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Wednesday, June 30th, 2010 at 4:01 pm  |  45 responses

Links: Both Teams Played Hard

Free agency, Kobe and Sheed…

by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

Over the last 48 hours, I’ve seen reports that Joe Johnson is definitely going to sign with the New York Knicks, he is surely going to Dallas in a sign-and-trade, he could be going to Houston in a sign-and-trade, and he’s almost certainly staying in Atlanta.

Welcome to the summer of 2010. I said something about the ridiculousness of all these Joe Johnson rumors yesterday on Twitter, and my main man Sekou Smith responded that as a Hawks fan, I must be nervous.

The truth is, I’m not. The way I figure it, the next couple of days are going to be completely insane. Rumors will begat rumors which will begat more rumors. And maybe ten percent of what we hear will actually be true. I know a lot of NBA writers and columnists have been gearing up for this strange season — stoking their sources, emailing and texting, staying glued to the internet.

Me? I’m celebrating the start of free agency on July 1 by leaving on vacation. Partly because Wifey and I haven’t taken a vacation since Christmas, but moreso because there’s about to be a media battle royale to figure out who’s signing where. I think it might end up being like the fight scene between all the news teams in “Anchorman.”

So I’m just gonna get out of the way until the dust settles.

But you know what I’m waiting to see? I’m waiting for one of these guys to leave some money on the table.

Back in the summer of 2003, Jason Kidd was an impending free agent and probably the hottest target on the market. He led the Nets to back-to-back Finals, and underwent a barrage of questioning about what his free agent plans were going to be. I had a chance to sit with him just before that summer kicked off.

What’s your answer about next year, because you’ve been asked about this every day for three months.

Yeah, it’s just…you know, I’ve enjoyed New Jersey, it’s been great, and we’ll see what happens July 1. Hopefully I can end my career as a Net.

Do you wish you’d never agreed to even answer these questions?

Yeah, I can’t do anything. So the big thing is, Jersey’s been great to me. Hopefully I can stay in Jersey.

What’s going to be the deciding factor in where you sign?

Well, the chance to win a championship, that’s what we play this game for, to be able to win and legitimately have a chance to win a championship, and I feel I can do that here.

So why don’t you take a million and sign with the Lakers?

Well, you still have to have that challenge too, You don’t want to take the easy way out. Because it’s never guaranteed it will work out. It’s never guaranteed that you’re going to win a championship.

Kidd nearly signed with the Spurs, but he eventually re-signed with the Nets for six years and about $100 million. They got rid of Byron Scott, then started shedding salary, and they never made the Finals again.

My point is, NBA players love to talk about sacrifice. They may lay their bodies on the line night after night, but very few, if any, of them are going to put their own money on the line. They play a limited number of seasons and they are very aware that their earning clock is ticking.

Maybe winning really is the most important thing, and maybe LeBron or Wade or Bosh or Amare or someone will take less than what’s on the table for a better shot at winning a title.

But I’m done with the rumors. Call me when it’s official.

• You remember last year when the guys from 0484 Creative out in SoCal did a street art project they called Represent Kobe? Well, they’re at it again, this time with a more avant garde theme, where they depicted Kobe as Batman. They sent me a shirt which I wore out jogging the other morning, and I got so many double-takes that it was pretty hilarious. You can check that out here.

• Finally…

Last week during the NBA Draft, news broke that Rasheed Wallace was going to retire. Dude played 15 NBA seasons, scored over 15,000 points, won a title and played in four All-Star Games. He won two national titles in high school and was a first-team NCAA All-American as a sophomore.

And yet to a lot of people, Rasheed Wallace never became the player they thought he could become. Instead of doing work in the post and dominating the boards, he hung around the three-point line shooting threes and yelling at refs. He had size, mobility, skills (I always thought his outlet passing was underrated), fundamentals, finesse, power. Fans thought he was a waste of talent or a waste of money or maybe both.

