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May 02, 2003

Singing assist for Cheeks
By Dan Patrick

Portland Trail Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks had his own American Idol moment at Portland's home playoff opener: 13-year-old Natalie Gilbert was attempting to finish her rendition of the national anthem when she forgot the words. That's when Cheeks came to her rescue by putting his arm around her and helping her finish the song.

Maurice Cheeks
Maurice Cheeks helps 13-year-old Natalie Gilbert finish her rendition of the national anthem.
Soon the announced crowd of 19,980 joined in and sang with them. It was simply another assist for the former star point guard. And it was a scene that even Simon Cowell wouldn't bring himself to criticize.

Cheeks' singing performance may not have been the best, but it may have been the most inspirational. Not to sound hokey, but isn't that the type of behavior we should be celebrating?

It's easy to point out the point totals of Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki or Shaquille O'Neal and say that's what playoff basketball is all about. But are their numbers better than Cheeks' actions? I don't think so.

What Cheeks did was the perfect antithesis to what others did during the regular season. This season players and coaches have gone ballistic on opposing players, teammates, fans, coaches and referees. It's great to see a coach go up to someone and put his arm around them to comfort and help them -- rather than to restrain them.

By walking out there and helping Gilbert, Cheeks showed a side of compassion that those who have followed his career have always been aware of. Throughout his career he's been regarded as one of the best people to know in the league. Even when he was asked about it after the game, he self-deprecatingly said he wished he could help his players the same way.

Can you imagine singing a song in front of more than 19,000 people and forgetting the words? Can you imagine the fear and consternation going through Natalie's mind as she stood there in front of all those people? Can you imagine being a 13-year-old kid going through that?

Maurice Cheeks could, and he did the right thing. So far, his simple actions have become -- to me -- the defining moment of the playoffs. To retool an NBA catchphrase, his actions were fantastic.

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 Anthem Assist
Dan Patrick Show: Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks put another assist in the record book.