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Perfect Player (NBA)

Dante_evil

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By JOHN DENTON
Florida Today
Saturday, February 8, 2003

ATLANTA - Indiana Pacers power forward Jermaine O'Neal raised his hand to his chin, pondered the question for a second or two and then craned his neck forward and backwards.

"The perfect basketball player?" O'Neal asked rhetorically. "Just look around at all the talent in this room. Everything you would look for in the perfect player is here this weekend."

Here, of course, is the NBA's All-Star Game in Atlanta. It is arguably the greatest assemblage of athleticism and talent this side of an Olympics.

Where else, quite frankly, can you find players who can soar through the air (Vince Carter), dunk flat-footed (Yao Ming) and tear down backboards (Shaquille O'Neal)?

As usual, Michael Jordan was a no-show for Friday's all-star media session.

But that did little to dim the wattage of the star power clustered for this game. There's Orlando Magic superstar Tracy McGrady, the NBA's leading scorer at 30.4 points per game. There's the 7-foot-5 Yao, a Chinese import who has become the face of the NBA's multicultural rainbow. And then, there's Kobe Bryant, quite possibly the world's hottest athlete right now, considering the 40.2 points he's averaging in his last five games.

"Kobe is the MVP of the league right now," a cooing O'Neal said.

"He's carrying our team. He's carrying me. There's nothing he can't do right now."

The NBA's best will be on display Saturday starting with the rookie-sophomore challenge, the 3-point shootout and the slam-dunk contest. The star-studded weekend concludes with NBA All-Star Game Sunday night at 8 p.m.

Considering that the best basketball talent on the planet is gathered together in one place this weekend, the idea now is to take the best qualities from some of the All-Stars and create the perfect NBA player. Hey, if cloning is possible, maybe NBA commissioner David Stern might want to get the league's lab rats busy on engineering a better basketball player.

Through the eyes of the greatest talent in the world, here are some of the qualities - from head to toe - the perfect player certainly would possess:

Vision

Jason Kidd, Nets. Kidd has the rare ability to be racing up the court at a breakneck speed and still see things as if they were in super slow motion.

No pass is impossible with Kidd on the floor and teammates have to be ready lest they get hit in the face with the ball.

"Jason sees plays before they actually happen," raved Houston's Steve Francis. "It's almost not human the way he can anticipate things happening."

Quite possibly Kidd's finest pass of the season went to a player that he wasn't even looking at. In Orlando in January, Kidd slung his body into a crowd of players near midcourt, somehow came out with the loose ball and without looking batted the ball back over his shoulder to a streaking Kerry Kittles for a dunk.

"I'm on the floor with a future Hall of Famer every night," New Jersey's Richard Jefferson said. "I think he's the best passer of all time."

Mind

Michael Jordan, Wizards. Not only was Jordan one of the greatest leapers and greatest shooters the NBA's ever seen, but he was also arguably the most mentally tough athlete in all of sports.

Jordan could seemingly will himself and his Chicago Bulls to heights thought to be unreachable. Any comment from an opposing player or coach would be considered a personal dig and only fuel Jordan's inner fire even more. Whether it was coming through in the clutch so many times, playing through illness as he did in the NBA Finals, winning three titles after retiring from the game a first time, or scoring 45 points as he did this season at the age of 39, Jordan combined an incredible will with superhuman skill to make himself into the player many consider the best of all time.

"There will always be a next this and a next thing, but I'm not sure there will ever be another Michael Jordan," Indiana coach Isiah Thomas said. "When he leaves the NBA for good, we'll miss M.J. and everything he stands for."

Wingspan

Tracy McGrady, Magic. McGrady has evolved into the game's most deadly offensive weapon for a lot of reasons - he has a 42-inch vertical leap, he has dramatically improved his jump shot and he is an incredible slasher to the hoop.

But the thing that separates McGrady from the likes of Vince Carter and Bryant is his long arms. McGrady is listed at 6-foot-8, but has the arms of a 7-footer.

From the top of the key, he can get to the rim with two dribbles and an extension of his rubber-like arms. And he is just as good with his left hand - he considers it his stronger hand - as his right hand.

"That dude has the longest arms I've ever seen," said Seattle's Desmond Mason, who was torched twice this season by McGrady. "Not only can he shoot over you with ease, but he gets to rebounds and blocks shots that you think he has no chance of getting. He plays kind of slow and it looks lazy, but it's just that he makes the game so easy."

Heart

Kobe Bryant, Lakers. Former Magic power forward Horace Grant played with Jordan in Chicago. He played alongside fiery point guard Gary Payton in Seattle. And he was with McGrady for 1 1/2 seasons in Orlando.

But no one, he said, compares to Bryant when it comes to passion and a hunger to win.

"Kobe wants to rip your heart out," Grant said. "He's like that in practice, screaming and cussing at guys to work hard. No one wants to win as much as that kid does."

Torso

Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers. There are those who contend that O'Neal is the greatest physical specimen ever. Not just in basketball - in any sport ever.

Consider this: At 7-foot-1, 340 pounds, he's bigger than any tackle in the NFL and quite possibly just as strong. Even Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell - two of the greatest big men ever in basketball - would have looked like stick figures next to O'Neal's hulking frame.

And still he's fast enough to beat some forwards up the floor and nimble enough to slither his way into openings to get off his jump hooks. And if that doesn't work, he can always just use shoulders that look like blocks of granite and arms that resemble bridge cables to bull his way to the bucket.

"Kobe or T-Mac or (Kevin Garnett) are the best all-around players in the NBA," O'Neal said. "And Tim Duncan is the most fundamentally sound player.

"But I'm the most dominant. Nobody can stop the most dominant player in the league."

Legs

Vince Carter, Raptors. He's had problems with his quadriceps tendon and knee the past two seasons. But when healthy - and Carter seems to be back to his old self now - he is the closest thing to a Cessna the NBA has ever seen.

His dunk in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, is still considered to the one of the most amazing ever. Carter beat his man off the dribble and got into the lane, only to find 7-foot Frenchman Frederic Weis waiting. All Carter did was lift off like a rocket, elevating unbelievably high into the air. Just as the crotch of his shorts was clearing Weis' head, Carter rammed the ball through the rim for an incredible slam.

"Explosive. That's all you can say about him," said Seattle's Mason, a past winner of the NBA dunks contest and a participant on Saturday.

Feet

Allen Iverson, Sixers. The mere fact that the 6-foot, 165-pound Iverson has led the NBA in scoring the past two seasons is a testament to just how incredibly fast he is. Staying in front of him is almost impossible. The only option for most is to try and bang Iverson's body - that is if you can catch up to him.

"My knees just hurt thinking about having to chase him around," said Hornets' guard David Wesley, a participant in the 3-point shootout. "And not only is he the fastest player in the league, he never slows down. His energy level is amazing. He running just as hard in the fourth quarter as he is in the first quarter."

Intangibles

Steve Francis' handle; Tim Duncan's fundamental base; Ben Wallace's hustle and determination; Kevin Garnett's inner fire; Jermaine O'Neal's deadly left hand; Yao Ming's height; Paul Pierce's cool in the clutch; Gary Payton's mean streak; and Dirk Nowitzki's versatility.
 

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