Casey recognizes some of the game’s best team players.
by Casey Jacobsen
One of the things I love most about the game of basketball is that it is a team game — it’s not just about you. It’s about getting all five guys on the court, regardless of where they are from or what God they worship, to come together for a common goal: To win.
You can’t accomplish that goal with just one good player (for example, the 2008 Cleveland Cavaliers). Sure, you must have a star — a player who can take over the game on offense or defense during important moments — but for the rest of the time, the ability of that team to work together in harmony will make the difference in a victory or defeat. I’ve played with a lot of guys in my eight years as a professional. Some of those guys were great teammates — guys who earned my respect through their character and unselfishness, as well as their play on the court. Other guys weren’t so great, and I’d soon rather forget our time together, along with the losses they assisted.
Today, I want to focus on some the game’s positive leaders, and give homage to a few of the best teammates I’ve had during my NBA career. Regardless of what my next career will be and the people I work with in that profession, I hope they will be half as good as these three teammates were:
Steve Nash — It is rare to find a player who is one of the best shooters in the history of basketball (yes, I did say that), who would rather set up someone else for a basket than score one himself. Steve found more joy in helping someone else succeed than any other player I’ve been around. We read about people like this in books, but they never seem to exist in real life.
Steve Nash was the best player on our team, and the hardest worker. I remember the season I played with Nash vividly. Before the season began, he worked out every morning in the summer at 7 a.m. in the Suns practice facility. I hated waking up early, but I wanted to workout with him so badly that I did it anyway. Shooting and playing one-on-one with him during those early morning workouts was some of the most intense, focused workouts I’ve done. He was always so humble, too. He never boasted about himself, or referred to himself in the third person during an interview.
Nash never gave the impression to anyone that he was “above the team” because of how good he was or because he was the face of the franchise. Even his house, which was very nice, was understated for an NBA superstar of his caliber. He is, to me, the antithesis of a spoiled, NBA star. Ask any player in the NBA who they would love to have on their team if they could handpick someone, and the first or second name (besides LeBron) would be Steve Nash.
Joe Johnson — When I first started playing with Joe during my 2002 rookie season with Phoenix, I thought he was a good player. When I left (aka traded) in 2005, I thought he was great. Joe had won me over.
It wasn’t one moment that I can point to and say, “That was when I knew Joe was special.” It was a culmination of events, day after day, that put him on this list. Besides myself, Joe was the only player on our team who didn’t miss a single practice or game. I can’t remember a single instance where he showed up late or missed a team meeting. I also can’t recall a time where Joe complained about playing time, shots in the offense, or his role on the team. He was the definition of a professional.
Joe is very mild-mannered. Most would call him shy (at least back then), but he wasn’t shy at all on the court. He was one of the biggest reasons why Phoenix had a great run under Mike D’Antoni. People can talk about Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion all they want. I’m not saying those guys weren’t good or important, but I am saying Joe was a better teammate than them. He was also a great player and could have done a lot more if given the opportunity.
He sacrificed his game for the betterment of the team and never uttered a word of discontent. I saw it with my own eyes. It is no surprise to me that he has taken the Atlanta Hawks, previously the Eastern Conference doormat, to a new level. Phoenix should have never let him go.
Mike Miller — I only played one tumultuous year in Memphis, but it was enough to understand how good a teammate Mike was. We were a horrible team, even when Pau Gasol was healthy, but Mike was the rock that kept everybody sane. I learned a lot about work ethic from him.
He was the first guy in the gym every day getting his shots up. There is a reason why he has been one of the most consistent three-point shooters this past decade. He takes a separate taxi to the game three hours before tip-off in order to have the entire arena to himself so he can go through his shooting routine. I’ve never seen anybody else do that, although I hear Ray Allen has a similar routine.
When it is time to play, though, it is no longer just about Mike. It’s just about getting a win. He’ll make a pass, get a rebound, or volunteer to guard the best player if that what it takes. He’s not afraid of taking the big shot and his attitude is always positive, which wasn’t a small feat considering the amount of wins we had. He also got along with everyone on the team, from the coach all the way down to the equipment manager. In a business where we are usually only judged by how many points we average or championships we win, Mike understood that there is more to life than just that.
1. Shane Battier — I was released after training camp with the Rockets in 2007, but Shane’s leadership skills on and off the court are legendary since his days at Duke. In person, he lived up to the hype. Great teammate and winner.
2. Chris “Birdman” Andersen – I played with Chris the season before he was suspended for drug use. He was the hardest worker on our team in practice and the games. Off the court, though he liked to party hard, he was a gentleman to the media and team personnel and was a positive force inside the locker room.
3. PJ Brown — We were teammates in New Orleans during the second half of the 2005 season and PJ was one of the best professionals I’ve seen. Came from a small college, worked his way up and never lost focus of who he is as a man and as a ball player. He’s a great father and husband, too.
Casey Jacobsen is a former SLAM High School First Team All-American and NCAA First Team All-American. He currently plays for Brose Baskets in Bamberg, Germany.