Suns.com: This is Your Life

I’ve taken a lot of trips down memory lane this week, as we prepared for the re-launch of Suns.com. I vividly recall reading a memo from the league office in 1995 describing plans for a new NBA portal that fans could access through their computers to get score and schedules for each team.

I probably shouldn’t admit this now, but I had no clue what they were talking about.

I remember the first time we ever posted video on the site in 1997. It was a 10-second, choppy clip of rookie Marko Milic hurdling a car during a dunk contest in Europe. That was some classic video!

I’ll never forget taking digital pictures of Jason Kidd and Penny Hardaway eating breakfast at the team hotel in Flagstaff during training camp 2000, and having the revelation that THIS was the kind of behind-the-scenes content that fans would eat up on Suns.com.

I remember all the live chats we scheduled during the weeks of camp, only to end up banging on players’ hotel room doors, trying to get them to wake up and answer the NBA moderator’s calls.

I’d like to forget our first-ever episode of Nothin’ But Net, which featured a very nervous Kayte Christensen as Cedric Ceballo’s co-host (she got much better as the weeks went on), and a very confused Bryan Colangelo, who had to be wondering why we kept interrupting his interview to put goofy props up in front of the camera lens. Thankfully, very few fans actually ever saw the debut, as an arena maintenance worker mercifully tripped over our extension cord, pulling the plug on the live webcast. True story.

I could go on and on, of course, but I thought I would share a few screen shots from Suns.com of years past instead. After all, a picture tells a thousand words, right? I hope you enjoy this 6,000-words worth of flashbacks, courtesy of the Wayback Machine, as much as I have, and enjoy the new-and-improved Suns.com even more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Training Camp is next week?! Really?!

I never did get to that new Einstein biography, see Superbad or any other summer Hollywood offerings, or add a word to the novel I haven’t touched in three years. And I never watched more than a passing glance as Suns’ players began returning to the Valley and working out at US Airways Center.

Koek and Taurasi take a picture with the WNBA Championship Trophy. 

(NBAE Photos)

In fact between covering the Mercury on their road to the WNBA Championship for PhoenixMercury.com and then taking my vacation, I have not felt this disconnected with the Suns since the Skiles era.

Since I cannot write with personal experience about the Brian Skinner addition, the quality of play of the voluntary workouts or Aaron Nelson’s reports from the trip to China, I’ll share some random thoughts on how I spent my offseason.

  • I understand how fans might feel about the Mercury raising a championship banner before the Suns. My feelings about the Bears changed forever when they had the audacity to win the Super Bowl a season after the Cubs’ crushing loss in the 1984 MLB playoffs. 
  • I also understand fans not liking women’s basketball enough in general to be excited about the Mercury’s feat. While I have enjoyed my time working on their web site over the years, and have come to know and like many of their players and staff, I have never been too big a fan of the actual game itself. I always felt it was slower and sloppier than the men’s version, and simply did not hold the same interest for me game in, game out.

    This playoff run was different, though. Yes, I had a unique perspective of traveling with the team and watching the games from a bird’s-eye view, which certainly enhanced the experience for me. But even beyond that, the quality of play was strong and the team was exciting to watch as they gained momentum early in the post-season and approached the title.

    I’m not out to convince anyone to become a women’s basketball fan, or even necessarily a Mercury fan (although they are part of the Suns’ family). My point in bringing it up at all is that this Mercury team was a treat to watch and a blast to cover.

    The title-clinching game was intense and the celebration that followed was crazy. I looked at the whole experience not only for the accomplishment it was, but also as a dress rehearsal for what I believe is to come for the Suns. And based on what I witnessed this summer, it will be well worth the wait.

  • One of the highlights of my time with the Mercury was getting to know Head Coach Paul Westhead. Our connection started early while on the bus from the Seattle airport to the hotel before Game 1 of the opening round series when he overheard me mention I was from Chicago (I guess I do that a lot).As Westhead got off the bus he approached me and said, “So, you’re from Chicago. I used to coach there, you know.”

    My parents got cable at our house in Niles, Ill. the year Westhead coached a pretty bad Bulls team in the early ‘80s. Despite their record, I still got hooked on the game, and Reggie Theus was the first NBA player I regularly watched and followed. I have been an NBA fan ever since. “Yes, Coach, I remember you from Chicago,” I told him.

    (I had the pleasure of meeting Theus and telling him how much I enjoyed watching him as a player when the new Kings’ head coach was in Phoenix to watch a pre-draft workout.

