the prevailing feeling in the room was respect for each man’s own decision. There was no ridicule, coercion or pressure from anyone in the room for or against any particular action. When the prayer ended all of the differences faded away and we were back to one goal: winning.
I first met John Amaechi years ago when I was new with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers had just won the first championship and our power forward AC Green was off to the Miami Heat. We needed a veteran power forward to start alongside of Shaq and to give Robert Horry some rest.
Our General Manager, Mitch Kupchak brought Amaechi to Los Angeles and made him a big offer. (Which Amaechi eventually turned down to return to the Orlando Magic). I remember the day I met him. I was in the weight room and Mitch called me outside to the court. “Mark, meet John Amaechi.” We shook hands and exchanged a few words and that was it. Amaechi was 100% professional and 100% about basketball. I think that’s why he had such a successful basketball career over 8 years. His career was all about basketball and trying to help his team win games.
I still remember Rick Fox’s words in a team meeting where he explained that for young players in the NBA there are “certain rites of passage that must be met.” Clearly one of those is respect of the locker room. I have come to believe that if you have at least one dominant basketball skill and you respect the sanctity of the locker room you will play a long time in the NBA.
In a locker room there is only one goal and that is to win basketball games. If anyone does anything against that goal such as dividing the group, trying to push a personal agenda, or trying to get personal accolades they are essentially cut off from the group and sooner or later management will literally cut them off.
I don’t care if my teammate is green or purple. I don’t care if he is from the U.S., overseas, or Mars. If my teammate respects the space of every man in the locker room and keeps the locker room code, he will be welcomed by me.
It’s always nice to have a team bonding event during the middle of a long season. The most recent one took place at Gerald Green’s apartment near the Mall of America. Gerald hosted the team, and Antoine Walker had some great food catered in from one of the best Italian restaurants in the twin cities, Vescio’s Cucina. I guess it was technically a super bowl party but it was also just a time to bond, relax, and hang out.
This friday we have the Boston Celtics coming into town for one of our biggest games of the year. All the fans here in Minnesota keep on asking “Is Kevin Garnett going to play?” or “If he doesn’t play, will he be here at the Target Center?” I think the issue right now is that KG has an abdominal muscle injury and all of the above questions are up in the air. When the average fan hears about an abdominal strain it really doesn’t sound that bad. But for those of us that have had the injury (I had one in 2001-2002) it is extremely painful and must be treated or it gets worse and worse to the point you can’t run at all.
I suspect that KG’s strain will get better soon and he will be back as soon as humanly possible. In my 3 years with Kevin Garnett, I basically only saw him miss one practice due to health–it was food poisoning. So you know it’s serious when Kevin sits out. The guy just never gets hurt and when he is hurt he just plays through it. Unfortunately this is one injury where rest is absolutely mandatory.
As far as this season goes, we are finally starting to play well. Al Jefferson continues to blossom and in my mind he has the best jump hook in the NBA. But most importantly we are all growing as a team. Fans are continuing to come out and support us and our crowds have been great. Hopefully I will see you at our game this Friday night!
Tonight we played against one of the best teams in the NBA–The Phoenix Suns. Steve Nash finished his normal “day at the office” with 20 points and 18 assists. Kevin Garnett was dominant on offense and defense and finished with 44 points, a load of rebounds, and a lot of defensive plays that won’t show up on the stat sheet. Every starter for Phoenix was in double figures. It was a great game to play in and a great game to watch.
Mike D’Antoni has changed the way basketball is played in the NBA. (On a side note: He and I jawed a little bit during the game during a stretch when I was pushing for a technical foul for the Phoenix bench when they really protested a call. He heard me calling out to the officials: “Give them a technical” and then he yelled at me to “just play basketball.” It was a little heated for a second then it just died down. I got his point and he was probably right.)
But Phoenix’s new style has impacted everyone from the refs to NBA coaches all the way to professional scouts. The big bruising players are still effective in the NBA, but speed and shooting are at a premium now because of the success of the Suns and the way they have shown you can win with leaner, faster players with high skill levels. I think D’Antoni’s style is showing the pros and colleges a new and exciting way to play the game. I can tell you firsthand that playing against the Suns is fun for us as NBA players, win or lose, because you know it’s going to be uptempo and there’s going to be a lot of scoring. You know you’ll be playing against one of the best teams in this league.
