Suns-Nuggets Game is History

Sitting outside on the court for the game's second quarter, I definitely experienced the cold weather firsthand. (Josh Greene, Suns.com Photos)

Sitting outside on the court for the game

I was having lunch with fellow Suns.com reporter Stefan Swiat at Tony Roma’s today when we were approached by an Indian Wells resident/Phoenix Suns fan. He had noticed us sporting our Suns gear and asked if we had come out here for the game. A conversation ensued and he soon explained that he had lived here in Indian Wells his whole life a Phoenix Suns fan and tonight was finally getting the opportunity to attend his first Suns basketball game. Needless to say, he was pretty excited about it.

As I sit here overlooking the court at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, I can’t help but wonder how many other fans are also receiving their first ever opportunity to watch the team they’ve spent their entire lives rooting for. Suns General Manager Steve Kerr commented yesterday on the possibility we’d hear some boos being in the backyard of “Laker Country” but judging by the response we’ve been receiving throughout, I’d definitely say that isn’t the case. [Read more...]

Preseason All About Answering Questions

Last night a friend asked me why NBA teams play exhibition games when they’ve just had an entire week of training camp to practice and learn plays. I explained to her that coaches have a lot of questions that training camp just can’t answer and it isn’t until you go up against a true opponent that those questions can begin to be answered. Talking to some of the younger players before tonight’s preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks, it became apparent that they’re seeking a few answers themselves in the eight games leading up to the Season Opener.

[Read more...]

Nash leading by example

Following a scrimmage game on the Suns practice court at the US Airways Center this week, several players stopped for a quick Gatorade break on the sideline. After a few moments they returned, with the exception of one player – two-time MVP Steve Nash. It wasn’t because Steve was tired and thankfully it wasn’t because he had pulled anything. It was simply because he had never left.

In fact, at no point in between the four or five scrimmage games the team ran did Nash stop and take a break. He stayed on the court and just kept on shooting. I’m not telling this story because I necessarily recommend it from a health standpoint, but simply to set up the point I’m hopefully going to make.

[Read more...]

Suns-Spurs Rivalry is a Long-Standing Tradition


 

Brad wears a Michael Finley jersey in better times – when Finley didn’t play for the Evil Empire.

There I am, maybe 15 years of age hanging out in Sun City in a Michael Finley Suns jersey. Surprisingly, the key statement there isn’t the fact I was in Sun City (boy, those were some crazy times), but rather the now-throwback jersey I was wearing of a guy who currently calls himself a Spur. It got me thinking about just how deep the roots to the Suns-Spurs Western Conference are and just how long I have loathed the NBA’s Evil Empire.

The first time these two ballclubs ever squared off in the postseason was back in the 1991-92 season – a time when grunge dominated the music industry, Terminator 2 dominated the box office and a certain forward by the name of Grant Hill was helping his Duke Blue Devils to two straight NCAA Championships. Phoenix swept San Antonio in three games, led by young up-and-coming superstars Cedric Ceballos, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle.

The following year the two teams met again, with the workload being carried this time by new Sun Charles Barkley. In the series clinching victory, the Round Mound of Rebound and 1993 MVP would contribute 28 points and 21 rebounds. The Spurs, meanwhile, were led by their future MVP David Robinson, who in 1996 would have his revenge, dispatching the Suns in four quick opening round games.

Finley was a rookie with the Suns that season, while I was in the early stages of being an NBA fan. The Suns were the most entertaining team in the league that 1995-96 season, boasting a great combination of veterans (Barkley, Johnson) and rising, young stars (Finley, Wesley Person).

The Spurs also had a Person on their squad at that time, a sharpshooter by the name of Chuck, who wasn’t the only crafty veteran on the team’s roster. The Spurs that season were led by Robinson but had a plethora of talent surrounding him like Sean Elliot, Avery Johnson, Vinny Del Negro and Doc Rivers. [Read more...]

Big Cactus is Bringing Energy Back to the Valley

Shaq jumps back onto the court after a dive into the crowd during Sunday afternoon’s win over the Spurs.   (NBAE Photos)

My response was always an honest one. I said I didn’t know whether or not the trade was going to alter our style, but I guaranteed the season was about to be a lot more fun.

