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NBA Life with Matt Bonner: Bonner appreciates historic Madison Square Garden
This week, Concord native Matt Bonner, a veteran forward with the San Antonio Spurs, shares some stories from the road, which includes recent trips to Milwaukee, New York, New Orleans and Memphis.
Sunday News: What's it like traveling from city to city, getting in late, exploring new places and staying focused on your job?
Matt Bonner: It was definitely interesting in New York. I awoke in a panic. There were incessantly loud church bells playing some type of symphony right outside my window. I think they had a couple extra nuns in there at 7 a.m. cranking on those bells. It was an interesting trip. We had back-to-back games beginning in Milwaukee, where it was minus-10 degrees with the wind chill. We got into New York at about 2:15 (a.m.). I got up for a union meeting at breakfast. Now the radio show. It's always hectic on the road.
SN: Did you ever think about New York City as a kid and maybe playing at Madison Square Garden someday?
MB: I probably thought about it a little bit. There are so many movies and TV shows filmed here, but, to me, going to the big city was Boston. Growing up, we went to New York City once as a family. I remember my eyes were all red and bloodshot by the end of the weekend because I wasn't used to the air pollution. That's what I took away from that trip. It's a fast-paced city. People are on a mission. Nobody is stopping to chat. If you're a tourist, you better stay to the edge. It's funny because (drivers) can get a ticket if they honk. You see those signs on the street.
SN: How much do you appreciate playing at Madison Square Garden, which is considered the most famous arena in sports?
MB: You said it. It's the biggest stage. All the history. Of course, the original Boston Garden was the biggest stage until they tore it down and built another one. Any time you come to New York, it's crazy. They sell out every game no matter how the team is doing. It's definitely the toughest place to get extra tickets.
SN: Do you think teams in the Western Conference are much stronger, overall, than teams in the Eastern Conference?
MB: There are more teams playing well right now out West if you look at records and head-to-head competition. You look at the Clippers and their 17-game win streak and how well they've been playing without Chauncey Billups or Grant Hill, two veteran guys with playoff experience. Once those guys get healthy and get clicking, they're only going to get better. Oklahoma City has done what everyone expected. I think the Lakers are still trying to figure it out, but, obviously, they have a lot of talent and nobody wants to see them in April or May. It's the NBA though. Every game is tough. It's not like we're thinking you can pick up some easy wins when you head East.
SN: The Celtics have been playing better. Coach Doc Rivers has a message to keep playing hard, bide your team, and maybe it's working.
MB: You know, I like Doc's message. What more can you do? You have to stay positive, keep working, keep playing. They know, historically, they can be successful with that core group of guys.
SN: The Spurs play with a selfless, college-like style with lots of depth. Do you think that's becoming a model of success for other teams in the NBA?
MB: I think with the new collective bargaining agreement coming into place, that is going to have to be the model. There are going to be really strict (financial) penalties for going into the luxury tax. You can't just go out and buy your team anymore. It's going to be hard to keep three max-salary superstars. I think the Heat might have some trouble with that down the line. You have to find a way to have maybe one max guy, a couple other guys that are up there (in salary), and surround them with guys able to contribute and play well together and play good team defense. You need that kind of chemistry for the long term if you're trying to win a championship.
SN: What's it like being around Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker? Do you think of them as NBA stars or are they just guys at this point?
MB: They are definitely just guys. For seven years, we've spent eight months together, all day, everyday. When you spend enough time with people, it doesn't matter who they are. They are just normal people.
Matt Bonner discusses The NBA Life each week with radio broadcaster Chris Ryan and New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Kevin Gray, and the interview appears weekly in the N.H. Sunday News.