    While waiting for most of the players to find out what happened to their bags after landing in San Antonio for the Conference Finals (the top seed in the West, the Mercury never played a Game 1 at home), I sat on the bus and listened to stories from Westhead about his days with the Bulls (both of our luggage arrived with the plane), as well as other tales from his basketball adventures.

    The training facility in Chicago was the back of a gym at an orphanage and the weight room consisted of two light barbells. When I told him I started interning for a local TV news sports department shortly after the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan he said, “If I was still there when Michael got there, I might still be there.”

    My favorite of his stories, however, concerned the Lakers’ signing of Kurt Rambis a year after Westhead coached Los Angeles to the NBA Championship. Rambis, a former Suns forward and current Lakers assistant coach, initially turned down an offer to attend the Lakers training camp for a $10,000 offer to play overseas.

    “You know we just won the title, right?” Westhead asked Rambis.

    When the Lakers came back with a $10,000 offer to attend their camp, Rambis said, “Sure.”

    As players began arriving, Westhead overheard a couple of Lakers’ staff members mocking the long-haired and bearded Rambis. “He doesn’t look like Lakers material,” he heard one of them say.

    Angered by this, Westhead grabbed a blank roster sheet from a member of the media and wrote in Rambis’ name in the 12th spot before even having seen him play.

    “So Kurt Rambis got his start in the NBA out of spite?” I asked Coach.

    “Well, yes, I guess you could say that” he replied. “But it didn’t take long for him to show he belonged.”

    It appears that Westhead will be returning to the NBA, which is understandable, but a shame. I really got to know, like and respect both him and his wife of 44 years, Cassie. I was just a hanger-on with a video camera and I already miss them. I can only imagine how the players who adored them feel.

  • For my vacation, in addition to some bike riding, some lighter reading and an embarrassing amount of NBA Live playing (I’m in the NBA Finals), I took my girlfriend of nine years, Teresa, to Las Vegas.She had never been to “Sin City” and it was a thrill to see someone take in the sights for the first time. I didn’t gamble as much as I usually do, but judging by the cards I was getting the couple of times I did play some poker, that is a good thing (honestly, that’s almost always a good thing).

    Having been to Vegas several times myself, everywhere I go I have flashbacks of previous visits. The strongest sense of memory came when walking through the lobby and casino at the MGM Grand, where we stayed during All-Star Weekend last February.

    As I have suppressed most of the memories of our time spent at that hotel that weekend, I’ll not risk any further exposing of them by sharing what I do remember.

It’s back to work on Thursday and the season is just around the corner, so I guess I better catch up on things.

Has anyone heard anything about a rumor about the Suns signing Grant Hill?

Great Expectations

Both in sports as well as life, I’ve had a reputation for being very good at seeing things well before they develop. Some might even go as far as to call me a bit of a prophet (they don’t, but what better time to start, right?).

Amare Stoudemire and Brad Faye try out NBA ’08

(NBAE Photos)

When the Phoenix Suns drafted Amaré Stoudemire back in 2002, I received a number of calls from friends and family asking my opinion on the selection. For anybody interested in my two cents, my analysis of the youngster was simple – if he could ever develop a consistent shot from about 15 feet out, he would go down in history as a better power forward than Karl Malone. So far, he’s made me look pretty good. The two-time All-Star has scored 6,016 points and grabbed 2,732 rebounds five seasons into his NBA career, despite missing all but three games during the 2005-06 campaign. It’s hard to imagine that had STAT spent four seasons playing college ball, the 24-year-old would have just wrapped up his rookie season last year.

But for all the predictions I’ve been able to make over the years, there’s no way could I have foreseen what would take place just a couple weeks ago. With Stoudemire slated for the cover of the soon-to-be-released NBA ’08 video game, Sony invited me out to San Diego for a front row seat to the motion capture process involving STAT.

For anybody not familiar with the process, it records the movements of a participant – in this case Stoudemire – and maps them to a 3-D model created by a computer artist. In the case of video games, it allows more realistic and fluid motions from the characters being controlled. Quite a long ways from Super Mario and those Dig Dug guys, right?

The technology behind motion capture definitely pays off when playing these games, as you can see the difference between a player of Stoudemire’s size, stature and ability when compared to that of a Chris Paul. It not only makes for a better look to the game, but also makes things much more realistic.

When I arrived, I met up with several people in the video game industry who were there for a sneak peak. While I haven’t been in the video game loop like I used to be, it was definitely comforting to see I wasn’t as ancient as I thought. There were still references to Double Dribble and when playing NBA ‘08 against the experts, I didn’t do nearly as poorly as I expected. Not only did I spare myself embarrassment, but I was even able to emerge victorious in one of my two contests played (thanks in large part to a Raja Bell shot at the buzzer).

