I just finished one of the best experiences since I retired from the NBA eight years ago. I was able to compete in an All-Star event for the first time. I must admit that it was bitter-sweet and not because we did not win the contest and I did not deliver my fatal jumpshot on time.
Cappie Pondextor, Amare Stoudemire and Eddie Johnson prepare for their Haier Shooting Stars competition during All-Star Saturday Night. (NBAE Photos)
It was because I felt that there were at least four times in my career that I should have made it and did not.
So I approached this opportunity with my eyes wide open and it was a moving experience for me. The city of New Orleans put on a great weekend. It was nice arriving in town as a participant because I was spoiled with transportation and conveniences that made my ability to enjoy the weekend a lot easier.
My wife Joy and I arrived on Thursday night and when we got off the plane there were a few limousine drivers waiting, but none for me. She cracked on me and said you are old and forgotten go find a cab, but to my delight when I reached baggage claim there was a driver with a sign held high for yours truly. I told Joy I guess you will be the only one catching a cab.
On our drive downtown our eyes were fixated on the surrounding areas and remembering the devastation of Katrina, but when we neared Bourbon Street we could see the beginnings of a party that was waiting to happen.
Thursday was obviously Valentine’s Day, o dinner and spending time with your loved one was first on the itinerary. That’s how you stay together for 27 years – for you novices out there.
Friday morning I was off to my participant meeting and press conference. The meeting was quick and the press conference was even quicker. I would say at least two reporters came by my table – but only to find out where Amare was and how could they find the nearest restroom.
I could care less because I was reliving a dream that I left eight years ago. How many people can say that?
Friday night I attended the Behind the Bench wives organization gala honoring Spike Lee, Billy Hunter and Deuce Macalister and had a great time. I especially had a great time acquiring some football helmets with some great signatures.
I was able to secure a Joe Montana, Barry Sanders, Joe Namath, Dick Butkus and Brett Favre autographed helmet. The one helmet I did not get was because of Spike Lee. He straight out played gangster with me on the one helmet I really wanted for my collection.
I saw a Jim Brown helmet sitting all alone with no one bidding on it and I said, “Wow, what a steal this is going to be.” I bid $700 for it and when I showed up later I saw an ‘S Lee’ had bid $800. I did not comprehend who it was until with five minutes to go he showed up while I was hovering over the table. I said, “Come on, Spike, you can call Jim and get an autograph.” He responded, “Why should I do that when I can take this one?” I answered, “Well, I am ready to fight for this autographed helmet.” He said, “Let’s go” and proceeded to take the bid up from $800 to $2,000. I congratulated him and walked away.
Later that night I stopped by Michael Jordan’s party for a while and then proceeded to Harrah’s Casino in the middle of downtown to visit with a few friends. Soon it was time to head back to the hotel to get ready for the Shooting Stars competition.
I treated this Saturday like any game day I had in my 18 year career. I got up, ate breakfast, stretched and laid around till it was time to leave for the arena. I was focused and determined to win!
This is when it really became good for me. The one thing I really miss about playing is game day. To have a chance to experience it again as a participant meant so much to me. Entering into the arena, being led to the locker room where my uniform was hanging up in my locker and being spoiled was a something I wish every ex-player could go through again. Now there were some instances where you still were reminded of your current status: like the small locker room David Robinson, Bill Laimbeer, B.J. Armstrong and myself had to dress in – but nevertheless it was wonderful.
I really enjoyed sitting around and talking with all the players involved in the skills competition and observing the circus atmosphere all around us. Sometimes people get caught up in the moment but really do not appreciate the opportunity. I always try to reflect on good things afforded me in my life and I suppose it was ingrained in me because of my childhood and learning to appreciate all the good things, but I felt so special to have been selected to participate in All-Star Weekend. The smile would not leave my face even after losing out on the competition!
Now don’t get me wrong I was mad that I did not perform better, but I have been disappointed so many times in my career as a basketball player that it is easy for me to clear my mind and get back to enjoying the opportunity.
I was rooting for the Bulls after we lost because I did not want two centers to beat us, especially a Spur. The funny thing is we averaged about 23 to 30 seconds in the trials and the Spurs were above a minute, but my quick shot out of turn cost us and I must admit I became a little disheveled and missed a few attempts and that cost us.
I would also like to thank all the critics who texted me immediately after the contest to remind me of my failures. It must be because they realized that this loss by me was equivalent to Villanova beating Georgetown, Michael Spinks beating Larry Holmes and the Giants beating the Patriots. So I acknowledge that one of the greatest jump shooters of all time was upset and now I will have to live with it unless I convince the Suns to allow me to redeem myself next year in Phoenix. So I encourage all my supporters to e-mail the Suns in support of me for next year, because flukes do happen.
After I showered and came to my seat to be criticized by the boss. I knew I was in trouble when she was drinking wine already. Well she just looked at me and shook her head and said, “You tried hard, but you hurt your team.” Now you see what I have to put up with being the great shooter I am.
I do have to thank Steve Nash for making my life easier because he looked like he caught my disease during the three-point contest. I doubt if it would have made a difference because Jason Kapono is a machine.
Dwight Howard is a freak of nature. I have never seen a big man dominate a dunk contest like he has the last two years. He is amazing and I love the way he enjoys the game.
Finally I went back to the hotel and enjoyed a great comedy show and after my performance, boy did I need to laugh.
Now I am looking forward to the next few months’ plane rides with the team and hearing Amare and Kevin Tucker talk smack. I also expect that bench riding Tom Leander – who could not get off the bench at Brophy – to remind me of my defeat at the hands of two centers and a girl.
Sounds like a movie!