Jan. 23--He's about keeping friends happy. You can bring up Boris Diaw's fascination with Magic Johnson or the cultural divide between Basketball here and in Europe.
But the base reason for Diaw's passion for passing is this: The guy takes care of those around him. That's what came of rooming in a Paris dormitory at 16 with best friend Tony Parker and French teammates up and down the hallway.
"I've always done it," Diaw said of the passing that remade the Charlotte Bobcats at midseason. "When I was young, I was playing with my best friends. I was happy when they were happy, and they were happy when they scored.
"I wouldn't have been happy scoring the ball every time."
In the star-driven, points-obsessed NBA culture, Diaw is an anomaly: The Bobcats' Larry Brown has to coax him to shoot more, just as all his coaches did.
Averaging 13.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists, Diaw will give up his own 50-percent shot opportunity to search out a teammate's 70-percent opportunity. He's daring and strong enough to pass one-handed 20 feet through traffic for a teammate's layup.
And tonight he gets to show off what the Suns gave away when Phoenix makes its one visit to Time Warner Cable Arena. Since Diaw and teammates Raja Bell and Sean Singletary arrived via trade last month, the Bobcats are 10-9, a huge improvement on the team's 7-16 start.
Call that the Diaw Effect: A process that started in Senegal and France's wine country, wound through a Paris sports academy, then detoured through Atlanta and Phoenix on the way to Charlotte.
They say in Diaw's native Bordeaux that the wine's no good unless the vines are good. In that way, Diaw has great roots.
His mother was one of France's top Basketball players, a national team center who still teaches the sport. His father was a high jumper in Senegal. Who wouldn't be an athlete with those genes?
The French saw enough potential that he was boarding at sports academies at 13, traveling home only on weekends. By 16 he was in Paris, living at INSEP, France's national academy of sports.
He roomed with Parker, now a star with the San Antonio Spurs, and was also a teammate of Ronny Turiaf, now a power forward with the Golden State Warriors.
INSEP was an incubator for Olympic athletes -- volleyball, track and field, fencing ... all the sports were represented.
"Only great memories," Diaw said. "It was school from 8 to 11, then practice, then lunch. Then school again, then practice again. And then homework.
"But it was a good time because we were such friends."
Practices were different from what Diaw would have experienced in the United States. Rich Sheubrooks, the Bobcats' director of global scouting, says American coaches tend to segregate players by size.
In Europe, guards and big men do the same drills to refine the same skills.
"Boris is such a product of that system," Sheubrooks said in a phone interview from Europe. "He was 6-8 at 16, so an American coach never would have let him leave the paint. He would have ended up an undersized big man with conventional skills; not the passer, not the ball-handler, not the shooter he is now."
Diaw's youth was the NBA's golden age, growing up in the '80s and '90s, with kids around the world idolizing Michael Jordan or Larry Bird or Magic Johnson.
"I always loved his ability to pass and his unselfishness," Diaw said of Johnson. "And, hey, who wouldn't want to be Magic?"
Back then, Diaw thought it would take a Magic trick to play in the NBA.
"The most confident of us was Tony; he was always talking about going," Diaw said. "For the rest of us, it was maybe if we have a good career in Europe and we turn 29 or 30 and we're still in our prime, then maybe we could go to the NBA."
Then came the 2001 and 2002 drafts: Spain's Pau Gasol and Parker went first round and had quick impact. China's Yao Ming went first overall in 2002 and two of the next six picks were international players. Suddenly it wasn't such a surprise Diaw would go 21st to the Atlanta Hawks in '03.
And then it stalled. Diaw got lost in a more conventional NBA offense of isolation plays and screen-and-rolls.
"We saw every day in practice what he could do," said former Hawks center Joel Przybilla. "He never played enough to develop the confidence to do it in games."
Not until then-Suns coach Mike D'Antoni got him to Phoenix. D'Antoni had coached in Europe and saw the possibilities of a 6-8 guy with massive hands, quick feet and the court vision to find every teammate. The Suns were running half their plays through Diaw.
Then D'Antoni left Phoenix after last season, disenfranchising Diaw in a new offense. But Bell knew just what this trade would do for the Bobcats.
"He makes the easy, right Basketball play time and time again," said Bell. "We don't put any stock in team Basketball in the states. This is made to be a superstar (-driven) league.
"We don't always understand team here. They do. He does."
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