While a room filled with video game experts and a web guy would already seem to scream cool (to some, anyway), things managed to go up a notch when Stoudemire made his arrival. The big man hung out, talked a little hoop and did some gaming before calling it an early night.

I also called it a night early (minus some ESPNEWS) as I knew it would be a long day ahead tomorrow. The hotel room was great and minus the radio alarm randomly sounding off at 5 a.m., definitely had no complaints.

The following morning a couple of us enjoyed a breakfast buffet before heading over to Sony Computer Entertainment headquarters where the motion capture process would take place. Although it was early, Stoudemire was his usual approachable self, chatting with Sony representatives about everything from his gold-medal-winning play in Las Vegas to his knee surgery of a couple years ago (I really wonder if seven more All-Star appearances from now that will still be brought up).

Stoudemire then went to work, and an array of jumpshots and slam dunks later, the process was nearly complete. As the animators began piecing things together, STAT and I went head-to-head on the PlayStation 3. Taking over for game designer Steve Boldener midway through the first quarter, I was forced to use the Seattle SuperSonics while Stoudemire utilized himself and the Suns. With the game already out of reach, I just had a little fun, at one point beating both the video game Amaré and the real Amaré to the other end of the court with former Sun and current Sonic Kurt Thomas. Stoudemire questioned the realism of that specific play, but other than that, the game was met with nothing but positive feedback.

Speaking personally, I can honestly say this was maybe the best basketball video game I have ever played. The graphics are unmatched and the actual game play is as smooth and as fun as any I’d experienced in a long time. I think video games went through a period where designers spent so much time worrying about the graphics that the gameplay lagged. That definitely was not the case with NBA ’08 (and no, I am not being sent out several cases of PlayStation 3’s for saying that).

My only complaints came in the fact that when playing at the US Airways Center, the team photographer in the game looked nothing like our own Barry Gossage, and the pre-game introductions were not conducted by Suns game emcee Cedric Ceballos. I mentioned this to Boldender, the game’s designer, and he commented on how difficult it would be to get that specific for each and every team in the league. I stated that it didn’t need to be done for every team and that in the grand scheme of things only the Suns mattered, but the comment wasn’t taken as seriously as I’d intended.

Following lunch, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Stoudemire. Assuming he was going to be burnt out on talking about the motion capture process and the game, I went more the route of STAT’s summer recap and 202007-08 expectations. Needless to say, the All-Star is fired up and expecting big things to come out of Phoenix this season. He was excited about the addition of Grant Hill and says the forward is in the best shape he’s been in for ages. Stoudemire quickly credited our awesome training staff for that and says a new, rejuvenated Hill should be taking the court for the new season.

I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool things as an employee of the Phoenix Suns, but I may be going out on a limb here by saying this was the coolest. As somebody who has played video games since the days of Commodore 64 (thanks Mom and Dad), and for ages has been a basketball fan, there aren’t many better assignments than flying out to San Diego and hanging out with a guy whose career you’ve followed from the very beginning.

In fact, I can still remember the night the news broke that Steve Nash would be returning to Phoenix to rejoin the Suns. I actually told a friend, “The guy I predicted to be the next Karl Malone now has his John Stockton.” Never could I have foreseen that I’d someday go from discussing my expectations of Amaré and the Suns to discussing the expectations of the Suns with the man himself.

Phoenix or Bust

The last and final day may have been the craziest, most chaotic day I’ve had in a long time! Upon waking up at around 8 a.m., packing up my room, and checking out, I headed up to a quick breakfast with the rookies (Alando and D.J.). LB was already down and we were just waiting on Steve.

Leandro Barbosa and Aaron Nelson. 

(Aaron Nelson/Suns Photos)

Read the Aaron Nelson Blog: Part Two

We had a bus departing at 10 a.m. for the grand opening of Yao Ming’s health club – California Fitness Yao Ming (sister company to 24 Hour Fitnress). As we walked out to the bus, Steve and LB signed autographs for several fans, some who drove over 1,500 miles just to get an autograph. A couple of the grils began crying because they were so excited to get the autographs – You might have thought it was the Beatles!