I had a huge celebration when I watched the Stanford men’s basketball team knock off the top ranked UCLA Bruins yesterday. This year, all the national experts are saying that the Pac-10 is the top conference in college basketball. Even though Fred Hoiberg likes to mess with me about how he doesn’t like Stanford’s mascot–The Tree–our mascot was out there dancing around Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto after our big win. I think I will get some video footage of it and email it to Freddie. The funny thing is that everywhere I go people ask me about the Tree. “Hey is it true that the Tree got suspended for two games a few years ago for yelling at a ref.” I hear questions about that all the time. I’m not even totally sure what the right answer is. Well, all I can say is that the Tree is doing something right because everyone’s talking about him/her and the on-court exploits of the tree are taking on an almost mythical status.
On a more serious note, I think that Stanford’s Coach Trent Johnson is showing why he should be a leading candidate for coach of the year. He has dealt with some tough injuries this season but has done a great job of developing his young players like Brook and Robin Lopez. It was special to watch such a well coached team two nights ago. It was nice to see Lawrence Hill take over that game in the second half along with Anthony Goods and the Lopez’s controlling that paint.
When I was a rookie with the L.A. Lakers, I remember my teammate Tyrone Lue telling me that in his first year he had been through a lot. I can’t even remember all of the stuff he told me, but it was something like he had been traded, he saw a coach get fired, and in one fell swoop he had an entire new group of teammates through another trade.
Last Tuesday our coach Dwayne Casey got fired. I was sitting in my hotel room in Portland and first a local writer called me on my cell phone to see if I had heard the news that Coach Casey was fired. I told him, “I think it’s a rumor that’s not true.” Then I got two more calls from national writers in the space of about two minutes and I reminded myself that it’s almost never that the journalists get something this big wrong.
Management decided it was time for a new voice to lead our team and so they made the decision to let Dwayne go. It’s always hard when something like that happens for a lot of reasons. First, Dwayne is a great coach and one of the most even keeled leaders I have ever been around. I think that’s one of the reasons why we had so much success in late December and early January. Dwayne led us through the good and the bad times. Coach Casey knew how to draw up great X and O plays especially late in ballgames when the game was on the line. (San Antonio recent win). I think it was tough for management to release Dwayne also, but ultimately, we as players shoulder a lot of the responsibility for the move. If we had gotten the job done better on the court and won more games the firing would not have happened.
At any rate, I know that Dwayne Casey is going to be involved in the game of basketball for a long time because he is a class act in every way and he knows the game of basketball backwards and forwards. Dwayne communicated with every member of our team from Kevin Garnett to the last man on the team and he was always fair.
On another note, we beat the Clippers tonight in a close game. It was a big game for us because we are fighting with L.A. for a playoff birth right now and the race is close. We had so many big contributions from the team. Mike James and KG played very well and Mark Blount hit a huge jumper late in the game. But my personal MVP goes to Ricky Davis tonight who reminded me of Ron Artest in regards to his defense on the Clipper’s perimeter players. After the game, Kevin Garnett grabbed the game ball and brought it into the locker room to give to Coach Wittman. It’s tough to win games in the NBA and now we’ve finally got one under our belt after the turmoil.
Sometimes emotions can flare in close games and that’s what happened in tonights game against the Detroit Pistons at home. Right now I am in pain because Kevin Garnett got ejected and there is some speculation that the league might come forward with a disciplinary action for those of us involved. I still have not seen a replay of the incident and I didn’t see the first part of the tussle because I had my back turned while I was getting up.
When you get a group of 6’10” 260 pound grown men competing hard in games emotions and testosterone can run high with all of us. We were all out there competing and it got a little bit physical and then it was over. It doesn’t make any of it right, but that is the reality of the situation. I am hoping that the NBA chooses to issue fines as a form of discipline for those of us involved instead of any sort of suspensions for the players. KG is the spoon that stirs the pot for our team and Antonio McDyess is an important piece for the Pistons and has been ever since he arrived. I don’t think tonight’s incident was a fight and in my mind, being ejected is punishment enough in terms of lost minutes. Both KG and Antonio McDyess are class guys and in my mind this incident is over.
