While the All-Star break in February had been given as a target for Thompson’s return (and Thompson’s father Mychal had suggested mid-March as a possible date), that seems shockingly optimistic given the 11-12 month recovery time that’s common for NBA players returning from an ACL tear. Returning in February would give Thompson just seven months to recover from his July surgery. Players like Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker needed nearly a year to fully recover.
Kerr saying it’s “unlikely” that Thompson will play this season does leave room for him to beat the recovery odds, but Kerr isn’t betting on it. He also essentially ruled out an April return for Thompson, which would have him playing his first games of the season right before or during the playoffs.
“You have to look at it realistically. I had an ACL [tear] in college, and I missed a whole season. Generally, an ACL for a basketball player is a full-year recovery, and if it’s a full year for Klay, that puts them out for the season.
“We’ve kind of left the door open in case the rehab goes perfectly and the doctors say he can go. But the reality is, on April 1, that’s the nine-month mark. … April versus nine months post-op for an ACL.
“We have to prepare our young guys to fill that role behind him, and when he gets back, whenever that is, hopefully these young guys now are developed and in the rotation and ready to really be contributors on a playoff team and we can get better.”
It already seems like Kerr is planning for Thompson to return during the 2020-2021 NBA season, which makes nobody happy — least of all Thompson. Kerr told NBC Sports that Thompson has been around the team more lately, but he’s missing basketball something fierce.
“He’s bored. I mean, Klay loves basketball, he loves to play, so he’s at the point in his rehab, three-plus months in, where his knee feels pretty good. He’s not in pain. He can get out there and shoot around, but he’s got to let it heal, and he can’t run, he can’t cut. So we’ll see him in the weight room, in the training room, getting his work in.
“But I feel bad for him. You never feel part of it unless you’re actually playing and with the guys, and he misses that.”
Thompson’s dad Mychal, himself a former NBA player, gave his son some advice for getting through what’s likely to be one of the toughest seasons of his career. Via NBC Sports:
“It’s tough. I told him it’s gonna be tough. He’s an ultimate competitor. He wants to play. He has so much fun playing for the Warriors and being around the game that he loves.
“I told him it’s gonna be a tough mental grind. You got to keep yourself busy — be around the team, get on the air sometimes with [Bob] Fitzgerald and Kelenna [Azubuike]. Call a game sometimes, they’ll be happy to have you call the game.
“Be on the bench and help coach, try to come up with some other business interests. That’s what you have to do. You have to keep yourself mentally busy otherwise you’ll go crazy because you miss it so much.”
Leonard leads Clippers over LeBron and Lakers 112-102
LOS ANGELES — Kawhi Leonard began a new chapter with the Los Angeles Clippers, scoring 30 points to go with a strong bench effort in a 112-102 victory over LeBron James and the Lakers on Tuesday night in the teams’ season opener.
Lou Williams added 21 points and Montrezl Harrell had 17 off the bench when the Clippers opened their 50th season and 36th in Los Angeles as the once unlikely but now favorites to win the franchise’s first NBA championship.
Leonard won his second NBA title last season in Toronto.
The Lakers showed off their new 1-2 punch of James and Anthony Davis. Davis scored 25 points, making 9 of 14 free throws, and James had 18. Danny Green outscored them both with 28 points.
But Leonard got it done without his personal recruit Paul George, sidelined indefinitely while rehabbing from a pair of offseason shoulder surgeries.
RAPTORS 130, PELICANS 122, OT
TORONTO — Fred VanVleet scored a career-high 34 points, Pascal Siakam fouled out with 34 points and 18 rebounds, and defending champion Toronto beat New Orleans in the NBA’s season-opening game.
Kyle Lowry scored 22 points, including a pair of free throws that put Toronto in the lead for good, and Serge Ibaka had 13 as the Raptors won their seventh straight season opener and posted their eighth win in nine meetings with the Pelicans.
Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday tied it at 122 by making a pair of free throws with 2:23 left in overtime. Lowry answered with his foul shots, VanVleet hit a corner 3, and Lowry also connected from long range to cap a decisive 8-0 run.
He’s 1,101 points from passing Kobe Bryant for No. 3 on the all-time regular-season scoring list, is two games away from becoming the 40th player in league history with 1,200 appearances, and two starts from passing Bryant again for No. 10 on the career games-started list with 1,199.
He’s also 522 field-goal tries away from 24,000, and will be the sixth player in league history to get there.
