The Sixth Man (cont.)
The questions are fabricated, my answers are for real.
Let me make this clear once and for all. Do I like averaging fewer than 10 points and 30 minutes a game? Do I feel like when people are complaining about our bad defense, they're pointing the finger at me? Do I believe when they're down on our shot selection, they're really blaming me? Am I sure when Phil Jackson is complaining about the team to the media, he's actually talking about me?
-- R.A., Los Angeles
Ron Artest, I think (though I'm never quite sure) I understand you. You think the Lakers want you to be Dennis Rodman, who defended without ever wanting or needing to score. But you are not Rodman. You view yourself as being able to contribute at both ends, as you did in Games 6 and 7 of the Finals last season, after which the Lakers acknowledged they could not have won the championship without your contributions around both baskets.
It used to be said that a big man who goes to the trouble of running the floor needs to be rewarded with a pass for the easy basket. In your case, you need to be rewarded in return for your defense. You need to feel plugged in to the team to be confident, and you need that confidence to defend. You have long been viewed as a high-maintenance player, but, as the Lakers realized last June, that high price can produce the highest reward. So if they want you to do the thankless work defensively against Paul Pierce or LeBron James, then they should invest in you offensively -- they'll benefit from the extra ball movement, considering they've averaged 16.8 assists in their last four losses against the contending Celtics, Mavericks, Spurs and Heat.
Jackson gave you 41 minutes Thursday against San Antonio, which was a good start. But your team's inability to control the defensive board in the final moments -- the Spurs won 88-87 because they secured three offensive rebounds on their final possession (including one rebound that was flubbed by you) -- proves your team isn't focused on the crucial details.
Now: Do you want to be traded to a team that can supply you with more shots and zero championship hope? Of course not.
When the lockout comes next year, I'm going to enjoy my vacation away from basketball. I intend to spend it by playing more basketball. If I go to Greece, will they throw heated coins at me? If I go to Spain, will I have to practice twice a day? Germany is nice to visit, but do I really want to live there? Do they have good Italian food in Italy? You do know I'm messing with you, yes?
-- D.N., Dallas
Dirk Nowitzki, when you talked about moving back to Europe to play basketball professionally, didn't you know the NBA wasn't likely to let you walk out on the remaining three years of your Mavericks contract? This is like that scene at the end of Godfather II, when Kay Corleone wants to walk out on her marriage and take the children and Michael the Godfather says, "I won't let you leave! ... Don't you know me? You understand it's an impossibility. I would never let it happen; no, never, not if it took all my strength, all my cunning."
This is the same approach the NBA would take against you and the $63 million over the next three years of your contract -- lockout or not. Personally, I'd like to see all of you NBA stars move over to Europe during the lockout, because then I'll be able to go to Europe, too.
What does a guy need to do to get into the All-Star game? Average 15 rebounds? Score 21 points a game? Hold on, let me see ... yes, I've been doing all of that.
-- K.L., Minneapolis
Kevin Love, I named you to my ballot. Originally the coaches left you off by appearing to insist that the West-worst 11-37 record of your Timberwolves wasn't going to cut it. Then commissioner David Stern chose you Friday to replace injured Yao Ming, which leaves a long list of players to feel as disappointed as you'd felt one night earlier -- LaMarcus Aldridge, Tyson Chandler, Steve Nash, Tony Parker and Zach Randolph all went unnoticed despite representing teams in playoff contention. And don't forget Monta Ellis, either.
How to prepare for life after the NBA. This comes from Wally Walker, a 6-7 forward from Virginia who was the No. 5 pick of the Trail Blazers in the 1976 draft. After playing eight years with three NBA teams, Walker worked for Goldman Sachs in San Francisco and then started his own wealth management company before becoming president and GM (and eventually a minority owner) of the Seattle SuperSonics. Now 56, Walker manages a successful hedge fund in Seattle.
"My career earnings as a No. 5 pick were just over $1 million, and when I signed my first NBA contract, in 1976, I thought I had all of the money in the world. I was making $100,000.
"My parents were teachers who instilled in me that education was always the answer, no matter what I did with sports. I went to Virginia and I started out really poorly. I chose not to go to class my spring semester of my freshman year -- it was the first year that freshmen were eligible to play varsity and I was starting, I thought I was a big deal, so I had a fun spring and none of it was happening in the classroom. My grades were terrible and when I came home my dad basically said, 'We're proud you had a good year on the court, but don't let this happen again.' I needed to hear that, and I finished much stronger. My senior year I made the Academic All-America team, which I was and am proud of.
"Like a majority of NBA players, I was totally into my playing career and wasn't looking much further than that, but I did have one good business experience. The summer after my rookie year in my hometown of Millersville, Pa., I put on a basketball camp and we would run it for seven years. I enjoyed the business end of it and it started me thinking that pursuing a business career would be something I wanted to do.
"One real advantage that I hope all players take advantage of -- some do, but not enough -- is that as a player you have access to all kinds of interesting people who want to talk to you because you can put the ball in the hoop. Guys should really try to learn what makes other people successful in business. When I was playing, one of my friends was the author Tom Robbins, a good guy who became a great friend, and I got to know him because he was following the team.
