Just watched a replay of Leandro Barbosa’s shot which sunk the Bulls in Chi-town on Tuesday. What an unbelievable game that was.
A contest which appeared so out of reach that broadcaster Tom Leander mentioned the Suns haven’t lost by double digits this season, ends up being a Suns one-point victory? The Suns are winning ballgames they did not last season, and it’s provided a lot of fun for Suns fans like myself.
The shot also couldn’t have been drained by a nicer, more humble guy. Barbosa or “Starbosa”, as we at Suns.com have grown to call him, was my first interview when joining the staff here last season. I had never interviewed an athlete beyond the high school level, and needless to say was a little nervous. Within seconds though, LB’s personality shined through making the job a million times easier. The guy is always available for an interview and his English is much better than people assume (although I think he may enjoy the perception as it gets him out of a lot of media responsibilities). Suns assistant coach Dan D’Antoni has done an unbelievable job working with him these past two seasons, becoming not only a mentor but a friend. Through a fan e-mail segment we ran during the playoffs last season, I got to talk to Dan a lot during the postseason and watched the relationship between he and LB mature. Barbosa has been through a lot in his short career. Devastated when the organization shipped off his friend and teammate Stephon Marbury to the Knicks, Barbosa was forced to mature quickly during that 2003-04 campaign as he stepped in as a starter. He then returned to a backup role behind an All-Star in Steve Nash and learned a different way to play the position. When Raja Bell was suspended for Game 6 of Phoenix’s opening round series against Los Angeles, Barbosa was thrown into the mix as a starter once again and asked to defend one of the league’s most prolific scorers in Kobe Bryant. While he may not ever be the face of the NBA, Barbosa has always stepped up to the challenge and there isn’t a member of this organization not happy to have him on board.
It all seemed to come full circle for Barbosa when he found the ball in his hands during the closing seconds of that contest in Chicago. Barbosa nailed a tough outside shot in a hostile environment and I believe the transformation was complete. The Brazilian Blur is no longer just one of the nicest guys in the NBA anymore, he’s one of the most talented.
Feeling under the weather, Barbosa was not able to attend Suns practice today but the session wasn’t without it’s fair share of fun. The best part was watching Boris Diaw compete in a game of PIG (an abridged version of HORSE) with assistant coach Marc Iavaroni. Iavaroni – who won an NBA title with the 76ers in 1983 – keeps in great shape and is about as versatile as assistant coaches come. My favorite shot was one the coach dubbed the “Charlie Chaplin” shot. This comes in Iavaroni squaring up his heels along the out-of-bounds line in the corner of the court. The action causes the shooter to look like Chaplin – who ironically spent some time in France during his life. Iavaroni was unsuccessful in his attempt, but Boris was so intrigued he decided to give it a shot. The 2006 NBA Most Improved Player nailed it, stunning the capacity crowd (okay so it was really like me and four other people).
Finally, I got to talk to Mike D’Antoni about his winning the Coach of the Month Award for December. As expected, Mike credited the team, stating it wouldn’t have been possible had they not played well. While Mike is doing the responsible thing in crediting his team, the fact remains that there are a number of talented teams out there that still aren’t doing squat. Yes, had the guys not performed it’s doubtful Mike would get recognition, but he should definitely be credited with what was an unbelievable month. Mike is a player’s coach but he doesn’t beat around the bush. He doesn’t sweeten things up and I think we saw that during his post-game press conference following a November loss against Dallas. D’Antoni called out the play of his championship contenders and they certainly responded. After the defeat, the Suns enjoyed back-to-back wins followed by an overtime loss in Utah minus their two-time MVP Steve Nash. The Suns then strung together a franchise-record 15 consecutive wins. Mike knows his guys and treats them as what they are – individuals. Congrats on the honor, and if the Suns keep up the great play there may just be another coaching award coming your way sometime in May. Whether you want it or not.