It was a surprisingly warm spring day in Seattle as myself and other seventh-graders from Miller Jr. High School waited to get inside the Kingdome to watch UCLA bound, McDonald's All-American Omm'A Givens and our Aberdeen Bobcats try to win their second 3A state championship against a Seattle powerhouse, Franklin High School.
Franklin was led by Jason Terry, a lanky, sleepy-eyed kid from the Central District. Franklin wasn't a typical "inner city" school. Besides producing some previous name athletes such as Terry Metcalf, James Hasty, Mario Bailey (Houston Oilers draft pick), Trent Johnson (TCU Men's Basketball coach), Ron Santo and Corey Dillon, it would go on to produce former Rocket Aaron Brooks and former Piston Peyton Siva. Not to mention Kenny G. and Edwin Lee (current mayor of San Francisco).
Watching Terry warm up, you could tell there was something special about him. He had this swagger about him that no one else on the court had. Not even our All-American.
Terry was lucky enough to be able to work on his game with Gary Payton during the summers. It wasn't the simple Sonics Jammin' Hoops Camp type deal either. He got some quality time with Payton. Other future Seattle players would also get this tutelage, but Terry was one of the first.
Terry and his more-talented Franklin squad eviscerated Aberdeen that night in the state championship. While my other classmates were crowding around our team, offering condolences, I went over to Franklin. I had to meet Terry.
I had to meet this kid who tormented my team for 32 minutes, getting steal after steal, dunk after dunk, hitting three after three. All the while he was keeping his teammates up if they missed a shot or made a mistake. You could see why Lute Olson thought he was special enough to bring him to Arizona.
The first words I ever said to JET were, "Great game!"
That was his response. Four words that be the first of many exchanged over the years. Granted, there was a big gap between that "conversation" and the next one.
During Game 5, toward the end, Reggie Miller said something that struck me the wrong way (one of many, but this was different). He was talking about how the Rockets shouldn't rely on the 37-year-old Terry to be their emotional leader.
Terry has always been a fiery individual. He's won championships at every level he's ever participated in, more than Reggie can ever say. Dirk Nowitzki might have been the leader of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks championship team, but it was Terry who was the emotional leader.
Make no mistake that the Houston Rockets belong to James Harden, and Dwight Howard is his sidekick. They are not emotional leaders, though. I think it might be safe to say that how Harden and Howard are better at expressing their emotions toward officials than their own teammates. You need those guys on your team. They'll push you more during a game, in practice, in the offseason and at other various points.
For those who have not been privy to an NBA locker room after a game, there are a few attitudes from the players you'll see after a loss; some completely forget about the game and are ready to go out for the night, some goof around, some get dressed and get right out to get home to their families, there are a few others, but the few and far between are the guys who will sit at the locker by themselves, replaying the game in their heads.
What went right, what went wrong. How can they be better the next night? How can they make their team better the next night? These are the guys that take every loss personally. Like a piece of their life was taken from them.
Terry is one of these guys. His protegé, Aaron Brooks is another.
Kevin McHale might get the credit for telling Harden to push toward the middle of the floor more and work the midrange. I guarantee you that Terry was in Harden's ear on the flight back from Los Angeles on Sunday night telling him the exact same thing.
Athletically, his best years are behind him. He's only scored 20 points once in the last two years. If he scores 11 points that's a great night for him right now, as long as he gets a couple assists. His defense isn't overtly offensive and his turnovers are low. What he brings to the Rockets beyond the stats is even more valuable.
Some guys play basketball because they are good at it, some guys play it because they love it and others fall into both categories. I've been watching Terry play this game for more than 20 years and I know he falls into both categories. You can look at various players and see where each one falls.
In a brief conversation last summer, I asked JET how much longer he planned on playing, "long as I can contribute, as long as I have a use, as long as someone wants me and if the love is still there."