Sporting Idols

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As kids we all had our sporting heroes—players that we loved to watch and desperately wanted to emulate. You’d sit down to watch the game and the next day you’d be out on the court trying to recreate the moves you saw your favourite player pull off so spectacularly the night before. Of course, if your favorite player was predominantly a jump shooter, as opposed to a furious dunker—someone like Reggie Miller—that might be a slightly easier feat to pull off. Try recreating MJ’s dunk from the free-throw line without doing yourself some serious harm.

And just like us regular folk, those who had the talent to make the NBA, and fulfill their sporting dreams, grew up idolizing the legends of the game. It goes without saying that every professional baller has talent, but watching their heroes on TV, or in person, gave them the extra motivation required to succeed. Who wouldn’t want to knock down jumpers at the Boston Garden like Larry Legend, run the fast break like Magic, or terrorize defenders in the post like Hakeem? We recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with some pros about their NBA idols, and the players and teams that stood out to them when they were young, aspiring ballers.

BallnRoll.com: Who was your basketball idol growing up?

Klay Thompson: It was my dad. The others I admired a lot were Reggie Miller, Eddie Jones, and because I grew up in Portland and was a Blazers fan, I liked Rasheed and Damon Stoudamire a lot.

David Lee: I’d have to put Michael Jordan up there.

Jonas Valanciunas: [Arvydas] Sabonis, [Sarunas] Marciulionis, all those guys.

Luke Walton: Larry Bird. I had his posters and I was a big Larry Bird fan.

Mickael Pietrus: Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant

Terrence Ross: Tracy McGrady. I liked the way he played. He was fun to watch. He started to become my favourite player when he was in Orlando.

BallnRoll.com: Who was your basketball nemesis growing up?

Klay Thompson: Probably my two brothers. We played so much 1-on-1 growing up in the backyard, so they were my two nemeses when I stepped on the court.

David Lee: Oh, that’s a tough one, next question [laughing]. Kevin Garnett’s a tough guy to play against and he’s been around for a lot of years.

Jonas Valanciunas: I didn’t have a player that I hated. When you’re playing against better guys you’re getting better—you’re learning more from them. So I always liked to play against the strongest guys. It helped me to succeed

Luke Walton: Ironically enough, probably the Lakers. I was a Celtics fan, my dad played for the Celtics, Larry Bird was my man, and the irony is that I got drafted to the Lakers, and now I love the Lakers. I’m not a big fan of the Celtics anymore [laughing].

Mickael Pietrus: I don’t hate anybody. I love everybody. I feel like everyone is part of my family and I wish everyone the best in life, because life is short and you’ve got to enjoy it. I don’t hate any person.

Terrence Ross: Nobody really—I’m not even sure. I don’t think I have one.

BallnRoll.com: What particular moment in your idol’s career stands out the most to you?

Klay Thompson: Probably the Portland series against the Lakers when they were up 17 going into the 4th. I was a big Blazers fan so that hurt to watch. [Thompson, of course, is referring to Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, which the Blazers would lose 89-84]. I was a big fan so I remember that clearly [laughing].

David Lee: I used to go watch Michael Jordan when I was a kid. I’m from St. Louis and we used to go up to Chicago and watch him. That was pretty special to see the greatest player ever to play, and to get to watch him up close. It was great.

Jonas Valanciunas: He [Sabonis] could pass. He could pass whatever way he liked—behind his back, through his legs. He could do whatever he wanted with the ball.

Luke Walton: Probably when they [the Celtics] won the ‘86 championship, because we were there for it, we were at the game, going for dinner at his [Bird’s] house; we were part of it. When they won that year that was awesome.

Mickael Pietrus: To see them [Kobe and MJ] win championships and to see their dedication to the game. And in France my role model was Zinedine Zidane. [BallnRoll: Even after what happened with the headbutt?] Yeah, sometimes that happens in a game, but I still have a lot of respect for that man for what he’s done for everybody, so I don’t pay attention to that.

Terrence Ross: When he [McGrady] scored 13 points in about 30 seconds because I was watching that game live. [T-Mac led the Rockets to an improbable 81-80 comeback win against the Spurs with four 3-pointers, including an And-1 play, in the final 35 seconds!]

BallnRoll.com: If you could play with any NBA legend from the past, who would it be?

Klay Thompson: I’d probably play against Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird.

David Lee: Oh man [pause]. There was that time back in the day with Kevin McHale, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson—that time period. That would be interesting to play against those teams. You hear it all the time, because a lot of those guys who played back then are now coaches—whether it’s McHale or Mark Jackson—you always hear about how good the competition was, and it would be interesting to try it out against those guys.

Jonas Valanciunas: One-on-one? Kareem maybe.

Luke Walton: Larry Bird [laughing]

Mickael Pietrus: I think it would be Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain—all the legends who have had a great impact on the game.

Terrence Ross: Either Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson

BallnRoll.com: In your opinion, who is the greatest NBA team of all time?

Klay Thompson: Greatest NBA team of all time? [pause] Probably the Bulls team that won 72 games because it’s never been matched before—72-8, it’s unbelievable.

David Lee: I’ll go with that Bulls team that won 72 games. I used to watch them play on TV all the time and they were pretty good.

Jonas Valanciunas: The Lakers

Luke Walton: The ’86 Celtics

Mickael Pietrus: Probably the Lakers and the Boston Celtics

Terrence Ross: The ’96 Bulls

BallnRoll.com: Which athlete, not in the NBA, do you admire the most?

Klay Thompson: Probably Ken Griffey Jr. because I played a lot of baseball growing up, and he was my favourite athlete outside of basketball.

David Lee: Oh man. I’ll go with Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong—they’ve been through some things [laughing]

Jonas Valanciunas: Usain Bolt maybe, or Mike Tyson.

Luke Walton: Not a basketball player? [pause] I’m a big time Chargers fan, so Junior Seau for sure.

Mickael Pietrus: Tiger Woods, for his focus and what he does. I like Roger Federer as well.

Terrence Ross: I would say Usain Bolt.

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