Four Cities, 5 Teams, 6 Days
The NBA is alive and well across the Atlantic.
A Spur at heart, there wasn’t going to be a way former San Antonio scrambler Bruce Bowen was going to leave the building without me quizzing him. From Tiago to Timmy and back again, we just talked Texas but the fact remained the Lakers could have used his defensive hustling to nullify a success starved Timberwolves outfit.
And so, on to Paris. God, I love that city. From the cool ‘70s storefronts to the ethnic melting pot mixing down in the Metro, I just can’t get enough of it. Sipping a coffee outside the Paris-Bercy arena, watching daredevil kids on roller skates daubing graffiti on the doors, I was jazzed to get another look at the Wolves while getting the skinny on the Knicks. With the French football team in attendance, the atmosphere was buzzing. It helps when Amar’e turns up, primed for battle with a grin on his face.
Nip and tuck throughout, the Wolves signaled their intentions for the new season with a hard-fought victory. When you bust the other team’s chops for twice the amount of boards, your shooting’s got to be pretty ropey to give that advantage up. Beas was quiet, but Love teamed with a new-look Darko and promising Pekovic to lay the foundations for a Playoff run whether Jonny checks in or not early doors.
Moving to one side from the press pack, I got more time with Coach Rambis and a few quotes out of his new assistant Bill Laimbeer. Were they stoked that their towering trio showed their mettle and then some? Damn right, they were. Laimbeer’s trip to Serbia to work with Milicic during the summer already looks like a golden ticket. There was one guy, though, who slipped through the mikes and cameras looking as if he didn’t have a care in the world. That man (well… boy, in NBA terms) was Wesley Johnson, who could yet have an impact on the Rookie of the Year race. His easy charm and graceful stroke were a refreshing counterpoint to certain overhyped newbies.
You wait for one former Spur, then three come along at once. After getting time with Ratliff and Bowen in London, it was a no-brainer to whisk Roger Mason Jr away for a couple of questions regarding his latest port of call. He knows it’s going to be tough for everyone to integrate, nevertheless with D’Antoni’s experience and Amar’e’s enthusiasm at least the Madison faithful might have something to shout about finally.
I reached Barcelona the next day via Munich, eager to see if the best Europe can offer could keep the heat on the NBA two-timers. With the humidity kicking in, the climb to the lofty press box at the cavernous Palau Sant Jordi was almost a trip too far for my fatigued body. It certainly was for the Lakers press guy, as we took time out from mopping our brows to discuss the trip as a whole for Coach Jackson’s outfit.
He claimed they looked good in practice. Whether he meant their fashion sense or ball handling, I’ll never know, but if their field goal percentage was anything to go by a few hours later I’m plumping for the former. Jackson admitted he put Kobe on the floor for longer than usual to increase the goodwill, after his London cameo drew ire from the English press and fans alike. Artest, Fisher, Gasol and Odom carried the team on their shoulders with Bryant firing blanks. It was local heroes Juan Carlos Navarro and Pete Mickeal, though, who left the strongest impression as I made the long descent down to ground level for the final words on Stern’s European push.
Jackson was fuming — no two ways about it. People may say it’s way too early in the pre-season scheme of things to make judgment calls, but there’s definitely cause for concern in Tinseltown especially with several teams making more astute close-season moves to shore up their own title challenge. Will Barnes and Blake bring enough off the bench to help out Kobe and Fish? Only time will tell in the City of Angels, where Bynum and Walton continue their uncertain rehabilitation ahead of the three-peat tilt.
Meanwhile, the Knicks will need a fair few games that really count to see what they can realistically achieve for a Garden sorely in need of fresh bloom. The winners from the week were the Wolves, all those naysayers criticizing David Kahn poised to eat humble pie if the rotation continues to click. You couldn’t wish to meet a nicer play caller than Rambis, his quiet confidence set to get the best out of a determined bunch who’ve had some bad breaks and want to leave it all out on the floor from here on in.
What else did I learn? The NBA logo is well and truly flourishing for Commissioner David Stern over this side of the pond. As for my hoop dreams, my US visa is going to get a tough workout of its own for many years to come. Of that, there is no doubt.
Follow Matt on SLAMonline and Twitter @mattogborn for more worldwide hoops coverage.