"My last year was in Houston with the Rockets. I wasn't getting to play that much and the handwriting was pretty big on the wall. So after that year I took the GMATs -- the boards to get into business school. I prepared for it because I'd been out of college for eight years. It was a three-hour test and I took it in Seattle, where I'd played for five seasons, and during one break I was going to the restroom and the guy in the stall beside me looks at me and says, 'What are you doing here?' 'Same thing you are, pal.'
"I was accepted to Harvard and Stanford, but I was living on the West Coast and the idea of spending two years at Stanford appealed to me. Never had I heard of Goldman Sachs, and 18 months later I ended up taking a job with them in what they call private wealth management -- helping well-to-do individuals with their investment portfolios. Since I graduated from business school in June '87 and started in late August as a trainee, I was on the trading floor for Black Monday when the market crashed. That was a fascinating study of human nature in all aspects.
"Was I viewed as an ex-player? I think some clients felt, 'He had to have initiative to get the financial degree.' But other people thought of me as wearing the microscopic basketball shorts, and they had trouble taking the leap of faith to make me their financial guy. One guy, John Stanton -- I had never met him before I had lunch with him and his wife. But we hit it off and he said he wanted me to represent them, and his wife said, 'Let met get this straight: We're going with the basketball guy?' Both of them became not just clients but good friends over the years as well.
"By definition, players have great confidence in themselves and they think they're going to play forever. But the average career length in the NBA is less than five years, and even if you have a successful run of 10 years, that's still a lot of life ahead for you to be sitting around and recounting what you did in your 20s. That's not a good way of having an adult life.
"I spent seven years with Goldman Sachs, and two months after I left to start my money-management firm in San Francisco I got a call from the Sonics' ownership group. I didn't have a particular relationship with them, but I'd done broadcasting for the team part-time while I was traveling for my real job. I said no thanks, but two months later I agreed to take the job. Over my 12 years there our record was good, and for 10 years our payroll was at the league average or below.
"My last day with the team was the date the sale closed [in 2006 to Clay Bennett, who would move the franchise to Oklahoma City]. By the fall of 2007, I was starting to get up early and manage my portfolio. That was a signal to me that it was time to get back into money management -- not only that, but a bunch of my friends and former clients had said to me that if I ever did get back, to count them in as investors. Now I wake up between 4:30 and 5 a.m. without an alarm clock because I'm fired up for it every morning.
"Do I view myself as a former player or a hedge fund manager? The way to answer that is to say I've always enjoyed whatever I was doing at the time. I love what I'm doing now, though I would like to get another hour or two of sleep. But that's not going to happen."
With former Pacers coach Jim O'Brien. Weeks before he would be fired by the Pacers, O'Brien referred back to his decision to win games at the end of last season; Indiana finished 10-4 over the final month, while other teams appeared to tank games in hopes of improving their position for the draft lottery: "It would be impossible for me to do it. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't do it. I don't know how you could ever look at a player in the eye if you're not giving yourself the best chance of winning."
So you and team president Larry Bird never had a conversation about losing on purpose?
"Never, not one," he said. "First of all, I would never have enough guts to bring it up to him, and it's not in his makeup, nor is it in my makeup. Nobody in that franchise, from ownership down, would ever -- I mean, that never even crossed our mind. It crosses your mind only from the standpoint that you're reading that's what you should do. The irony is that you're saying you should get fired because you're not winning; and then when you start winning, you should get fired because you're winning. If there was ever a Catch-22, you got it there. It's really nuts."
With Nuggets coach George Karl. On galvanizing his team amid trade rumors involving Carmelo Anthony: "The quote I use is from [former Denver VP] Mark Warkentien: I get paid to win the next game. I give my organization my predictions before the season, and they know the month of March is, for us, the most difficult month maybe I've ever seen in the NBA. With a good team, if we're playing well and we go 7-6 [in March], we'll be lucky. So we know we've got to put the numbers up before March, but we also know Portland has that same stretch, New Orleans has that same stretch -- I don't know when it is for them, but every team will have that same kind of month during the season.
"So the thing is you can't get crazy about playing bad. And there are certain guys I can't be around, because they don't want to be flustered by my immature enthusiasm at age 60 to try to win the game. But there are some guys, I can put my arm around and pick them up and move 'em. And you've got to think those things through: I call it my 15 minutes of ego management. So I'll probably stay away from Nene. But I can probably get Kenyon [Martin] in a good place, because he's got to make a lot of defensive reads that he and I can work together on, and there are two or three other guys. Al [Harrington] might need a touch because his name's been in the paper a lot [as a player who may be traded] and Al likes my enthusiasm, we have a good relationship. But those are the things you think about."
With Larry Bird. On Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo as the NBA's most entertaining player: "If I turn on the TV, I'll watch him play more than anybody. He's got tremendous reaction as a point guard with those passes he makes. If you were to ask him about some of those passes, I'd bet he'd say, 'It was out of my hands before I knew I was throwing it.' That happens a lot. It happened to me. The pass would be out of my hands before I knew, because you're just reacting. I remember some of those tip passes off rebounds -- it just happens and by the time you see it, it's done.
"It was like that steal from Isiah [Thomas in Game 5 of the 1987 East finals]. People don't believe me, but that was all reaction. It was in my hands and out of my hands before I could tell it was happening. I knew they had a timeout, and I couldn't believe they didn't take the timeout. But he probably figured I couldn't get over there."
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