Talk Show

Talk Show: Genesis Rodriguez


VIDEO: Genesis Rodriguez At Heat Practice

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Whenever I want the inside stuff, at least when it pertains to the Miami Heat, I know exactly who to call: Genesis Rodriguez. You may know her as an actress from movies such as Casa De Mi Padre, Man On A Ledge or Identity Thief. But I know her as maybe the most dedicated Miami Heat fan that I know. In a way, it’s in her DNA, as a Miami native who was raised attending every Heat game. And these days, even though she lives and works in Hollywood, she still catches every Heat game on League Pass.

Tonight during the Heat/Thunder game, Genesis is back home in Miami to take over the Heat’s Instagram account. She prepped for the occasion by attending Heat practice yesterday, as you can see in the video above.

I rang her up last week to get her thoughts on the current state of the Heat.

ME: Let’s just establish one thing early on: You are not a recent Heat fan, right?

GENESIS: Absolutely not. You know, Lang, but the world, I guess, may not. I’ve been going to Heat games ever since I can remember, in their first arena. I believe it was a light pink arena, very “Miami Vice” style. This was back in the Rony Seikaly days. After that, I grew up in the Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning days, and it was my whole life. And we were always the underdog. That was an exciting time with the Heat because we had great rivals, the ultimate rivals in the Knicks, with Patrick Ewing. We had very good opponents. When I remember that time, it just makes me nostalgic and happy, because I think it has shaped me into the person I am. And then 2006 happened and everything has been different. I also think the Heat is just a wonderful organization — what they do for the community and how they involve fans. Like, when you go to a game and there’s two minutes left in the quarter, they don’t announce, “Two minutes!” They say “Dos…Minutos!” Because we’re a Latin community and there are a lot of Latinos watching and involved. And they have LeBron James. Why wouldn’t you want to be a fan of the most dominant player in the NBA? It’s history in the making. By the way, can I ask you a question? How the hell is he more efficient this year than last year? He’s insane.

ME: Well, it’s obvious that he’s getting better and more complete every year. And I’m sure you remember, that’s the one thing people used to criticize him for — that he wasn’t improving, that he wasn’t adding wrinkles to his game in the offseason.

GENESIS: Oh I remember those days, Lang. (laughs)

ME: But you look at his game and think, How can he get better? But to me he’s gotten better by being more selective and just getting more comfortable within what the Heat are doing. But wait: When you were talking about the fans and winning the title in 2006, it made me think that the Heat have won three titles since 2006. As a fan of the team, how does that change your expectations? Does it make you complacent? Do you feel like if they don’t win a title each season it’s a disappointment?

GENESIS: I mean, I want a championship and I want them to make it three titles in a row. That would be a beautiful thing and I wonder if then all the haters would shut up? Would that do it for everybody? But I don’t know…I always want a championship. I always want my team to win. The greatest day of my life is always the day when we get the rings — the celebrations, the parade, everybody with pots and pans on Calle Ocho. That’s my city. That makes my home so happy, so I would love that.

ME: I know you watch almost every Heat game, depending on your schedule, but how do you think the Heat are looking so far this season.

GENESIS: Well, we had a couple of tough games a few weeks back against Brooklyn, New York and Washington. Clearly it was a defensive lapse. What the hell happened to our defense? I don’t know. But before those three games, I was seeing a kind of rhythm. And because we have two championships right now, everybody else is bringing one hundred percent every time they play the Heat. And you can tell, you can seriously tell. You’ll see teams lose to the Bobcats one day and then almost beat the Heat, because they’re playing with every ounce of everything they have to beat the champs. And I get that, I get that. But why would the Heat get so pumped now? It’s not smart. Why should they try to win every game now, when what matters is the playoffs? So many people are getting hurt left and right, and they’re playing every game like it’s the last game, and I understand you want to win every night. But it’s the playoffs that matter, right?

ME: Yeah, but the regular season matters at least to some extent as far as, for instance, getting home court in the playoffs.

GENESIS: Of course, but you want home court only if you’re worried about it. If you’re worried about where you stand, that you really need home court, then that’s a whole different thing.

ME: Do you think the Heat are worried about home court against Indiana?

GENESIS: Um…clearly not (laughs). Because I believe when they really want something, they will get it. And this season it doesn’t seem like it’s really a priority for them. I feel like it’s smart of Indiana to fight hard for home court advantage, because they need it, you know? They’re a young team and they haven’t been to the Finals. So they need every advantage they can get.

ME: You know, the other thing with the Heat, and you kind of mentioned this, is they’re trying to manage their health as much as they can so they get to the playoffs as healthy as possible. So they might not always play with the same intensity or focus from night to night. And you always hear coaches and analysts say that teams can’t just “turn it on” whenever they want. But I kind of get the sense that the Heat can do that. They seem like they have a different level they can play at and they actually know how to get to that level, when most teams don’t know how to do that.

GENESIS: I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve been so surprised in games where they play one way up until the last couple minutes, and then they’re totally different. And you’re like, Where did they get this? Why didn’t they play like this the entire time? Why are they stressing me out until the last minute? But when they want to play like that, they do. But I feel like this season, Chris Bosh has been playing really well, especially defensively. That makes me happy, because I criticized him a lot like now. But I’m really happy with him right now. We’re cool, we’re cool. (laughs)

ME: Who do you think needs to step it up right now?

GENESIS: I don’t have any major complaints. I’m really happy with Michael Beasley and what he’s doing. As long as he works on the defensive end, and can get to the Heat level, he’s a good fit, I think. Oh, and I forgot to ask you, did you see President Obama’s diss to Mario Chalmers?

ME: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that.

GENESIS: I laughed so much, because I always pick on Mario. I always scream at him, too. But he’s a good sport about that, isn’t he?

ME: I think so. He seems to be pretty levelheaded about that stuff.