VINCE IS OLD
Vince Carter is about to become the first player in NBA history to appear in 22 seasons. And if he plays for Atlanta at Denver on Nov. 12 — or any game after that — he will become the fourth-oldest player to appear in an NBA regular-season game.
The three oldest: Nat Hickey (45 years, 363 days in his last appearance), Kevin Willis (44 years, 224 days) and Robert Parish (43 years, 232 days). On Nov. 12, Carter will be 42 years and 290 days old — one day older than Dikembe Mutombo was in his final regular-season game.
Carter turns 43 on Jan. 26. He’s older than four current NBA coaches — Charlotte’s James Borrego, Memphis’ Taylor Jenkins, Minnesota’s Ryan Saunders and Sacramento’s Luke Walton.
Carter enters this season with 1,481 games played. That’s fifth all-time; he’s 24 games from passing No. 4 John Stockton, 42 games from passing No. 3 Dirk Nowitzki and 80 games from passing No. 2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Parish leads the list with 1,611 games.
DEANDRE DOESN’T MISS
Among players with 2,000 field goals in NBA history, Brooklyn’s DeAndre Jordan has the best shooting percentage of anyone — .670 entering this season, well ahead of second-place Artis Gilmore’s .599.
To put that in perspective: If Jordan took 554 shots this season and missed every one of them, he’d still be ahead of Gilmore.
The NBA is going international for three games this season — two in Mexico City, the other in Paris.
The Mexico City matchups have Dallas playing Detroit on Dec. 12 and Phoenix playing San Antonio on Dec. 14. In Paris, it’ll be Charlotte against Milwaukee on Jan. 24.
They’ll be home games for Detroit, Phoenix and Charlotte.
Dallas will have a bit of a rarity: The Mavericks will play in three different countries in an 11-day span, starting with the game in Mexico, followed by four in the U.S. and then a trip to Toronto on Dec. 22.
J.J. Redick won a state championship in his senior year of high school. He went to the NCAA Tournament in all four of his college seasons at Duke.
And in 13 NBA seasons, he’s been to the playoffs 13 times.
Postseason basketball is an annual rite for Redick, a streak he’s putting on the line this season with the New Orleans Pelicans. And Redick mentioned the streak to Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson, another former Duke player, in their first real conversation about the coming season.
“The last thing I said to him was, `Look man, don’t (mess) this up for me,” Redick said. “He got it.”
Not only did teams take more shots last season than at any time in the last 35 years, they were connecting a pretty good clip as well.
Across the NBA, teams made 46.1% of their shot attempts last season — the league’s second-best rate since 1995-96.
Sacramento has gone 13 seasons without a playoff appearance, the longest such drought in franchise history — and tied for the second-longest in NBA history.
The Clippers missed 15 consecutive postseasons from 1977 through 1991. Minnesota missed 13 in a row from 2005 through 2017.
The Kings are one of only four franchises that currently have playoff droughts of longer than three seasons — the Knicks have missed nine in a row, and the Lakers and Knicks have both missed the last six postseasons.
For those who want to start planning, here are some key dates for the postseason and draft season next spring: Playoffs will start on April 18, the draft lottery in Chicago is on May 19, the draft combine in Chicago is May 21-24, the NBA Finals will begin on June 4 and Game 7 of the title series — if necessary — is on June 21.
Kevin Durant doesn’t expect to play during the 2019-20 NBA season, but he’s commandeering the storylines the day before it begins.
The two-time Finals MVP joined Brooklyn in free agency this offseason after three eventful seasons with the Warriors, which included two championships. He has been rehabbing since having surgery to repair a torn Achilles, and recently found time to visit with one of his former teammates — Serge Ibaka — who was guarding him when that injury occurred.
Durant was the guest for the premiere episode of Ibaka’s show “How Hungry Are You?”, in which the Congolese native gets his guests to try some unusual eats. The menu for Durant?
The culinary choice was actually Ibaka’s way of showing support for his former teammate.
“I know a lot of people call my boy a snake. Today, he’s about to eat snake,” Ibaka said at the opening of the episode. “‘Cuz snake don’t eat snake. You got it?”
Ibaka and Durant cover numerous topics throughout their conversation, including what would have happened in the 2019 NBA Finals if Durant hadn’t torn his Achilles. But as far as making headlines, nothing is likely to compare to Durant’s response to Ibaka’s first question, which put him on the spot.
