Bittersweet Return for Bibby
Miami guard reflects on being back in ATL, current Heat team and former Kings squads.
by Tracy Weissenberg
Although there are no physical reminders, it is clear Mike Bibby still has a place within the Atlanta Hawks locker room.
After the Hawks traded Bibby to the Wizards at the deadline, then the veteran point guard agreed to a buyout, enabling him to sign with the Miami Heat. He returned to Philips Arena Friday for the first time since the trade.
“That’s a guy that was my best friend on the team,” says Hawks forward Josh Smith, “We hung out a lot so it’s bittersweet, be able to get to see him, communicate with him, have fun, laugh a little bit before the game…when it’s time to go, kind of throw that friendship out the window just for 48 minutes.”
“Playing with Bibby the last two years, year and a half, you know he was like a brother,” says guard Jamal Crawford.
Second-year point guard Jeff Teague says he took note of the ways Bibby stayed effective on the floor even in the latter stages of his career. “He just always told me to work hard, that’s his biggest thing,” says Teague, “He was like you can get in the league, but the hardest thing is staying in the league. He always told me to work hard, be a good person, stay positive and good things will happen.”
On what he gleaned from Bibby’s experiences, Teague says, “He’s fearless; he’s not scared to go against anyone. He’s been in big games; he’s made big plays, big shots. When he’s on the floor, he’s gonna make things happen.”
Bibby’s most successful seasons were as a member of the Sacramento Kings, the highlight being a trip to the West Finals during his first year with the team. He averaged 20 points and 5 assists in the 2002 playoffs, but the Kings fell 4-3 in an epic Conference Finals against the Lakers.
Earlier in the season, I had asked Bibby about his experiences in Sacramento. On his best memories, Bibby says, “How much fun everybody had. Everybody was together and it didn’t really matter about numbers.”
Reflecting on the team chemistry, Bibby attributes it to “Vlade Divac and Chris Webber–two great guys, I think they brought everybody together and brought that type of mentality to the team.”
Bibby acknowledges how difficult it is just to reach the Conference Finals. “It’s at the top level, everybody brings their A games,” he says. “It’s like a cat and mouse game, so it’s tough.”
While in Atlanta, Bibby helped the Hawks get to the next level, beginning with a seven-game series against the eventual champion Celtics in 2008, his first season with the team. He says the significance of that series was seeing “how everybody grew together.”
Out of all the memories he shared during his tenure in Atlanta, he says his favorite is “Just all the friends that I made…I’m kind of like an older brother to a lot of these guys.”
On whether he was hurt by the trade, Bibby says, “Yeah, I mean you get comfortable, you have friends, you kind of establish yourself in the city and stuff like that. It hurts but I’ve been traded before. When I got traded from Sacramento it was almost seven years…I have a lot of good friends that’s in the organization, on the team still, around Atlanta so you’re definitely gonna miss that.
“This is a business,” he says, “They felt that they needed to change the point guard position and that’s what they did. Somebody else’s trash, somebody else’s treasure. So I’m just happy to be where I’m at, still playing and that’s all I could say.”
On whether he feels like he can win a title with Miami, Bibby says, “Yeah definitely, that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come here too. I looked at all the situations, all the decisions, everything around it to where would be best for me and would give myself a chance to maybe play longer.”
With a greater goal in mind, Bibby is fine with the shift from starter to role player. “I don’t mind [changing roles], I like to win games regardless of how things go down,” he says. “I don’t worry myself with points, shots, stuff like that. I just do whatever it takes to help win the game.”
As an insider, does Bibby notice anything about the Heat that people may not realize? “They like to have fun, just as much as anybody else,” he says, “They look real serious and stuff out there on the court but inside the locker room, it’s all fun.”
If that’s the case, Bibby should fit right in. “He always brought a positive attitude in any situation,” says Smith. “No matter how much we was down or what adversity we faced throughout the season, he always made some positive out of it.”
Besides what he brings to the locker room, Bibby will add another battle-tested presence on the court to a Heat team with championship or bust pressure. Miami forward Mike Miller says Bibby brings “Stability, a point guard that’s been there, a guy down the stretch that knows how to make plays, make big shots and also just a guy who really runs the offense for you.”
Bibby received a nice welcome from the fans at Philips Arena on Friday night as the Heat went on to defeat the Hawks behind LeBron James’s 43 points.
“It’s just good to come back and see all the guys,” says Bibby. “I was over there in the training room talking to all the guys, just reminiscing and stuff so it was good, come back, get a win. I’m just happy that we won.”
While Bibby was a star on the deep Sacramento teams, he says playing with the Big Three has its benefits. “It’s good, they cause so much attention, that you know it’s gonna open shots for everybody else,” he says.
As Miami pushes towards the playoffs, they will try to prove that the pieces assembled can develop the chemistry needed to reach their ultimate goal. Unlike Bibby’s former Kings teams, the only time the Heat have to worry about the Lakers is if they see them in the NBA Finals. Right now, they have to focus on getting there first.