Before my time, there were guys like Wilt Chamberlin, Wes Unseld and Bill Russell that my dad would refer to when he spoke about ball players who dominated on the low block.
As a kid I was fortunate enough to see legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin McHale, Hakeem Olajuawan and Patrick Ewing among others patrolling the paint during the 80's and 90's.
I thought the age of teams having a premiere post presence would die with the retirement of Shaquille O'neal and Tim Duncan subsequently, but if you look closely (ironically not on the all-star roster) you'll see the pride of Prentiss Mississippi, Al Jefferson carrying the torch for the grown man's game.
Jefferson, the 6 foot 10 center of the Charlotte Bobcats has been absolutely wearing teams out in the painted area this season. Offensively, you would have to go into the NBA archives to compare his game to another player.
Averaging 21.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in an era where big men are shooting three pointers and trying to stretch the floor, Jefferson's game is much more simple and quite refreshing if you ask one of my seven uncles.
"Al is one of those guys where you know what he's going to do and you still can't stop him," one NBA GM said. "Just give him the ball on the left block and watch him work. You can send two or three guys at him and he will either score or find an open teammate."
He continued, "It is almost as if his game is foreign to so many would-be defenders because he makes seven footers look like a fish out of water trying to guard him down low."
"I have been so fortunate to learn from two of the best big men in the league, being coached by Kevin McHale in Minnesota and now Patrick Ewing in Charlotte." Jefferson said, "I also got a video of Moses Malone that Doc Rivers gave me during my rookie year, he said my game reminded him of his (Malone) and I agree, I still got the tape."
The hardest part about guarding Jefferson is that he has a litany of ways to get his shot off. "I developed my pump faking after spending some time with Paul Pierce during my first year in Boston" Jefferson said, "Paul was the master of that and I wanted it in my repertoire."
Like a pitcher who throws a slider, curve ball and a fastball, Big Al also uses a jump hook, an up-and-under move and has developed a deadly 15 foot jump shot that renders him virtually unstoppable.
"Putting one guy on me is not going to cut it" Jefferson said with a sly smile, "if you don't bring an extra man over it's going to be a long night for whoever is guarding me."
Since signing a three-year $40.5 million contract during the off-season, Jefferson has helped change the culture in Charlotte this year while keeping them right in the thick of the Eastern Conference Playoff race. Currently the Bobcats are sitting in the seventh spot with 10 games remaining.
"Charlotte is going to be one of those places that teams realize if they want a win, it ain't coming easy." Jefferson said. "This is not a place where you look at the schedule, see Charlotte and think you can take the night off, cause we are bringing it every night."
That was evidenced on Wednesday night when the Bobcats hosted the Brooklyn Nets, who have been the hottest team in the Eastern Conference since the all-star break.
Led by Jefferson's 35 points and 15 rebounds Charlotte outlasted the Nets and their 17 made three-point baskets in overtime 116-111.
Pierce who now plays for the Nets said after the game, "No one on the planet can guard him. We tried to double him. Single, triple—there’s nothing we could have done with him tonight. He was in that type of zone, and that’s the way he’s been playing."
In a venue that has hosted only one playoff game since being built in 2004, Time Warner Cable Arena was rocking like the playoffs were already underway on a cold night in March.
Teammate Kemba Walker said, "Having a guy like Al that you can get the ball to when you need a bucket, not only makes players and coaches confident, but the fans in the stands know he's going to get it done too and you can feel the energy in the building."