Mumbai: He’s a three-time champion with Los Angeles Lakers and has played for seven different clubs in the NBA. One who shared the changing room with legends such as Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant and played against the great Michael Jordan, Oakland-born Brian Shaw’s career has been nothing short of a great narrative. Shaw, who was in the city for a basketball clinic believes India has the capability to feature productive players who have shot of making it to the NBA.
In a tête-à-tête with this correspondent, Shaw relives his entire career, right from growing up with stars such as Antonio Davis and Jason Kidd, to being mistaken for a strongman athlete, who shares his namesake and an interesting incident of rapping an entire pre-game talk as Head Coach.
He also reveals how basketball served as a refuge after tragedy struck the former Denver Nuggets Head Coach early in his career when his parents and sister were killed in a fatal road accident near Las Vegas.
Excerpts from the interview:
What is your initial assessment of basketball scene in India? Can you suggest any recommendations to improve the current scenario?
Brian Shaw (BS): Basketball here in India is a process that is at the very beginning stages but the outlook is bright. As long as there is continued exposure and opportunities for the kids to embrace the game on the grassroots level it can grow and be a part of this culture.
Your take on Satnam Singh and Sim Bhullar. Do you think India has what it takes to produce many more Satnam Singhs and Sim Bhullars to feature in the NBA?
BS: Yeah, I don’t see why not. I think every country that has players that have been able to get over the barrier of where they are from to participate and play in the NBA had to go through the same steps that India is trying to go through now. India is just getting a later start. Countries in Europe, Asia and Africa had to take baby steps, had to cultivate and nurture the seed of basketball and India’s not going to be any different. The more kids that participate, more love they develop for the game which will speed up that process and before too long you have some productive players that have a shot of making it to the NBA.
Is this your first time to India? How was the experience? You’ve travelled to Jaipur and Noida, what caught your attention there?
BS: It’s been good. I haven’t really got a chance to get out and do anything outside of what we’re doing with camps and clinics with the kids. It’s very humbling. You see areas where people are very wealthy and then you see areas where people are very poor. That’s not different from anywhere else in the world. It’s eye opening when you get here and you see what you see.
For somebody like myself, who hasn’t been here before, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was the only impression that I had. There’s a lot of character, history and culture that goes along with this place. I’m happy that I was able to come and witness it for myself.
There’s another Brian Shaw in the US who is called the strongman. Are you aware about him? Did anybody mistake you with your namesake?
BS: Not really (laughs). He’s a big white guy and I’m a tall black guy. We have the same name and if you Google Brian Shaw, both of us will come up —it will be Brian Shaw (strongman) or basketball. I have had people come up to me and say, ‘You don’t look like you’re the strongest man in the world (laughs).’
You grew up with stars such as Antonio Davis, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton and Demetrius ‘Hook’ Mitchell. Can you tell me some memorable moments you shared with those guys during your younger days?
BS: It’s interesting because we all grew up together and had aspirations of making it to the NBA. We all had to take different paths to get there but we’ve all remained very different. So over that time, from elementary junior high school to high school to college and through the NBA, when you see a group of people who grew up from a little small community make it to the pinnacle of the sport, it makes you feel good about where you come from and what were you brought up around.
For me, three or four years ago, being able to go to the Naismith Hall of Fame and see Gary Payton be inducted into the Hall of Fame was awesome. Jason Kidd came and I came and some of our other buddies who didn’t make it to the NBA all came and supported him because he was able to achieve and accomplish something at the highest level that’s voted on by his peers. I totally expect Jason Kidd to be the next player from Oakland to be the next Hall of Fame as soon as he is able to qualify for it.
How important a role did basketball play during testing times when the family accident occurred? Did any player help you go through that terrible stage?
BS: At the time when I was playing for Miami Heat, the organisation flew the entire team out for the funeral and gave me great support. Basketball served as a refuge for me to take my mind off what had happened previous summer. It is something that I have always been able to fall back on in any time, good or bad to just take me away.
You’ve shared the dressing room with legends like Kobe Bryant and Shaq at the Lakers. Can you share with me a few hilarious moments you experienced with them?
