The Unexpected All-Star Milwaukee's sharpshooting guard Michael Redd slipped quietly into L.A., then showed he belonged

February 23, 2004

It's two p.m. on Friday of All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles.
Outside the Century Plaza hotel, tricked-out Hummers and
Escalades jostle for curb space like chrome hippos at a watering
hole. Inside, media availability day is at its orgiastic climax.
On one side of a cavernous ballroom, reporters crowd three deep
around the tables of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, pressing
forward as if stageside at a Springsteen concert, tape recorders
held aloft. Elsewhere a shades-wearing Steve Francis boasts of
the "serious bling" encircling his neck; Vince Carter peers up
from his table at a firing squad of cameramen; and Yao Ming
answers questions using a P.A. system, the better for the massing
forces of Chinese scribes to hear him.

Amid the chaos, there is a pocket of serenity in the back of the
room, where Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd, a first-time
All-Star, is sitting patiently at his table, wearing a blue
button-down shirt, jeans, white sneakers and--no doubt breaking a
clause in the Players Association contract--not a single piece of
jewelry. He is largely ignored by the press, who stampede from
one shoe-endorsing star to another. Those who do come over ask
Redd, among other things, whether he thinks he's the most obscure
All-Star. (His answer, after a moment's thought: "I may be.") One
foreign journalist sits down, studies Redd's name on the placard
and then, as if suddenly realizing he has walked into the wrong
movie theater, gets up and leaves without saying a word.

Faced with such overwhelming indifference, Redd could be forgiven
had he sneaked a whiff under each arm. After all, as he would
tell you if he were given to such self-promotion--which he is
not--his is a pretty darn good story. All the elements are there:
an underdog protagonist, a bunch of scrappy misfits (the
spare-parts Bucks were 27-24 at the break) and a surprise plot
twist (the player Redd was chosen over for the Eastern Conference
squad was none other than everybody's favorite phenom, LeBron
James). So why is it that Redd's name recognition hovers
somewhere between small-town TV anchor and Green Party
presidential candidate?

For starters, he plays in media-light Milwaukee. But that's O.K.
by him, because he is most definitely not a red carpet kind of
guy. The son of a pastor, he leads team Bible study and is madly
in love with his girlfriend, who sings in the church choir and
calls him "My Boo Bear." Unfailingly well-groomed (his father,
James, taught him that "you'll never meet a good companion if you
aren't clean and neat"), he's the kind of polite, unassuming guy
who says thank you to security guards when they hold the locker
room door for him. "He is one of the true gentlemen in this
game," says teammate Desmond Mason.

In fact, the only place where Redd isn't bashful is on the court,
specifically whichever half of it the Bucks are not defending.
For it is there, anywhere within chucking distance of the basket,
that the 6'6" guard does what he does best: shoot the ball.

And shoot it he does. From behind the three-point line, coming
off screens, off the dribble, with a hand in his face. It doesn't
matter. Splaying his legs, he snaps off lefty jumpers with what
may be the quickest release in the league. "He'll stand out there
and make 'em like Pop-a-Shots all night long," says Minnesota
Timberwolves guard and former teammate Sam Cassell, who calls
Redd "easily one of the best shooters in the league."

At week's end Redd was eighth in the league in scoring, at 21.9
points per game, was hitting nearly two three-pointers a game
and, because he was taking what Bucks coach Terry Porter calls
"quality shots," was shooting 44.1% from the field, a high number
for a perimeter player. (By comparison, fellow All-Star guards
Baron Davis, Allen Iverson and Paul Pierce were shooting 38.6%,
39.6% and 40.4%, respectively.) In addition to being an accurate
shooter, Redd is also one of the stronger (and taller) two-guards
in the league. Once by his man, he relies on a variety of
leaners, floaters and pogo-stick pullups. Though defenses usually
force him right (because he's a lefty), he says he prefers that
because he believes he is a much stronger finisher going that
way.

"The confidence just flows out of him," says Mason. "He gets that
ball and he thinks he can score every time. Mike might miss five
in a row, but he'll come back and make six straight."

Redd's confidence was on display on Sunday in the East's 136-132
loss. Though he was the last player to get in the game, he
managed to hoist 12 shots in 15 minutes, hitting three
three-pointers and scoring 13 points. On his first play as an
All-Star, he missed a 17-foot jumper on a fade play called by
East coach Rick Carlisle, who moments before had asked Redd
whether he needed to get warmed up to shoot. (The answer, of
course, was no.)

