In any sport, there are certain players who just have “it.”
What “it” is can be difficult to define. A certain look in their eyes, a driving determination from within, an immeasurable passion for the sport they play, an unshakable belief in themselves and their teammates, the ability to motivate and make those around them better and a winning attitude that won’t quit – these are all qualities that exist in “it” players.
Your Charlotte Bobcats have prided themselves in building around it players since their inaugural season in 2004-05. Gerald Wallace, Brevin Knight, Emeka Okafor, Sean May and Adam Morrison, just to name a few, have shown they have it since first putting on a Bobcats uniform.
Raymond Felton has it too.
He showed it when he led Latta (SC) High School to back-to-back state championships and when he guided the North Carolina Tar Heels to the 2005 NCAA National Championship.
He showed it when he started in just one of the Bobcats first 24 games in his rookie year and was content to become a student of the NBA game, learning from the veteran Knight while waiting for his chance to shine.
He showed it when he got that chance, starting in 48 of Charlotte’s final 50 games and earning Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors in February, March and April. At a time when many rookies hit the proverbial wall, Felton just kept getting better as the months progressed and it didn’t go unnoticed.
“In the second half of the season, when Ray had the ball you knew something good was going to happen,” guard Matt Carroll said. “He was going to make a play, he was going to score, he was going to set someone else up for a score. It wasn’t just his confidence, but our entire team’s confidence in him changed.”
Perhaps the defining moment of Felton’s rookie season came on March 22, 2006 in Cleveland. With Wallace (calf), Knight (groin), Okafor (ankle) and May (knee) all sidelined with injuries against the Cavaliers, the Bobcats needed someone to step up, and it was Felton that did. The 6-1 rookie point guard stood toe-to-toe with perhaps the best young superstar in the league, matching LeBron James almost shot-for-shot in Charlotte’s 120-118 overtime loss.
Felton finished with 30 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and five steals and scored 17 points in the final 17 minutes of the game, including 10 of the Bobcats 14 points in overtime.
“We needed some buckets and were trying to get a win,” Felton said of that performance. “I just decided to play and try to take over the game. I took it upon myself to step up and everything was clicking – the jump shot, going to the basket, getting and-ones, playing defense, everything was clicking.”
Unfortunately it wasn’t enough as James scored 37 points with 12 assists and 11 rebounds and hit the game-winning shot with 0.9 seconds remaining in the extra session. Following the contest, LeBron had words of encouragement for Felton.
“LeBron and I have known each other since high school, playing the at the ABCD Camp.” Felton said. “We know each other, so he came up to me after the game and said ‘Just keep doing your thing and you will be alright.’”
Felton took the advice to heart and used that game as a springboard through the final 14 games of the season, averaging 19.3 points and posting games of 30, 27, 23, 20 and 20 points. He also continued to work to get his teammates involved as evidenced by his seven double-doubles in those contests, compared to the five double-doubles he had in his first 67 games played.
More importantly, Felton’s and the Bobcats play translated into wins, as they won seven of their last 14 contests.
“Individual stats have never been what are most important to me,” Felton said. “I really don’t have any personal goals because no matter what you do, what’s going to happen is going to happen. I am thinking more about the team and what we all can do to make this team better.
“I truly believe in this team. I believe in these guys. I love the guys we have. We have great talent and are young, but we are NBA players just like everyone else. I think we have a great group of young guys and a good group of veterans who know how to win and know the game.”
Felton’s confidence in his teammates was evident prior to the start of the 2006-07 season, as for the second year in a row, he put himself out there with the prediction that the Bobcats would make the playoffs.
Despite Charlotte’s 0-2 start to the 2006-07 season, Felton’s confidence in his team and himself is still high, as evidenced by his 23-point performance in the Bobcats 92-88 win over the Cavaliers on Saturday. Felton knows in that win, the Bobcats gave their fans a true glimpse of what their team is capable of this season.
“I am going to say (we’re going to make the playoffs) every year,” he said. “If we don’t make it this year, which I know we are if we keep everybody healthy, but at the same time if we don’t make it this year, I am going to say it again next year. It’s going to keep coming out of my mouth because I am a winner, and I am trying to bring that attitude to this team and this area.
“This is a hard-working team, a team that plays hard and a team that doesn’t give up, but you know at the end of the day, you still have to get W’s. We just don’t have that respect yet, but it’s yet to come.