In the largest context, Rasheed Wallace never seemed to make sense in the NBA. I am not here to defend Rasheed Wallace, to try and convince you that you should have appreciated him for what he was, for being always honest and frequently hilarious, even if unintentionally. All I can tell you is that I enjoyed the Rasheed Wallace experience. This is the man who gave us the phrase “Ball don’t lie” and made “Both teams played hard” immortal. When he won an NBA title, not only did he get wrestling championship belts made for his teammates, but he got his championship ring re-sized to fit his middle finger.

Who was Rasheed Wallace? I asked him that question once, in the fall of 2000.

Before we get to his answer, fast-forward a decade to earlier this season, when we were working on “How To…” issue of SLAM and we realized that we needed to speak to Rasheed Wallace. This is a more difficult proposition than you may realize.

The NBA has a rule that NBA locker rooms are open to the media from 90 minutes before tip-off until 45 minutes before tip-off. This means if you’re a credentialed writer at an NBA game that starts at 7:30 p.m., from 6:00 until 6:45 you can be inside a locker room and can ask the players questions. At least, in theory, you are allowed to do this. In practice it’s never that easy. Some guys completely avoid the locker room. Other guys sit around but politely tell everyone they’ll only speak after game.

And a few guys sit there in the locker room and just refuse to talk to anyone. This is Rasheed Wallace. Headphones on, rapping aloud, head down. He was there but he wasn’t there. But for some reason that remains unknown to me, ever since I wrote my first story on Rasheed, he would always speak to me; I guess I’d passed his unspoken test or something.

For the “How to…” issue, I went to a Celts/Knicks game, went into Boston’s locker room and talked to Sheed for about five minutes about how to shoot off the glass. We finished, and I got up and walked away. Another reporter immediately walked over and began asking Sheed something, and he responded, “Naw man, I don’t talk pregame.” Even though he’d just sat there and talked to me for five minutes in full view of the entire locker room.

Disbelief on his face, the reporter looked at me and then looked back at Sheed, who by that point was just looking back down at his iPod. I would’ve felt bad for the reporter if I hadn’t been put in the middle of the dichotomy of Sheed before.

Many moons ago when our company launched KING magazine, the editor, Datwon, wanted to include Sheed in the mag. There was a section in the book about things celebrities collected, so I was told to ask Sheed if he collected anything. (Anything tangible. Not technical fouls.)

So I asked him and he nodded yes, indeed he did have a collection, that he collected “nails.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Like, hardware? Nails that you hammer?

“Naw,” he said. “Fingernails.”

“Wait, you mean your own fingernails?”

Rasheed nodded.

“The entire nails? Wait, you must just mean the clippings.”

Rasheed nodded. I definitely wasn’t expecting him to collect his fingernail clippings. Then again, this was Rasheed Wallace I was talking to. I should have known to expect the unexpected. I pressed on.

“How do you collect them? I mean, where do you keep them?”

“In a jar,” Rasheed said.

I fell silent for a moment. As I thought of a way to ask him why in the world he collected his own fingernails, he said, “Hey…I’m just messing with you.”

Anyway, who was Rasheed Wallace?

We’d decided to put Sheed on the cover of SLAM 49. Russ assigned me the story, because I loved everything about Sheed, but mostly the controversy that seemed attached to his hip. I called the Blazers and asked if we could even get Sheed to do a sit-down interview, and they eventually said yes, he’d be willing to do it. I offered to fly out to Portland to spend a couple of days around the team, but the Blazers were coming to NYC a week later, so Rasheed passed along word that he’d be willing to do the interview when they were here. I said that was cool but that I’d need at least 20 minutes or so, and they said I’d get it.

I was told to come to Portland’s shootaround the morning of their game against the Nets — they were staying in Manhattan, so they had their shootaround on the Upper West Side at the New York Athletic Club. I got there early, and when the team finally arrived the PR person for the Blazers introduced me to Sheed. He was holding a two-way pager and had his eyes glued to it. I asked if we could talk, and he asked if we could do it that night at the game instead. I said OK, but reminded him I’d need time. He said OK.

