Rafer Alston turns 38 today. While he never reached superstar status in the NBA, the streetball legend went from the playground to a starting point guard playing in the NBA Finals. Today, we remember the man they call Skip 2 My Lou.
From a young age, Alston was known for his dribbling ability at New York playgrounds. He grew up in Jamaica, Queens, and would eventually play one season of college basketball at Ventura College, Fresno City College and Fresno State, respectively.
It was only after his college career, in 1999, when all of his playground brilliance was captured in an AND1 Mixtape. Over time, people simply refer to this 19-minute collection as “The Skip Tape”:
Alston finally got a chance to play in the NBA in 1999 with the Milwaukee Bucks. In three seasons with the Bucks, he never averaged more than 13.4 minutes per game, and was not a part of their regular rotation. Alston came in to the league with the reputation of a playground player. He would need to prove to coaches and teammates that he could adjust to the more systematic approach of the pro game.
At times, he would still show off some of his playground tendencies on the court, which invited more skepticism as to whether he could make the adjustment on the highest court in the land:
During the 2003-04 season, Alston played in all 82 games with the Miami Heat, starting 28 of them. With increased minutes, he averaged 10.2 points, 4.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Even though Alston only shot 37.6 percent from the field, he was a 37.1 percent three-point shooter. He was not a finished product, but it appeared he was turning a corner.
That off-season, he signed a six-year, $29 million deal with the Toronto Raptors. At age 28, he would finally get a chance to run his own team. But his career took a bad turn in Toronto. On the court, he averaged career highs, scoring 14.2 points and 6.4 assists in 34 minutes per game. Unfortunately, he also got into several altercations during the season, including an alleged fight with head coach Sam Mitchell.
Alston even threatened to quit the team and retire after a game in December. He was later suspended two games by the Raptors for conduct detrimental to the team. Mitchell spoke about Alston and how he needed to grow:
“It would be helpful for him as far as furthering his career,” Mitchell said. “His passion is his strength, but sometimes it can be a weakness. You got to control your emotions.
Mitchell thinks his point guard shoots too much. The Raptors are 1-8 when Alston scores 20 or more points.
“I’ve spoken to him about it. Our point guard has to lead us in assists. I don’t think a point guard on our team needs to lead us in scoring and in field goal attempts,” Mitchell said. “That has been a concern, especially since his field goal percentage is 38%. It’s not where you want it to be.”
After only a season in Toronto, he was traded to Houston.
He ended up on the Orlando Magic in a mid-season trade during the 2008-09 season. With Jameer Nelson battling injury, Alston started all 23 playoff games that season, as the Magic made it all the way to the NBA Finals. Even as his team was succeeding, there were still moments when Alston needed to rein his emotions in. This happened during a second round game against the Boston Celtics:
In the Finals, Alston averaged 10.6 points per game. He started every game in that series, which the Magic lost to the Lakers in five closer-than-expected contests, despite many feeling the Magic got blown out in retrospect.
Alston would finish his career with brief stints in Miami and New Jersey. While his pro career was turbulent at times, it’s still incredible to look back at how far his basketball journey took him, from the playgrounds of NYC, to a heralded street baller, to an established pro in the NBA.
Happy birthday, Skip, we’ll always remember you.
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