GENESIS: Yeah, he can take it. The reason he gets screamed at is because he’s that good, and they know he can do what they need for him to do.

ME: Right, they have high expectations. Speaking of: As a Heat fan, what would you think about the Heat making a run at Andrew Bynum?

GENESIS: I wouldn’t be opposed to it. That is, if Bynum really wanted to play. You can’t go the Heat and coast. What we need Bynum for is for him to actually be a defense player. I don’t think it would hurt the Heat. But I would need a true demonstration of how badly he wants it before I let him on the Heat.

ME: Well, there’s also the question of can a guy who comes to a team with a lot of strong personalities, can those guys sort of keep him in line? And I think for the Heat, why not take a chance on Bynum? I think it could do more good than harm.

GENESIS: I agree. The Heat is sort of like a brotherhood, and you can tell they’re brothers and have each other’s backs. Maybe that’s the kind of thing he’s always been looking for and wanting? You never know.

ME: So we’ll check in with you again as the season goes along, but as of right now, a few weeks before the All-Star break, what kind of chances do you give the Heat of repeating again this season? Do you feel totally confident? Relatively confident? A little nervous?

GENESIS: I’m confident. If there’s one thing about this team, it’s that you have faith in them. They might stress you out a little bit, but boy do they make you happy. So I always have faith. They just have that way about themselves. I’m not worried. I feel like everyone else is, but the way that they’re playing now, that’s fine, that’s fine. We’ll win some, lose some, and after the All-Star Break, let’s see what happens.

All Ball Talk Show: Ricky Rubio

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — As part of our continuing quest to get up close and personal with your favorite NBA players, we are launching the All Ball Talk Show, a semi-regular chance to sit down and catch up with an NBA star and find out what’s happening not only on the court, but off of it as well.

Today, for our first episode, we check in with Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio to talk Wolves, #musclewatch, beards, and play a little Change This Face…
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VIDEO: All Ball Talk Show: Ricky Rubio

Talk Show: John Stockton


VIDEO: John Stockton’s Playing Career

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — During his 19-year NBA career, played entirely with the Utah Jazz, John Stockton was known for many things. His court vision was unparalleled — he led the NBA in assists for nine consecutive seasons and retired with 15,806 assists, more than any player in league history, as well as 3,265 steals, the most all-time. He was unbelievably resilient — Stockton missed a total of just 22 regular season games over his career. And of course, Stockton teamed with Karl Malone to create teams that were consistent contenders in the Western Conference (if not the league).

But Stockton was also perhaps just as well known for the things he did not do — Stockton eschewed showing off, being flashy for the sake of flash. He wore the most uniform uniform possible, and he never said anything designed to make headlines or draw attention to himself. So it might come as something of a surprise to fans of both Stockton and the Jazz that Stockton has penned an autobiography, Assisted, available now. The book details Stockton’s remarkable story, of how a guy just over six feet tall and weighing maybe 170 pounds was able to make himself one of the giants of NBA history.

Earlier this week we sat down with Stockton in New York City to talk about the book, his career, and his take on the NBA today.

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ME: You write about how you started this book because you were really just trying to get all this information down for your kids to have one day. Previous to this had you ever really had any interest in writing?

STOCKTON: No. I was looking for alternatives for something to do with my life. I am very busy — I do coaching, I have parts of businesses — but there’s a void in those days that was pretty quiet, and I was shuffling my feet, trying to figure out what to do. That was the first time I thought [writing] might be a good solution. I didn’t want to find another career, because I didn’t want it to interfere with the stuff I really was enjoying since retirement. So it seemed like a nice fit, and I found a nice project in it.

ME: Were you a reader at all?

STOCKTON: Yeah, I love to read. I didn’t read much in college except for homework, then afterward I fell in love with books. Our (assistant) coach, Phil Johnson with the Jazz, was an avid lover of non-fiction. He’s turned me on to lots of books. So I read a lot now.

ME: Non-fiction?

STOCKTON: Mostly, yeah. There are some great stories out there.

ME: What was your process like as a writer? Did you carve out a couple of hours every day? Or were there times where you’d wake up in the middle of the night and jot something down?

STOCKTON: That’s a great question. It started with the idea. I went and visited my old coach (Kerry Pickett), who was a really well-read guy and who helped me throughout. So we talked for a long time. He took notes and kind of made a little sketch of an outline, which I would never do, because I just want to write, I didn’t want to organize. So he organized, then he’d send me little assignments. He said, “OK, this is what you seem to want to talk about, you go write about this for a while.” And then it might be a month, it might be three months, it might have been six months, depending on what my schedule was like — like summertime, we’d go on AAU trips and stuff like that, there’s no time. So we’d wait. So it took about four or five years but that’s how it would work. But yeah, I’d be sitting in church and would think, “Why didn’t I think about that?” And I’d write it down on the envelopes. Or I’d wake up in the middle of the night — not often — and I’d write down a note. So that was helpful.

ME: That reminds me of the “Seinfeld” episode where he wakes up in the middle of the night and writes down a hilarious joke and then the next day can’t read his writing.

STOCKTON: (laughing) “Seinfeld’s” great!

ME: In the book one of the things you write about is the importance of balance and vision for a basketball player. Is that something that can be taught? Or is that something that has to be innate for an athlete?

STOCKTON: I think it can be enhanced. One thing I’ve watched coaching my own kids and their friends, for instance, is there are some kids that have certain things, it seems like from the get-go. You almost don’t have to say anything to them, but they get it. And then there’s other ones that you can’t turn your back on them because you’re trying to get better as a team, so they need to get it. So yeah, you can definitely get better at balance, can definitely get better at vision, but can you go off the charts if you’re not wired for that? Probably not.

