Raja Bell could hardly contain himself. Although he was going on “three or four” hours of sleep, having spent the night at the hospital with his expectant wife Cindy, the Suns’ guard was bouncing off the walls prior to Game 5.

 

 

Raja and Cindy Bell welcomed their first child, Dia, on Wednesday afternoon.
(Jeramie McPeek/Suns Photos)
 

Beaming with pride as he entered the Suns’ locker room at US Airways Center on Wednesday evening, Bell was met with a series of “congratulations” from teammates, coaches and media. The first-time father was happy to report that his wife was doing well after a prolonged labor and C-Section, and so was their 8-pound, 2-ounce baby boy, Dia, which is also Raja’s middle name.

 

“Cin’s good,” Ra Ra (or is it Da Da now?) told me prior to the game. “She’s in the hospital, but she’s doing really good. And the baby is awesome, so I’m pretty excited.

 

“It was kind of like an out-of-body experience, man. I was there, but it was happening so fast that I didn’t really get to take it all in. I tried my best, but it was an unbelievable experience. It was once in a lifetime. Hopefully I have more kids but that first time was unreal.”

 

Having been there in Raja’s Nikes twice myself, I was just one of a number of reporters/fathers who were anxious to shake the new dad’s hand and hear about the new addition to his family.

 

Although STAT led the way for the Suns’ in their series-clinching victory over the Lakers, dropping 27 points and 16 boards on L.A., the largest throng of local media was gathered around Bell’s cherry-wood cubicle after the game.

 

“There was a whole lot of emotion today,” said No. 19, who wore his hospital ID wristband during the game. “I got to see my wife go through something that I don’t know that I had a full appreciation for before I saw it, and God bless her for that. It was amazing. So from that to seeing my son born and getting to hang out with him for a little while, and then coming here to close out the Lakers, and having my in-laws and mother in town, it’s been a great day.

 

“I don’t think that I can fully put it into words, and I don’t think it’s fully sunk in for me yet. It’s crazy to think that now I’m responsible for a life. That’s really cool. We tried for a little while and weren’t successful, so I’m very blessed, very grateful and just ready to enjoy it.”

Two days after being named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team, Bell showed off his offense in Game 5, scoring eight points and knocking down a pair of three-pointers in the opening minutes.

The Suns were unsure whether or not they would even have their starting two-guard for the game, after he made just a brief cameo appearance during the team’s morning shoot-around, before heading to the airport to pick up family.

Bell had a much better Game 5 tonight than he did a year ago. It was in Game 5 of the 2006 playoffs that the competitive guard clotheslined Lakers’ All-Star Kobe Bryant when their war of words and physical play boiled over.

The feud between the two has cooled in recent months, and Bryant even offered his congratulations to Bell on Wednesday morning, and gave him a hug at center court after the game.

“That’s always a special time,” Bryant told Sports 620 KTAR. “You know, my daughter’s birthday was yesterday, so we celebrated it yesterday, they flew out here and, you know, family is extremely important and my thoughts and prayers are with (Bell) and his family.”

MY CONVERSATION WITH KOBE

 

I was browsing a sidewalk newsstand in L.A. over the weekend when I noticed the latest issue of HOOP magazine with Kobe Bryant on the cover.

 

As a lifelong Suns fan and the Suns’ VP of Interactive Services, my first reaction would normally have been to sigh and think, “Too bad they put Kobe on the cover. He’s going to be on summer vacation by next weekend.”

 

Only I wrote this particular story. Actually it wasn’t a story, but an in-depth interview with the Lakers’ star that I conducted a month or so back on behalf of HOOP.

 

You see, I’ve served as the “editor-at-large” for the NBA’s official publications for the last six or seven years now. Now with a very hectic (but fun) full-time job with the Suns, not to mention a beautiful and understanding wife, and two fun-loving kids at home, I don’t have the spare time to take on freelance gigs as often as I used to. But I do still manage to squeeze out a few late-night hours each month for an article or two.

 

When my editor e-mailed me back in March to ask if I could interview Kobe for the magazine’s May cover story, though, I cringed. I’ve never been a big Bryant fan. I’ve always been impressed with him as a player, but added him to my list of “most hated opponents” when his Lakers beat my Suns in the 2000 playoffs and went on to win their first of three-straight NBA Championships.

