GRAY LINE: PERKINS IN DA HOUSE

Niall Gray shoots the breeze with an Olympic gold medallist from the pre-Dream Team era.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit the NBA House at London’s Covent Garden and if you didn’t go then it’s a shame because the free event that the NBA put on was well worth a visit.

The venue was packed full of interactive exhibits that kept visitors occupied for ages. There was even a chance to meet former NBA legends (along with ex-BBL players Nigel Lloyd and Clive Allen!) and a lucky few had the chance to play on a specially-built court.

My visit was a couple of hours well spent and taking place during the Olympics made it a great stop-over on the way to a game.

When I popped in on Saturday, Sam Perkins was there. As a fan of the NBA since the 1980s, I enjoy any chance I get to interview ‘old school’ players, and having first broken into the league with Dallas in the mid-80s, Perkins qualifies as old-school, although he went on to play until 2001.

Offered the chance to sit down and chat with Perkins, I jumped at the chance. I had just five minutes to get as many questions in as possible but the first minute was used up discussing my wardrobe choice that day!

I’d chosen a Dream Team ’92 shirt to wear with Larry Bird’s picture on it and Perkins was interested to know where I’d got it from and then started telling me about when Bird was his boss in Indiana and the year they made the Finals.

So I just want to say thanks to my buddy Stateside, Steve Cooper, and next time I interview an ex-NBA player, I’ll wear another of the many basketball t-shirts Coop has sent over the years.

Back to Perkins and as a former Olympian who won a gold medal in 1984, Perkins said he had been watching both basketball and volleyball while in London and was enjoying the chance to see the Olympics from a different perspective to how he experienced them as an athlete.

From there the conversation turned to Luol Deng and Perkins spoke about how Deng has raised the profile of the national team.

“He’s done a good job,” he said. “He represents [Great Britain] well in the NBA, he’s adored by many and has a lot of fans, so he’s an icon over here in some ways.

“Football here is number one but he’s on his way to making basketball more noticed and so people can relate to him.”

The discussion then moved on to the USA team and it’s current leading light, Lebron James. It brought up the question on how Lebron stacks up to Jordan.

“I haven’t played with Lebron, but I know Michael was the probably the 80s rendition of Oscar Robertson.” said Perkins. “I think when Lebron finishes his career, I think it’s going to be one of those questions, who is better, Michael or Lebron, and it depends on how Lebron does the rest of his career.

“If he can win five or six more titles he could become just as equal, so it’ll be an argument.

“But right now everyone thinks Michael was more pure, more sound than Lebron is right now.

“To me, I think Michael is still the [better] because the way he took over games, and I think Lebron is just figuring out how to do that.”

Speaking of Jordan, he’s someone Perkins knows very well as they played together in College for North Carolina, winning the NCAA title in 1982, and then were team-mates on the gold medal team in 1984.

When it came to winning an NBA Championship, two of the three times that Perkins had the chance to win the title, it was his friend Jordan and the Chicago Bulls that stopped him.

Asked what it was like to twice be denied by Jordan, Perkins laughed and then said: “That’s why I every time see him, I hit him on the back of his head to remind him that I’m behind him, always!”

He added: “At the same time, I had three tries and they were all good teams, Lakers, Seattle and Indiana, but we just had a team that always came in second place.

“Without a title, it was still fun. I had a good time with the career I had, the competition and the players, coaches and the NBA itself.”

As for the memories that stand out, Perkins still remembers clearly the time they won 63 games, topped the Western Conference, but then slipped up in the first round against Dikembe Mutombo and the Denver Nuggets.

That was a low point but the team rebounded and two years later reached the NBA Finals against Chicago.

“That team was special because we figured it out and tried to win it all but again we got stopped. That year was a great time with George Karl, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Detlef Schrempf; all of us, we had a good time.”

That answer also brought an end to the interview as time was up. Perkins was needed to go downstairs to the court area and entertain the basketball fans waiting patiently.

The NBA House turned out to be a pretty good idea, it was great to spend some time with Perkins and seeing how well-attended the event was, I hope it’s not too long before we see it again.

Main pic: Getty/NBAE

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