ME: You wrote in the book about Jeff Hornacek having such a great knowledge of the game when you played with him. How much does having a great knowledge for a sport play a part in success versus just outstanding athleticism? Basically, how much does knowing where to position yourself matter versus having just great natural ability?

STOCKTON: Well, you see it every day. I think it’s the most overlooked thing in sports, in all sports. You watch baseball, a centerfielder may not run a 4.2 forty, but he gets to every single ball. What is he seeing that the rest of us aren’t? Jeff Hornacek was a plenty good enough athlete — he didn’t have a deficiency in that area that he overcame with intelligence — but boy was he bright. And he knew things in advance, he had numbers in his head and he could combine them all. So, special guy. I think right now it’s easier to go find that cookie-cutter athlete and say, “That’s my next starting center fielder.” Where I think they miss — and I’m picking on baseball but this is all sports — is they’re missing that guy that gets it, who has great anticipation, has a feel for where the pitch is and where it’s going to strike the bat and is already there. That’s a baseball player to me.

ME: The book talks a lot about your competitive streak. If you hadn’t become a basketball player, do you think you would have done something else in sports?

STOCKTON: I would have sure tried. As with all kids growing up you’ve got a ball in your hands, you’ve got a bat in your hands. So I would have sure tried like crazy. I was probably most equipped for baseball, although I never really shined in it and never had the type of coaching I had in basketball. Football, I just matured too late. I thought someday maybe I could be a quarterback but when you’re 94 pounds in high school, it’s pretty tough to enhance those skills much (laughs).

Portland Trailblazers  vs. Utah Jazz

ME: Karl Malone says in the foreward of your book how when you played you never really opened up much with the media, even though you did have thoughts and opinions. But because you never talked about those things, people thought you didn’t really have opinions on those things. Why did you feel like now was the time to open up?

STOCKTON: Well, I have a lot of opinions that didn’t make the book. That’s a fine line. When you’re talking and you and I are in a room and this (points to digital recorder) isn’t on, we could have a lot more open discussion about sensitive topics because we could get through any hiccups. Once you’re writing and it’s on paper and you’re defending it to nobody, that’s a tough proposition. I don’t feel like I’m really venting a lot of opinions. I would like to have, in a way. But it’s a tough venue. Karl and I could talk about anything, but most of that stuff I’m not putting in print.

ME: Were you at all leery about opening yourself up and putting it down on paper?

STOCKTON: No. I don’t feel like I have. I don’t feel like I have betrayed myself or my family. It’s really important to me that they have their privacy. My kids should have the choice of following in that or in being a perfectly anonymous citizen. So it was really important for me not to spoil any of that hard-sought stuff for this. So I tried to tell good stories about good people and how they were helpful without betraying any of the confidences and privacy that they deserved.

ME: Throughout the book you details lessons you learned from situations in your life or in your NBA career. Was that something you wanted to hammer home?

STOCKTON: I think everybody’s perception, especially for a professional athlete, is that it’s always been easy: You’re always a great shooter, you always cruise through it, whatever. But when you get to the point of learning opportunities, I looked forward to them. Being the younger child, my brother was better than me at pretty much everything. I didn’t weigh much at all, so I was kind of just saying, “You got me there, you got me there,” and little by little you kind of whittle the difference down until you’re a better player. I don’t know if an older brother has a chance to do that, because you’re always the king.

ME: I’ve heard people talk about a boy having an older brother being a big thing because they kind of show you the ropes — they show you what music to listen to, what TV shows to watch, all that stuff.

STOCKTON: (nodding) When my brother and my Dad would get mad at each other about anything — maybe it was mowing the lawn — I figured, “Hey, I’m going to mow the lawn. I’m not going to get caught in this.” There were so many lessons every day.

ME: And then you get the brownie points — “Hey, John mowed the lawn without us asking!”

STOCKTON: (laughing) Exactly!

ME: One story I liked in the book that you didn’t go into a lot of detail on is when Karl got drafted by the Jazz and first visited Salt Lake City, the two of you spent a day getting to know each other at the zoo. What compelled you guys to wake up and go to the zoo?

STOCKTON: I don’t remember. He’s just a country kid, and we’re in Salt Lake and I’m just a year into it, so I don’t exactly have command of it myself. I said to him, “We could drive up into the mountains, that’s gorgeous. Or maybe we could…go to the zoo?” And he said, “Zoo? Sounds good. Let’s go.” So we had a beautiful afternoon there. Pretty peaceful.

ME: You talked in the book about how Adam Keefe was one of the best teammates you ever had. What other players that people might not immediately think of were some of your favorite teammates?

STOCKTON: Greg Foster was one. Antoine Carr was a great teammate. Bryon Russell. Shannon Anderson. Howard Eisley was absolutely one of my favorites. The team that went to the Finals was loaded with the type of teammates that you hope for. I know I left out some guys, but those were some of my favorite teammates.

ME: What made them good teammates? Good people? Good players?

STOCKTON: First of all, great players. And players where it wasn’t all about them — they were willing to make their sacrifices for the squad without feeling sacrificial. Fit in, got better — they didn’t just sit there and think, “Hey, Karl Malone is going to carry us.” They got better and we got better as a result. They were not afraid to say something to you, “Hey, I’m seeing this. Take a look at that when you’re out there.” And having the right approach with different guys — you can’t talk to everybody the same way.

ME: When you retired you said something about making sure your shorts were hemmed up high throughout your career. Were the short shorts a deliberate choice?

STOCKTON: My second-to-last year, I think — my seventeenth year — the equipment manager came up to me and said, “Would like to lengthen your shorts?” I really didn’t know that it was an option. I’d never asked, and they’d never asked me. So we just kind of kept plugging on. Everybody kept talking about my shorts and I thought, “Well, I didn’t change anything…”

ME: You didn’t maybe notice around you that the shorts were getting bigger and longer?