The Diesel has since proven me right, bringing an energy to the Valley words just can’t describe. Since his arrival it isn’t just the contests against the Spurs or the Lakers which fans are anticipating, it’s each and every game. But that’s what happens when you’ve got a guy like O’Neal always providing the unexpected.

Before the match-up against the Golden State Warriors, FSN Arizona broadcaster Gary Bender and I talked to Mike D’Antoni in his office about O’Neal – specifically the play against the Spurs which saw him diving into the second row of Section 113. Bender suggested that could be the kind of play that turns around a season and the coach in no way dismissed the possibility.

D’Antoni broke his gaze from the Cavaliers/Wizards game on TV and said, “You know, it really could be.” [Read more...]

A Day at the Track

Me, Allan Greene and my favorite Gorilla of all time hanging out at Turf Paradise. 

(NBAE Photos)

Being too young to go myself, I stayed at home, most likely playing Tomb Raider and picking fights with my younger sister. When my parents got back, they said they had a little surprise and handed me a betting stub. Always the polite son, I pretended to be happy about the lackluster gift and it wasn’t until turning it over I saw what all the hype was about. The souvenir featured the autograph of Cotton Fitzsimmons, who at the time was serving as the Suns’ chief color analyst on KTAR and KUTP-TV broadcasts alongside Al McCoy. The item went up on my wall and needless to say, has been an important keepsake ever since.

When I first moved to the Valley back in 1994, the only thing about Arizona I was familiar with was Phoenix Suns basketball. I had never heard of a swamp cooler, thought roadrunners only existed in cartoons and soda to me was soda, not “pop”. New to the area, Suns broadcasts quickly became my best friend and the one-two punch of McCoy and Fitzsimmons was a gigantic reason for that. [Read more...]

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

For most college students, the end of summer vacation comes once school starts in the fall. For the past few years, mine has officially concluded at the ending of Suns training camp. With the team ready to tip-off the regular season tonight in Seattle, I guess I’m a little late hitting the books.

Among the highlights of the offseason was the luncheon for Suns Chairman Jerry Colangelo. 

(NBAE Photos)

Having been a college student now for what seems like 35 years, it seems like I find myself learning more outside of the classroom than inside it. Not to take away from the importance of school, but my job with the Suns has taught me much more about journalism, videography and life itself.

Take this past summer for example:

READING – didn’t do as much of it as I’d have liked, but that usually ends up being the case for me over the summer. I read a couple of novels (counting CliffsNotes), some Suns blogs and of course, comic books.

WRITING – for the Suns I did quite a bit. When the organization drafted Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker, I had the opportunity to discuss the move with not only Tucker, but new General Manager Steve Kerr and Head Coach Mike D’Antoni. Both are confident the guard has plenty of potential, not only for his ability on the offensive end of the floor, but his ability to “badger” opponents on defense as well. What the front office like best is the fact both he and second-round pick DJ Strawberry have plenty of collegiate experience.

ARITHMETIC – One Team. One City. One Goal. Mathematically, it added up for Phoenix’s first ever WNBA Championship. I’m obviously a bit biased, but don’t think it could have gone to a more deserving group. Everybody you speak with from the front office to the players themselves is a class act, and it’s no wonder why so many people were pulling for them (other than the fact it involved rooting against Bill Laimbeer that is).

CHEMISTRY – While the Mercury were busy perfecting their chemistry on the court, the Suns did their best to improve their chemistry off of it. The signing of All-Star forward Grant Hill is a move which just looks better by the day. He’s looked great in practice and many are predicting he’ll be making his eighth All-Star appearance when the game is played in New Orleans later this season.

You can’t seem to talk to anybody about Hill without some discussion of the person he is when away from the game of basketball. I’ve had the chance to talk to him a few times now and couldn’t agree more. But to be honest, what’s really impressed me throughout preseason is his decision-making ability. Whether he has the basketball in his hands or not, he seems to do the right thing each and every time on the break. With he and Steve Nash on the court together, Phoenix’s assist-to-turnover ratio could be tops in the league this season.