A few hours later, I went out to Jersey and was waiting outside the locker room door when media time commenced. I charged in, found Sheed in front of his locker, and asked if we could talk. Sheed asked if we could do it after the game. I didn’t want to do it after the game because I just wanted it to be over with, but whatever. OK, I told him, and reminded him I’d need about 20 minutes. No problem, he said.

During the game that night, Rasheed got T’d up just before the half, and I briefly got terrified that he’d get tossed out and would leave the arena before I’d get to talk to him. But he didn’t — he calmed down, he stayed in the game and finished with 16 and 11, and the Blazers hung on to win it, 94-82.

After the game I ran down into the Portland locker room and staked out a place in front of Rasheed’s locker alongside 5 or 6 other writers from newspapers who were covering the game.

(ASIDE: Following games, newspaper writers are generally on tight deadlines to get quotes, write their stories and get their stories into their papers as fast as possible. Since us SLAM writers are usually working on stuff completely unrelated to whatever game we’re at, we let the writers on deadline go first and ask their questions, and once they’re done, we go to work.)

Rasheed emerged from the shower and stood in front of his locker getting dressed. And then this happened:

RASHEED: [TURNS AROUND TO THE REPORTERS BEHIND HIS LOCKER WHILE POINTING TO ME] “I’m only talking to him.”

ME: They want to ask you about tonight, first.

RASHEED: Naw, I’m answering you, man.

The reporters all looked around at each other, sort of bewildered. Then they all looked at me like I’d stolen their wallets. I figured I’d try to ask something about the game that night so Rasheed would talk about the game and hopefully say something these guys could use in their game stories.

ME: Alright, tonight, what was the best part of your game?

RASHEED: Um, we played a pretty good team game, overall. Oh, hold on… [HE RUNS AWAY FOR ABOUT 10 SECONDS THEN RETURNS]

When Rasheed walked away the other reporters moved on to other players, leaving just me there. So when he returned I started asking some of the stuff I wanted to know for my story.

ME: Where did your shot come from, because your shot is more textbook than most guys your size.

RASHEED: Just hooping in the schoolyard.

ME: Back in Philly?

RASHEED: Yup. You know, watching my older brothers when they played. When I was younger I tried to be like them. [HIS ELBOW KNOCKS MY NOTEBOOK OUT OF MY HAND] Oops, my fault.

By this time the other writers were back and were all standing there waiting to ask Rasheed questions.

ME: Don’t worry about. [AS I BEND DOWN TO PICK IT MY NOTEBOOK, I TURN TO ONE OF THE BEAT WRITERS AND SAY, "You wanna go?"]

BEAT WRITER: You guys have won four in a row…

RASHEED: [CUTS WRITER OFF, LOOKING AT ME] Go ahead man.

At this point I figured, screw it. He doesn’t want to talk about the game tonight, he’s not going to talk about the game tonight. And I had about 25 questions in my notebook I wanted to ask him, and I was going to have to write a cover story based on this.

ME: Tell me about balling at Gratz.

RASHEED: Shoot, we was the best high school team in the nation. Two out of my four years there, my sophomore year and senior year, we finished first in the country.

ME: Your senior year you got player of the year, right?

RASHEED: Co-player of the year, with the Bull, Randy Livingston? He went to LSU.

ME: Before he tore his knee up.

RASHEED: Yeah, yeah.

ME: Why UNC? What did you learn there?

RASHEED: I just learned to play more of that team game. You know, Coach Smith had a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans down there, and he just brought them all together, figured out a way to make them play under one roof.

The other writers were still hanging around, wanting to talk to Rasheed. I could guess at what was going to happen, but I gestured for one of them to ask a question.

BEAT WRITER: Tonight you guys were really…

RASHEED: [CUTS HIM OFF, SAYS TO ME] Go ahead, man.

At this point the other writers all walked away, angry. I felt a little guilty for monopolizing his time, though I knew if I hadn’t been there, Rasheed wouldn’t have stood around to answer anything. Anyway, Rasheed was dressed and he slung his bag over his shoulder, as though he was ready to go. I’d been planning on trying to build some sort of rapport and gently work my way toward some more serious questions, but it was evident that time was running out. So I went straight to the meat of what I was hoping to get him to talk about…

ME: What do you think people don’t understand about you? Or, what do you want people to think about you?