STOCKTON: Yeah, but I was comfortable with it. I also saw other guys with 34-inch waists get 40-inch shorts and then just cinch them, and that…that didn’t make any sense to me.

Utah Jazz

ME: What made Jerry Sloan such a great coach?

STOCKTON: Fiercely competitive. He eliminates nonsense. The hard-nose tag is probably accurate, but you don’t sit there thinking that he’s tough every day — he’s a very reasonable man. Smart. He’s been around the game forever. Furthermore, if we won, it was a credit to the players. If we lost, it was all him, so he always took the blame, gave the credit, and provided the opportunity for us to play without having to be something more than basketball players. He said, “Hey, you guys want to shine, play better.” He said, “Do it with your play.” So I think those were some of the reasons that he was great.

ME: Was he the kind of coach who gave the fiery motivational speech? Did he have the quotes on the wall? He seems a little more pragmatic than that.

STOCKTON: Not a quote on the wall guy. Every once in a while, a little fire and brimstone. But, you know, you play 100-something games every year, I don’t know how many times you can afford to go to the well on that. He called it like you saw it, you knew where you stood, and knew what he expected of you.

ME: What younger players do you like to watch today?

STOCKTON: That’s a good question. I don’t see enough games to be fair about it. My kids are very active in sports, so I’m going to football games, basketball games, baseball games, practices. So I get home and the Jazz game will be on — we are in their territory since Seattle departed. So we get a large portion of their games. Really, all I get to see is them and who they’re playing against on any given night. So I don’t have a great feel for the guys that are out there. And yet I probably still have some decent opinions, but they’re so snap-shotty, that I really don’t feel it’s fair.

ME: Do you still watch a lot of NBA games?

STOCKTON: I watch a lot of playoff games. The timing seems to work better, for whatever reason — the high school sports are done by then. But regular season I don’t catch a bunch. I’ve coached in high schools with the boys and girls, and then we’ve got kids in AAU and all that, so it’s busy. Maybe someday.

ME: Who was the toughest player for you to play against in the NBA?

STOCKTON: There are a number of them. When I was younger, clearly Magic Johnson was tough, probably impossible for me to guard. Kevin Johnson, Mark Price, Isiah Thomas — those were the killer guys at my position. Evolving into, of course, Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash. There was never a shortage of guys at that position.

ME: We had Isiah on our podcast recently and I asked him how many points he would have averaged if he played in his prime with the rules the way they are today, and he said might average 40.

STOCKTON: He might be right.

ME: Would your career have been different if you had played the entire time with these rules — no hand-checking, all that stuff?

STOCKTON: No question. I think it’s a lot less physical game. I think in some ways they’re almost attempting to ruin it. The charge line drives me crazy. I hate that line. And I didn’t take a ton of charges — you might think that I did, but I didn’t. The advantage is just to anyone that leaves their feet. I think there’s such a game that’s being missed when they’re protecting those guys. In our day there was a risk to that. Now you leave your feet and you’re protected. Now if you get touched on the head it’s a threat of concussion and maybe this person should be suspended for a couple of weeks. I saw guys — myself included — clotheslined. Whether intentional or not, it happens. So I’m disappointed in that trend. I’d like to see them maybe discourage some of that and give basketball players a chance to blossom a little bit, instead of just people who can leave their feet.

ME: What do you think of the advance stats that are so pervasive in sports today? Do you think there’s a place for that in basketball or sports?

STOCKTON: Well, I watched Moneyball and read that book, and I watched the Oakland A’s every year. So I think about that: Is there some sort of formula that would work for a basketball player? I’m not smart enough to figure that out. I imagine there’s something in there, but it’s going to be a long time before I can help you with it (laughs).

Talk Show: Carmelo Anthony

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ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Eleven stories above the cool and breezy East River, on the top floor of an office building on Jay Street in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood, there were palpable warm vibes. Especially when people noticed Carmelo Anthony was in the building. At an event for the Carmelo Anthony Foundation, in partnership with DJS Real Estate Development, the Knicks forward sponsored an event to kick off the Tools For Teachers initiative. School supplies were given to 128 teachers from all five boroughs, to help 138 classrooms.

I managed to slow Melo down long enough for a few questions before the event started…

ME: What inspired you to get involved helping out these teachers?

MELO: I like to give back to the nitty gritty of things. I like to give back to where the people really need it. I started redoing the basketball courts, and I’ll still do the courts, but I wanted to try something new and fresh. So I took it back to education and to the teachers. A lot of these teachers I’m helping out today are actually coming out of their own pockets for school supplies — notebooks, book bags, things like that. But nobody is helping them out. So it was easy for me to take that initiative, just to give back to them.

ME: Did you have those things when you were growing up?

MELO: Barely. I mean, I had a couple of pencils and pens here and there. But still, even when you’re in school and teachers bring stuff to the class room, you can’t really show them how much you appreciate that. So now, for me being in the situation that I’m in, nobody is really giving that appreciation back to the teachers. So this is the first thing of many things I’ll be doing for them.

ME: Who was your favorite teacher growing up?

MELO: I had an English teacher, man. My English teacher was very, very important to me when I was growing up.

ME: Why?

MELO: Because she kept me in check, she kept me in check. She told me a lot of things. And that was one of the classes I really enjoyed going to. (laughs) Plus she was pretty, too.

ME: What was your least favorite class?

MELO: Oh, man. (long pause) Geography. At that young age you’re not really trying to figure out what’s this country, that country, what’s this city, that city. It was a lot going on. But as you get older you realize you need that.

ME: What was your favorite school supply?

MELO: My favorite school supply? The composition notebook.

ME: With the black and white cover?

MELO: The black and white cover, absolutely.

ME: Did you used to draw on the cover of your notebook?

MELO: Oh yeah, I would draw on everything. I had my colored pencils, I would draw on everything.

ME: Did you write stuff on your backpack?