We arrived at a square downtown in which the introduction of the club would take place. We all met Jackie Chan and proceeded to an area with an outdoor stage and some chairs. About 100 media and supporters were present, while the nearby streets and shops were lined with thousands of fans trying to get a picture or autograph of some of the stars. Yao arrived and the opening ensued. As we were being escorted up to the club (video footage coming soon), the 10 or so security guards we had were no match for the rabid fans. People were pushing and fighting to get close to the players, some just to touch them. Security was hurling people out of the way without hesitation. I was just waiting to be one of the unlucky individuals to take a beating. I stayed close to Steve and Leandro, although I’m still not sure if that was a good or bad idea. I also had to push some people away from LB as they were getting out of control. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. OUT OF CONTROL!

Following good-byes with Yao, agent Bill Duffy, and BDA Sports’ Bill Sanders, we got back on our bus and headed to the airport. After waiting a little while, we boarded Bing’s plane and took off for Russia. The flight lasted about 5 ½ hours, but this time no one got off the plane. Everyone stayed where they were and slept. Steve and Baron Davis slept on the couches in the back of the plane and I took the same floor space I had on the way to China. Everyone else was passed out in their seats. After less than an hour of refueling, we headed off to Seattle – about a 6 ½ hour flight. We all continued to sleep until the last 4 minutes in which everyone started to wake up. We landed in Seattle and said our good-byes to Baron Davis, Amir Johnson and Paul Davis.

As I finish this blog, we are about 45 minutes from Phoenix. The only ones left are Steve, LB, Alando, D.J., Chuck Hayes, Bing, Jody, our flight attendant and our two pilots. Both to and from China, our flight attendant took very good care of all of us, trying to make sure we were always comfortable and well fed.

I hate to use the cliché, but this has been a whirlwind trip! It was an incredible experience for such a short time. Steve and Yao did something incredible for the underprivileged children in China with help from many of their NBA and Chinese friends, as well as their agencies. Bing Hu played a big part in the event and was generous enough to fly us over on his private plane so we would not have to make the trip commercially. They told us that the money from the event will help build about70 schools in China so that young children can now have the education that may have passed them by. You should all know the compassion and love Steve and Yao have for such a great cause. The players were grateful to be a part of such an event. Leandro is now looking at doing an event with Steve, similar to this one, to be held in Brazil. You don’t always get a chance to see what these players do to give back to the community, but I have been able to see first hand.

We are getting close to our descent into Phoenix and I cannot wait to see my wife and son! I hope to see many of you reading this at some Suns games as we make another run for the championship. Training camp starts in about two weeks and our first exhibition game is in about three weeks!

Go Suns!!! – and Steelers!

Photo Gallery

A Great Experience and Spectacular Event

Our second day in Beijing consisted of breakfast at 8 a.m. followed by a 9:15 a.m. sightseeing� tour of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. We had a tour guide talk to us about all of the history. It was a great experience and everyone enjoyed the tour despite the continual rainfall.

Steve Nash poses for a picture with� Jackie Chan at a charity game in China. 

(Aaron Nelson/Suns Photos)

Read the Aaron Nelson Blog: Part One

A visit to the Great Wall was scheduled but had to be cancelled due to poor weather and a long ride (two hours each way). The tour lasted a couple of hours and we then returned to the hotel to grab lunch and get ready for practice.

We left for practice at 2 p.m. Our workouts were held at an academy for the Chinese National Teams (all sports). It would be similar to the USOC Training Centers in the US, but their athletes will come to live in the dorms (some at a very young age) to prepare themselves to win an Olympic medal. Practice lasted about two hours and consisted of stretching/warm-up, shooting drills, some offense strategies, and finally a one-on-one game among several of the players (video footage to come). Baron Davis and Steve had a great battle, with Carmelo jumping in at the end.

We arrived back at the hotel around 4:30 and had a 6 p.m. bus to the Yao/Nash Charity Gala. The Gala consisted of dinner (local cuisine), a variety of entertainment, a live auction, and introduction of the players from both teams. The event raised a couple million dollars (US) and with the actual game the next night, raised just about $3 million.

Several Chinese stars were in attendance, although no one I recognized beyond the players. It was really funny to see several of our players nodding off toward the end of the event, including myself. It wasn’t because of boredom, but rather a combination of things that left us somewhat sleep deprived.

Following the Gala, we all went back to the hotel and went to bed. No nightlife on this night because everyone finally hit the wall with the time change, no naps, and a late night the night prior.

