Weekly Countdown: Life's a pain around NBA -- even for mascots
It's something we take for granted. But people are hurting out there.
"I don't think it's that uncommon,'' he said. "I look at the Tony Parker injury, I had that happen to me a bunch of times in my career. I came down on a foot and rolled that ankle. That's just bad luck.''
I reminded him that
"Yeah,'' Ainge said, "but I don't think that's it. I think some guys, just the way their bodies go, they are susceptible. Some guys don't get any sprains; some just land wrong. Tony's ankle just went, he hit it hard.''
Ainge was the victim of the weirdest injury that I can remember in the NBA. In a 1983 first-round playoff game with Atlanta, Ainge tried to tackle
"We got into a little scuffle out on the court by the foul line and he almost bit my finger off,'' Ainge said. "He bit it all the way through. I had to get two stitches.''
He raised his right hand to reveal the scar on his middle finger.
"Usually, you don't put stitches on a human bite,'' he said. "But just to keep everything in there together, they had to put a couple of stitches in there.''
Did he realize that someone was biting him?
"Oh, yeah, I knew it was happening,'' he said. "Oh, yeah.''
The next day, the
The billions of dollars paid in player salaries has changed the way the games are being played, and you can see it in all sports. In the NFL, they keep adding rules to protect the quarterbacks. In baseball, you don't see pitchers throwing inside nearly as often as
"It used to be that players didn't necessarily like the guys on the other team,'' said a longtime NBA executive, who asked to remain anonymous. "Now you see them after the game, no matter what happens, they're all hugging each other. At times, I wonder if it's a collusion -- you don't play too hard, I don't play too hard, and nobody gets hurt. What happened to the day when you were supposed to hate your opponent, you wanted to knock his lights out and you didn't dare be his friend? Maybe we're a more educated and civilized society for doing what we do today. But I miss the intensity, especially when I see these guys hugging each other and saying, 'I love you, man,' and 'Call me! Call me!'
"I think it started with
The last infamous "taking out'' happened during the 1984 Finals when
"McHale took him out, and it changed the whole series,'' the executive recalled. "I bet if you were to ask Rambis today, he would still be upset about it.''
Those were the days.
"An ankle sprain,'' Raptors media relations director
I asked The Raptor to detail his injuries over the years.
"It's a long list,'' he said during a rare telephone interview Thursday. "A fractured tailbone. Cuts, scrapes and bruises, twisted ankles. I have one vertebrae that got twisted so I was getting pinched nerves in my back and neck. A few times I've dislocated a finger and popped it back in. I tore a hamstring trying to dunk over three ball racks stacked on top of each other. I had a concussion doing a backflip off something and hit a stanchion, or something, and ended up falling on my face, so when I got up I was like, 'Oh, I don't know where I am,' and they ended up escorting me out. I was in the old Skydome doing a dunk and I landed on top of the ball, I rolled my ankle on top of it. That's no fun. I came back the next game in a wheelchair with a sign that said, 'Say No To Trampoline Dunks.' "
The Raptor agreed to speak with me on condition that I not reveal his true identity. In that sense, it was like talking to Spider-Man. He has been The Raptor throughout the 14-year history of the franchise. Maybe you've seen him: He is bright red with an oversized head, sharp teeth and limited eyesight, mainly because he sees through his mouth.
"When I'm running around in that thing, it's like a sauna,'' he said of his outer skin. "You're breathing the same air inside of your head. Each night I'll sweat anywhere from six to nine pounds in water. I'll take my shirt off during timeouts and literally wring out the sweat.''
I first met The Raptor a few years ago at the Air Canada Centre. He came walking into the press room in the first quarter. When he took off his head, I felt like Dorothy looking behind the curtain in
"I'm 35,'' he admitted. Before he was The Raptor, he was toiling in the Canadian football and basketball leagues. "This is my 20th season of doing mascoting,'' he said. "Every parent wishes their kids will grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer. Mine got a puppet.''
The speckled red tail and monocular eyes belie a discipline to his craft. He missed but one game after suffering the broken tailbone.
"I was tobogganing down the stairs and lost the positioning on the toboggan.'' After the collision, he said, "I got up on my own and my spine was completely tingling. I was like, 'Oh, my God, this hurts,' and I got up and walked away. There was a slight little fracture in the tailbone. I didn't dunk for the rest of the year, but I was back into doing some sort of running handstand maneuvers in a couple of weeks.''
I asked him what was the anticipated life expectancy of a Raptor.
"I get asked that all the time,'' he said. "The answer is as long as I can, because I love doing it. It's as fun a job as you can get in many different ways. You perform in games but also go out in the community and work with special-needs kids in different situations, such as going to hospitals for sick kids and bringing that element to them. I can tell you, there are times you're glad you're wearing a costume while you're seeing these kids in their situations. Because the whole time you're thinking, I've got problems?''
The Spurs are 2-5 and rank an alarming 22nd in defensive field-goal percentage (45.6). But even if they're 10 games under .500 when Ginobili joins Parker back on the court next month, the Spurs are still going to make the playoffs. Health permitting, of course.
In most cases, you represent the majority opinion (though they definitely aren't too old -- wings
My guess is the Nets, who have been trying to move to Brooklyn. If that falls through as many believe it will, then it will be no surprise if they are sold and the team is moved to another market. The other vulnerable franchises include New Orleans, Memphis and Charlotte (which appear unlikely to break its leases), as well as Sacramento and Milwaukee (which can escape).
