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Big Al â€" One of the NBA’s Best Kept Secrets

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On Friday December 22, 2006 the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers were scheduled to play on ESPN. Somehow the same network that continues to bring us Cold Pizza had the foresight to say, “No Pierce. No Iverson. No ESPN for you.” Realistically the World Wide Leader made the right call by highlighting the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs instead. In fact it was only weeks earlier that TNT was stuck featuring a non descript Mavericks/Pistons contest while the Suns and Nets lit it up in New Jersey. It does not take a marketing degree to realize that networks want the best match ups possible for nationally televised games. So it should be no surprise that the NBA recently axed the C’s last shot at national exposure â€" March 11th @ Chicago on ABC. And needless to say Boston will not be appearing on TNT this season.

I do not mention the lack of exposure to complain about the networks’ treatment of the Celtics. In fact I’ve been lead to believe this is rather standard fare for teams with horrific losing streaks. The bigger issue is that Al Jefferson is making the leap into relative anonymity. It started slowly as he only played in 9 of the C’s first 16 games. During those contests he averaged 9.3 points, 7 rebounds, and around 20 minutes. However, everything changed when Doc Rivers made Al a starter in early December. Jefferson seized the opportunity and has not looked back.

Since earning a starting role Al has grown as a player in numerous areas. He’s learned to battle adversity (constant losing and appendectomy recovery), play through pain (recent ankle sprain), and combat double teams. And of course the numbers have been there. Be it the 29 points against Nets, the 22 rebounds against the Pistons, the 15 points and 17 rebounds against the Pacers, or the 18 points and 17 rebounds against the Hawks. In fact Al is one of only 11 players averaging a double-double in points and rebounds. The others? Carlos Boozer, Marcus Camby, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, David Lee, Shawn Marion, Emeka Okafor, Jermaine O’Neal, and Zach Randolph. That’s good company.

And yet how many people outside of Boston realize this is happening? In a Celtics season dominated by mediocrity Big Al has been a bright spot. His play has been like watching the pilot episode of Arrested Development, catching a band that dominates small venues before signing its first big record deal, or stumbling upon a Krispy Kreme in New York 11 years ago. Sure he needs to improve his defense and foul shooting. But the bottom line is Al Jefferson is growing up right in front of our eyes. It’s all there - the pump fakes, foot work in the post, soft touch, great hands, desire to get better, and willingness to attack the league’s best (Duncan, Jermaine O’Neal, and every one else the C’s play). On top of that he wants to be a Celtic. This was never more evident than when he threatened to handcuff himself to the team bus as Allen Iverson trade rumors swirled. And sooner or later the rest of the NBA is going to catch on. Al will have his moment just as Antoine did when he unveiled an exaggerated Walker Wiggle at the 1998 All Star game. However, in Al’s case it will be a positive event rooted in his stellar play. I only hope he’s wearing the green and white when it happens.