“Who is a better player: Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook?”
“Stephen Curry,” Durant responded after a long pause.
When asked why he felt that way, Durant responded, “‘Cuz he can shoot better.”
Well, there you have it. Case closed, right? Straight from the sn … err .. horse’s mouth.
I’m sure that’ll go over well in Oklahoma City and Houston. No chance anyone overreacts.
Kevin Durant tells Serge Ibaka why Warriors would have beaten Raptors
It’s always fun to hear two people talk some friendly trash to each other.
It’s even better when the people involved are Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.
On the most recent episode of “How Hungry Are You?” from Bleacher Report, the former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates had the following back-and-forth about the 2019 NBA Finals between the Warriors and Raptors:
Ibaka: “Do you think if you didn’t go down, you guys would beat us?”
Durant: “For sure.”
Ibaka: “Are you sure about that? Are you 100 percent, my brother? We were hot, baby … we were hot. We were like fire. Nobody could stop us.”
Durant: “I could. I was like Sub-Zero (laughing).”
Ibaka: “We may go to Game 7, but the way we were balling — had confidence.”
Durant: “Let’s put it like this — if ya’ll go into a Game 7 with the two-time champs, you’re not winning that game. You’re not. Ya’ll had to win in six, which ya’ll did. But if I was out there, ya’ll wouldn’t have beat us at home.”
Ibaka: “We almost beat you guys in five, you know that right?”
Durant: “Yeah. Game 6, ya’ll almost lost anyway. Klay [Thompson] went out, and ya’ll almost lost. So Game 6, we would have smacked ya’ll at the crib. And then Game 7 — I know for sure you could hear a pin drop in your locker room walking into that arena. Ya’ll would have been so shook.”
Durant: “So shook.”
Ibaka: “Yeah, you’re right about that (laughter). But we were hot, so we the champs.”
Durant didn’t bring up the fact that he missed the first four games of the series, while Klay and Kevon Looney were sidelined for Game 3 in Oakland.
I think we all can agree that if both teams were fully healthy from the start, Golden State wins the series in six games max.
It’s been a difficult month for the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver, who has been dealing with the never-ending fallout from the NBA’s China situation. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s now-deleted tweet supporting democracy in Hong Kong has had far-reaching effects, with both the NBA’s bottom line and LeBron James’ image taking a hit.
James’ response to Morey’s tweet wasn’t well received, with him toeing the NBA line and calling it “misinformed,” and later clarifying that he was upset by the timing of Morey’s tweet. But in an appearance on ESPN’s “Get Up” on Monday morning, Silver defended James’ response, as well as the decision many players have made to stay silent on the issue. Via Bleacher Report:
“I think that these players, I mean, take LeBron who has an incredible track record of doing things that have changed people’s lives in the United States to be asked to comment on a difficult foreign issue is, I think, again there’s free expression and he should say how he feels. But, freedom of speech also means the freedom not to speak. And I’ve often said to players about issues here at home: If it’s something you don’t know about and you don’t feel comfortable responding, that’s OK as well. So, it’s been no-win for a lot of those players, so I’m very sympathetic.”
Silver’s right in that this is a no-win for the players. Those who stay quiet are criticized for doing so, and those who don’t are criticized for either toeing the NBA line or commenting on a complex international situation. Players have been thrust into the middle of a kerfuffle they didn’t ask for, one that has immense financial ramifications for the NBA and them by extension. James and other players had appearances canceled in China over Morey’s tweet, and lost out on endorsements geared toward the Chinese market.
Even though the regular season begins on Tuesday, the NBA-China controversy doesn’t seem like it’s going to die down anytime soon. Over the weekend, Chinese state television issued a warning to Silver that he could face “retribution” for defending Morey and defaming China. Last week, Silver revealed that China had demanded that Morey be fired, which Silver would not do. In fact, he said that Morey wouldn’t even be fined for his tweet.
“This has been a very difficult moment between the NBA and China,” Silver said on ESPN. “My belief is … we will get back on track. People need to step back. Everybody has made their points. There is no secret here about what’s going on in China. … Basketball diplomacy and engagement is positive. That’s what we’re turning back to.”
Charles Barkley defends LeBron James’ China stance: ‘He had to look out for his business’
For that, LeBron’s been widely and sharply criticized.
But that criticism isn’t coming from NBA circles as the league maintains its united front in the mess that pits its significant financial stakes in China against the ability to speak freely on the plight of the people of Hong Kong.