PHYSICAL EDUCATION – I don’t think I ever regretted a workout more than when Jeramie McPeek and I decided to take on Steve Koek and Josh Greene in a little two-on-two. Still in our work attire, we decided to play a “quick” contest to seven points, the winner having to win by two. That little stipulation cost us dearly as we played and we played and we played deep into the afternoon. McPeek and I emerged the victors (although I felt like anything but for the remainder of the work day) but it was Koek who delivered the best line. Passing by the air hockey table, an out-of-breath Steve asked, “Air hockey, why couldn’t we just play air hockey?”

STATISTICS – Having been a fan since the day the organization drafted him, going to San Diego with Amaré Stoudemire for the motion capture process was indeed a surreal experience (although I’ve learned in my time surreal is just another way of admitting I’m getting old).

It was my first time traveling to San Diego and playing video games for “business” and it’s an experience I highly recommend. Speaking of San Diego, I had another great time at Comic-Con this past July. Fellow blogger Adam Beechen and I caught up on old times and Jim Lee sketched me a picture of the X-Men’s Rogue (those of you who appreciate comics can really appreciate the coolness in that).

HISTORY – It was in the making when the Suns.com Newsroom was unveiled on August 8. A number of celebrities were in the house including Stoudemire, D’Antoni and Suns owner Robert Sarver. The organization has been very good to us web guys over the years and the team is definitely enjoying their time in the new digs.

GRADUATION – We’re just a few hours from tip-off now and I am definitely ready to roll. My Suns predictions include a new franchise record of 63 wins, an All-Star appearance for Grant Hill and, of course, an NBA Championship.

Fantasy Draft Day Is In the Books

I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is the NBA fantasy draft has been completed. Ironically enough, the bad news is also that the NBA fantasy draft has been completed.

STAT says he dedicated a lot of the offseason working on his defense, primarily to help our fantasy team with some steals and blocks of course.

(NBAE Photos)  

Don’t worry, I think the Suns.com team did a fine job representing and like the real Suns will be a team to reckon with come the start of the regular season. But like with any fantasy draft, you can’t help but look back and think of the things you’d like to have done differently.

But before we get into that, let’s take a look back at how today’s draft unfolded:

7:00 I wake up and see Micah Hart of the Atlanta Hawks has already sent out an e-mail informing everybody of the draft order. Yesterday I discussed the simplicity of picking early in a draft, the benefits of picking later and the stress of picking in the middle. The Suns.com Newsroom Team will be selecting sixth out of twelve. No comment.

8:30 On my way to a video shoot for class and weighing my options. I discussed my desire to draft Amaré Stoudemire yesterday, and while I feel he would normally slide a bit later, I don’t have much of a choice as he definitely will be gone come the second round. On the way down I’m going to complete the one-two punch ideally with an Allen Iverson-type player.

10:55 Not a good sign. I’m literally getting to my desk five minutes prior to the draft. I think I’m having a bit of a panic attack from the rush here and the thought the computer would auto draft Greg Oden for me.

11:01 Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are the first three names off the board, no surprises there. With just three teams ahead, I’m starting to wonder if Shawn Marion will drop my way forcing me to make an interesting decision.

11:02 And just like that, the Matrix is off the board with the fourth overall pick. The only person left even debating taking instead of Stoudemire is big Dirk Nowitzki…. But there he goes.

11:03 And with the sixth overall pick in the 202007 Fantasy Basketball Draft, the Suns.com Newsroom selects… Amaré Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns. Understandable I would want to make sure to grab a key Suns player, but I’m sure people are wondering why it wouldn’t be their two-time MVP Steve Nash. For starters, I think the scoring system in this league is going to favor STAT over Nash. I also think Boris Diaw is going to bounce back and have a solid season and Grant Hill will return to All-Star form. With other playmakers around him, I don’t think as much will be demanded of Nash and I wouldn’t be surprised if his numbers fell a little (to the benefit of the team of course). Finally, Stoudemire has center eligibility and good centers in the NBA are hard to come by these days – especially ones who could potentially average up to 30 points-per-contest this season.

