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Brad Rock: Welcome to NBA, Sundiata Gaines

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 12:46 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Sundiata Gaines' first morning as a celebrity was like all others, except the fact his image was still looping on ESPN from the previous night. And the fact his phone mail was jammed with what he described as "hundreds" of messages.

Then there was the cluster of reporters waiting for him at the Jazz's practice.

Twelve days ago, he was playing minor league ball in Boise. On Friday morning, he was a national story.

"I might have to change my (phone) number," Gaines said with a wide grin.

So here he is, 16 shots into his NBA career, and the kid named after a West African king has already made one of the memorable shots in Jazz history. You have John Stockton's buzzer-beater to send the Jazz to the 1997 NBA Finals. You have Jeff Malone's two free throws in triple-overtime to beat the Bulls, and Darrell's Griffith's late-scoring flurry against Dallas. Though not a last-second shot, Derek Fisher's dramatic 3-pointer in the 2007 playoffs against Golden State drew widespread publicity.

And you have Sundiata "Yada" Gaines, who came out of oblivion to upend the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers late Thursday night.

"Some people perform under pressure, some don't," said Gaines. "But I love pressure."

There have actually been several other memorable shots in Jazz history; it's just that the Jazz were on the losing end. There were a few by Michael Jordan that beat the Jazz, most notably the final bucket of the 1998 NBA Finals. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set the all-time NBA scoring record against the Jazz. Stockton's follow-up to Jordan's '98 basket skipped off the rim and into history.

All memorable shots of one kind or another.

So it was on Friday, Gaines showed up for practice as the interview du jour. It wasn't the first such shot he has ever made, just the most prominent. He made them in high school in New York, made them as a college player at the University of Georgia, made them in Europe, too.

"I've hit a lot of game-winners," he said, "because I have the ball in my hands a lot. But nothing compared to this."

This one happened not only before a packed house, but on national TV, too.

"I mean, that's big for me," he said.

Gaines had a respectable career prior to Thursday's game-winning 3-pointer. He was Georgia's all-time steals leader, named MVP of the 2008 SEC Tournament. He played 30 games in Italy and was averaging 24 points with the Idaho Stampede before the Jazz called him up on Jan. 5.

None of that portended what would happen Thursday at EnergySolutions Arena. Trailing by two with the clock waning, the Jazz sent the ball to Kyle Korver, who couldn't find space. He passed to Ronnie Price, who also found his way blocked. Price passed to Gaines, who was 26 feet out as the clock ticked to zero.

Yada, yada, yada.

That punctuated a wacky couple of weeks for Gaines. When he first met the media after being called up from Idaho, he admitted to being slightly taken aback by the exposure. Not that he's never been in the news. In high school, he was named by the New York Daily News as one of "10 Players You Just Have To See."

Problem is, few people want to travel to Boise to do so.

Gaines was on a 10-day contract in Salt Lake (which was extended to a second 10-day contract on Friday), living in a hotel and driving a rental car.

But when Deron Williams was injured early in the fourth quarter, Gaines was summoned. He exited with 2:04 remaining, but was reinserted with six seconds left. Cleveland's LeBron James had gone on a 20-point fourth-quarter rampage, inspiring the TV commentators to draw comparisons to Jordan's Jazz-throttling heroics.

Yet as time expired, it was Gaines who made like Mike, sinking the game-winning 3-pointer.

"I'm surprised I made it myself," he said.

Afterward, he leaped on the scorer's table and threw up his arms, a la M.J. In the locker room, the Jazz watched the replay in an atmosphere described by one team publicist as "pandemonium."

"They know him now! They know him now!" Price kept shouting.

In the same month he was introduced to the NBA, Sundiata Gaines introduced the NBA to him.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com

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