To the surprise of nobody, Barkley — who is still on Nike’s payroll — was in James’ corner.
“I thought everybody was really unfair to LeBron,” Barkley said. “Everybody does business in China. Every American company does business in China. Why should LeBron not be able to protect his financial interests — and the NBA and Nike?”
When pressed on James declining to take a stance on human rights issues for people across the world while he regularly speaks freely on social justice issues, Barkley defended James’ right to choose his battles.
“Everybody don’t have to pick every battle to fight,” Barkley said. “LeBron is passionate about the things he wants to be passionate about. We don’t get to tell him what we want him to talk about.”
American Basketball great Larry Bird is widely regarded as one of the finest basketball players of all time. But records are not the only thing associated with the former Celtics player. Interestingly, Social media giant Twitter’s logo is inspired by the legendary player. In fact, the logo even has a name: Larry the Bird.
Twitter logo named after NBA legend
This information gained traction after Twitter’s platform and API manager Ryan Sarver shared a photo of the company’s Creative Director, Doug Bowman, “explaining the evolution of Larry the Bird logo.” If you look around the internet and connect the dots, you can understand the connection of Twitter’s logo and the NBA Legend. Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter born in 1974, and graduated high school from Boston. During that time, Larry Bird was setting the league on fire while playing for the Boston Celtics.
Larry Bird is not on Twitter though. He’s not someone you can associate with a micro-blogging platform. Larry Bird was a quiet personality, except the time while he was on the court. He was not the one made for flash cams, that would go to Jordan and Magic. Yet, Larry Bird, in his usual cunning way of finding a pass to his teammate, finds himself on Twitter, not as himself, but as the logo.
A 6’9” tall stalwart, Bird helped Boston Celtics win three NBA titles in the 80s. Bird, along with the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, took the game to untouched heights. Larry Bird was also part of the USA’s Dream Team in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Biz Stone, during his teenage days, watched Bird soar and score three-pointers for fun. Maybe that’s where the inspiration came from.
Larry Bird was recently seen in Mumbai for the NBA India Games.
Larry Bird Q&A: Being a white player in the NBA, trash-talking and today’s game
Bird sat down with The Undefeated at the NBA India Games to talk hoops
MUMBAI, India — Twenty-seven years after Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and the “Dream Team” made the world fall in love with the game of basketball in 1992, India showed its adoration for the Boston Celtics great during the first NBA India Games last week. Fans gave Bird a standing ovation when he was introduced. They chanted, “Larry! Larry!” And Indian actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas even took a picture with the Hall of Famer.
The Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings traveled to India to play two preseason games. Bird, who is a consultant for the Pacers, believes the “Dream Team” had a major impact on this historic sporting event taking place in India.
“The Dream Team, it is definitely the reason why I am here,” Bird told The Undefeated. “The late Dave Gavitt told me before he even went over there. He said, ‘You can make a major influence on basketball throughout the world.’ And I didn’t understand that. He said, ‘You’re going to find out how far behind they are, and how hard they got to work.’ He said, ‘You’ll see their culture is spilling over to the NBA and colleges to learn.’
“And he was right on it. So this is one of the reasons why we’re here today, because the Dream Team. … Look how many international players we have in our league now. It’s unbelievable. If you’re good enough, come in.”
Bird, 62, sat down with The Undefeated during the NBA India Games to talk about his influence on the league, the “Malice in the Palace,” his favorite NBA players, how he would fare in the NBA today, and much more.
I have heard stories about how you used to play pickup basketball with black men who worked at a hotel near your home in French Lick, Indiana, as a kid. Can you talk about the influence they had?
Yeah, back then I would just try to develop my skills as a young player, and I got in games around there. But these guys were older. When you’re 9, 10, 11, you see somebody 20, you think they’re old. But it was a number of guys who would show up every day. In between games they’d smoke their Kool cigarettes and drink their beer, but great guys.
What was really great for me and made me happy is 30 years ago I ran into Slim, who was down in Atlanta out there cooking at one of the hotels we stayed in. And he’d come up and say, ‘Remember me?’ And I knew I’d seen that face before, but I didn’t know where. He was a little bit older. But he said he was so proud of how I turned out.
What were those guys like, and how did they treat you?
