After our first three home games this season, I’ve stood near the back of the locker room waiting for the crowd of reporters to disperse, trying not to be a part of the huddle mass of media who, through no real fault of their own, keep the players from being able to dress. You typically get better answers when you’re talking to players in smaller groups anyway, and since I’m not usually writing on deadline, I have the extra time to bide after games that most journalists simply don’t.
I typically wait out the horde near Marcus Camby’s locker, which is near the corner of locker room, closest to the exit. And since the two lockers nearest Camby’s, those of strength and conditioning coach Bobby Medina and player development director Dean Cooper, are rarely occupied, he’s is afforded more personal space in the post-game locker room than most. So while LaMarcus Aldridge, Jamal Crawford, Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton have to cut a path through a sea of reporters to get to their lockers, many times while donning nothing more than a towel, Camby is able to dress in relative peace and quiet. And because of that peace and quiet, I can hear some of what Camby says to himself, and through the first three games he’s repeatedly muttered the first line of the hook from a Young Jeezy track entitled “OJ”.
“What you know about champagne every night?”
I’ve heard him repeat it over and over, almost compulsively. It’s as if the song is stuck in his head and he’s trying to rap it out while the rest of the locker room goes about their business.
“What you know about champagne every night?”
Camby will have to repeat himself a bit louder if he’s waiting for someone to answer, because unless we’re talking about the champagne of beers, I don’t very little about champagne every night. What I can speak for with some authority is the quality of Camby’s play through every night of the fledgling 2011-12 season.
You could almost hear the sound of keyboards pounding out eulogies to Marcus Camby’s career after the 15-year veteran started the season by missing the Wells Fargo Fan Fest and the second and final preseason contest against the Jazz with a sore left knee. Typically, a veteran sitting out an intersquad scrimmage and a preseason game would be met with a yawn, if any reaction at all, but you can somewhat understand the overreaction to Camby’s absence when it comes on the heels of Brandon Roy retiring and Greg Oden suffering a “setback.” Couple that with the perception held by some that he doesn’t play through injuries, and you can see why the more excitable types in Rip City and beyond had written off Portland’s starting center before the season began. But in the games that have actually counted for something, Camby has been stellar.
“I feel good, ready to play,” said Camby “That's all I can really say. People probably think, because of my age, that I'm not able to still play at that high level, but each game, you still bring that intensity.”
He currently leads the Trail Blazers in rebounds (11.3) and blocks (2.3) and is second in assists (4.3) despite playing less than 27 minutes a night. And his 11.3 rebounds per game are good for fifth in the NBA, an impressive stat in-and-of itself, but it’s even more stunning when you consider the four players above him on the tally, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert, only have two more years of NBA experience combined than Camby.
“I just think he has a very high basketball IQ,” said head coach Nate McMillan, “and he can have the type of impact he's having on a game because he knows how to play both ends of the floor.”
He’s controlling the boards, finding the open man, patrolling the paint and taking time to pump up the Rose Garden crowd after blocks early in games. Fifteen years in and he’s still doing what he’s always done: finding ways to contribute outside of scoring.
“I think (Camby) been good,” said McMillan. “He's really done a good job of anchoring our defense, initiating at times on the offense, delivering the ball. He's played some of his best basketball here early.”
In this condensed season, it’s likely that guys who have put in as much time as Camby has are going to need a break here and there, and hopefully Kurt Thomas and Chris Johnson will be up to the task when called upon. But like a good bottle of champagne, what Camby brings to a team can be enjoyed even after decades of maturation and especially when consumed in moderation. Eventually, the spring in Camby’s legs will fade just as a bottle of bubbly that sits in the cellar for too long will go flat, but that time has not yet come. He’s still got defensive instincts that allow him to hold position against wider bodies, court vision that enables him to throw pinpoint lob passes from the high post and springs to uncork a momentum-shifting blocked shot.
“I’m just trying to be held accountable for what I can bring to the team,” said Camby. “Make sure every game I'm bringing that defensive intensity, that defensive focus and having the trust of my teammates so that, if they get beat, that I'm the last line of defense, that I'll be ready to block shots or alter shots.”
If “Uncle Cam” can do all those things on a consistent basis this season, we may all have a better understanding of what it’s like to have champagne every night.