MELO: I used to carry my books in my hand. I couldn’t get a backpack. I put my books in plastic bags and stuff like that.

ME: Why no backpack?

MELO: We couldn’t afford a backpack. It was either the books or the backpack.

ME: Been a long preseason. Are you ready for the season to start?

MELO: We’re ready to get going, man. We have one more preseason game here tomorrow on our own home court. This is our first time playing in the Garden this whole preseason, so we’re excited about that. To see the new Garden, we’re excited about that. The energy that’s surrounding us right now, we can’t wait.

ME: Can the Knicks win more games than you did last season? 54 is a lot of wins.

MELO: Yeah, 54 is a lot of games, man. It’s kind of hard to say — we haven’t really got it going yet, or anything like that. I try not to compare this season to last season. We’re going to take it one day at a time and go from there.

Talk Show: Mario Batali

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ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Here in New York City, plenty of celebrities pop up in the front rows at Knicks and Nets games, although it’s not always clear just how many of them are actual NBA fans. New York-based chef and television personality Mario Batali fits both bills. Batali grew up in Seattle as a Sonics fan, but these days has allegiances to — gasp! — both the Knicks and Nets. As Batali explains, “I’m not such a fierce Geo-specific fan.”

In between running his acclaimed restaurant empire and appearing daily on ABC’s “The Chew,” Batali says he finds time to not only follow the NBA but even plan family trips to out of town games. I caught up with Batali last week on the set of “The Chew” where he was posing with the crystalized “BIG IS ON” basketball that is currently making its way around New York City.

ME: I know that a lot of NBA players have eaten at your restaurants. For example, Emeka Okafor has told me he loves your food.

MARIO: I’ll tell you one thing about Emeka: That guy can eat enough to make every kitchen happy in the world. Like, he’ll have two appetizers, two pastas, and then he’ll have a steak for two. He eats it and he loves it, he gives you goosebumps. He’s just delightful.

ME: And you’re a big NBA fan?

MARIO: Huge NBA fan.

ME: You’re originally from Seattle, right?

MARIO: (laughs) Back when we had a team!

ME: So you grew up a Sonics fan?

MARIO: Definitely. For me, the greatest thing to collect right now is original, vintage Sonics hats and shirts. They’re beautiful. That logo — come on. They hardly did one better.

ME: So that was, like, Lenny Wilkens-era Sonics?

MARIO: Spencer Haywood

ME: Slick Watts?

MARIO: Absolutely! Downtown Freddie Brown! Come on, we had the guys.

ME: I know you lived in Italy for a while. Was basketball as popular in Europe then as it is today?

MARIO: I was there in the ‘80s, and it was already — after soccer — the biggest sport. Absolutely, no question about it. We got great players who either had problems or didn’t quite make the team and they were over there playing basketball, going crazy, living in these tiny little towns. It wasn’t like all Rome and Milan, you know. Here all the teams are in major, major cities. They were in Venice, they were in Verona, towns with like 200,000 or 300,000 people. It totally changed the way Italians looked at American sports. And for the positive. The world loves American sports. We do it better than anybody else, except soccer.

ME: I’ve seen you at Knicks games. Are the Knicks your team?

MARIO: Knicks and Nets.

ME: Both? Can you have two rival teams?

MARIO: Yes! Here’s the story. Since I’m from Seattle and I’ve been disenfranchised, I can have two teams. I take a lot of heat from The Original Fan. The Original Fan says I can’t like the Jets and the Giants, but I like Eli and I like Geno. And I like Mark Sanchez. And in basketball, I like Paul Pierce. How can I not go for Paul Pierce, right? He’s a Boston guy, but he’s on my team now.

ME: You have two teenage sons. Are they fans of both teams also?

MARIO: They’re Carmelo fans. They were Mike D’Antoni fans. But they’ll be happy to go see the Nets, too. They go to school in Brooklyn so they drive right by the Barclays Center, which is an impressive building. And the Garden is also impressive, but you can drive by and not even notice sometimes. I take my sons each year on an NBA trip. We traditionally go somewhere for a long weekend with Dad, and we’ve gone to see the Hornets — this year we’re going to see the Pelicans. But we’ve been to Cleveland, during and after LeBron, we’ve been to Dallas, we’ve been to Los Angeles to watch the games. We’ll travel for basketball.

ME: Which athletes eat the most when they’re at your restaurants? Do football players eat more than basketball players?

MARIO: Linemen. Nick Mangold, baby (laughs). But no, actually I would say Nick doesn’t eat more than, say, Emeka. In terms of water displacement Emeka might displace more water than even Nick. But there’s a respect in the sports world, particularly the basketball world, where they totally dig our field, and they’re totally into what we do as well.

ME: Last thing: If you had to cook and serve a basketball, how would you prepare it to make it even semi-edible?

MARIO: The best way to cook a basketball would be to slice it into paper-thin strips like spaghetti, and toss it with a little Bolognese.

Talk Show: Raymond Felton


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ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Going into the the 2011-12 season, the Knicks saw popular point guard Jeremy Lin sign with Houston, and they replacedKnockout Blue:Pirate:Black him with Raymond Felton, a former Knick coming off a down season in Portland. While Lin and the Rockets had a nice season, Felton helped coalesce Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith and Tyson Chandler and lead the Knicks to a 54-28 record, their best since ’96-97, and into the second round of the playoffs. This season, Felton says the Knicks have their goals set a bit higher.

I caught up with Felton last week in New York City, where Felton was at an event for Under Armour to help launch its newest basketball shoe, the Anatomix Spawn (right), which he’ll wear this season.

ME: So, what are you doing this summer?

FELTON: I’ve just been training, working out. Trying to spend a little bit of time with family and friends, but for the most part, just really been grinding, just getting after it.

ME: No travel or vacation? You don’t get to take some time off?