They treated me very well. When I showed up, if somebody needed a break, they’d throw me right in there and I’d be in there the rest of the day. But they were pretty good players. They really weren’t great by any means. They always seemed to let me get in there and play with them, and I always enjoyed that because I always looked at that group of guys. They had a great kinship, they got along very well. … Score meant very little, but a lot of talking going on, a lot of fun.
Looking back to you and Magic entering the NBA in 1979, do you think people still talk enough about how you both helped the game?
It’s funny, all through my career they always say, ‘You helped save the NBA.’ But there’s a lot of people who helped save this NBA, it didn’t start with us. Maybe we helped in some way as far as the competition we had in college and going against one another. But I do think we brought a different aspect to the game when we came in.
We both liked to pass the ball. We liked to try to make other guys better. And then we were winners, there was no question about that. Not that there wasn’t a lot of winners before us. But just how we played the game and approached the game, I think, made a big impact throughout the league as far as watching the game.
What was the NBA like when you guys came into the league?
I really didn’t know much about the NBA when I came in. I didn’t really follow it. I always watched the ABA and followed them. … Coming in, I didn’t think much about it, but as a few years went by you could see it progressing. And I could really look back and say 1984, when David Stern took over as commissioner, is where it really took off.
You got to remember, when I came into the league they had cocaine problems … so there was a lot of drug use. I can remember David Stern saying in 1981 he had to give away tickets for people to come to the All-Star Game. But once ’84 hit, you could tell it was a shift in the feelings of the NBA and how it was perceived. And then you got to remember Isiah [Thomas] came in, and Jordan came in, and Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone. You can keep naming them. A group of guys that came into our league and just took it to another level.
But that being said, you and Magic were the foundation of that …
Well, we were first, but I don’t want to say that we changed anything. But we made people take a look at the NBA the way we played. You got to remember, at that time, satellite dishes were just coming out and we were getting into more homes. …
And it goes back to college. We played against one another in the finals [in college]. And they say it’s still one of the highest-rated basketball games ever. So, obviously, we had an impact. But we didn’t change this league.
Boston gets a bad rap in terms of racism. But a lot of people don’t realize Boston drafted the first black player, had the first black starting five and had the first black head coach. Do you think a lot of that is forgotten or overlooked?
Well, I don’t know. To me, Boston is just a hardworking, tough town that loves their sports. I heard a little bit about all [the racism]. I know how Bill Russell was treated when he was there, and it gives you a feeling in your stomach. It makes you want to throw up. But I can’t speak for anybody else that said that it’s forgotten because I didn’t go through that. I didn’t see a lot of that when I was out there. All I knew is when we came into the game that they wanted you to win. But you hear about things.
What do you recall about then-Detroit Pistons forward Dennis Rodman saying in 1987 that you were overrated because you were white, with Isiah Thomas seconding it?
Well, I’ve been in them locker rooms after tough losses. There is no telling what’s said off the record, heat of the battle. Stuff like that never bothered me. Everybody is going to have their opinion, they’re going to say what they’re going to say, you just go on about your business. I can remember after that game somebody come up to me right away after they talked to Isiah. But really, it wasn’t a big deal.
We had fierce battles against Detroit at that time, and we knew as we went on we were going to have a lot more. But I think I said it back then and I say it today, that stuff don’t bother me.
Back in the 1980s, the NBA had a lot of great white American players, led by you. Why do you think that has changed in that regard today?
Yeah, a lot of different interests. Different backgrounds. I’m not saying all white people come middle-class. But anything you try to do and try to be the best at … there are not that many jobs in the NBA. I have said over the years that the black man is the better athlete, so to overcome that you’ve got to be special.
Do you reflect much on your legacy now?
Not really. It’s been so long since I’ve played. And I’m not one of the guys to go back and really talk about it. But I’ve been in a lot of situations where you’re put in a room, you’re asked about it. And over 30-something years of not playing — or 30 years, 28 years, whatever — things change. What you’re thinking is not really what happened. So I get a little nervous sometimes when I talk about it because I can sort of remember how I feel back then. But I don’t remember certain plays or certain things that happened.
And I hate to distort history by saying the wrong thing. But that’s just what happens with time. Your own thought in your mind how it happened 30 years later, but it really didn’t happen that way.
Do you watch a lot of NBA games now?
I watch a lot of individual players in college and I watch the NBA. I love the way the NBA is going. I can remember 20 years ago I was worried about small guards; now I’m worried about the centers. The game changes. I like how they cleaned it up. There is more freedom of movement, and guys can sort of let their game go. When we played in Boston in the East Coast, it was a grind-out game. But when we got to the West Coast, it was more open. You could show your talents. Guys weren’t holding on to you, grabbing you.
