You may not have guessed this by looking at me but I was a basketball player (inside joke for those who know me). While I wasn’t exactly Lebron James, or Buddy Hield, or even Curtis Withers, I’ve racked up quite a few miles playing ball, though my own playing career kinda tanked before it ever got off the ground for reasons I won’t get into in this article.
I still managed, through sheer fortune (cause believe me it didn’t have a ton to do with talent) to end up playing with, or against an impressive collection of ballers.
So , in no particular order, I’m going to talk about a few guys I was lucky enough to have shared a court with, and what playing with or against them was like. This list doesn’t include any guys I grew up playing ball in The Bahamas with, that’s another article entirely by itself.
I say this list is in no particular order, but Chris Paul is by far the best player I’ve ever been on a court with, and it’s not even close.
I was able to get on the court with CP3 in 2007 when I worked as in instructor at the Jeff Rodgers basketball camp in the annual celebrity game that pitted NBA guys against us instructors. And that guy routinely runs circles around NBA players, so imagine the number he did on a bunch of small college basketball players.
You couldn’t guard him or take his ball, his handle was too good and he was too quick and strong for any one of us to stop him from getting to spots. He could shoot from anywhere, he stripped the ball from anyone stupid enough to try and bring it up against him and his passes were so accurate they may have well been laser guided.
Despite CP3’s ridiculous talents, the thing that stood out to me was his extra-terrestrial court awareness. The guy played like he had psychic radar in his head that told him where all nine other guys on the court were at all times and where they were going to be in the following few seconds. It felt like I was in slow motion while he was going full-speed, helpless.
And he talked a ton of shit to boot. Because he’s Chris Paul.
I played against Dougy McBuckets in a “Summer of Thunder” exhibition game at Kendall Isaacs Gymnasium against Creighton University in the summer of 2011.
He was heading into his sophomore year having just won the Missouri Valley Conference rookie of the year, a fact that I wish was communicated to me when I checked in the game to guard him. I was incredulous when this goofy looking white boy had the nerve to post me up, I was a couple inches taller than him and I probably had about a 15 pound advantage. I was even more incredulous that they had the nerve to actually give him the ball against me, I was obviously gonna send his shit into the bleachers, right?
Safe to say I learned in that very moment why he would go on to earn the nickname “McBuckets”. He scored on me like I wasn’t even there, and I can’t even explain how. He just got around me and put the ball in the rim. He didn’t outmuscle me, he didn’t do some crafty move to fake me out, he didn’t blow by me, he just refused to acknowledge the fact that I was guarding him. Which was irritating as hell. He didn’t look like that guy at all.
After the game I went to the all-seeing entity we call google and looked him up, I found out that he was indeed, that guy. A couple years later when he won the college national player of the year award and became an NBA first round draft pick I didn’t feel that bad anymore.
Somehow, some way my friend Mitch (also a great player and a guy with whom I always landed in bizarrely awesome situations like this with) managed to get Eric in one of our pickup sessions. This was in 2011 coming off the season where Eric scored over 22 points per game, his career high, he would be traded to New Orleans for Chris Paul a few months later (think they want that one back?).
We go to his Aunt’s house (Eric’s mom is from the Bahamas and he pretty much spent all his summers here growing up) get him and head to Anatol Rodgers high school to play. Mitch and I both end up on the same team running fullcourt with Eric but to be honest, it didn’t matter who was on his team, he killed.
He came in the gym hitting 35 foot shots without even warming up. What stood out to me was how pretty his shooting motion was. I don’t know how many games we won that day, but we won all with Eric firing away. He only missed about one shot in about five or 6 games, and I don’t think anything he put up even touched the rim, it was nothing but net. He was humiliating guys in the gym, after a certain point they started going all-out to guard him, one guy even got a hard foul in, something Mitch paused the game and issued a stern lecture to them about. Eric wasn’t concerned, he didn’t say anything, he didn’t flinch, his facial expression didn’t even change, he just continued to issue buckets.
The thing about it is I don’t think he took it seriously. He was quicker and stronger than anyone there but he didn’t take the ball to the rim at all, he took it easy and just shot the ball from so far away that it didn’t even occur to dudes to guard him yet, hitting most of them. He did it wearing some thin ass Haynes socks that no basketball player would ever wear in a serious game out of for fear of ankle injuries or calluses. Talk about insult to injury.
I got to play against Steph Curry’s brother-in-splash in a couple of Jeff Rodgers celebrity games held in consecutive years awhile back. The first time was the year he got drafted. What stood out to me was that he was every bit of the 6’7″ he was listed at (NBA players tend to exaggerate their height). He’s really tall for a shooting guard and he had a long wingspan to boot. As you would imagine he could shoot the hell out of the ball. I watched him jab then shoot the purest three pointer I’d ever seen up to that point, he didn’t even look at the rim, he was looking straight ahead at the person guarding him off the strength of muscle memory, from 35 feet away.
The second year is when things got interesting. It was cool to see how much Klay developed his game and his strength and conditioning from his rookie to his sophomore season. Heading into the NBA he was a skinny guy who could really shoot the rock but not much else. It was obvious that in his rookie year he worked his ass off to become something completely else. He was was visibly stronger and seemed quicker and more athletic, effortlessly dunking through contact, and his handle had either drastically improved or he was confident enough in it to attack the rim more. Klay’s vast improvement in his rookie year is a testament to the disparity in the coaching and strength/conditioning avalable to players at the college vs. the NBA level as well as Klay’s own work ethic.
After the game I chided Klay telling him that if he keeps getting better he’s going to find himself in an all-star game. I can’t tell you what he said but it was Klay doing his trademark low-key thing that he does. Klay is gonna be Klay i guess.
He did make the All-Star game eventually, a couple seasons later. I guess I called it.
To a lot of casual NBA observers it may have seemed like JJ Barea came to the NBA out of nowhere seeing as he wasn’t drafted and he didn’t go to a bigtime school. To those of us who played on the Bahamas Junior National basketball team in 2004, we weren’t shocked, he tormented us in a final a few years before he did the same same thing to Lebron.
I had good ass seats to watch the diminutive guard play 2004 in Puerto Rico riding the bench hard at the under 21 tournament held in Caguas, Puerto Rico. Barea was the best player of the tournament winning the MVP award when they beat us in the Gold Medal game. It’s hard to describe what his game was like. He wasn’t really a knockdown shooter, he wasn’t a pure setup man in the Chris Paul mold, and he wasn’t taller than 5’10”, and he wasn’t a jet-fast Ty Lawson type of point guard. What he was, however, was very brash, really savvy, and super confident. It was hard not to be, the Puerto Ricans boisterously supported their guys and he was the unquestioned, undisputed main cog in their machine, having lead the entire tournament in points, rebounds and steals. I think he gave us 28, despite the best efforts as Kevin Fox (who hit a clutch three pointer in that game for the record) as Nal loves to point out.
It was weird watching him when he first caught on in the NBA as a scrappy sparkplug because I remember him being, basically, short Puerto Rican Kobe Bryant. I’m still shocked to this very day that he never got drafted, I’m not shocked however, that he managed to spend a decade in the NBA or that he played an important part on a championship team. I figured out who he was that day on the end of the bench in Caguas.