RASHEED: Honestly man, it don’t matter to me what people think about me, as long as my wife and my kids and my mom think cool of me. As long as my inner-circle thinks cool of me.

ME: Not at all?

RASHEED: Nope, because them the people I gotta face every day.

ME: Do you think you’re misunderstood by the rest of the people?

RASHEED: Um…as far as what?

ME: Just their perception of you. A lot of people think you’re crazy. Do you think that’s a misperception?

RASHEED: Well, that’s good then. That means I don’t need their negativity near me if they’re scared of me.

ME: What about your attitude on the court, the way it’s so — not that it’s negative — but that it’s so up-front and loud. Does that project negatively?

RASHEED: Um…

ME: Because you get T’d up a lot, too. That doesn’t reflect negatively?

RASHEED: I’m not worried about it. It’s all out there on the floor. That’s where I leave it at. So, it’s cool with me. People can say whatever. People can say that I’m “this,” I’m “that”…it don’t matter. As long as I’m there to get the job done. Hey, I gotta go, man…

My twenty minutes had become four, and my four minutes were apparently up. Time enough for one last question. I skipped directly to the last question I’d written on my list…

ME: Last thing: Who is Rasheed Wallace?

RASHEED: Um…the person or player?

ME: Person.

RASHEED: I’m an everyday person just like yourself. I go to the supermarket, make sure the kids are at school, make breakfast, this and that. I’m just a regular dad. On the court, I just try to go out there and play, be a monster, be a beast, be a goon. And that’s me.

As Sheed memorably said, God bless and good night.

OK, I’m out. Catch you guys next week…

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  • http://www.clownpenis.com Tarzan Cooper

    Nope, we smoked it all

  • http://www.slamonline.com James the Balla

    Been waiting for this … reading … NOW!!

  • http://www.slamonline.com James the Balla

    Okay … a little different than I was expecting but still good. I actually thought you were serious about the nail clippings. I wouldn’t put it past his nappyness. Rasheed reminds me of the new Nappy Roots cd … The Pursuit of Nappyness!!

  • Sparty’s Law

    For the record … I am trying to order a shirt and every time I click on the size I want is says that “this product combination does not exist” …

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    I thought he was serious about the nail clippings. It would’ve been awesome if he was.

  • Chino

    Great article and interview, Lang.. Always loved Sheed’s attitude and game even though he was always playing against my team.

  • http://www.slamonline.com James the Balla

    For the record … I am trying to order a shirt and every time I click on the size I want is says that “this product combination does not exist” …..

  • http://www.slamonline.com James the Balla

    Interesting how I came up as Sparty Law … I am surprised this problem has never been fixed.

  • http://slamonline.com Maurice Bobb

    When Sheed was at UNC, I loved his style of play and how he’d basically slam the hinges off the goal when he’d dunk. And that primal scream he’d yell out was classic. He was that dude. He had a very serviceable career in the L, but he could have been Tim Duncan’s level of legendary. You can’t say his was a total disappointment because of the ring, but as Mr. Ball Don’t Lie walks away from the game, I’ll always wonder what could have been…

  • http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:OzhW3M1GBSKkgM:http://fashionsensei.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/jackie-moon.jpg Jackie Moon

    Ron Artest is one of the few that come to mind who actually sacrificed money to win… Re: Sheed quotes, don’t forget “C.T.C.” … Sheed sounds like an awesome dude from every interview I’ve heard. I can see why the casual fan would dislike him for his bugging out after every foul call, but he seems to be completely different from the consensus perception of him. From all accounts he’s a loyal team guy, who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. A cool guy to you if you’re a cool guy to him.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    I can see how the casual fan and hardcore fan would dislike Sheed.
    I’m kinda on the fence about dude. I don’t have a problem with his antics, and while I understand the pressure of deadline writing, I’m not really upset at him for not dealing with the media. That’s his perogative in a way.
    But dammit, his rebounding numbers are terrible. And, with his beautiful shot, he should have been a fixture on the block. I feel like we missed an opportunity to see something amazing with Sheed, well even more amazing, and as a fan that makes me a little upset.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    The last three comments here are all different but all correct. Shows what a conundrum Sheed was.

