LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 16: Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Pau Gasol #16 after Fisher stole the ball and scored a break away basket against the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on January 16, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 73-70. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
In the spirit of NBA All-Star Weekend, Dan Grunfeld recounts his own All-Star snub story, a tale with a surprise ending as twisty as a Kosher pretzel. You'll see why that reference is relevant.
If it's any consolation to Pau Gasol, Josh Smith, Rudy Gay and the rest of the scorned NBA elite who were denied invites to the 2012 NBA All-Star Game, I've also been snubbed from an All-Star game before. Great, now that all those guys have started to feel better about the whole thing thanks to my compassionate honesty, I can move forward with a clear conscience as I describe my All-Star game snub in the summer of 2001, and more importantly, how it was revealed to me in one of the weirdest ways I could have ever imagined. Let me explain.
Right after my junior year of high school, smack in the middle of the college recruiting process (not to mention the "grow legitimate armpit hair" process), I traveled to Teaneck, New Jersey, to participate in what was at that time called the Adidas ABCD Camp. Basically, ABCD was the premiere showcase in the nation for high school basketball players, an invite-only camp featuring some of the country's best prospects, including a slew of current NBA stars like LeBron and Carmelo. Every college coach in the country was there, all the big media outlets covered it, and it was without a doubt one of the marquee high school basketball events of the summer, especially for guys like me who were still trying to lock down that scholarship from whatever school was on the top of our lists.
In my case, that school was Stanford University, the place I'd wanted to go ever since I passed through campus in seventh grade on a trip to visit my grandma. They were already recruiting me when ABCD rolled around, and while we had some good chemistry working, it hadn't gotten hot-and-heavy yet. Sure, Stanford and I had reached the adolescent equivalent of holding hands at the movies and ordering one milkshake with two straws at the local burger joint, just so all of our friends could witness our adorable canoodling, but still, I wanted more. At the very least, I wanted some over-the-shirt action at the bonfire next weekend, but only if Stanford was into it, and at the very most (and to end this analogy before things get awkward between me and Stanford), I wanted that scholarship. I knew deep down that Palo Alto was the right place for me to go to school, and ABCD was my chance to get there.
Understandably, I was very amped up for the opportunity to prove myself, and my excitement was enhanced by the fact that the camp took place 20 minutes from where I grew up. I had moved from my childhood home in northern New Jersey to frigid Wisconsin when I was 15, and here I was a few years later, back on comfortable, climate-friendly turf, playing on a big stage for what I considered to be big stakes.
Once the games started, I rose to the occasion. I played very solid basketball from the beginning; hitting shots, making plays and just generally creating a nice little buzz for myself. In the middle of camp, a few tri-state area newspapers ran stories about me, including the main paper from where I grew up. In one of the articles, when asked to describe my style of play, I said that my game was "cerebral." Turd alert! Anyway, the little bit of coverage that I got was cool for a kid that age, and by the final day of the event, it was clear that camp had been a big success. Still, when the All-Star teams were announced on that morning, my name was nowhere to be found.
I was a little bummed, but it wasn't that big of a deal. I certainly didn't consider it to be a legitimate snub at that point, because while I'd played well, I hadn't been outstanding, and the competition was definitely fierce. As a result, I didn't think too much about it and just continued to focus on playing ball. My team still had two more games left to play on that final day, with the All-Star games for the underclassmen and upperclassmen both to be held that night. My goal was to end camp with a bang (the Stanford analogy is over, perv), and that mission was accomplished, because in those last games, I had 20 and 28 points, respectively, which is a beastly output at an event like that.
Suddenly, I was feeling myself a little more than I had been that morning. My head was held up higher. My chest was puffed out further. My Discman was bumping Boyz II Men louder. I kind of wanted to invite Stanford over to watch a scary movie in my basement later that night, just to see where things would go, but since we're really supposed to be done with this analogy, I won't get into it.
Basically, I balled out in a big way on that last day but I still wasn't an All-Star. Now I was starting to feel like I deserved to be one. Now I was starting to feel like I'd been snubbed. I had no choice but to be cool with my fate, but my friends at camp didn't make it easy for me to let it go. They were hyping me up all afternoon, buzzing in my ear about the monster day I'd had and how I'd definitely be added to the All-Star team. After a while, I kind of started to believe them. My performance warranted some recognition, so it made sense, right?
