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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

NBA REPORT

Durant, Green show class of West's best organizations


NEW YORK — Kevin Durant cannot possibly be, as commonly portrayed, as great a guy as he is a player, right?

"He's actually better!" Matt Tumbleson countered when posed the impious question while the Thunder's director of communications and I watched Daddy Long Legs warm up on the Staples Center court prior to the end of the Clippers' crucifixion.

As Exhibit A, Tumbleson told me something truly unbelievable that happened following the Orlando All-Star Game, in which Durant was voted MVP, 24 hours after finishing first in the Long Distance Shootout.

"The demand for Kevin throughout the weekend was constant, but after winning MVP things got really intense," Tumbleson said. "Everyone wanted a piece of his time and he handled it all smoothly with a smile."

So, long after the building had emptied out and only slow-filing writers like myself were still in front of their computers, Durant finally was free to join family and friends and Tumbleson was off duty to join former Spurs' boss Tom James for a nightcap or two.

"About 45 minutes later, I got a call from Durant," Tumbleson recounted.

No doubt, a "need play" was about to be run.

"Kevin said he wanted to thank me for spending so much extra time with him and that he really appreciated it," he said.

Ah, the tales they tell of tall men. What would you think if you heard one like that from a person paid to pump up players?

Naturally, I believed it. That's because there's an epidemic of etiquette sweeping the NBA.

In late March, I did a short post-game interview with North Babylon's Danny Green, chosen No. 46 by the Cavaliers in 2009 (115 minutes in 20 games) and ultimately waived. The next season, after a brief tryout, Gregg Popovich cut him, yet he rejoined the team two weeks later, eight games in all.

And here he was (is) starting for the Western Conference champs, contributing tangibly and intangibly in a multitude of areas.

I understood Green, who won more games (123; the 2009 NCAA championship, too) at North Carolina than any Tar Heel preceding him, caught a break when Manu Ginobili got hurt early in the season.

But how did he re-position himself to get that break after being let go? That's what I wanted to know.

Simple. Yeah, right.

"I called up Pop and asked for another chance," Green explained. "I promised I'd do anything he asked me to do and swore I'd work during the off-season on improving whatever he told me to work on."

Popovich liked Green's approach and learned to like his style. Once Green had his coach's confidence he began to develop his own. Thus the coach allowed mistakes to be made and the player was allowed to relax and grow without fear of instant or dire consequences.

Before leaving the Spurs' locker room that evening, I stopped to speak with James, the team's publicist for 15 years. He said a lot of good things about Green but one stood out.

"Earlier this season, out of the blue, Danny came over and said, 'I just want you to know that you really do a good job.' In all my years, that's a first coming from a player," James said.

* * *

No surprise that the Bobcats interviewed Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw. The so-called source was someone in the know, which puts Michael Jordan above suspicion.

Sources tell me Charlotte plans to have a coach in place sometime before the start of next season's draft lottery.

This just in: Mitt Romney claims, if elected, he can fix the economy and unfix the draft lottery. In an unrelated matter, he's found a running mate: Ricky Rubio. . . .

I never got close to Orlando Woolridge during his 13 NBA seasons, two with the Nets — one mostly on suspension for substance abuse — in the late '80s. That's mainly because I didn't want to have to cover his tormented soul.

Despite incessant preaching and teaching, the majority of us refuse to learn from the mistakes of others. We must make our own and pray our addictions don't kill us. The unlucky often pay by dying young, like Woolridge, who passed away at 52 from a diseased heart.

Still, from what I've read about the accomplishments of his five children, as well as a sister whose medical training he financed, Woolridge was an influential leading man in their lives.

In the end, hopefully Willis Reed's cousin was able to cut himself some slack. In the end, spent with his parents at their Mansfield, Louisiana, home, hopefully Woolridge realized his career and life were not a waste, but, in fact, a success.

Peter Vecsey covers the NBA for the New York Post.


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