11:05 Steve Nash is selected eighth overall. You’ve got to love an NBA team which has three players selected within the first eight picks. Dwight Howard (who I’m a huge fan of) follows and the first round closes out with two solid point guards, Jason Kidd and Chris Paul, followed by Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala.

11:09 Coming back my way again and believe me, my fingernails are paying for it. Carmelo Anthony just went off the board which gives me a tough decision to make. I’d love to have partnered Anthony with Stoudemire, but I still have Iverson available to complete the one-two scoring punch. Tim Duncan is still out there, but I refuse to give in to temptation. My other options are Yao Ming, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

11:13 Went the route of Allen Iverson. I’ve learned from past drafts that switching things up on the fly generally doesn’t result in much more than aggravation (i.e. Tom Brady). I worry about the wear-and-tear on Iverson’s body, but love the fact I can play a guy at point guard who can explode for 50 points on any given night. The guys in the Suns.com Newsroom are quite disappointed in me, but I doubt they’ll have complaints when we’re hoisting that Championship trophy above our heads… there is a trophy, right?

11:15 Jeramie McPeek is really lacing into me about the Iverson selection. Says he doubt the guy will even show up for our fantasy practices. Practice?!? I stand behind Iverson and while he may miss a few games here and there with injuries, the second round is too early to take a guy who isn’t a sure thing. Yao Ming and Ray Allen are both as susceptible to injuries as Iverson, and Pierce is a question mark in terms of where he’ll fit in with KG and Jesus Shuttlesworth. I expect great things from Pierce and should he be available come round three will be doing back flips over it, but Iverson is a guarantee and in round two that’s what I’m looking for.

11:25 With our third overall pick we’ve gone the route of Milwaukee’s Michael Redd, who happened to be my first non-Sun NBA interview by the way. He’s a great guy and will make a great addition to this team… Plus, Stefan Swiat vowed to take the heat if he gets injured which is an added bonus.

11:28 Charlotte’s Emeka Okafor just went off the board to the Grizzlies.com team. I like Okafor and think he’s due for a breakout season. Thought his injury problems would allow him to slip a little but guess not. At this point in the draft all your explosive scorers have pretty much gone off the board and I’m pretty comfortable with our trio of Stoudemire, Iverson and Redd. Jermaine O’Neal is still out there as is Kevin Durant. Those forwards can definitely light it up, but I’m not too big on O’Neal’s injury history or the fact that Durant is a rookie with the weight of the world on his shoulders. I would happily grab either though were they still available come our next pick.

11:33 This is it. All the superstars are off the board and this is when fantasy titles are won or lost. If you go with those can’t-miss players early like I suggested, you know what you’re going to get out of them. Now is the time for gambling and those guys who could potentially put your team over the top. I’m realizing I haven’t been in a fantasy draft with this many teams before. O’Neal would be a steal if he falls to me with six teams choosing ahead– and there goes O’Neal to OrlandoMagic.com followed by Rashard Lewis. There’s something wrong with that picture.

11:35 We now have our fourth player in the form of Washington’s Antawn Jamison. You’ve got to be happy with getting an All-Star in the fourth round. Jamison is a great all-around player when he’s healthy and can score from both the inside and outside while also contributing rebounds. Leandro Barbosa was selected just before him which was kind of a surprise. I thought with him being a sixth man, teams would wait on him a little longer. Speaking of surprises, our selection was followed by Ron Artest who I think is suspended the first eight games of the season.

11:42 Although I did not agree with the pick, we’ve gone with Sacramento’s Kevin Martin here in round five (thanks to Swiat). Martin was great for me a couple years back when my dad suggested I grab him towards the end of the draft, but round five just seems way too early for the guy. I scrolled down to look for Grant Hill who is ranked #149. That is a huge mistake for whoever pre-ranked these players. I know the other guys drafting won’t sleep on him that long, but I am very interested in seeing how late I can allow him to slide. If I could draft him come the seventh or eighth round, that would be the kind of pick that really carries a team.