BS: I miss the camaraderie of the guys off the court —riding on the bus or flying on the plane, whether we are playing cards or sitting around having a drink, just laughing and sharing stories or making fun of each other, it was always competitive. No matter what it was that we were doing, if one guy got this car, then the next guy would want to get a car that is better than that. A lot of stuff that we did was really silly. We were young men and having fun. We actually spent more time around each other than we did with our families. You think about the time that we played in the game, practice, travelled and those things. Our kids have been able to grow up together. It’s all been nice.
You’ve played against Michael Jordan. How would you compare and contrast Jordan and Bryant’s style of play?
BS: The same. They were two fierce competitors. They both had something special that nobody else has. I used to love their killer instinct. I knew Michael Jordan as the best player to play in the NBA and Kobe is right underneath that. It’s because of the fact that they have that killer instinct on a level that nobody else has.
You also served as a mediator between Shaq and Kobe during the messy break-up. How did you go about it?
BS: For the most part it takes care of itself. One of the reasons why I had a relationship with both of them was because I was honest with both. If I felt Shaq was wrong I would tell him he was wrong and if I felt Kobe was wrong I would tell him he was wrong. There were times when we almost came to blows and fought but I was always going to be honest with both of them. They were two young guys who were very dominant, they were alpha males and they were fighting for pecking order. You’re not going to always get along when you go through that. My role was to constantly remind them that it was not just about the two of them, there are 10 other guys on the team that how they act with each other, it affects all of us.
How was the transition from Celtics to Lakers considering the age-old rivalry between the two teams? How did the fans react? Any hurdles you faced?
BS: It wasn’t that bad, it wasn’t one right after the other. There was a period of nine years from the time that I was on the Celtics till when I joined the Lakers. There were five other teams in between that I played for. In 2008 and 2010, when I was with the Lakers and we played the Celtics in the finals, when I would go back to Boston, some of the fans would say, ‘Oh, you are a traitor. How could you ever go to the Lakers?’ (laughs). That was part of the territory because the rivalry was so intense.
Kobe is considered as a very tough teammate. Dwight Howard (now plays for Houston Rockets) also couldn’t stand Bryant’s style of play. How was he with you as a teammate? Was he that pushy?
BS: Yeah, he was. He demanded the best of you because he would always give the best of himself. Players who came through there who weren’t as serious as he was, they couldn’t take the pressure that he put on them but he also put that pressure on himself. Dwight Howard lasted one year there and he just couldn’t deal with the constant scrutiny that he would get from Kobe. Kobe had played with another big man in Shaq. He had expectations from Dwight Howard to be able to play that role and he wasn’t able to do that. Now going forward, Dwight Howard still hasn’t won a championship. It’s tough to be his teammate but he pushes you and gets the most out of you.
Would you have liked to see Bryant feature longer in the NBA? Who do think is the next face of basketball after Bryant?
BS: Right now it’s wide open. I don’t think that there will ever be another Kobe Bryant. I think his time is come and now after this season is done, it’s time. His body can’t take it anymore. But he has given a lot to the game. In terms of who will replace him as the face of the game, I think the game is in a good place. You have good young stars — LeBron (LeBron James), Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, who will continue to play the game at the highest level and there’s going to be a new generation of players that are going to come after them.
During your stint as coach of Denver Nuggets you also adopted a very unique technique of rapping. How did you go about it and how did it help you and your team?
BS: I did it one time. It was a game where our team was just flat. I was trying to connect with them in any way that I can. Most of them listened to rap music. One particular game, I just erased everything on the board and I rapped the whole pre-game talk. They got excited and fired up for it. I got a lot of flak from it as well but I was just trying to do anything that would get the most out of them and make them play.
With the US Presidential elections in a couple of months, who do you think will be the next White House resident?
BS: Because I have been travelling so much, I haven’t been on top of what’s going on. Last night when I got here to the hotel I saw Donald Trump talking. I personally and probably would lean in the direction of Hillary Clinton because her husband has been President before. Donald Trump says crazy stuff.
Can NBA have an All-Star game in India after it moved out from the US to Canada?
BS: I don’t think it will come here. NBA needs more players and a team from India.