FELTON: You know, only traveling I did, when the season ended and we lost, I went to the Bahamas for like four nights, and that’s it. I went to Vegas, but I don’t really count that because that was business. I went down there to watch the team play at Summer League, and I got some workouts in there. I stayed down there an extra week because my AAU Program was coming down to play in tournaments, so I stayed down there to do that. So really, vacation? I haven’t had any.

ME: When you say your AAU program, what do you mean?

FELTON: Team Felton. I’ve got like 5, 6 teams, a legit program.

ME: Is that something where when you played AAU as a kid, you thought, “One day I want to be able to sponsor a program and give other kids this opportunity”?

FELTON: Yeah. You know, the AAU business can be a real crooked business, and I hate to see kids get taken advantage of, man. So I just try to give back. I have a nephew who’s pretty good, so it started with his age group, and I’ve just added teams up from that. It’s been good, my team’s doing pretty good. My highest age group, which is his age group, they finished in the top eight in the country this year. The 14-and-under group, they finished fourth. My other young teams down there, they actually won nationals this year. It’s been pretty good, man.

ME: And are you in the stands cheering during the games?

FELTON: Yeah, I’m in the stands, trying to coach a little bit. You know, get on the referees when they’re making me mad, be like Mark Cuban a little bit. But it’s all fun. I just like to see the kids compete and then try to do the best they can.

ME: For a student of the game and fan of the game, what is it like being the point guard of the New York Knicks? Is it cool?

FELTON: It’s great, man. To be the point guard of the New York Knicks is like being the point guard of the University of North Carolina. When you put that jersey on, everybody will know who you are, everybody will recognize you. It’s a good feeling, it’s a good feeling. I feel like when you play here in the city of New York, if you play hard, they’ll love you. When you’re slacking, they’ll let you know. That’s one thing I do know about New York — these fans, they’ll let you know if you’re not playing up to the part. Which is a good thing.

ME: It’s kind of like Carolina, right? The standards are set pretty high.

FELTON: Yep. If you’re not playing up to the part, they’ll let you know. But it’s fun. I love it.

New York Knicks v Indiana Pacers - Game SixME: When the Knicks signed you last summer, a different point guard in the NBA, an All-Star, told me that he thought you would be the perfect fit for the Knicks, because the Knicks were a team with a lot of options and strong personalities, and you’d be able to sort of direct everything and take control.

FELTON: I feel like I’m somebody that Melo and those guys, they respect me. So if I tell them something, they’re not going to get mad, they’re not going to look at me crazy. They respect my game, they respect me as a point guard. I’m going to get you guys the ball. I know that you and JR need to score this basketball for us. I think those guys, they saw that last year, and this year there’s going to be even more of a respect level, because we had a good season as a team. So I think those guys respected me, just like I give them that same respect back. That’s a big part of having a good team — if you’ve got that respect for each other, it’s easy to play with each other.

ME: Last season you guys had a lot of new parts. How long did you feel like it took you guys to kind of get on the same page?

FELTON: It really took the preseason, and we really tried to click, and we got our bumps and bruises out of the way. Because when the season started, we were rolling.

ME: Right, you guys were red-hot, started 15-5.

FELTON: The biggest thing we wanted to do, we wanted to get off to a great start because we looked toward the end of the year, and our schedule was tough. But we ended up with that tough schedule killing it, won 13 in a row, with all those back-to-backs, back-to-backs, travel, travel. Just the mental toughness that we have a team, after all of that, as a team, and as individuals, and just how we trust and respect one another, I think that’s really big. If you trust and respect one another, I think that takes a team a long way.

ME: What’s it like playing with Carmelo Anthony? Because he’s such a great player, and he kind of gets overshadowed a bit by guys like LeBron or Kevin Durant. Even though he might be the best scorer in the NBA …

FELTON: Without a doubt. Without a doubt. Because he scores in so many ways. There’s a lot of guys who can score the basketball in this league. Kevin Durant, by far, is one of the top ones. Him and Melo could be neck-and-neck — those guys can score in a lot of ways. But Melo can score in more ways than KD, because Melo can post up, he can score off the dribble, he can score in the mid-range, he can score finishing at the rim, and he can shoot threes. You’re talking about a guy who has a total, complete game, and he’s big and strong — 6-8, big body, strong body. A lot of people like to talk about how he takes a lot of shots, this and that. Listen man: We need him to score. It gets maximized because if you’re having an off night and you take thirty-something shots, it’s like, “Aw man, he’s shooting too much.” If you’re having a great night, he’s got 40-something points and he took thirty-something shots, ain’t nobody saying nothing. I just tell him, “You do what we need you to do. As a team, we know what you’re going to do every night.” So we gotta adjust our games to that. Me as a point guard, I have to adjust my game to that. I hate when people say about him, “He takes too many shots.” People try to compare him and LeBron — two different games. Melo is who he is, LeBron is who he is. So I hate when they try to make those comparisons. You can’t say Larry Bird and Michael Jordan had the same game. They’re different, but they both got chips. Add Magic Johnson in there. Those guys all had totally, completely different games. But they all got rings. That’s all it is. I support Melo 100 percent. He knows that. We all do. And we want to continue to keep working and get better.

ME: You spent last season playing with Jason Kidd. What kind of coach do you think he’ll be this season in Brooklyn?