The next morning, we had an 8 a.m. breakfast in which I met Steve and LB. We had a bus leaving at 9 a.m. for a joint shoot around/practice with the Chinese National Team. The practice lasted about an hour and we headed back to the hotel to shower and leave for a noon team lunch at one of the nicest restaurants in China called LAN. LAN is a $52 million dollar establishment with about 50,000 square feet. It consisted of various rooms with different themes. LAN was designed by a famous French designer, although I can’t recall his name. Lunch consisted of a 10-course meal and although I didn’t partake in every course, I was stuffed!

After lunch, we had about an hour and a half to get ready before our 5:30 p.m. bus to the game. You may have heard, but traffic in China is beyond ridiculous. I have seen LA, Houston, and New York traffic, but nothing like this! Even city buses were so crammed, it looked as though individuals barely had enough room to breathe. It took us about 1 hour and 45 minutes to reach the venue. The game was scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. but obviously started much later since we arrived there at 7:15pm. I got everyone taped and off they went for the start of the game. Movie star Jackie Chan threw up the honorary jump ball. The game consisted of two 10-minute quarters between the two teams followed by a quarter in which Steve played for the Chinese team and one of their players, Sun, played for our team. The last quarter consisted of mixed squads from both teams. Needless to say, there was no real winner. The Nash All-Stars trailed by three points at the end of the two quarters, but we never played a regular second half.

Following the game, we jumped back on the bus which took us to a private post party hosted by the NBA for everyone from the event. That turned things into another long night, but we all had fun!

One more day and it is off to the USA!

Aaron Nelson Blog: Part Three | Photo Gallery

When the Injury Bug Swats You

The news out of Portland last week wasn’t good. Greg Oden, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, would need microfracture surgery on his knee and he would miss his entire rookie season. The injury to the franchise player will almost certainly cost his franchise any chance of success.

Steve Nash checks on Joe Johnson after his nasty fall in the playoffs. 

(NBAE Photos)

Suns fans everywhere, hearing the news, first felt deep sympathy for Oden and the Blazers, because we’ve been there before (more specifically, Amare Stoudemire has been there before). Second, Suns fans wished Portland was still in our division, so we’d have some easy wins this year.

Hey, you’ve got to be practical.

Regardless, the news brought me back to Amare’s microfracture surgery, and the impact it had on the Suns. With a core of Nash, Marion, STAT and the newly-arrived and better-than-anyone-thought Boris Diaw, the Suns were poised two years ago for a serious run at a championship before the devastating news that Stoudemire would be shut down. Thanks to the superhuman efforts of the remaining members of that core, the Suns pushed Dallas to the limit in the playoffs before bowing out.

It’s no coincidence that the teams that stay the healthiest over the course of the season tend to do the best. Too much injury can be too much adversity for any team to overcome. It’s certainly happened to the Suns a few times, over the course of their history:

Here’s Looking at You, Joe: The year before Amare’s knee injury, the Suns were also rampaging through the playoffs before Joe Johnson went up for a dunk against Dallas and landed on his eye. Ever landed on your eye? There’s a reason humans aren’t supposed to land on their eyes, it turns out. His orbital bone fracture threw off the Suns’ timing, rotation and balance in subsequent games, and the Suns were sunk.

If You Find A Penny, Please Don’t Pick It Up: It was supposed to be the year of “Backcourt 2000,” with Penny Hardaway arriving to team with Jason Kidd to give the Suns an unstoppable pair of guards, delivering the ball up front to talent like Tom Gugliotta. In short order, however, Hardaway hurt his foot, Gugliotta suffered a life-threatening seizure and then blew out his knee, and Kidd broke his ankle late in the season. The Suns had to beg Kevin Johnson out of retirement to help them make an unlikely push into the second round of the playoffs, where the Lakers showed their sympathy by clobbering Phoenix in five games.

The Quiet Manning: Danny Manning joined a loaded Suns club – Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle, Kevin Johnson, Wayman Tisdale, Cedric Ceballos – in 1994, and seemed to be the missing bench piece the team needed to get them over the top. Naturally, he was assaulted by Joe Kleine’s foot (which denied being on the Laker payroll) during a morning practice and tore an ACL for what I believe was his record 38th time. The Suns made the playoffs, but had their hearts broken by Houston for a second consecutive year.

Down Goes Davis: The 1984-85 season slipped away when Walter Davis slipped on the floor of Los Angeles’ Forum, spraining three knee ligaments. Conspiracy theorist that I am, I’d claim Laker treachery, except that Magic Johnson nearly killed himself slipping on the same floor during the same game. Still, Magic was an awfully good actor, and the whole thing might have been a setup…

Talk to the Hand – er, Elbow: It was a meaningless freakin’ pre-season game, for Pete’s sake, but when it was over, so was the Suns’ season, because Walt Davis fractured his elbow leaping for a rebound. Hooray for preseason!