 

Even if they hadn’t beaten the Suns that year I would have disliked him, though. After all, Phoenix fans aren’t allowed to like Lakers players, right? And since I originally became a Suns fan watching them challenge the “Showtime” Lakers in the 1989 Western Conference Finals, those negative vibes towards L.A. are deeply rooted.

 

Then, of course, there was the whole feud with Raja last season, which I loved. Growing up playing with Star Wars toys, reading Marvel comics and watching pro wrestling for years, I’ve always enjoyed the battles of good vs. evil. Bell, in my book, was the superhero last year and Bryant, the classic villain. It was Luke vs. Darth, if you will. Or Spider-Man vs. Venom, to make a more current analogy.

 

But after the arch rivals made amends, and even a few jokes, during the Suns-Lakers meeting on March 4, I decided I could put the past aside myself, and conduct an unbiased interview like any good sports reporter should.

 

I have to admit, I even found Bryant to be quite friendly to talk to. He was thoughtful in his answers, although perhaps a bit PC at times, and patient enough to answer every question I asked. And I asked a lot.

 

That’s not to say I went easy on him. I asked him if he ever misses Shaq, now that the Lakers are no longer the contenders they were a few years ago. I asked him how he felt when Diesel won a championship with the Heat last year. I asked him about his relationship with Phil Jackson. I asked him how it feels when people call him selfish, and if he cares what fans think about him. I even asked him about Raja. I couldn’t resist.

 

I can’t divulge his answers here, of course. You’ve got to go out and pick up the issue, which I might add also includes a one-page story I wrote on Bell and another short piece on the baby tigers named after Raja and Steve Nash out at the Wildlife World Zoo.

 

But after our 32-minute phone interview was over, I told Kobe how Raja had just appeared on our web show, Nothin’ But Net, and said that he didn’t think he and Cindy would ever go out to dinner with him and his wife, Vanessa, but that he wouldn’t mind playing a round of golf with Bryant sometime.

 

Kobe just laughed. “Man, I suck at golf.”

 

STAR GAZING

 

We weren’t in Beverly Hills an hour before our first celebrity sighting last week. After checking into our rooms at the Beverly Wilshire (the hotel from Pretty Woman, I’m told) on Wednesday evening, a few of us decided to hit Rodeo Drive in search of some dinner.

 

As we exited the glass hotel doors, we practically walked right into Sean Penn, standing there in a suit and smoking a cigarette. We locked eyes for a moment or two, and I wondered if he was waiting around to get the Suns’ autographs, or if he was a Hollywood spy on a mission from Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

 

Suns.com reporter Josh Greene suggested we go back and ask him for a refund on the tickets we bought to see The Interpreter while in Memphis during the 2005 playoffs.

 

ALL-STAR GAZING

 

We ran into several of the Suns at Jamba Juice on Friday morning, which wasn’t all that exciting or out of the ordinary for us. But it was interesting to watch a businessman’s eyes light up when he recognized Steve Nash next to him in line.

 

Lunging for a fruity flyer on the counter and hitting one of the Jamba juicers up for a pen, he quickly asked the league’s MVP for an autograph. Nash smiled and obliged, and just as quickly, the fan was on his cell phone calling up a friend… “You’re never going to believe who I just ran into…”

 

BELIEVE IT OR NOT

 

Whenever we travel with the team, we usually pay a visit to the local tourist attraction or two. In Memphis it was Graceland. In San Antonio, the Alamo. And both of the last couple years in Dallas we toured the Book Depository and grassy knoll.

 

This year we decided to spend a few hours on Hollywood Blvd. We visited Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, had our pictures taken with street performers dressed as Yoda and Elmo (for my kids, of course), and stopped into a few too many tacky souvenir shops.

 

The best part of the afternoon, though, was our tour of the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum. I always wanted to go in as a kid, and although I probably would have liked it more then, I still enjoyed it more than I expected to as an adult.

 

There were a few disturbing exhibits, like the baby skeleton with two skulls and the photography exhibit of people how had lived after being impaled (I’ll spare you the details). But I was particularly intrigued by the old black-and-white film of the world’s tallest man of modern times. Looking up at the 8-foot, 11-inch wax figure, I had to wonder how he would do in the NBA. Probably not too well in Coach D’s high-speed system.

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