11:46 Jason Richardson has been drafted to close out round five. As we prepare for round six, I’m seeing names like Randy Foye, Andrei Kirilenko, Corey Maggette, Andrew Bogut and Eddy Curry. This is a big round in my opinion as those guys can go one of two very different directions this season. In a league with standard settings, Kirilenko would be the guy hands down. I’m not sure how his type of statistics would work with this kind of scoring, however. Maggette meanwhile will be playing without injured All-Star Elton Brand for a large chunk of the season and will probably be much more productive in Los Angeles.

11:53 Wow, what a series of events which just took place in the Suns.com Newsroom. During a heated debate between the possibilities of Kirilenko, Maggette and Detroit’s Richard Hamilton, the computer auto selected Danny Granger for us. Should Granger live up to his potential and play like he’s capable of playing, we may have just secured that championship… by complete accident.

12:00 Made my pick intentionally this time, Los Angeles Clipper Al Thornton. I’m going to put my stock in Hill being available in the next round and went with our first rookie. I remember watching Thornton when he worked out here in Phoenix over the summer and was more than impressed with his game. With Brand out, he’s definitely going to get some opportunities to shine alongside Maggette and former Sun Tim Thomas.

12:10 The trigger has been pulled, Hill is finally a member of our fantasy team. Maybe a little early in terms of how long we could have waited, but definitely a steal nonetheless. I said I wanted to wait until round seven or eight to grab the five-time All-Star and patience has paid off (maybe I’ll apply that lesson to life sometime). Hill is going to contribute here in Phoenix and expected averages of 15 points, four assists and three rebounds are more than you can ask now that we’re past the midway point. Right now, we’re hoping Jameer Nelson can slip to us so we can grab him as our backup point guard.

12:15 Nelson went the pick just before us to the Bourbon Street boys. I made a controversial move of sorts in selecting Houston’s Steve Francis over Daniel Banks’ suggestion, Cleveland’s Daniel Gibson. Banks was working with the Spurs last season and got the chance to watch Gibson up close and personal in the NBA Finals. Banks says he likes the fight in Gibson and I’m not opposed to the sophomore, but Francis to me has tremendous upside. Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge he can be a complete bust, but back in Houston and playing alongside Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, big things could be ahead for Francis. And if you can get big things from a guy selected in round nine, you’re team is probably doing big things.

12:29 We were busy debating between Mike Dunleavy and Daniel Gibson when Hawks center Zaza Pachulia was selected for us. I’m not complaining too much as I had all three of them in the queue and had no idea where to go anyway. Each of those three players is so completely different, how can you choose?

12:35 Round 11 now and I’m looking in the direction of Memphis’ Hakim Warrick next. The Newsroom seems to agree and the fact we’d be in unison about anything is definitely a concern. Too bad Chicago is so forward-heavy right now, otherwise Tyrus Thomas would be a solid– And as I type that, there he goes.

12:50 Warrick it is. Hopefully Memphis’ new Head Coach and former Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni will hook up that run-and-gun system and make him the go-to man for that ballclub. I’ll have to get the message to their new Director of Media Relations Dustin Krugel (AKA Meat) and insure that’s the case.

12:55 Round 12 and I’m very, very hungry. Right now anybody is looking like a good choice as long as they get us to the end of this draft. Derrick Zimmerman of New Jersey is still available, isn’t he?

1:00 Just grabbed Dunleavy who was still available. We’re in agreement that we’re going Acie Law IV next and are currently debating how to close things out here. DJ Strawberry or Sean Marks? I’m in Marks’ corner, but it appears I’m outnumbered. Marks has center eligibility, but the consensus is that Strawberry will make more of an impact with the Suns this season.

1:16 Just waiting to wrap things up. I’m going with Strawberry as our final pick.

