Chauncey Billups wasn't familiar with the touching tale of friendship between Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes.
After being selected the first winner of the NBA's Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award on Sunday, Billups was overcome with gratitude and humbled to be mentioned in the same sentence. The Los Angeles Clippers' veteran guard studied up on the back story in the last few days.
The award is named in honor, two players who broke into the league with the Rochester Royals in 1955. Stokes emerged as one of the league's bright young stars, but was paralyzed in an on-court accident in 1958.
Then just 23 and with a young family, Twyman became Stokes' legal guardian and watched over him for 12 years until Stokes died in 1970. In an era that still dealt with a harsh racial divide, Twyman, who is white, organized charity games to help pay the medical bills for Stokes, who is black. The Twyman family would also have him over for Sunday dinners with the family.
"For him to make that sacrifice, it's unbelievable and the utmost sacrifice," Billups said before the Miami Heat hosted the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. "So for my name to be mentioned with his and anybody else going forward to be mentioned with his, I really don't feel worthy, to be honest with you. It's kind of embarrassing. I do feel like I'm a good teammate, but I haven't had to make that sacrifice.
Twyman was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983 and died last year.
"My dad looked at his relationship with his teammate very simply as he said in an interview, 'Maurice was on his own, something had to be done, and somebody had to do it. I was the only one that was there, so I became that someone,'" Twyman's son, Jay Twyman, said.
Commissioner David Stern pushed for the birth of the award as a way to educate younger players who were born years later about one of the league's most inspirational stories.
"It just dawned on us that this was a story worth retelling," Stern said. "Because it was so compassionate and so very much at the essence, we'd like to think, of one man caring for another."
The award is voted on by the players in the league and includes a statue depicting Twyman helping Stokes up off the court. Miami's Shane Battier finished second and New York's Jason Kidd finished third.
HARD TO TOP: Even after an impressive performance that allowed them to stun the Heat and win on the road in Game 1, point guard Tony Parker said the Spurs had a lot of areas to improve upon heading into Game 2.
Parker noted that the Spurs were beaten handily on the boards by LeBron James and the Heat. They also shot under 42 percent for the game and 30.4 percent from 3-point range — both well below their season averages — and, according to Parker, gave the Heat too many open jumpers on defense.
But there is one area that doesn't leave much for improvement, even in the perfectionist Parker's mind. The Spurs tied an NBA Finals record with just four turnovers in the game, including zero in the second half against a stingy Miami defense. Parker didn't turn it over one time.
"That's not going to happen again," Parker said. "I don't remember a game we only had four turnovers. But if we can keep it under 10, that's what we want. That's a realistic number. I don't think four is a realistic number."
JOEY'S BACK: The officials for Game 2 were Ken Mauer, Ed Malloy and Joey Crawford, the fiery referee who has been a target of conspiracy theories from Spurs fans for years.
Crawford is widely considered one of the league's best officials. He has also gained a reputation for a hot temper in part due to a run-in with Tim Duncan and the Spurs in a game against Dallas on April 15, 2007. Crawford ejected Duncan in the third quarter of that game while the star forward was sitting on the bench, leading to Duncan accusing Crawford of having "a personal vendetta" against him.
Crawford was suspended for his actions in that game, and later wrote in the New York Times that he regretted that confrontation.
Duncan and Parker appeared to be playfully mocking the drama with Crawford in a Halloween photo that was published online last year showing the two stars pointing toy weapons at a man dressed in a referee jersey with Crawford's No. 17 on the back.
An exhaustive independent study into the impact individual officials had on certain teams, which was first sited by the website Grantland, found that the outcome of Spurs games were not influenced at all by Crawford's presence on the court.
LEBRON'S GIFTS: One perk of playing for the Heat: LeBron James hooks you up with free stuff.
Several times a year, James distributes gifts to all his teammates as ways of saying "thank you" for being there for him. Shoes, apparel, electronics, cell phones, it has all found its way into Heat players' lockers for as long as he has been with Miami.
"It's the way I was raised, you share what you have," James said.
His latest gift: The newest Beats By Dre headphones, a gift he's given out in the past and handed out again on Saturday. James endorses the product and has a new commercial for the headphones.
Even though his teammates have gotten headphones before — and let's face it, they can certainly all afford to get their own — the gestures are always appreciated inside the locker room.
"The Battier family loves them some LeBron James," Heat forward Shane Battier said.
NO SYMPATHY: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked at the morning shoot-around about the demanding coaching style he used on Parker when he first came over from France as a 19-year-old rookie. Popovich would often yell and scream at the young point guard as he started to mold him into one of the top players at his position.
"Are you concerned I treated him badly? You seem very concerned about Tony's treatment," Popovich said to the reporter asking him. "Tony makes $900 million a year. ... He's fine."
FASHION STATEMENT: The Heat white out of the night came with a message.
Every shirt draped on every seat at American Airlines Arena read "Larry Loves Miami" on the front in a Twitter hash tag. There was also an image of the big prize known as the Lawrence O'Brien trophy.
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.