  • http://www.clownpenis.com Tarzan Cooper

    He was THIS close to having a ring for his other birdie

  • Sparker

    all these athletes walk around like they’re scrubbed clean, and then we get a situation like tiger. we actually know a hell of a lot more about sheed than a lot of guys, because he put some of his nasty side out there. i’m just sorry to lose a guy who isn’t one more f*cking boring personality

  • Brian

    I can’t fathom the thought of the NBA without Sheed. I know it is bigger than he, but I keep hoping he changes his mind. Thanks for the stories Lang and enjoy your vacation.

  • http://www.michaelcho.com M Cho

    Whatever Sheed did, he was always interesting.

  • http://twitter.com/pdxgaybball dma

    Thank you ‘Sheed. I know we’ll never see you again because you don’t give two sh*ts about the league. Much respect playing for the average Joe.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    My other favorite Sheed line was when he referred to the “politricks” of playing in the NBA.

  • The Fresh Prince of Nsam

    Oh man, Sheed was my man. Nike has a cool karate T-Shirt of him @ Footlocker, I’m gonna buy that as a souvenir of 1 of favorite players of all time in the NBA. Enjoy your retirement Sheed, u were the dude!!!

  • http://twitter.com/flavaklav Klav

    Sheed kept it 100. Who does that anymore? Portland should have kept him.

  • http://www.clownpenis.com Tarzan Cooper

    Sheed was killn la in the post, why didnt rondo get it to him down there more? And what was he going to say to the crawfords, this I want to know

  • http://Www.slamonline.com Myles Brown

    I’ve had the Rasheed Wallace experience. Pregame Wolves v Celtics I was in Bostons locker room along with Sheed, a few other guys and a cameraman. The camera man went in close for a shot of Sheed. A little too close. Sheed stared directly in the camera and said very clearly, “Get that f*cking thing out of my face” The camera man didn’t listen. Sheed repeated himself, loudly and as the guy walked away Sheed openly mocked him for about two more minutes. “Seriously, what’s wring with this guy? Doesn’t that thing have a zoom? You trying to get my nose hairs?” Needless to say, he didn’t want to talk after that. Sheed also drinks Miller Lite after games. I love him.

  • hoodsnake

    Big props to the only guy who was thrown out of the McDonalds game. Dude kept it real…

  • Bruno

    Sheed is the man and just like he say people can say whatever they want cause it all doesnt matter … he was one of the best players i’ve seen dunkin when catchin an alley oop

  • badnews

    Great story Lang. I wish more fans would appreciate Sheed’s game than his antics during the game. I can see why on TV.. I ran into Sheed a few times growing up in ptown during his Blazer era. Cool as a fan. And I’m just a random cat to him. Thanks for the stories all of ya…

  • roebro

    I remember this story in one of my old slam magazine. Classic.

  • whoooo!

    I actually totally agree with Maurice in that Sheed had all the talent in the world. I still firmly believe that he was more talented than Duncan, and had more physical gifts than him. Yet at the end of the day, one maximized all he had and becomes a legend, and the other just ‘got by’ with his talents and will only be remembered for his emotions and technicals.

  • MikeC.

    I didn’t really catch much of Sheed’s game until he got traded to the Pistons. We didn’t catch many Blazer games in Canada during the JailBlazer days. Prior to the trade, I thought Sheed was just a loudmouth squandering his opportunity to play in the NBA. After the trade to Detroit, I saw his full game on display. Pound-for-Pound brought out Rasheed’s best, along with the rest of the team. All Rasheed needed was a coach he respected and teammates he wanted to go to work with. When it came to launching 3′s and lobbing F-bombs at the refs, I think it came from a combination of passion and boredom. Sheed could work over damn near anybody in the post. After awhile, I think he just got bored and decided to see how far his range went. Getting on the refs likely came from the same place every true fan has when they see terrible calls. In Sheed’s mind, every call was a terrible call. I can picture him playing blissfully in a league where everyone calls their own fouls, and him being the most honest player on the court, to the point where he’d foul himself out. Then he’d count his toenail collection.