"The Nets aren't going to be moving to the Barclays Center, that's not happening,'' a rival NBA owner said of their proposed move to Brooklyn. "And they're losing money.''
I agree in general, but in this case Hill had an informed perspective on a highly visible constituency -- a few hundred rich African-Americans. What I find interesting is the premise that most NBA players were raised as Democrats, switched to the Republican side for tax purposes, and have gone back to the Democrats now that
Basketball will be the sport of the White House over the next four years, much as baseball was the pastime of the
I asked an NBA scout for his analysis: "I would have never put those two together. Francis was a massive scorer who had to learn how to play with other people, but I don't see Rose like that. Rose can put up points and score in transition. But he's a point guard. I never thought of Francis as a point guard. His mind-set always has been that he knows how to score, and he's trying to get himself open.
"For sure, Rose can get to the rim. But with most guys in the league, you see early in their career that they're going to the rim a lot, and as the years go by they're doing it less and less and less. They take a lot of pounding going inside, they become better shooters, and they worry about their longevity in the league. [
"If anything, it helped me,'' Bosh said of his summer with USA Basketball. "You put some of the best players in the NBA on the same team, so when we started practicing it became like a competition. Who can be the best basketball player, the best defender, the best scorer -- unspoken things that guys try to compete over. We didn't take any days off. We tried to guard hard every single time we stepped out on the floor, whether it was a game or practice. We showed great concentration, but at the same time it was fun.''
Said Raptors coach
Bosh should continue to develop a more complementary relationship with
"It was a little tough at first trying to get used to him,'' Bosh said. "We need to get him the ball inside, and I wasn't really used to playing with a guy who can do well in the post like that.
"But as time has gone on, we've gotten more time together, and I see his tendencies. I know the different spots to be at when he has the ball, so I can make more space for him. And I see what he does when I have the ball, so it's working out pretty well.''
"He's a scoring point guard who can really get people the ball,'' O'Neal said. "He's not a real big break-the-defense-down type of point guard.''
Calderon drew the attention of
The crucial improvement for Calderon has been his three-point shooting; he made 16.3 percent as a rookie in 2005-06, but this year he's hitting better than 40 percent just as he did last season.
"The first year was bad, terrible,'' he said. "Coach was really hard on me every time, and I don't know, I thought about getting back to Europe because maybe it wasn't my time to be here. But I worked hard during that summer, and everything paid off, and I'm feeling happy to make the decision to stay in this league.''
After sharing the position with
He's too busy to worry about making the All-Star team for the first time.
"I don't know what's going to happen in February,'' Calderon said. "Right now, I just try to make plays, make things happen for my team, and if the coaches and the people vote for you, that's perfect. But I don't feel upset if I don't go. It's not in my job to decide.''
American players don't complain nearly as much as they used to about playing in Canada, though financial concerns remain.
"What got them afraid was the tax situation of having to pay Canadian taxes and U.S. taxes,'' O'Neal said. "It's gotten better, but it's still there. That's why guys are still veering away from coming across the border to Toronto.''
O'Neal said he loves the city and its support of the Raptors.
"The diversity in the city has been amazing,'' he said. "It's basically like New York City, but a cleaner version. I'm pretty happy about being there.''
"I knew about the [tax] situation before the trade was made,'' said O'Neal, who declined to talk specific numbers. "We tried to make some things happen [to ease the burden]; it didn't happen. But sometimes you've got to take a couple of steps back in order to take five steps forward. I've made a lot of money in this league, and I just wanted to be somewhere where I had an opportunity of winning. Sometimes you've got to pay the price financially to get to where you want to be.''
"Yeah, it's a negative tag, but listen, I had to go work for free to become a coach. I volunteered as an assistant at a Division II school [Cal State-Los Angeles] when I was starting to coach. I coached in the ABA, I coached AAU basketball, I was assistant coach at Louisville and then I was two years at New Mexico State [as head coach]. I don't mind working for my stuff.
"My job status does not define me. I'm the same guy I was last year, the same guy I was before I got this job. I try to create an element of truth in the locker room where I can look my guys in the face and tell them how I feel, and I accept when they look me in the eyes and tell me how they feel, which sometimes is not always good. I think I've earned the respect by doing it the hard way. My owners and Geoff, they have to know that I trust them, and that if I do my job it will be fine. And if I don't, we'll move on.''
"I don't know what people expected when I took this team over. It was a young team. You had to grow with the team. I've been in this league 26 years, man, and I've never seen a young team win at a high level. It takes time, and people are just so impatient that it makes you sick sometimes. But it doesn't change my direction and how I feel as a coach because I know the dynamics of the sport. So I just try to stay the course. You can't get rattled. I'm not a guy who can easily be rattled, so when people talk about your job, it's them talking. I'm still going to continue to do my job as long as I'm under contract.''
I couldn't disagree more. It's hard enough to make a trade in the NBA because (in most cases) the salaries exchanged must be of equal value. What happened between Detroit and Denver is not such a bad thing. The Nuggets met the necessary financial obligations of acquiring
A trade like this is good business, which is good for the NBA. Why would the league rewrite its rules to hurt its own bottom line?