I wasn't getting my hopes up, but then, something crazy happened. As I sat in the stands with my peers, joking around while getting ready to watch the underclassmen game, decked out in street clothes, with the chance of participating in the upperclassmen game having seemingly disappeared, a voice bellowed over the PA system in the gym: "Dan Grunfeld, please report to the scorer's table."
It was probably the last thing I expected to hear at that point, and it shocked me. But it also excited me. The surprise made my heart kind of flutter, as if Stanford had just caressed my leg at the "Just Say No" assembly (I can't stop). Heads turned to look at me, and my buddy (an All-Star himself and now an NBA player) patted me on the back: "Told you they'd add you," he said.
The scorer's table was all the way on the other side of the very large gymnasium, but I didn't exactly mind my lengthy strut over there. I had played my butt off, and now I was being rewarded for it. How could Stanford resist that? I felt great about what was happening, until I reached the scorer's table. That's when things got weird.
I had been expecting a congratulations, an applause and a newly-printed All-Star jersey. I wouldn't have said no to a marching band, by the way, but it wasn't a requirement. These were the types of thoughts that filled my 17-year-old head in that moment, but once I got to my destination, the gentleman in charge barely even looked at me and said matter-of-factly, "Grunfeld, this lady is here to see you."
This lady? I thought. That was not what I expected to hear, but it meant that, sadly, there would be no marching band, and that, sadly, I would be no All-Star, even after my dominant day. I was pissed and puzzled, with absolutely no clue what this dude was talking about. Obviously, I wasn't expecting a visitor, especially not some lady, so you can imagine how I felt when, standing in a bustling gymnasium filled with swagger, electricity and the future king-to-be, LeBron, my All-Star snub was confirmed by the smiling face of the 4'10 Hebrew School tutor who had prepared me for my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13.
No joke. Little Danny's Bar Mitzvah tutor was in the house, and mind you, I hadn't seen or spoken to this woman since armpit hair was just a dream on the horizon. Somehow, she had seen the article about me in the local paper, and bless her, she had tracked me down like a miniature Mossad agent, all the way to the packed gym that I had been competing in, at the very moment when it was filled to the brim with fans, media and basically everyone in grassroots basketball.
Upon seeing her, all I could do was laugh (I was crying on the inside, of course, but on the outside, I laughed). As you could imagine, the situation wasn't the least bit embarrassing, especially since she so thoughtfully brought a lovely gift bag for me adorned with bows and ribbons -- one that she presented to me then and there, with a big kiss on the cheek, in front of anyone who cared to watch. She meant very well by her visit, which I appreciated, but the ballplayer-trying-to-build-and-solidify-a-badass-reputation side of me viewed this surprise "Shalom" as the bizarre and out-of-nowhere nail in my All-Star game coffin.
We politely chatted for a bit, and after a few minutes, I had no choice but to carry my dynamite gift bag (that I wished was actually filled with dynamite at that point) back to the stands, where I rejoined my fellow campers, snubbed and flabbergasted.
"Did you make the team?" one of them asked.
"No," I said.
"Who was that small lady?" asked another.
"An old friend," I said. "Kind of."
A few hours later, three of my childhood pals picked me up during the middle of the upperclassmen game, and we spent the night sitting in a hot tub, cold root beers in hand, talking, laughing and having a great time. I wasn't named an All-Star that day, but who cares? I wouldn't trade what happened. I can still laugh about it, and I still somehow have the self-respect to understand the oftentimes arbitrary nature of "being an All-Star." That's why I heartily toast snubs everywhere with a defiant "L'Chaim!" And most importantly, everything worked out fine for me in the end, because Stanford and I did it later that summer.
Oh yeah, the analogy is back on. Class of '06, folks, despite being the proud victim of the weirdest all-star snub story you've ever heard. All in all, I'm definitely cool with it, and my Hebrew School tutor definitely still loves me, so that's a bonus. I guess.