FELTON: I think he’ll be a great coach, but at the end of the day, he’s not going to have to do too mCharlotte Bobcats v New York Knicksuch coaching. He can do like Phil Jackson did — he might have drawn something up out of the timeouts, he might have talked about a couple of things during halftime, but Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, those guys ran the team, they made the game. You’ve got Deron Williams, one of the best point guards in the league, you’ve got Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez, those guys understand the game and they’re veterans, so there’s not too much coaching you can do. But he’s going to be great for Deron. He was great for me last year. He made my game better. He made me look at a lot of things a whole lot differently, as far as on the court and off the court. So mentally, he’s going to be great for D, without a doubt. He’s going to make him better mentally, and make him better when he’s on the court. The team themselves? Really, they’re going to be fine on their own. As far as a coach, he’s going to be a great coach. A guy who knows the game the way he does, played the game at the level he played, he’s going to be a great coach. Especially as a point guard, because as a point guard you have to understand every position. Say a coach has 50 plays, you’ve got to know 50 plays, but you’ve got to know every position for every play. That’s something a lot of people don’t understand. So he knows every position. It’s going to take him time to get used to going from playing last year to being a head coach this year, but I think overall he’s going to be a great coach.

ME: I live in Manhattan and I know people in the city and the boroughs love the Knicks. But the last few years, with the move to Brooklyn, it feels like people are starting to talk a little more about the Nets. But do you feel like this is still a Knicks town?

FELTON: Oh, without a doubt. I still feel like it. We’ve still got New York on our chest. We’re still the New York Knicks. We’re still the city’s team, without a doubt. Brooklyn can do whatever, and we’re still going to be the city’s team. There’s nothing like having New York on your chest. Brooklyn is going to be a good team, and I think it’s good for the city, for the state, to have the Nets in Brooklyn. It’s going to be a good, big rivalry, well talked about, which is great. I’m loving it. I don’t care that they’re here — I’m happy they’re here, actually. It’s going to be fun.

ME: So this season is just weeks away now — what are your expectations for the Knicks?

FELTON: Same thing as last year. I feel like we should grow and try to capitalize on what we did last year. We didn’t finish the postseason as well as we wanted, but as far as the season that we had, we had over 50 wins, we won our division, finished second in the East. That says a lot right there, we had a great year. Best season we’ve had in 13 years. So we’ve got to capitalize on that, try to get better from there.

ME: And how do you get better from there?

FELTON: As far as the overall season, all you can do is win more games. (Laughs.) There’s nothing else you can really do as far as that. In the postseason, that’s the biggest thing for us. You’ve got to take care of those 82 games, but if you do that and advance to the postseason, we’ve got to try and advance further than we did last season, and get past that second round, get to the Eastern Conference Finals, and go from there. One step at a time. I feel like if we do better than we did last year, it’s an overall successful year. But it’s one step at a time, one game at a time.

Talk Show: Steve Nash

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — If you want to find Lakers PG Steve Nash in the summer, a good bet is to look somewhere around a soccer field. Not only is Nash a part-owner of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps, but Nash has always loved playing the beautiful game, so much so that each summer he organizes the Steve Nash Foundation Showdown to benefit his charitable foundation.

Nash is in New York City today to train with Inter Milan, in conjunction with the Guinness International Champions Cup. We grabbed a few minutes with Nash this morning…

Steve Nash Foundation Showdown GameME: So run this down for me: You’re trying out for Inter Milan today?

NASH: (laughs) Sort of, yeah. I think that’s the way it’s being labeled, but it’s more of an honorary tryout, more like I’m going to go practice with them. But yeah, I’m looking forward to it.

ME: What position do you play in soccer?

NASH: Anything attacking. More like a midfielder, but anything going forward.

ME: So like a true number 10, sort of?

NASH: Yeah! I mean, in my youth, yes.

ME: Did you see Nate Robinson is going to wear number 10 in honor of Messi?

NASH: Yeah, I did.

ME: I remembered Nate playing in the Showdown a couple of years ago — I didn’t know if you put him on to soccer?

NASH: (laughs) Right, he’s converted now.

ME: I’ve been talking about soccer with you for over a decade. You’ve seen the growth of soccer in the States over that time, and now you’re involved with MLS. Do you think soccer has turned a corner in the States in terms of popularity?

NASH: I think the game’s growing incredibly. The exposure, the amount of games you can watch on TV. One of the kind of alarming things to me is just — I mean, it’s on the ticker on “SportsCenter.” When I was in college you’d never see a soccer score on the ticker. Now, every day there’s a soccer result on the ticker on “SportsCenter.” And yeah, that kind of says something about the solidity the game has in the States right now. It’s going in the right direction.

ME: I know basketball has become really popular in Canada, and I was wondering is there any sort of similarity between the growth of basketball in Canada and the growth of soccer in the States?

NASH: Yeah, I guess in some ways. Soccer was always pretty big in Canada. Not that we’re a soccer power, but the game was big. Basketball is taking a soccer-like turn in Canada, the way soccer is growing in the States. I think a big part of it was having the Raptors and the Grizzlies in Canada, which really gave kids a lot of exposure to the game but also something to strive for. I also think the internet over the last ten years — there’s no more secrets. Kids can go online and see the best kids of their age groups, or best practices, and I think kids have taken that opportunity and run with it.

ME: How are you feeling, physically?

NASH: Good, coming around. Good enough to embarrass myself on the soccer field. I’m not quite 100 percent, I can’t quite sprint, but I’ve been able to train around it, so I’ve made a lot of progress in other ways, and hopefully in the next three or four weeks I should be one hundred percent.

ME: What kind of forecast can you give us for the Lakers this season?

NASH: I think everyone’s kind of counting us out, which is fine by me. I think it’s good for us to fly under the radar a little bit. We’ve got a lot of new pieces, we’ve got guys coming off injuries, myself included. So we’ve got to find out where everyone’s health is, and then figure out each other and play together, and hopefully we can surprise some people.

ME: Last thing: What is it like being around Kobe Bryant, being around someone with that singular of a drive?

NASH: I think people kind of know what he’s like. He’s very single-minded, he’s very prepared, very intense. You can feel it, you feel the intensity. I think that’s what people expect and that’s what he is.