Low, Low Miles: When Truck Robinson arrived in Phoenix in late 1978, he was hailed as the scoring, rebounding, scowling power forward the “soft” Suns had needed for so long. Unfortunately, Robinson spent a lot of time in the shop, none more crucial than during the 1980 playoffs, when he sprained his knee. Paul Westphal’s flu didn’t help, either, and the Suns faded in the second round of the playoffs against the Lakers, who swore they didn’t send their spies to sneeze on Westy.

Boo Hoo, Shu: In 1974, the Suns lost their own first round draft pick, and a big part of their immediate future, when John Shumate was forced to sit out the season with blood clots in his lung. In sympathy, the rest of the team sat out as well, pretty much.

The Dangers of Climbing Mount Smith: In one of the grislier accidents I’ve seen, Suns guard Charlie Scott tried to sky over Lakers (curse you, Lakers!) center Elmore Smith during a 1974 game, only to fall what looked like seventy feet to the floor, fracturing his arm and writhing in agony. I remember watching film of the injury during a screening of Suns “highlights” at summer basketball camp. You’ve never seen so many kids turn away from a horror movie.

Fox Hunted: The Suns, in only their second year of existence and their first trip to the playoffs, had a three games to one lead over the Lakers of Chamberlain, West and Baylor. Unquestionably, Connie Hawkins, Paul Silas, Gail Goodrich and Dick Van Arsdale led the way for the Suns, but of underappreciated importance was center Jim Fox, whose outside shooting kept Wilt out of the paint, and whose speed kept the Dipper running around. When Fox sprained his ankle, Wilt camped in the lane, and the Lakers came back from their deficit to beat the Suns. Gee, notice how many times the Lakers figure into these stories…?

So, Portland, we feel your pain. Of course, every franchise has had its injury sob stories over their histories. Injuries are part of the game, they never come at good times, and they always leave you wondering, “What if?” In those times, I suggest you do what Suns fans have learned to do to cope with any and all kinds of misfortune:

Blame the Lakers.

Beijing or Bust

I must begin with an apology for a summer-long neglect of blogging, but I am going to fall back on the excuse of being too busy. My wife and I welcomed the birth of our first child—a son we named Andrew. Believe me, an incredible experience that puts a whole new perspective on life.

Steve Nash, Bing Hu (center) and Leandro Barbosa on a flight to China. 

(Aaron Nelson/Suns Photos)

Shortly after his birth, I left for a week for summer league in Las Vegas. I made a couple of trips back and forth from Vegas to Phoenix to do some work with Grant Hill. After summer league, I was home for about a week and then traveled to Vancouver for a few days for Steve Nash’s Charity Event. It was at that point that I promised my wife I would be home for the next couple of months prior to leaving for the Sun’s training camp in October. She and I both knew better. I ended up going to Las Vegas for another week to work with the USA Select Team—a team of younger NBA players assembled to scrimmage against the USA National Team in preparation for the FIBA qualifying tournament. I had planned to do a blog about that whole experience (which was great), but I put it on the back burner and never got around to it. All of this brings me to the final (so I hope) trip of the summer prior to camp on October 1st, a trip to Beijing, China for the Steve Nash/Yao Ming Charity game. So, as I thank my wife and son for being so understanding, I will attempt to give everyone some idea of how this trip unfolds.

September 11th, 202007
6 a.m. – Alarm goes off but actually get an extra hour of sleep (usually get up at 5 a.m.). I proceed to eat breakfast, shower, and wait for my son to wake up so I can spend an hour with him and my wife before the car comes to pick me up and takes me to Scottsdale Airpark.
7:45 a.m. – Car arrives, I kiss my wife and son good-bye and I realize how much traveling makes me miss them.
9 a.m. - Arrive at Scottsdale Airpark to board our private plane (Falcon 900) owned by Bing Hu. Bing is a good friend of Steve Nash and actually flew my staff and I up to Steve’s charity game in Vancouver on the same plane. Bing is Chinese and will help us around Beijing, which will make things a lot easier. The Nash/Yao Charity game was an idea spawned between Bing and Steve to help the poor children in China. Steve approached Yao after a game between the Suns and Rockets and the whole event was quickly put together.
9:45 a.m. – Flight departs and we head to Las Vegas to pick up some auction items for the charity event. On the flight is Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa, Alando Tucker, DJ Strawberry, Bing Hu, Jody Evans (assistant within BDA Sports), our flight attendant, and myself.
11 a.m. - Load auction items and depart Las Vegas for Seattle to pick up the rest of the players.
1:30 p.m. - Land in Seattle and pick up Baron Davis, Chuck Hayes, Amir Johnson, and Paul Davis. Carmello Anthony will meet us in Beijing.

