Everyone on campus you ask had a great, relaxing winter break, and though his break is probably not as long ours (not that ours is long enough), you can bet David Stern, the NBA commissioner, thoroughly enjoyed the holidays too. Over a three week span, four of the NBA’s biggest stars — and TV draws — delivered career performances that are reeling millions of viewers into watching the NBA on TNT and on TBS and on NBC and (soon to be) on ABC and ESPN.
The day after Christmas, Tim Duncan scored a career-high 53 points against Dallas. Three days later, Michael Jordan goes for 51 and then 45 in his next game on New Year’s Eve. Three days ago, Kobe Bryant put up 56 — also a career-high — before sitting out the whole fourth quarter. Not to be outdone, Allen Iverson recorded his own career-high 58 the very next day. What more could the commissioner want for Christmas?
How about career-bests of 46 from up-and-coming NBA advertising icon Jason Terry, 44 from the league’s newest 100-million dollar man Allan Houston, and 40 from Stern’s ticket to global domination, Dirk Nowitzki. Even teenagers Tyson Chandler and Eddie Griffin had their best games during the holidays. Just about the only things Stern did not get for Christmas were two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. Not that they would be of any use to him (or anyone, come to think of it).
But all this talk of the NBA’s best and brightest lighting up the wintery nights makes us forget about those who really warm the league up. Guys like Wang Zhizhi, Charles Smith, and Joseph Crispin, all of who scored the most points of their careers last week. They are the ones who work their butts off — literally — making sure their teams’ star players have cozy seats to sit on once they are single-handedly outscoring opposing teams after three quarters. You don’t hear about those guys, do you? Hey, I don’t hear about those guys. No one hears about those guys!
Well, with All-Star Weekend coming up, it’s about time we recognize professional basketball’s all-star benchwarmers. Granted, Wang, Smith, and Crispin’s combined career-highs don’t add up to what Kobe had after half an hour, but it’s not like your career-high is any better. I’ll be the first to admit that the most points I’ve ever scored is a measly seven. Maybe eight, if you count youth league.
Without further ado, here are my 2001-2002 NBA All-Star Benchwarmers:
Dalibor Bagaric — You have to be a premier benchwarmer if you are the worst player on the league’s worst team. When he’s not roasting Fred Hoiberg’s seat, this 7-foot-1 Croatian monster pulls down a scary two boards a game. There are still some crappy European players out there, after all.
Jelani McCoy — We all saw last week what happens when you make Shaq mad. As the worst player on the league’s best team, you can bet that McCoy keeps the Big Baby’s chair well above room temperature.
Courtney Alexander — He’s not really the worst player on the Wizards, but with MJ’s arrival, Alexander has gone from starting two-guard to what I’m guessing is royal bodyguard. I can’t think of any other reason why he wears suits every game even though he’s not injured.
John Amaechi — If you’re a Jazz fan, and I am, Amaechi was supposed to be that ever-elusive paint presence Utah has so sorely lacked over the years. Now that he’s shooting 27 percent from the field and averaging a whopping 2.3 rebounds, the only presence the aspiring child psychologist is making is at the end of the bench as a counselor to troubled youngster DeShawn Stevenson.
Chris Dudley — There was a time when Dudley was the beneficiary of a warm bench, but it was here in New Haven and over 15 years ago. These days, Chris makes sure Shawn Kemp’s drugs and illegitimate children aren’t found on the Portland sidelines. And with the team we have this year, he wouldn’t fare much better back at Payne Whitney.