Skip’s Finest Hour
Rafer Alston: the Key to Game 3
by Joseph Vecsey
For me personally, it is amazing to see Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston playing in the NBA finals, let alone having a great game. And I mean that in a good way. I’ve known Rafer for years going back to when he was still on the fringe of the League and going to the Boston summer league every year to earn his spot on the Milwaukee Bucks. He has always been a great guy so it is nice to see him at this point in his career.
It just took me a while to adjust my eyes and realize I was watching Rafer play in person on the court in game 3 in Orlando last night. It seems like yesterday I was watching him play street ball games on the And 1 Mixtape tour in different cities such as Atlanta, Los Angeles and Toronto. Not to mention all the fantastic games out in Rucker Park where he destroyed and embarrassed his opponents by not only shaking and scoring on them, but dancing and skipping before he did it. I remember going up to watch some of those games when I was barely a teenager and I was in awe while watching him on the court. I had never seen someone abuse their defender in such a smooth way and make the crowd go bananas every other play. Plus, he was talking trash while doing it. I think the thing I admired most about Rafer at that time was his confidence and having no doubt that he could embarrass anyone who stepped in front of him. Even if he messed up or lost the ball (which he did at times), he would come back as if it didn’t happen. Truthfully, I don’t think messing up or committing turn over’s even came close to fazing him. He was so comfortable and sure of himself and his surroundings that it didn’t matter. Besides, before he lost the ball the crowd was still trying to contemplate what they just saw him do. That confidence is probably what kept Rafer around and able to bounce around from team to team and then playing well enough to finally get his $27 million dollar contract.
Having seen him play at Rucker Park back in the day, it did not seem like Rafer could do much more to impress me until the And 1 Mixtape, Volume 1 came out and shocked the world. I remember watching that footage and being perplexed at what I was seeing. I think most people felt the same way and couldn’t process what they were watching until the fifth viewing. Remembering Skip in those parks and on tapes makes it that much better to see him in the NBA finals playing well.
As much as I liked Rafer’s game, I was worried if he was going to be able to stick around in the beginning when first starting his career in the League. As some of you may recall, during the 2001 Eastern Conference finals the Bucks played against the Sixers and in game 2 when the Bucks were up by enough, George Karl put in Rafer. When Skip came in, he began to do fancy dribbling under his legs against Eric Snow and was called for a carry! George Karl was trying to understand what just happened and so was I. I have to admit, I loved what Rafer did, but knew that was not the time or place for it—especially when you are one of the last guys on the bench—and things like that could have possibly stopped Rafer to getting to the point he’s at today. Rafer had some other incidents as well where he would lose focus, forget where he is, and pull out one of his park moves, then get called for a turnover. However, as I continued to watch Rafer in the summer at Hunter College, his game began to improve in many ways. His jumper became more consistent, his defense tightened up, and his game matured by playing more organized, but still maintaining his flash.
That seemed to be the case in game 3 last night. Rafer not only played well in scoring 20 points, but took good shots and even pulled out his signature Earl Monroe-like spin with just a bit more mustard on it. Even though I have seen him do that infamous spin move on defenders countless times, it still makes me say “ooohh” every time.
Even though Rafer didn’t play all that well in the first two games of the series, I think that was mostly due to coach Stan Van Gundy switching things up abruptly by playing Rafer less so he could play Jameer Nelson, who was coming off a four month stint on the sidelines. Not saying that was a bad decision, but it can be difficult for a player to get a rhythm when has been used to playing within a certain routine the entire Playoffs and then his minutes are changed dramatically.
Watching Rafer have his first great NBA finals game was quite satisfying and comes full circle for streetball fans that have been following Skip all the way to the days when he was shaking guys at age fourteen on Volume 1. It just remains hard to believe that he is the same guy I saw bouncing the ball off defender’s heads five years ago. Even though Rafer does not play in the street ball tournaments in New York city anymore or has not for some time, he told me after the game that he still plans to coach his AAU team this summer once again.