With 14 seconds left and the East down by three, Redd was on the
floor as the second option on a play designed first to go to
Tracy McGrady. When McGrady was covered, Jason Kidd flipped the
ball to Redd on the right wing. Kevin Garnett and his garden-rake
arms flew at him, but Redd still got off a three-pointer that
bounced off the back iron. Afterward he stood at his locker in a
white All-Star-embossed robe and shook his head ruefully as he
relived the shot, first asking a reporter how close he thought it
was to going in (very close, he was told). "I had to fade a bit,
but I had a good look," Redd said. "It just didn't go down." What
if he had hit the shot? He grinned like a man contemplating
winning the lottery. "Oh man, I would have run straight out of
the building."

The contested three-pointer was nothing new for Redd, who's spent
most of this season being shadowed by the opposition's best
defender. The Washington Wizards even ran a box-and-one, that
venerable high school zone variation, in hopes of slowing him
down. "I can't remember the last time I had a wide-open shot,"
says Redd with a sigh. Regardless, his play is winning him
admirers around the league. After a recent game in which
Grizzlies guard James Posey was in Redd's face the entire night,
Memphis coach Hubie Brown finished a two-minute ode to Redd by
commenting, "I went to him and said, 'Congratulations, you're a
wonderful story, and I'm very happy for you because you're what
this league is about: guys who have made themselves.'"

It's the theme of Redd's life: self-improvement. The seed was
planted early. When Michael was a child, his father would put a
trash can in the hallway of their house in Columbus, Ohio, and
challenge his son to a nightly shooting contest using rolled-up
socks. "I'd always let it get to 9-9, and then I'd be sure to
make the 10th one to win," says James. "Would he get mad! He'd
run down the hall, hitting stuff. He'd call me a cheater. I
wanted to see his competitive spirit. That let me know he had
one."

As he got older, Redd practiced his game incessantly. If it was
raining, he'd set up lawn chairs on the porch and dribble around
them, or go to the basement and bounce the ball off the wall.
("Always ended up hitting the furnace," says his mom, Haji, a
schoolteacher.) A self-starter, he taught himself to play the
drums, working with two pencils on a stack of schoolbooks, and
was a promising youth tennis player. After starring in basketball
at West High in Columbus, he excelled as a slashing scorer at
Ohio State for three years.

After his junior year, he entered the 2000 NBA draft and was
picked by the Bucks with the 43rd selection. George Karl, the
coach at the time, welcomed him by saying, "Guards in the NBA
need to have a body, and they have to be able to make threes.
Until you've got all that, I'll be ignoring you." That first
season Redd appeared in six games and scored all of 13 points.
Message received, he spent the summer at Ashburn Rec Center in
Columbus with his father and his high school coach, Keith Neal,
adding arc to his line-drive shot and working the flab off what
then teammate Ray Allen called his "old man body."

By his second season Redd had reduced his body fat from 14% to 8%
and had transformed himself into a three-point specialist,
shooting 44.4% from behind the arc. Last year, after another
summer working out at Ashburn, he averaged 15.1 points as a sixth
man, finishing second in the NBA in three-point shooting
percentage (43.8%). He went into camp this season battling with
Mason for the starting two-guard spot but had larger aspirations.
"My goal was not just to start but to be an All-Star," Redd says.

He got his wish two weeks ago, when the coaches voted him in.
Upon learning the news, Redd first called his parents. "They were
elated," he says. "When my dad gets excited, he can't stop
laughing, so he was just laughing and laughing." His teammates
gave him an ovation on the team bus and ordered a catered meal
for the plane.

For All-Star weekend Redd flew out his parents, who'd never been
to Los Angeles, his sister and his girlfriend of six months,
Achea Williams. Eschewing parties and clubs, Michael joined his
family for sightseeing, shopping on Rodeo Drive and dinner at
places like the Pier, a quiet seafood restaurant in Santa Monica
where, not surprisingly, no one recognized him. Michael soaked up
the weekend like a kid taking in Disneyland for the first time.
He gushed about how he got to talk to Iverson and McGrady, called
the whole experience "a dream come true" and spoke longingly of
how great it would have been to be in the three-point shootout.
Being an anonymous All-Star was not an issue. Says his dad, "It's
a product of how he was raised. Be humble, treat people nice and
don't go around drawing attention to yourself." Asked for her
take on the situation, his mother smiled. "Even if he's nobody
else's star," Haji said, patting her chest softly, "he's still
our star."

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COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH FIRE AWAY The reserved Redd wasn't bashful in the All-Star Game, leading all players in shots per minute and scoring 13. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH UPSTAGED Most assumed that the exalted rookie James would be an All-Star selection, but Redd got the coaches' vote. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH JOIN THE CLUB Redd rubbed elbows with fellow stars Jamaal Magloire (21), Kenyon Martin (6), Kidd (5) and Pierce (34).

"He gets that ball and thinks he can score every time," says
Mason. "Mike might miss five in a row, but he'll come back and
make six straight."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)