  • arthur

    That Sheed cover was the first issue of SLAM I ever bought, and after that I was an addict. It’s funny how at the time it seemed like Rasheed wasn’t giving anything away, but really he stayed the same person over the course of his career. Personally, I can’t be angry at someone for being too much of a team player. To me the other side of that coin is Vince Carter, and I know which player I’d rather have on my team.

  • Pingback: One day, we may thank Rasheed Wallace for tirades toward refs – Detroit Free Press « My NBA Video

  • Drolfe

    Payton took a huge pay cut when he signed with LA in 2003-2004, right? That was the first time I remember thinking someone has actually signed to play for a team to win. Didn’t really work out.

  • peter

    wow that was an interesting article. glad i spent time reading this instead of metabolic hw.

  • K.a.

    I still remember this piece from way back. This article to lang is what the webber wizard piece is to scoop, for me. Which is kinda ironic hiw theyre both at diff end of spectrum: scoop whos a romantic while lang a minimalist of sorts.

    Thx for writing about sheed, lang.

  • http://www.oo.com.au Dacre

    My favourite power forwards of all time in order….
    * Vin Baker
    * Shawn Kemp
    * Rasheed Wallace
    * Dirk Nowitzki
    * Dennis Rodman
    * Chris Webber
    * Christian Laettner
    * Tim Duncan
    * Larry Johnson
    * Shareef Abdur-Rahim
    * Amar’e Stoudemire

  • MikeC.

    @Dacre – No love for the Oak-Tree?

  • http://big11mel@yahoo.com Big Mel

    People just need to accept that it is what it is with Sheed,all that would’ve should’ve could’ve he still had a good career. He just didn’t like all the fakeness that went on with the NBA he just wanted to ball,so just move on with the rest of fake NBA stars.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Great stuff, Lang.

  • pache

    Sheeds one of my favorite player. this is a great article nicely done

  • Big Marv

    I’m gonna miss my boy ‘Sheed in the league. Love the article and the cover. all I need now is a tribute issue, call it Roscoe.

  • Thype

    I’m a Portland Trailblazer fan and ‘Sheed is still my favorite player.

    He lost his mind towards the end of his tenure in Portland (smacking the old Russian in the head with his towel was lame) but his back to the basket game and that high release jumper will always be my favorite thing to watch.

    But most of all I appreciate his no nonsense, what you see is what you get attitude. He doesn’t kiss ass to get endorsements, he just plays the game the way ‘Sheed wants to play it.

    I’ll miss the big guy to be sure but I’ll always show tape of ‘Sheed to my kids when they’re ready to play in the post the right way, when they want to learn how to hold that ball up high the right way, and how to play defense – both off the ball and on the ball – the right way.

  • matt the jazz fan

    duncan sacrificed money to get another couple of shots at the ring

  • http://Www.gizmodo.com Darksaber

    Have a nice vacation, Lango. Remember to visit the whale’s vagina in California.

  • good riddance

    this is the same guy that played the race card while making 17 million dollars per year and defended the ncaa.you don’t mention that, no one talks abut that whoa. latrell sprewell gets kicked out of the league for the comments(technically he did) but no one talks about this asshole and his comments. when he made those comments he kept playin in the nba. come on lang you disappointed me with this nonsense.

  • JoeMaMa

    @Darksaber, actually, no one knows why we call it San Diego. Definitely not because of Saint Diego, though.

  • http://big11mel@yahoo.com Big Mel

    Sheed and KG had the fadeaway jumper,we called it the logo. He should show D. Howard the shot on how u keep the ball up high so he don’t get stripped so much.

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