Now the time becomes a little foggy and we pass through many time zones. We make stops in Anchorage, Alaska and Petropavlosk-Kamcatsig, Russia to refuel. Steve and Leandro stay sleeping on the plane during our Russian refueling stop while the rest of us get out to stretch our legs on the tarmac. Once we have the plane serviced, we fly across the Okhotsk Sea to China. We land in Beijing around 6:30 p.m. local time the following day(Beijing is 15 hours ahead of Phoenix time).

We have a bus pick us up and take us to our hotel – The Regent Beijing. It is an awesome hotel, but the service was somewhat suspect. It began by them not having a key ready for my room which was the last thing I wanted to hear after traveling for ¾ of a day! We all went to a press conference in the hotel in which Steve and Yao were introduced to a room full of media. The rest of the players were also in attendance and received and answered questions for about an hour. After the press meeting, I was able to get into my room with my bags, but still had to wait for them to bring me my key. Eventually, I was all set and the boys and I headed off to a night of karaoke (very popular in China). Steve and Baron had the microphone most of the night which was beyond entertaining. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time!

Aaron Nelson Blog: Part Two | Photo Gallery

Mercury's Finals Run Encourages Suns Fan

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but tonight’s Game 4 of the Phoenix Mercury vs. Detroit Shock Finals series was the first WNBA game I’ve ever gone to. And while I’m admitting things, I may as well admit that I didn’t expect it to be as entertaining as a Phoenix Suns game. But I was wrong!

The D’Antoni’s attended both Phoenix Mercury home games in the WNBA Finals. 

(NBAE Photos)

With a 5:30 pm start time, the bulk of the Mercury fans didn’t start showing up until a little before tip-off. But by the time the National Anthem was sung, the arena had filled nicely and I thought to myself, “This is louder than I expected.” To my surprise, I hadn’t heard anything yet. I spent a couple of minutes after the anthem in an elevator and finally exited on the 3rd floor of the arena, which gave me a cool bird’s eye view of the crowd and the starting lineups. The crowd was really into the game from the very beginning and you could feel the electricity in the air.

The Finals atmosphere was great. With every loose ball the crowd was screaming. At every Shock free throw the fans on the Detroit side of the arena were making as much noise and causing as much distraction as possible, and you could just tell that the Mercury players were encouraged by the fans. In fact, it reminded me a lot of the Suns playoff games I have attended: the crowd was intense, there was a lot of electricity in the air and there were several local celebrities who attended the game.

Speaking of local celebrities, Mike D’Antoni was courtside for the second straight game, as was Dan Majerle, who is apparently a big-time fan. “I’ve watched the team all year,” he told me. “What impresses me most is they play consistently and they play together. The way they play is very effective and I’m really happy for them. They’ve done a good job.”

And while I was watching the Mercury win Game 4 by one point, it got me thinking about how great it will be when the Suns get to the NBA Finals this season (yes, I’m already making the prediction). The game itself will be a little faster and there will be a lot more dunks, but I’m not sure it will be any more physical than this one was! If you didn’t see the game, you probably think I’m exaggerating. But I’m telling you, there were flying elbows and flying bodies all over the court, all night long.

Phoenix Suns training camp starts in about two and a half weeks. If you’re anything like me, you’re counting down the days. But if you’re looking for some entertaining basketball to tide you over until the Suns season starts, I would encourage you to check out the Mercury game on Sunday at 1:30 pm on ESPN2. I can promise you won’t be disappointed.

Steve Nash: More Than Just a Basketball Star

Here’s a quick game for you: If you’re a Phoenix Suns fan, raise your hand. Now, if you think Steve Nash helped bring hope back to Suns fans when he signed with the team three years ago, lower your hand. I would imagine no one reading this still has their hand raised.

Steve Nash drives to the basket in a charity game held in Beijing. 

(NBAE Photos)

If you’ve watched even a portion of a game Phoenix has played, you know Nash leads the team by inspiring them, giving the team direction, taking responsibility when the need arises and by always finding a way to deliver the ball to the player who can do the most with it at that exact moment. And that gives Suns fans hope for a championship.

