The lucky 13 are going into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. on Friday night, and let’s just begin by saying you don’t get to write “lucky” and “13” in the same sentence very often without using “un.” Triskaidekaphobiacs understand completely.
There are a ton of great stories being published about these players and coaches all around the NBA mediasphere, and this column will add a few more to the online reservoir of “this really happened” tales.
How about with Steve Nash, because that is where the great Mark Stein of the New York Times, a former colleague from ESPN, found his comfort zone in today’s Old Gray Lady.
Before Nash was a two-time MVP, and before he was a running mate with Dirk Nowitzki, he was a kid from British Columbia who wore the red and white national team uniform of Team Canada.
His team was so underrated that not a single member of the Canadian media was there to cover it when it happened inside the sweltering Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
I was covering that Tournament of the Americas for the Associated Press in 1999, and the top two teams earned Olympic berths. The semifinal matchups were US-Argentina (the Americans won easily, 88-59), and Canada-Puerto Rico.
Let’s just say the crowd was fairly hostile to the lads from The North.
But then Steve Nash happened.
“We spoke at shootaround that morning, and Steve wasn’t much of a scorer then. I told him: ‘We need you to go out and score 25 tonight,'” Canada head coach Jay Triano recalled. “He went out and got 27. An incredible night.”
An hour after the game, only a few dozen people remained in the gym. Most were janitorial workers, and one was a beer vendor who kept selling cans of cold ones to the Canadian players and coaches. That vendor may have been the only happy Puerto Rican on the island that night. Happened 20 feet away from me. No archived story can be found on the Internet.
Nash’s two primary former teams have long odds to win the NBA championship. The Mavs are 240-1; the Suns are 250-1.
It was June 1, 2001 in Milwaukee, and it was snowing … almost. The temperature was about 32.1 degrees Fahrenheit, so what was falling from the sky was essentially slush.
Yes, on June 1.
The Bucks were holding their final practice before heading to Philadelphia for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, and Allen was predicting a loss for the Bucks. Why? “It’s all about BRI (Basketball Related Income).”
Allen was not just hinting that the NBA would make sure the Sixers would win, he practically had diahrrea of the mouth. The only other reporter who heard Allen’s spiel was Doug Smith, then of the Canadian Press, and the two of us eyeballed each other as we listened to Allen’s conspiracy theory.
According to his line of thinking, the NBA wanted the glamour franchise and the most glamorous player to make it to the finals, and Allen Iverson and the Sixers had that over the Bucks. I wrote it delicately. The Bucks lost Game 7 108-91 as Allen Iverson scored 44 points.
I spent a ton of time covering him when he was the leader of the New Jersey Nets, and we got to know each other well both then and during Team USA trips abroad. So we had a rapport, and Kidd had the Nets by the balls.
They even gave a locker to his son, T.J., who once was allowed to fire the T-shirt gun during a timeout because he had done well on his report card.
The Nets were forever making trades to tinker with the roster, and Kidd would always use one of his go-to lines when the cameras were rolling: “You’ve always got to keep an extra bag packed.”
One night, after a trade had gone down, I heard Kidd use that line for the 8,000th time. After the cameras had left, I asked him: “Do you really keep an extra bag packed?” His answer: “Nah.”
Kidd came into the league with the Dallas Mavericks, who are 240-1.
Finding the exact circumstances of this particular story is tough, because it happened shortly after Al Gore invented the internet and print copies are even tougher to find on microfiche than they are online. But back when Kobe Bryant was going through some difficulties before he divorced Vanessa, Grant was preparing to get married.
Asked what advice Kobe had given him, he answered: “He told me to get a pre-nup.” Bryant lost an estimated $75 million when he eventually divorced Vanessa.
Hill entered the league with the Pistons and spent considerable time with the Orlando Magic, who are both 250-1.
Back in the early 70s, an ACC Game of the Week was televised each Saturday afternoon.
Being a sports nut, one day I watched Dean Smith’s team come into Maryland’s bandbox and run the four corners for 19 minutes and 45 seconds. The halftime score was 2-0.
Suffice to say that the crowd was a bit calmer at halftime than they were at tipoff.
When Mo was coaching the Portland Trail Blazers, a young lady singing the National Anthem forgot the words mid-song and simply stopped.
The arena went silent, and nobody knew what to do — except Mo. He casually walked over to the girl, Natalie Gilbert, helped her get re-started, and the crowd (and the folks who watched it the next day on SportsCenter) ate it up.
When the sports editor at the AP learned that a separate story had not been filed on the incident, the sportswriter covering the game nearly lost her job. This particular sports editor was not a big fan of Jeff Goodman or Steve Popper. ‘Nuff said.
Cheeks is going into the Hall of Fame for what he did on the court for the Philadelphia 76ers, who are the second choice in the East at 15-1.
When Rod was a bigshot with USA Basketball in 2000, we had a little card game at the Four Seasons in Maui. Rod bought the beer, and Rod made sure everyone at the table enjoyed the beer he bought. The Sheridan family grocery fund took a bit of a hit that night. Other fellas had their grocery bill impacted, too.
I recently ran into Rod’s daughter at a Barnes and Noble, and we discussed the case of Isaiah Austin. She guided him through the draft night maze at Barclays Center on draft night in 2014.
When it comes to Kidd, let’s just say Rod knows where the bodies are buried.
I have no stories to tell about Tina Thompson, Katie Smith, Rick Welts or Ora Mae Washington. My only Dino Radja story involves a rotisserie basketball trade that nobody would care to read about, and my Charlie Scott memories are limited to watching the Gar Heard game in Phoenix during the 1976 NBA Finals.
This is worth watching:
Congratulations to all of the new inductees.
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