I feel like I've been competing at a high level for years now. I finally have the opportunity for it to pay off. —Paul Millsap
NEW ORLEANS — He wasn’t a media magnet like LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Chris Paul, but Paul Millsap had the privilege of enduring almost as many questions as there are beads on Bourbon Street.
Nobody was happier than Millsap to be in the position to endure the media madness — 1,800-plus credentials were given — that accompanies an All-Star weekend invitation.
The 29-year-old has, after all, waited seven years to be in the position.
For Millsap, the questions were about his time with the Utah Jazz from 2006-13. They were about the power forward’s revamped stretch-four role and increased 3-point shooting with the Atlanta Hawks.
There were questions about his favorite basketball movie (“'Love & Basketball' — everybody loves a love story"), and questions about what ingredients he’d put in a Paul Millsap Smoothie (chocolate and peanut butter, of course). Questions were posed about what mascot needs a makeover a la Pierre the Pelican, about video games, about fellow former Louisiana Tech and Utah Jazz star Karl Malone, about the biggest snub ("One of my good friends: Al Jefferson"), even about what former player he’d most like to dunk on.
“Maybe Dikembe Mutombo,” he said.
Millsap didn’t reveal if he’d do a finger wag at the retired NBA center after swatting his shot.
For a change, Millsap is just thrilled that he was given a thumbs-up at All-Star time instead of having fingers wagged at him.
“I feel like I’ve been competing at a high level for years now,” Millsap said. “I finally have the opportunity for it to pay off.”
All the better that the Grambling, La., native’s All-Star debut is in his home state.
“I think it’s equally special to have the opportunity to play in front of my family (in Louisiana) with it being my first one. It’s an amazing feeling,” Millsap said. “Hopefully, I’ll get some minutes.”
Millsap laughed about what might happen when his name is called.
“I’m going to be the one guy diving on the ground for loose balls,” he said, laughing. “No, man, I’m going to get out there and have fun.”
That’s precisely what Millsap has done in becoming the oldest first-time All-Star (of six newcomers).
Not only has the 6-foot-8 player been able to outwork taller opponents inside, as usual, but he’s also become a serious, consistent threat from outside with the Hawks. This year, Millsap is averaging 17.6 points with a career-high 50 3-pointers, 8.2 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.1 blocks.
Hawks big man Pero Antic, selected to the Rising Stars Challenge, scoffed at the notion that Millsap has a size disadvantage.
“Undersized. Everybody think that it’s easy, but it’s not easy to play against Paul even defense or offense,” the 6-foot-11 Macedonian said. “He’s very smart, experienced and he can attack you inside and outside.”
The (Mail)man who paved the way for Millsap at Louisiana Tech and in Utah couldn’t be prouder, even if Malone admits it’s different to see him succeed in a non-Jazz uniform.
“We had it on track for a minute. He went to Louisiana Tech. He was in Utah. He’s a power forward,” Malone said, chuckling. “(Then) he went to Atlanta. I still like the South. I live here. It’s hard (to see him in a different uniform), but it’s just part of it.”
Many Jazz fans, who cheered for the no-nonsense, lunch-pail-sporting Millsap since he was picked in the second round in 2006, have experienced the same feelings since the organization decided to let the power forward go elsewhere last offseason.
Millsap doesn’t feel like this is a moment of vindication against Utah’s management, though.
“Not at all. I don’t hold grudges. I don’t hold nothing against them (Jazz brass) because without them I wouldn’t be here,” Millsap said. “They drafted me, they took a chance on me. I’m grateful for the years that I’ve been there. But with all good things, things come to an end. I can understand what happened, so I’m not mad about it.”
Simply moving to the Eastern Conference boosted Millsap’s All-Star chances, considering the West has a bevy of top-tier forwards, including Durant, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis and Dirk Nowitzki.
To wit, Millsap has put up similar numbers before in Utah, including his 17.3 scoring average in 2010-11 and two years with eight-plus rebounds an outing.
“He was fighting an uphill battle in the West,” Malone said. “He’s having an All-Star year. I think he had All-Star years in Utah, and I think that him having an opportunity, absolutely, it’s great for him. He play. He’s kind of got an old-school game. He just goes out and plays hard, and I like that.”
It was obvious from his constant smile during an occasionally odd and long interview session that Millsap is just loving that he’s finally in the All-Star mix. He’s been floating since getting a phone call from Atlanta’s Dominique Wilkins informing him that he’d been selected by NBA coaches.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” he said. “It was a great moment.”
It’s a moment he’s been working on since leaving La. Tech as the three-time NCAA rebounding champ and then backing up Carlos Boozer and then succeeding in a starter’s role despite giving up a few inches and then waiting and waiting for his time to come.
“This isn't something I just came up with overnight. I felt like a long time ago I can be an All-Star,” he said. “When I finally got my opportunity to start, I felt like if I put in the work, I could eventually be one.”
Nobody will question that part.