All of that is out of our control though now, and I think we are all moving on and using the “water under the bridge” expression. I did want to convey to all of you the feeling in our huddle when we knew that we had lost our leader KG for the rest of the game after he got ejected. Everyone that stepped onto the court knew that each had to raise the level of their play to an even higher level. We wanted to win that game badly for Kevin. Mike James and Randy Foye carried us and then we jumped on Mark Blount’s back who had a monster night on the boards and in terms of his offense.
Lastly, after the game the media was asking us all about Ricky Davis. Let me put this issue to rest. There are no issues with Ricky Davis or any sort of incident that is being speculated upon. Rick is a great teammate and a great player and even though he didn’t have his best shooting night, he did a lot of the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. He was out there cheering everyone on and giving us feedback when the game was on the line.
When I think of the New Jersey Nets I think of Jason Kidd. When I think of St. Joseph’s High School in Oakland, California I also think of Jason Kidd. My high school played against Jason Kidd twice growing up (I think we were 1-1), then he stayed in the Bay Area for college at UC Berkely. I have followed Jason very closely over the years and he is a class act all the way around.
After we beat the Nets tonight Mark Blount and I were talking about the job Jason does as a point guard for his team. Jason is just so fast pushing the basketball and he is a monster when it comes to rebounding. The fact that Kidd is the leading rebounder for the Nets shows you the kind of desire that he plays with. Blount was talking about how Jason’s knee is just finally starting to show the kind of full recovery from the mircro-fracture surgery he had a few years ago. “He’s been playing injured the past couple of years out there,” Blount was telling me. And tonight we saw his speed and his quickness with his knee at 100% once again.
All I can say is that Jason Kidd must be like the really expensive kind of French Cheese that gets better and better with age. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone of his age rebound the ball, or push the ball up the court the way he does. His play is a credit and an asset to the game of basketball at every level. He seems to get better, faster and stronger with each year that passes.
On a different note, I saw an old friend in Memphis two days ago–Jerry West. Jerry West drafted me as he was the General Manager of the Lakers at the time. When we walked in the FedEx forum in Memphis for shootaround, Jerry ducked in to say hello to KG and a few others. When I was talking to him, different people would stop by and say to him “What’s up logo?” I always knew that everyone considers Jerry West to be the person from which the NBA logo was fashioned, but I had never really heard anyone call him “LOGO” in L.A. It was pretty cool. To this day I will never forget the way that West mentored everyone on the team in Los Angeles. He would talk to us, build us up and spend time with us outside of basketball. I will always remember being invited over for dinner at the West’s home in the Bel-Air area. He gave me some pointers and a few thoughts on what I could do differently on the court to become a better player. When West took the Memphis job, Magic Johnson came out and commented publicly about how Jerry was always the first one to call or go over to the house of someone in the Lakers family when there was a death in the family, a sickness or a tragedy.
Tonight we lost a very close game to the Los Angeles Clippers. We were down by one point with 4.3 seconds left and we needed one basket to win the game. During our timeout, Coach Casey drew up a play that got KG open for a pass with time expiring. From my angle, Kevin’s shot looked like it was going in. I thought I was seeing the Philadelphia game all over again with Kevin nailing the last second shot and our team running off the court victorious. Well, Kev’s jumper barely missed and we lost the game. Such is life in the NBA. Kevin wants the ball in those situations. He knows he’s either going to be the hero or the goat and he’s got the courage and the skill for those moments.
I had to ride the bike for 15 minutes in the training room after the game because I need to stay in shape. Kevin and Trenton Hassell were in there too and we kind of talked about what happened throughout the game. Kevin was in his normal spot–on the first training table cooling down and unwinding after the game. Trenton always comes in the training room to change clothes too and to have some privacy from the media. A few minutes later our old buddy Sam Cassell came down to talk. It’s always great to see Sam. He told us about the refs called a foul on him while he was guarding Randy Foye. He said something like this:
“Randy Foye is athletic! Randy Foye jumped over me and almost dunked it! Then the ref called a foul on me! I said, ‘How can it be a foul on me, when he jumped over me!”
Allright well, it’s 1am and I am tired. I can’t think about the game anymore so I’m going to call it a night!
Sunday, Coach Casey came into the locker room and said something like, “OK guys we’re going to practice tommorrow.” The locker room went silent….most of the guys were hoping for a day off given how well we’ve been playing as well as how busy our schedule has been. Then he smiled and said “Just kidding….take tommorrow off and stay away from each other!” He was joking but made a good point because we’ve been together so much as a team lately I think he wanted all of us to rejuvenate a little bit and come back on Tuesday mentally refreshed.