And I think that’s what the NBA is today. It’s a freer game, it’s more open. If you’ve got a number of skills, you’re able to display them every night.
Have you ever thought about what you in your prime could be like in the game today?
I don’t worry about it. It’s easy for me to say, ‘Our era is the best, and I was the best,’ and all that. But in my mind, I think we could compete and do really well, but you never know until you’re out there. And I say that because I played against guys that I thought were really good when I came in the league, and after playing against those guys I’d say, ‘Well, he’s not that good.’ And I think that goes back to the thinking when I was younger and I played at a small high school: I’d score a lot of points, get a lot of rebounds, but you don’t play against anybody.
Going to Indiana State, it was the same thing. But when I got into the pros, I had thoughts in my head: Can I do this? Once I got in here, I thought it was pretty easy.
Former Celtics star forward Cedric Maxwell tells a story about how when he first saw you and was like, “Man, this white boy can’t play, I’m going to kill him,” and then he shut up after one day of playing against you. Do you recall that?
Max was doing a lot of talking. But the day I walked in there, you know, it was interesting what happened. When I went to my first practice they had Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe, which I didn’t know him personally, but I remember watching them on TV at UCLA. Then you had Maxwell. The only time I ever heard of his name was when I went to Boston to watch a game. I didn’t even know who he was. When I walked in, there he was, doing a lot of talking.
By the time our first practice was over, Curtis and Sidney both were cut, and Max is the only one left. You go into these things and go, well, you don’t know how you’re going to be treated, but I ain’t taking no s—. If they want to go, we have to go. But Curtis and Sidney were really nice guys. Cedric was doing all the talking. So, second practice, them two were gone and it was just Cedric. And it didn’t take long to get him quiet.
Where did your competitive fire come from?
I don’t know. I was always driven on the basketball court. I always wanted to win every game I played in, sometimes too much. When you’re out on the playground just playing, and you’re scraping, fighting, and do whatever you can to win the game. When it’s all over with, your friends and I’d think, ‘Why did I get like that?’ That’s the way I’ve always been. A number of guys I went against in college, the NBA, it was the same way. But to say I got it from my parents is bulls—. I just, I think it’s how you were raised.
You were known as a great trash-talker too. I remember when you asked the competitors before the NBA 3-point competition, ‘Who’s coming in second?’ And then you won. You also had some great battles on the court with former Pacers star Chuck Person. Was there a favorite moment?
I’ve always respected Chuck, because when you’re playing out there in a game, you know the guys are coming after you, certain guys every time you play them, and he was one of them. There’s certain guys that just didn’t give you no resistance, maybe because they were pissed off at teammates or the coach. And as the game went on you could see they, ‘Ah, hell, we can’t beat these guys.’
But Chuck brought it every time. I always respect him for that. Yeah, we got in some verbal things. And he talked a lot junk before he got to Boston or I came to Indiana. But when it was all said and done, I respected the guy.
But the 3-point thing was more of a … it wasn’t really [trash talk]. I just walked in and seen all them guys and said, ‘Who is coming in second?’ But I didn’t do it for any reason at all. The one thing about that first 3-point contest, when I went in the locker room, they had them red, white, blue balls, and so I was feeling them. Them things were slicker than hell. I was like, ‘How am I ever going to shoot this thing?’ …
The 3-point line was never a problem. It’s just that back then I never practiced it until we had the 3-point contest. I figured I could pick up a quick $10,000 by shooting a basketball on a Saturday afternoon. Why not spend a half-hour shooting 3s?
When did you know that you were going to be a special basketball player?
I thought that the third day of [Celtics] training camp. When we started and I got drafted, we went to a place called Marshfield [Massachusetts], and that’s where we held our camp. If you can believe this, the first practice was outdoors. And at night, we would go to the gymnasium and play. But a lot of the veterans would come down there and I’d played against them. So, in my mind, I was thinking, Well, they are out of shape and not ready to go. And I’m having some success. But once we got into training camp and we got going four or five days, I thought, I know they just won 48 or 49 games last year, but I know I’m better than these guys.
I didn’t know how it was going to translate when we started playing in real games. We ended up winning 60 games, 61 games that year. But I knew early that I was going to be all right in this league.
Who are your favorite players to watch today?
