First impressions are hard to break, as Grizzlies rookie forward Shane Battier knows well. As a number-six draft pick and the most polished player in this years draft, Battier has had many cameras focused on his game and his adjustments from college.
However, Battier has not received the main portion of media interest. That perhaps dubious honor falls on the slim shoulders of Battiers fellow rookie forward, Pau Gasol, who has surprised everyone in the league with stellar rookie play through the first half of the season.
That said, Battier still knows that he and Gasol have not become the American household names they might one day become. I know were a little distanced right now, Battier said before the All-Star rookie game last Saturday. Were not on national TV often, and people dont know us right now.
Thats probably an overstatement. Battier stood as the most public member of Americas most public college team last year as his Duke team stormed through the NCAA tourney on its way to yet another title. Also, Battiers comment does not take into account the unheralded popularity of Gasol, who has blossomed into a genuine international superstar in his short time in the NBA.
Take the All-Star weekend media availability as an example. In Philadelphias Marriott hotel, approximately fifty tables set in rows held nameplates for the players expected at each spot. The rookie tables stood toward the front of the room while the All-Star players tables set toward the back. At the front of all the rookie tables, very near the front of the door, sat Battiers table and Gasols table.
As soon as the two sat in their respective spots, swarms of media engulfed the two as harried Grizzlies media staff tried to satiate the endless need of quotes and face time. Throughout the availability, around 10-15 news reporters stood near Battier, a relatively large amount for any rookie in the hotel. Relative, that is, to anyone but Gasol, who regularly drew a crowd of over 30 or more news reporters from both America and overseas.
Later, a member of the Grizzlies staff would mention reporters trying to get into Gasols room, and who would then become irate that the seven footer could not give them the time each needed. Another suggestion by the media was to mike the Grizzlies staff themselves, so as to get a day in the life perspective of working with Gasol.
Even before the Rookie game, Gasol decided not to be a part of the traditional locker-room media blitz in lieu of quieter digs to dress and prepare. Battier was in the locker room, and Ð as per his usual Ð answered questions from reporters from all over, including some of those that were in America to cover Gasol.
So it might not come as any surprise that Gasol looked genuinely relieved to step on the basketball court before the game, since press must keep some distance from players warming up. At least now the sensation could play his game, letting skills speak instead of voice. Battier was not so lucky. He conducted interviews up to tip-off, with the coaching staff, other nine players, three officials, and assembled fans politely waiting for Battier to finish up with yet another camera crew.
In the game, neither rookie dominated. Gasol played well with 10 points and seven rebounds, but both numbers are well below his season averages. For Shane, the night was also solid, but also unspectacular as the forward scored 15 points, and made three steals. However, Warriors rookie Jason Richardson blew both Rookie of the Year candidates off the floor. Richardson scored a game high 26 points, and earned Rookie game MVP status. Richardson would follow his game with a slam-dunk championship later Saturday night.
To be fair, an All-Star kind of game does not suit the style of either player. Battier excels defensively, which was anathema this past weekend. Gasol excels one-on-one, and usually takes an entire game to build a rhythm to become more proficient down the stretch. However, Rookie team coach Chuck Daly needed to rotate players frequently, in order to give everyone deserved playing time, and so Gasol never reached peak velocity.
At the same time, the two did show the goods. Gasol showed off that under and over dunk near the basket he likes so much, and he also showed that he has learned to box out so far this season. In addition, despite scoring only three points in the first half, Battier played aggressively in the second. Most notably, Battier went against convention and stifled the production of sophomore score leader Quentin Richardson, who scored 21 points in the first half, but only one point in the second half. Also, Battier called for the ball on the offensive end, hitting several key mid-range jumpers that eliminated the sophomores 58-51 half-time lead. He gave us a surge that put us in a position to win, Daly said after the game.
I think the other sophomores came out to play, but we played pretty good, Battier said. It got competitive there in the last five minutes.
And those last few minutes showcased the skills of not only the rookie squad, but a different type of NBA rookie. The last few minutes of the game, we were Ð the four European players on the court playing together, Gasol said after the game. I didnt realize it at the moment, but now that Im thinking, its true.
Whats also true is that Gasol is the tip of the iceberg in terms of international phenoms gracing the floor of NBA arenas across the U.S. And while perhaps a U.S. kid in the form of Richardson dominated all rookies, Gasol and his brethren will get theirs soon enough. As for Battier, he balances his interest in impressing the nation with this corollary. Id like to think my game speaks for itself, for the rest of the season, he said. I dont think that forty minutes will change that.
ODSS & ENDS
- The Memphis RiverKings need only two back-to-back wins in order to match a franchise record for consecutive wins. The Kings (36-9-2) are first place in the CHLs Northeast Division, and have won nine games in a row.
- Security was so tight around the All-Star weekend festivities that Dikembe Mutumbo was not allowed into one event until he produced proper credentials, because the security personnel did not know who he is. Mutumbo is 72, and helped lead the host city Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA finals last season.
- According to stats on the NBA: the league features 49 international players from 29 countries, and 35% of all traffic on NBA.com comes from users logging on outside the U.S. NBA commissioner David Stern says that he is now contemplating oversea franchises.
- Who do you make an NBA All-Star floor? Go to Horner Flooring on Lake Michigan and ask them to do it. The flooring company makes all NBA floors, as well as the floors for the NCAA Final Four. The floor costs somewhere at or over $80,000, and is made of 100 year old maple trees. After the game, the floor will be stripped of NBA paint and resold to another gymnasium.
- Ive learned a ton since my first day in November, just what it takes to be a professional basketball player. Its not as glamorous, but Im living my dream. Memphis rookie Shane Battier on the NBA life.
- I dont think I have to prove anything with these young kids. Michael Jordan on why he had no interest in playing for too long in the All-Star game. Jordan ended up playing 22 minutes, and scoring only eight points during that duration. Jordan also missed his one break away dunk in the first half.
- I wasnt feeling well. If I make [the All-Star team] next year, I might skip it again if I dont feel well. Allen Iverson, on why he did not make the scheduled media availability during the All-Star weekend.