What some people may not realize is when Nash isn’t playing basketball he’s bringing that same leadership and hope to people around the world by delivering just what they need at that exact point in time. Earlier this summer, he was in Vancouver for his annual Steve Nash Charity Classic basketball game, which featured a number of NBA players including fellow Suns Leandro Barbosa, Alando Tucker and DJ Strawberry. He also helped open a new sports club, which not only helps those in Vancouver maintain a healthy lifestyle but it was also built to be as “eco-friendly” as possible.

For most players, holding a charity event, organizing a game with other NBA stars and opening a sports club may be enough for one offseason. But for the Suns’ MVP, it was just the beginning. This week he teamed up with Yao Ming to hold a charity auction and play a charity game in Beijing. According to one article about the event, “all proceeds will be used to set up Project Hope primary schools for poor children in western China, help Uygur girls attend school in the Kizilsu Kirghiz Prefecture of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, upgrade teaching facilities of schools for mentally disabled children in western China and promote the Special Olympics.”

The idea all started after a Suns-Rockets game this past season. Nash found Ming after the game and discussed the possibility of a charity game in China this summer. Since both players are represented by the same agency they were able to use those resources to bring the idea to fruition. Nash, Ming and several other NBA players traveled to China this week to participate. There was an auction and dinner the day before the charity game. And the game itself was completely sold out. According to several reports, the event raised seven million yuan (about $1 million). And it was the combined star power of both Yao and Steve that brought the people out to the event.

“I was talking with a friend of mine about the difficulties the children face there,” Nash told Suns.com. “I feel really fortunate that I am in a position where I was able to go to Yao Ming and ask him if he was interested in doing something over there. It’s an exciting opportunity to go to China and hopefully give thousands of kids an opportunity for an education that right now doesn’t exist.”

So in a few weeks when you’re reading about training camp, watching the public scrimmage and watching Steve Nash deliver exactly what the team needs during the game, remember that he not only brings hope of a championship to Phoenix. He does something even more important by bringing hope of a better life to people all over the world.

While I Was at the Watercooler

One of the perks of working in professional sports is that when I take a break to walk around the office… I end up walking around the arena.

 

Whereas most people gather around the watercooler to talk about what’s going on in sports, I actually go to the watercooler and see what’s going on in sports.

During the mornings, I usually sashay my way down to the practice court so I can catch glimpse of who is in the house and working on their game. The other day, it was reported that we would be working out some big man prospects. The “Ukraine Train” Vitaly Potapenko, Elton “Not Brand” Brown, Michael Ruffin and Zarko Cabarkapa were all in the building, and all hoping to be that 12th player to give the Suns some insurance down low.

The “Ukraine Train” had a couple of good seasons a few years ago, Ruffin is really active, and Brown led the NBADL in rebounds last season, but none of them stood out to the degree that the guy standing next to me did.

Everyone in the organization was down there checking out the talent in the gym. And as Grant Hill was schooling everyone during 5-on-5, Mike D’Antoni, Dan D’Antoni, Alvin Gentry, Phil Webber, Mark West and Steve Kerr all casually looked on in hopes of finding that last piece to the puzzle. Within this small crowd of basketball minds, there was a smattering of other people mingling about, including an older African-American gentleman standing next me.

As I was telling my coworker who some of the lesser known players were on the court, he started asking me about them. He was a real exuberant guy that I couldn’t�help to�like instantly. He’s just one of those people that just exudes a cool vibe, and when I asked him where he was from, I wasn’t surprised that he told me he was from New Orleans.

What did surprise me was that he told me he was Wynton Marsalis’ personal chef. For those of you who don’t know, Marsalis is one the preeminent jazz musicians in the country, a veritable legend. But what I also came to find out, is that my new acquaintance was also Amare Stoudemire’s personal chef, and was there to give his personal sales pitch to Grant Hill.

Having been a personal chef for many athletes and entertainers, he has learned that the veterans are much easier to deal with than the younger players, and at his level of his experience, he prefers to go through his day without the hassles of dealing with an entourage.

Maurice, known as Chef Mo to everyone around the team, is just one the many of the behind-the-scenes personalities that can play a major factor in a team’s well being. Mo is providing the gas that goes into the the engines that make the Suns run. He helps them maintain their energy level, gives them nutrients so they can recover faster and basically keeps them from getting food poisoning.

I hope that Mo�becomes�Grant’s chef because I look forward to hearing more about his journeys through the world of show business. But not only would I like to hear some interesting anecdotes, I wouldn’t mind hearing them over gumbo from a world-class chef…