A lot of them. Obviously, LeBron [James]. I can’t compare him to anybody because he’s so great, just like Michael [Jordan] was. They’re very special, and I don’t know how in hell he stays healthy. But that’s probably one of the great qualities of his game, being able to stay healthy playing that many minutes.
Kevin Durant is special. Kawhi Leonard‘s run last year in the playoffs, unbelievable. All the Golden State guys, the way they play the game, the way they respect the game. I am still amazed that Klay Thompson could score 60 points on 11 dribbles [against Indiana].
There’s just so many of them, you hate to just pick one.
I love the game now, I like where it’s at. I like where it’s going. A lot of people say, ‘Well, they don’t have to guard, you can’t touch anybody.’ Well, yeah, that makes a difference because you can show everybody your skills.
Like I said earlier, the small guards I was concerned about. Now, I’m concerned about the center. I can remember when we talked about widening the lane because you wanted to pound it inside. The lane wasn’t big enough for all of these guys. Well, it’s more than plenty big enough, we found out. The rims are high enough. It’s just how this game keeps progressing as it goes on. It’ll change like it always does. But as far as me playing in it now compared to then, I like it because it’s more open. It’s freer. I could get more possessions. You can pass the ball easier.
So why haven’t you been tempted to get back as a coach or a general manager with the Pacers or elsewhere?
Well, I enjoyed all that. I’m turning 63 this year and I had my run, just like when I was with the Pacers with Kevin [Pritchard] and [David] Morway and them guys were there, I knew my time was going to come when we needed a change, a fresh voice, just like a coach, and I’ve always felt that. A lot of guys like to hang around for the last minute. But I enjoy my life, and I feel good, and I don’t have to be there all that time. I can go out and do other things.
In the winter I can go to Florida for a while. In the summers I can do other things. I enjoy being around it. I enjoy coming to these places [like India]. I enjoy watching the guys work out all summer, so it’s still in me a little bit. But as far as a full-time gig with a GM [general manager] or a coach or something like that, I don’t have no energy, man.
What was it like being the Pacers’ general manager during the “Malice in the Palace” on Nov. 19, 2004?
Stuff like that takes a lot out of you. To be a part of it was just awful. I’ve been through a lot of things, I’ve seen a lot of scuffles. I was not there, but I was watching it on TV. To watch something like that go on, and it wasn’t just the Pacers, it was both teams, and it was awful.
We took the brunt of it. But David [Stern] made a decision. But really it was both teams. It just gives you a real bad feeling. It’s been I don’t know how many years now, but I can still visualize all that went on during that time.
Looking back, how good do you think that Pacers team could have been?
Well, you build teams hopefully to get an opportunity to play in the Finals, and they were definitely good enough. Even though we went to the Finals in 2000, I think that team was better. They didn’t get to show us how good they were.
What do your three championships mean to you now?
It was hard to get them. Obviously, injuries played a role in stopping us from winning a few more. But you never know, and I’m sure the other teams had their injuries. But our careers were really not that long. I played 13 years, but I really was there for 12, and I had about three years where I didn’t play a little more than half the season. But we had good runs, we had good teams.
And as far as winning championships, it’s the most important thing in your life when you’re doing it. They’re very special now. But it ain’t my whole world [now]. It was then. Basketball was my whole life, still is a part of my life because there is nothing like playing a game. I knew I had to practice all the time because I knew Earvin [Johnson] was practicing all the time and it’s us against the Lakers. I wanted to beat their ass.
In an exclusive one-on-one interview with TODAY’s Craig Melvin, NBA legend Michael Jordan talks about grandfatherhood, saying “I’m having fun.” Sixteen years after retiring from basketball, Air Jordan has embarked on a new career of philanthropy and community service: “I feel like I’m making a difference.”
COMING SOON: The Last Dance, a new documentary series produced by Netflix and ESPN Films which is set to premiere in 2019: the 10-hour program “will chronicle one of the greatest icons and most successful dynasties in sports history, Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls.” Directed by Jason Hehir (who also made documentaries about Michigan’s Fab Five, the Super Bowl-winning 1985 Chicago Bears and wrestling icon Andre the Giant) and produced by Mike Tollin, the series will also highlight Jordan’s rise to fame in the NBA, complete with contributions from Jordan and other players from the Bulls’ title-winning teams, plus “never-before-seen footage from the team’s last championship run in the 1997-98 season.”