Mike Bibby, Superstar

Even in losing to the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers, former Arizona point guard Mike Bibby had a national coming out party for the ultra exciting Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference Finals. Even during the Lakers' post game celebration, the topic of choice at times was the play of Mike Bibby.

Bibby proved that if there is a modern day equivalent of George Gervin as the "Iceman" it is him. He made big shot after big shot, each one accompanied by the kind of pressure that would make normal humans crumble into oblivion. Of course, after watching him for two All-American years at Arizona, Wildcat fans were probably the least shocked of all those who watched NBC for the seven game masterpiece.

 To paraphrase the great Vanilla Ice, it was a case of "Ice, Ice Bibby".


Pressure seemingly does not exist in Bibby's world. He is a steadying influence on the frenetic Kings and even though he is exceedingly quick, the game unfolds in slow motion in his eyes. 


His game-winning shot to give the Kings a 3-2 series lead after game five proves he is a clutch player. Sacramento has two All-Stars in Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic but head coach Rick Adleman drew up the play specifically for Bibby. Even Webber, the heart of the Kings, said he had no doubt that Bibby would make the final shot.


"I didn't even watch the shot," Webber said after game five. "I just knew that Mike would make it."


While game five's shot was great it may have been game seven's performance that earned him the respect of not only those in the national viewing audience but from the game's two best players: Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.


"I just have so much respect for him," Bryant said in a dual interview with NBC's Jim Grey and Bibby. "Playing against him was the most fun I've had all year and he was the toughest match-up all year, too."


How often does NBC pull aside a guy from the losing team after a game seven and put him next to Kobe Bryant? How about never, that's how much respect Bibby earned over the past month or so in these playoffs.


Now we know why Bibby is one of only five players in the League chosen to represent the Jordan Brand of apparel. "His Airness" himself handpicked Bibby from what he saw in his game. Is there a bigger compliment in basketball than to have Michael Jordan select you for his team?


Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who had the dishonor of guarding Bibby the majority of the time, was asked by Grey during LA's post game celebration to assess Bibby's performance.


"Mike Bibby's been a great player in this league for three years," Fisher said, smiling. "Maybe no one else knew that but everyone that plays in this League did. He's very talented and he hit big shots for them all series long."


In what might be a case of cruel and unusual punishment, Fisher goes from guarding Bibby to trying to keep up with New Jersey's Jason Kidd in this week's NBA Finals. It is Kidd with whom Bibby has been most closely compared in the past. The two former Pac-10 Players of the Year share great playmaking skills, exceptional poise and are two of the most valuable players in the entire NBA.


And while Bibby can't rebound the way Kidd does, Kidd can't shoot his team over the top and onto victory the way Bibby can. Bibby might not ever be the master playmaker that Kidd is but then again, it's hard to say because the Kings run a lot of high post sets through Webber instead of traditional point guard-to-cutter plays like the Nets run. Essentially, Kidd is more physical and a better rebounder while Bibby is far more advanced offensively. But imagine Bibby in four years when he can match Kidd's experience.


"I think Jason Kidd is a better all-around player than Michael Bibby is right now but I cannot believe how well Bibby played against the Lakers," NBC analyst P.J. Carlesimo said during Monday's Pardon the Interruption on ESPN. "He played particularly well late in the game by making big shot after big shot and he proved how great he is. The difference is that Jason isn't anywhere near the shooter that Michael Bibby is."


Thanks to what Bibby was able to do against not only the Lakers but also in the Mavericks' series, he has reached a new level of greatness in the NBA. He was a "star-in-the-making" and one of the "bright young point guards" in the League before the postseason started. Now he is a full-blown Superstar likely destined for numerous All-Star appearances.


The Kings are going to be contenders for championships for years to come and because of the way Bibby emerged as the star of the team; he will now get the attention he failed to receive during three years of great play in Vancouver. The trade for Jason Williams is almost laughable now. Williams sat the bench in the fourth quarter a year ago for the Kings while Bibby dominated fourth quarters with clutch shot after clutch shot this year. Expect a lot more late-game heroics from Bibby in the future as well.


Sean Elliott is the only former Wildcat to appear in an All-Star game, doing so twice in his 13-year NBA career. Elliott also hit a clutch shot that will go down in history as one of the biggest in conference finals' history with his "Memorial Day Miracle" versus the Blazers en route to winning the 1999 world championship with the Spurs. There is no doubt that Elliott was a star.


Mike Bibby is now and will continue to be on a whole new level of stardom. As far as point guards go, it is realistic to rank only Jason Kidd ahead of Bibby. Gary Payton is great but he's getting old and doesn't play for a great team anymore. Dick Vitale's proclamation of former Duke guard Jay Williams as second only to Kidd in the world is ridiculous. Bibby is vastly superior and has something Williams clearly lacks: the ability to make a shot that matters with the game on the line.


The only man in college basketball history to lead his team to a National Championship as a starting point guard during his freshman year is about to take Wildcat fans somewhere they've never been: Into superstardom. We're talking about Sports Illustrated covers, ESPN features (he's already been on ESPN's "The Life") and maybe even an MVP award accompanying a Kings' world championship.


All of those things are coming for Mike Bibby and the Sacramento Kings.


{The Thrill can be reached via e-mail at Bh6677@aol.com}

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