Leland Stein III

Posts Tagged ‘basketball’

In Bryant’s final All-Star game NBA rolls out red carpet

In sports column on February 17, 2016 at 3:55 am

Westbrook wins MVP, but Bryant’s legacy is also an MVP

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Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry and others celebrate the West’s win. Gary Montgomery photo

By Leland Stein III

TORONTO – Did I just witness a NBA Ballet experience?

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Kobe Bryant and his two daughters.

From these humble eyes I would offer there never were more demonstrations of athletic movements akin to ballet than at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto, Canada – the first All-Star event played outside the United States.

With professional athletes’ rapid and swift action in NBA basketball, the violence and physicality of NFL football and the hand-eye-coordination of MLB baseball players, the smooth athleticism of a professional athlete’s body in action gets lost on fans without replay, because the action happens too briskly.

Leland Stein III

The annual NBA All-Star Game and its super stars, celebrity filled contingent along with 19,800, descended on Air Canada Centre in Downtown Toronto and were not dissatisfied as Western Conference outran the Eastern Conference in a record breaking score of 196 to 173.

The teams combined for a record 369 points. The previous All-Star Game record was 321 points in 2015.

After all the running and gunning, even Paul George’s 41 points – one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game record set in 1962 – and an All-Star Game record nine three-pointers, could not keep the explosive Russell Westbrook from being named All-Star MVP for the second year in a row after he tossed in 31 points (including seven three-pointers), grabbed eight rebounds, with five assists and five steals.

No matter, the day still belonged to the Lakers’ retiring Kobe Bryant.

Bryant played in his 15th All-Star Game, which tied him with Tim Duncan for second most all time. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the record with 18. Bryant extended his own record by starting an All-Star Game for the 15th time and he also recorded one steal (his 38th) to break a first-place tie with Michael Jordan (37) for most steals in the games’ history.

LeBron James finished with 13 points and Bryant 10 points to become the all-time scoring leader in the Game’s history. James has 291 points and Bryant has 290.

“I do not care about being the scoring leader,” James said. “It was just bittersweet being out on the floor with him, knowing the matches between us are coming to an end. But when you get that opportunity versus a great man, you just have fun with it.”

James continued: “I know it’s been overwhelming for him over this year, but our fans across the world and here in the States and here in Toronto have been paying so much respect. It’s all well deserved. I’m happy that I’ve been along for a small piece of the ride of his journey. We’re very good friends, and I’ve been watching his journey for 20 years. When I don’t see him out there in Charlotte, I think that’s when it will sink in that it is over.”

Bryant a five-time NBA Finals champion, a two time Olympic Gold medalist, an 18-time Western Conference All-Star, a four-time All-Star Game MVP, NBA league’s MVP in 2008 and a two-time Finals MVP had the international gathering in Toronto calling his name.

After the team introductions, Magic Johnson came out to specially anoint/announce Kobe. He joyfully exclaimed the noteworthy history Bryant has put down and right after he gave the mike to him and the fans broke into a continuous Koooooobe Bryyyyyyyant chant. That was just the start of the lovefest. A tribute video featuring Bryant’s highlights, his voice and interviews with many of today’s players followed right after.

In the post-game press conference Bryant talked about his interaction with the legends of the game and today’s players. “I think it’s the stories of when I and they first came into the league,” he recalled, “and when we were matching up against each other, and just kind of the little things like an elbow here or a steal here, and then wanting to earn the legends respect at an early age and later the young ones wanting to earn my respect.

“When I heard those kinds of stories that made me feels real good. Because over the years you’re competing against each other. Those aren’t stories you’re ever going to share with somebody that you’re competing against. But at this stage, it felt absolutely wonderful to hear these things.”

Bryant brought his wife and kids to the game and he was elated to share the moments with them.

“My kids were sitting right behind the bench,” Bryant happily exclaimed, “so I was talking to them virtually the whole game. They’ve enjoyed this as much as I have, coming to these arenas. You know, they’ve seen me throughout the years get up at 4:00 in the morning and work out and train and come home and work out again. So it’s awesome, as a father, for them to be able to see all the hard work and how it pays off.”

We asked Bryant about Allen Iverson and Shaq O’Neal being announced as finalists for the Hall of Fame.

“Shaq obviously on a more personal level, having played together for so many years and winning three championships, right, and all that he’s meant to the game, and meant to me personally. And AI as a competitor, he drove me to be as obsessive, more obsessive about the game, because I had to figure out how to solve that problem, you know? And I told him — I saw him here this weekend. I said, ‘You don’t realize how much you pushed me.’ And I don’t think people nowadays realize how great he was as a player and how big of a problem he was for defenses.”

When asked if he talked to NBA legends Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson during the weekend, Bryant noted that he did not feel the role of caretaker after Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas retired, but he did want to represent the league and himself.

“For sure there was a lot of concern voiced from the elder statesmen, including Magic,” Bryant recalled, “about what kind of caretakers AI and I were going to be for the game. Oscar and I have spoken throughout the years sporadically. Russell and I have talked more often, and he’s given me a lot of great advice on leadership and competitiveness and things of that sort.

