It’s real surreal. It’s great. —Jazz point guard Trey Burke, on competing in the Rising Stars Challenge
NEW ORLEANS — If the old TV show “This Is Your Life” was to do a reboot, it could’ve picked Friday for Trey Burke.
Before his team began its morning practice for the Rising Stars Challenge, Burke was hanging out at All-Star Weekend flanked by two of his closest friends.
On his left: Jared Sullinger, his childhood pal and high school teammate.
On his right: Tim Hardaway Jr., his college pal and Michigan teammate.
In the middle: One happy Utah Jazz player, whose hoops dreams are playing out in real life, just like the conversations he used to have while growing up with Sullinger in Columbus, Ohio, and while tearing it up with the Wolverines with Hardaway for two years in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“I think it’s kind of funny,” Sullinger said, “because we all talked about being in the NBA and making it to All-Star weekend, and now we’re here.”
All the more fun that they ended up on the same side.
“It’s real surreal,” Burke said. “It’s great.”
Burke and his two buddies from different eras were teammates together for the first time Friday night in an entertaining but defenseless showdown.
The Jazz rookie playmaker had a rough night with just six points on 3-of-12 shooting. He also dished out six assists in Team Webber’s 142-136 loss to Team Hill at Smoothie King Center.
Hardaway poured in 36 points after getting in a fun second-half shootout with Dion Waiters (31 points), and Sullinger contributed 13 points and two blocked shots.
“Dion Waiters and Tim Hardaway put on a show,” Burke said. “That’s what it’s about: All-Star game, those two going at it. Obviously, I hate losing (and) I could have played better, but those two, that’s all we needed to see tonight. It was a great performance for them.”
Weber State product Damian Lillard began his five-event weekend with 13 points, five rebounds and five assists in a game-high 30 minutes and MVP Andre Drummond had a monster showing with 30 points and 25 rebounds in the win.
Burke will remember the experience more than the statistics or outcome.
And, not surprisingly, a few stories came up when old friends reunited.
“There are a lot of stories,” Sullinger said. “Some can be said and some cannot.”
Also not surprisingly, the stories they shared involved competition, including against one another.
Sullinger fondly remembers getting the early edge in one-on-one competitions and occasionally getting Burke mad by calling him by his given name "Alfonso" instead of his lifelong nickname "Trey." Burke would often get the last laugh because the Celtics big man admitted, “I couldn’t really keep up with Trey.”
Sully also smiled while recounting how the young Ohio kids would play a game in which they had to name different NBA players from different eras to kill time while traveling around the AAU circuit.
“We played so many games,” Sullinger said. “We filled our minds up with the NBA, so much that we wanted to play in the NBA.”
Burke remembers those pick-up games at his next-door neighbor’s house. He also smiled while telling about a different game they’d play at his house when they were 12 or 13. For that one-on-one competition, they’d put a bucket in the basement and then they’d battle against each other, dribble on the carpet and try to score with a rubber ball.
“We would always put ourselves in situations, down three with 10 seconds or something. If you were down, you had to find a way to come back and win,” Burke said. “We were competing. I think that pushed our vision even farther. It was fun. It kinda seems like a kiddie game, but we was really going at it.”
Sullinger, a playful 6-9, 260-pound beast, leaned over and tickled Burke’s ear while the 6-1 Jazz player explained their basement game.
“C’mon, man,” Burke said, flicking Sullinger’s hand away. “What’s up?”
For a moment, it was like Burke was a fourth-grader getting teased by his fifth-grade friend.
“One thing about Trey,” Sullinger said, “he never changes.”
Neither, of course, does their banter about who’d win the most as kids.
“I would win most of the time,” Burke said. “He’d win sometimes.”
Sullinger scoffed. “You would never win most of the time.”
Friday’s game wasn’t representative of the Trey Burke both Sullinger and Hardaway played with back in the day.
Sullinger and Burke were teammates going back to when the Jazz player was in the fourth grade, and they enjoyed and earned success from the AAU circuit, to their middle school team and at Northland High School.
Hardaway and Burke led Michigan to its first Final Four since 1993 before falling to Louisville. The athletic Knicks guard pointed out big buckets — not the ones in a basement — that Burke would regularly make in college, including an overtime-forcing 3-pointer against Kansas during the Wolverine’s Sweet 16 win and a key layup he made over Sullinger against Ohio State.
“Trey is not a big-shot taker, he’s a big-shot maker,” Hardaway said. “He wants the ball in his hands in those situations. We understood that. Hopefully, his team understands that now.”
The Jazz do. Just last Saturday, Burke sank a game-clinching jumper with 24.2 seconds remaining in a 94-89 win over the Miami Heat.
“You’ve got to have heart,” Hardaway said. “You can’t shy away from the moment and he doesn’t do that.”
It was Burke, who'll compete in the Skills Challenge Saturday night with Lillard, who appreciated how his college teammate did that Friday. Hardaway hit 12 of 23 shots, including 7 of 16 from 3-point range, against the red-hot Waiters (10-14, 4-6).
“It was exciting to me,” Burke said.
The New York shooting guard was thrilled that he and Burke were able to catch up for about 30 minutes at the team hotel Thursday night, just chatting about the Jazz and Knicks and Michigan and whatever else old friends talk about.
It was just for a day, but Hardaway loved having Burke on his team again.
“He was a great teammate. He always did his work, always got there on time, always put the team first,” Hardaway said. “Most importantly, he knew how to speak to people when he was out there on the court. He knew how to encourage people. That’s what made him a true captain.”
Their shared support, laughter, hard work and shared memories, good and bad, are what keeps Burke and his buddies bonded as true friends.
“It was great just to see their families, to get back around them,” Burke said. “We’re never really around each other anymore. It’s great. It’s an experience that we’ll always remember. We’re going to continue to enjoy it until Sunday.”