Talk Show: John Wall


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ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — What’s the most surprising thing about John Wall? Is it his superhuman speed? Is it how he returned from injury last season to post the best numbers of his career, averaging 18.5 ppg to go with 7.6 assists per? Or maybe it’s that even though he’s entering his fourth NBA season, he’s still just 22 years old?

It may be the last point that is most relevant, because as Wall is quick to point out, he’s a player still in development. And this season he’s looking to build off his superb second half and get the Wizards to the postseason.

Last week just before the Draft, I caught up Wall in Los Angeles at an adidas event.

ME: So how are you feeling?

WALL: I’m feeling good. Just making sure I’m staying healthy this summer, that’s my main thing. Getting the right treatment, taking care of my body, and making sure I’m getting stronger in the right places. That’s the main thing for me, just trying to have a full, healthy, 82-game season.

ME: What do you mean, getting stronger in the “right places?”

WALL: Just getting stronger around my thighs and leg area, my knees. Having tendonitis and playing so many minutes, that’s a lot of wear and tear, especially at a young age. So I just want to make sure my quads are strong, my hamstrings are strong, and all the joints and ligaments around my knee are fully healthy. I’ve had check-ups and they’re doing great.

ME: And you have to be 100 percent because you kind of only have one speed. I remember I saw you play pick-up ball in Vegas during the lockout and you were the only guy who went full-speed in every game. You were taking some hits, getting up and down the floor.

WALL: That’s all I know how to do, is go 110-percent when I play. Even when I play pick-up, I play against guys who are serious about it. This is a game I love, this is what I love to do, I don’t just do it for fun. So I feel like when I’m out there playing. Even if it’s just against a little kid, I end up playing harder than I’m supposed to. That’s a bad thing, but it’s just my competitive edge that I had growing up.

ME: No, that’s good! That’s what you need! You should always try to dominate, right?

WALL: Yeah, I dominate when I play my nephew. He’s like 11th grade, and I dominate him. I feel like whenever I’m between those lines, I have to be competitive. I can’t take it for fun. Like, I went to a camp in Kentucky and was playing knockout against some little kid, and the little kid almost beat me, and so I just got serious at the end. I started playing serious. I was like, “I can’t miss any shots!” (laughs)

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ME: What was it like last season for you, dealing with the injury?

WALL: It was the longest I’ve ever been out. I think it made me mentally stronger. And I think it made me a better leader. I already loved and respected the game, but I think now I respect it to another level. Especially being there with my teammates on every road trip, knowing I can’t play. Being there early to work out and make sure I’m getting treatment. I could have stayed back in D.C. while my team was traveling, but I wanted to be a leader, be the guy just sitting right beside the coaches and help guys learn, help guys out. That was my main focus. When I came back and played, they all knew what I was capable of and they accepted me for who I was. (more…)

Talk Show: Ricky Rubio

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ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — I first met Ricky Rubio back in 2007, when he was all of 16 years old. He was already playing in Spain’s top league, the ACB, holding his own against grown men. So I’ve followed his career closely since then, and watched with some interest as he’s started to make a name for himself in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Last week I caught up with Ricky in Los Angeles, where he was at an adidas event for his new shoe — the Crazy Light 3, which drops August 1. More than anything, I was surprised at how big Ricky’s shoulders and arms looked. The kid’s growing up (he turns 23 in October) and, for the first time in his career, has been making a concerted effort to hit the weight room to help fend off the physical guards he goes up against on a nightly basis.

The injury bug has bitten the Timberwolves hard the last two seasons, including taking a bite out of Rubio, who missed significant chunks of his first two NBA seasons after tearing his ACL.

Yet Rubio says for the T-Wolves, there are no more excuses: “It’s time for this team to show what we can do.”

ME: So how’s your summer going?

RUBIO: Been good, been good. I’ve been working out. Actually, I rested a little bit, which let my knee finally heal up. So I feel good.

ME: We’re here at this adidas photo shoot. I know last year was your first year wearing adidas, adizero Crazy Light 3 blue-electricity-white (Ricky Rubio) G66521 HEROand now you’ve got a shoe and your own colorway coming out.

RUBIO: They’re great shoes, very light. Actually, I don’t wear a lot of shoes. A lot of NBA players wear like one a game, or something like that. I wore like one pair every two months or something. When they get dirty, I change it, but I don’t want to change it. I don’t like to wear new shoes. I like when the shoe is broken in. I almost only use two or three each season, which means it’s a good type of shoe, you know?

ME: Because it holds up.

RUBIO: Right, because I play a lot of games. And it’s pretty light, which I like. I don’t like to wear a low top, because I kind of twist my ankle, and I don’t like to wear a high-high top, because it stop me from doing some things. So I think it’s the perfect size for how I feel comfortable playing.

ME: Wait, so you wear the same shoe in practice, too? You wear the same shoe every day for like three months?

RUBIO: Yeah, I do. Clayton [Wilson], the guy who is taking care of us and ordering shoes …

ME: The equipment manager?

RUBIO: Yeah, he’s always like, “You need new shoes?” And I’m like, “Not yet.” And he says, “Um…” He was wondering in the beginning, but I told him I’m not going to order new shoes until I feel like the shoes need to change. I like that way.

ME: Last time I sat and talked with you was last summer, when you had just had surgery and you were still on crutches, still icing your leg like five times a day. How long this season did it take you to feel comfortable?

RUBIO: It took me a long time, more than I thought. In the beginning I was playing, and I was ready. My knee was 100 percent, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t feeling in shape, because if you are 9, 10 months out of the game, you can do whatever, but the game speed is just different. So actually, I think it take me a while. I think the Charlotte game, the first time I scored more than 10 points, was actually the first game I feel like I was back, you know? After that I was playing pretty good. Actually, I think it was March, end of March, that I was feeling the best I felt in the NBA. And now that I’m working hard and trying to get stronger legs and all that stuff, I feel pretty good. I’m excited for next season. (more…)