1:18 Strawberry is off board and following the selection of Dallas’ DeSagana Diop (Mavs.com, what a surprise) the draft is complete. Here is our roster as it stands:

Amaré Stoudemire
Allen Iverson
Michael Redd
Antawn Jamison
Kevin Martin
Danny Granger
Al Thornton
Grant Hill
Steve Francis
Zaza Pachulia
Hakim Warrick
Mike Dunleavy
Acie Law IV
DJ Strawberry

3:51 Following lunch and a few assignments, I’ve had some time to reflect on our team now. I think if I can accept the fact this is a 12-team league and therefore teams aren’t going to be as loaded with talent, I’ll be more than happy with our squad. My projected opening day starting lineup consists of Allen Iverson, Kevin Martin, Grant Hill, Michael Redd, Antawn Jamison, Hakim Warrick, Al Thorton, Amaré Stoudemire and Danny Granger. All guys with heart (something which the Boston Red Sox could definitely use right about now) and all guys I’m confident will contribute throughout the 202007-08 campaign. I also like the fact that we’re not relying heavily on guys like Steve Francis, Zaza Pachulia, Mike Dunleavy, Acie Law IV and DJ Strawberry, but have them on standby should their services be needed.

Barring any huge, blockbuster trades, I’ll check back in to update you come the start of the 202007-08 season. Go Suns and go Suns.com Newsroom Team (we’ve definitely got to shorten that name).

Sleep Not a Priority as Fantasy Draft Approaches

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… well one of the most wonderful times of the year anyway. Time to start thinking about building that fantasy basketball dynasty and taking your team to the top.

The smörgåsbord of All-Stars, Shawn Marion, is a hot commodity in fantasy leagues with his ability to do it all. 

(NBAE Photos)

For me that process has come a little early this year. Usually my friends and I like to reserve our draft for the most last second, most inconvenient time possible. Say five hours before the first game of the season tips off for example. This season, however, the Suns.com staff was asked to participate in an NBA-wide fantasy basketball league – with opponents coming everywhere from houstonrockets.com to orlandomagic.com. Kind of like a “who’s who” in the world of NBA Web sites if you will.

The draft is a day away now, and already my mind is weighing out all the possibilities. During class, all I could do was think of which options are best depending on where we end up selecting. With 12 teams participating, the margin for error is slim. Obviously there aren’t any mysteries with the first four or five selections. Unlike Alex Rodriguez, athletes like Kevin Garnett, Shawn Marion, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are considered can’t-misses when it comes to October. Picking at the end of the first round, meanwhile, has its advantages as you can get yourself a nice one-two punch say in the form of Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson. But where do you go if you’re dead in the middle? Is it too early to pick Amaré Stoudemire or do you chance waiting for him to come around again?

The scoring system in the league is unlike any I’ve experienced before, but it has made my strategy simple. The system gives you a point for every player’s point scored, three-pointer made, assist dished, rebound grabbed and blocked shot… um, blocked. Field goal percentage and free throw percentage are also factored in somehow, but that’s way too much algebra for me.

Anyway, while I am far from an expert in math, there is something which jumps out at me immediately. Most leagues I do are about balance and finding ways to be strong in a number of different categories. For example, you’ll have five different categories (points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals) and win based on the amount of total categories you beat your opponent in. This is obviously where a guy like the Matrix comes in handy. The Swiss Army knife of the NBA can help a fantasy team in a number of ways, from scoring to rebounding to blocking shots and grabbing steals. The scoring system we’ll be using in this league, however, makes guys whose strong suit is putting up points much more valuable.

If you get one point for each statistic, guys like Michael Redd and Ray Allen are much more valuable than in other leagues. Normally I would select Dwight Howard well before these scorers because he’s going to contribute fairly good numbers in a number of different categories. But here, I’ll take 30 points, three rebounds and three steals from Redd over 17 points, 12 boards and two blocks from Howard. Not to mention the fact that Redd is also going to help a lot more in the three-point category as well as free throw percentage (however that works).

So now you see what I’ve been dealing with all day and why a number of times during today’s class I found myself looking over statistics rather than my notes. Tomorrow morning is the draft and I’ll be sure to give you the breakdown of how things play out. Then over the course of the season I’ll keep you updated in terms of how things are going throughout the league as the Suns.com Newsroom Team tries to capture that all elusive fantasy championship.

If anybody has any suggestions in terms of where to go tomorrow, don’t hesitate to throw in your two cents.

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.