“But as far as the league, when we first came in, it’s always the younger generation that comes in and it’s just like the elder statesmen says this younger generation has no idea what they’re doing. They’re going to absolutely kill the game. The game, when we played, was pure and all this kind of stuff. Hey, man, that’s always the case. When we came in, we were just young kids that wanted to play, and AI was aggressive. It was a newer generation, newer culture, but I think when David Stern changed the dress code somewhere in between that, that helped, I think. But, yeah, I think the game is in a beautiful place now.”

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich the winning West coach said: “It’s kind of bittersweet. You remember all the struggles against him and all the competitiveness and you respect him so much for bringing it night after night after night. You know, a lot of players don’t understand that responsibility to be able to do that at that level, and he does it fiercely for all these years. So to see him now, it’s like the passing of a generation and he’s been such an iconic figure for so long, and he passes it on to that other group of young guys that you saw out there tonight. So I’m just thrilled that I was able to be here and see that.”

Stephen Curry interjected: “The entire night was very memorable, for sure, with Kobe’s entrance during the starting lineups and the tribute video, Magic Johnson giving a speech about him and his legacy to some highlight moments. Then the curtain call at the end that you knew it was coming, but you didn’t know what part of the game and the feel that the crowd was going to give, and it was amazing. Kind of got goose bumps out there. Kobe means something to everybody individually as a basketball fan and including us, as players. So you kind of have a lot of different thoughts about what he means to the game and how he inspired others and me growing up. I’ll remember that for sure.”

It may have been Bryant’s farewell, but the NBA ballet went on. In particular, I talked to NBA Hall of Famer and Slam Dunk judge, George “Ice Man” Gervin about the slam dunk contest results. I kind of thought that Aaron Gordon’s dunks were enough to at least earn him a tie if not the win in the most talked about contest since Dominique Wilkins vs. Spud Webb.

“I have to admit that Gordon put it down,” Gervin told me, “but he had a number of misses before his great dunks. Zach LaVine nailed his on the first try. We had to give it to him based on that.”

In all it was a special weekend for me and I was elated that Bryant, a person I have known since he first came into the league was feted, but being in Canada made it even more special.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

 

NBA’s Dan Roundfield dies tragically

In sports column on September 1, 2012 at 1:33 pm

By Leland Stein III

As a wannabe basketball player in Detroit Public Schools (Mackenzie High) I was just making my way on the varsity team, while former Chadsey High’s Dan Roundfield was locking horns with my Mackenzie High’s Lovell Rivers in a big man clash.

Rivers went on to Michigan State and Roundfield to Central Michigan University. The 6-foot-8 Roundfield was an intimidating force in the PSL and later in the Mid-America Conference.

On the collegiate scene, Roundfield was twice selected to the All-Mid-American Conference Team for Central Michigan University; he was also the 1975 M.A.C. Player of the Year.

Roundfield spent 12 seasons in the American Basketball Association and National Basketball Association, playing for the Indiana Pacers (1975–1978), Atlanta Hawks (1978–1984), Detroit Pistons (1984–1985), and Washington Bullets (1985–1987). Then he moved to Turin, playing for Auxilium Torino.

Roundfield earned a reputation as a strong rebounder and tenacious defender, and during his career and he was named to five NBA All-Defensive teams and three All-Star teams. His nickname was Dr. Rounds.

He was selected to the NBA Eastern Conference All-Star team in three consecutive seasons from 1980-1982.

The last time I saw Dan was in 2003 when the NBA All-star Weekend was in Atlanta. He was at the Legends Brunch and he and I and the late Dave Debusschere found ourselves at the same table. We talked about Detroit and all our memories here. It was an enlivened conversation. It seemed like we had known each other for years.

That is why I was particularly excited to see Dan and help welcome him into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame recently at the Detroit Gem Theatre. The 56th Induction ceremony was held this past Sunday, and as ill-timed faith would have it Dan was not there to revel in his hometown moment of glory.

Roundfield, 59, died off the Caribbean island of Aruba the week before his scheduled induction. Reportedly he was trying to save his wife from drowning and did help her to safety, but the extreme undertow sucked him back out to sea.

The former All Star was apparently swept away in a strong current as he tried to help his struggling wife. Police, firefighters, the Coast Guard and volunteers searched for him, finding his body about 90 minutes later, trapped by rocks underwater.

Bernie Roundfield, who said she was helped to safety by a U.S. tourist snorkeling nearby, said in an interview that the couple, who live in the Atlanta area, had come to the island with their two grandchildren.

The couple had visited Aruba nearly 20 times and were caught off guard by the strong currents at the swimming area known as “Baby Beach,” even though they had been there many times in the past, she said.

“We always go to Baby Beach, and we go there because it’s so safe,” she told The Associated Press. “It happened so fast.”

Bernie Roundfield was treated for shock after the incident. Julia Roundfield, a sister-in-law of the athlete, who lives in Detroit, said members of the former athlete’s extended family were still trying to get details of the incident.

“He was a real sweet guy,” Julia Roundfield said. “He really was a sweetheart.”

Said former Piston Rick Mahorn at Roundfield’s MSHOF induction ceremony: “Dan was a tough competitor, but he was a wonderful person first and foremost. He was respected around the league as a person of character.”

Added Former teammate James Edwards: “When I came to Indiana I knew no one, but Dan and his wife opened up their home to me. Whenever I needed a meal and needed to be around family, Dan was my family. He was that kind of person, big hearted.”

Detroit has lost one of its favorite son’s way too soon. He gone, but will forever be remembered as a member of the MSHOF.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com.