Lately, our team has been playing very well. Mark Blount is having an all-star like season this year and has been shooting incredible percentages from the field. Now our opposing teams have to decide how to cope with our frontcourt of KG and Mark Blount along with trying to slow down our perimeter players who are also playing great.
After the Houston game I saw Charlie Ward in the “family and friends” section of the Target Center. Charlie Ward is now Coach Charlie Ward as he is one of Jeff Van Gundy’s top assistant coaches for the . I keep telling charlie that he should still be playing in the NBA as good as a player as he was.
Here’s a question I wanted to address from the “comments” section found below. This question is from Rachel. Mark,
With the word that just came down from Stern that Melo would be suspended for 15 games, are you surprised? Do you think that the punishment fits the “crime”? Do you think that he (and/or the others) should have gotten harsher suspensions and/or fines? And, lastly, do you think that the Nuggets and the Knicks should also fine their players that were involved?
Thanks and Happy Holidays.
Let me begin by saying that when we first heard about the brawl, we were at the Milwaukee Bucks game in Wisconsin. We weren’t able to see it because there was no TV in the Buck’s visitor’s locker room, so when we got to our charter that night we tried to download it using a Verizon Wireless internet card. We only got bits and pieces but the entire team was huddled around KG’s plane seat trying to see a little bit of what happened. I think universally, all of us felt bad about the incident and the players, fans and coaches that were involved.
What happened out there was wrong and I think that every player involved would tell you that. Carmello got the most of the punishment. Carmello also came out immediately and issued a public apology. (see below).
I think the NBA is basically saying, hey, if you are going to throw a punch, there is going to be a big consequence. After the Detroit incident, there was talk of doing away with courtside seating. Personally, I think that the courtside seating is one of the biggest differentiators between NBA games and most other major sports leagues.
As far as each team fining their own players, that could get awkward for a few reasons. First the player is already getting fined a huge sum because they go on “unpaid” leave from all games. Secondly, their punishment in the media is incalculable. It would be tough for a GM to come into the locker room and give the player a third tier of punishment. That’s just my opinion though.
Here is Carmello’s public apology:
“Last night’s altercation with the Knicks escalated further than it should have. I take full responsibility for my actions in the matter. In the heat of the moment I let my emotions get the best of me. I apologize to the fans, the Denver Nuggets, the NBA, my mother, and my family for the embarrassment I have caused them. I ask you all for your forgiveness.
I also want to make a personal apology to Mardy Collins and his family. My actions were inexcusable, and I am sorry for making this an even more embarrassing situation.
What makes this all the more painful is that this was one of the most important weeks of my life. I just realized one of my biggest dreams when we opened the Youth Center in Baltimore that bares (sic) my name. To see the community excited and hundreds of kids smiling was an incredible feeling. Now the thought of thousands of kids seeing this incident on TV pains me. This is not the example I want to set.
It’s my hope that we work to move forward from this event, and never let something like this happen again.”
I got the phone call I have been waiting for all season long this morning!! Michael Curry of the N.B.A. administrative offices called me on my way to practice and told me that the old leather ball is coming back…..THIS SEASON!! He asked me to go into the locker room and find out how long it would take the guys to adjust back to the leather ball. Troy Hudson said it would take him “one practice” to re-adjust to the leather ball. Kevin Garnett said, “Let me practice with it (The old leather) three or four days and I’ll be ready to go again.” I can’t tell you how happy the guys on the team were! It was a great day.
The additional good news is that the NBA is going to form a committee including a wide range of NBA players getting a cross-section of superstars and role players to be part of any ball decisions in the future. I think what the league is saying is that if we do away with the leather ball down the road, let’s work together to find a solution that works for everyone. Michael asked me to approach Kevin Garnett to see if he would like to play a major role on the committee. When I told KG about it, he was excited and regardless of whether or not he is able to make every meeting, I think he is going to be giving a lot of input on the ball situation in the future whether he chooses to do it formally or informally.
Lastly, I’m waiting for the A.I. situation to be resolved. This morning in our locker room, we were all kind of aware that if the longshot odds come true and A.I. comes to Minnesota then some of us might be packing our bags.