If any resident or former resident of Fresno is reading this, I have a question for you tonight:
Who should you really cheer for in the NBA Finals?
The valley has a bevy of Laker fans (yes, I'm one of them), but there probably aren't too many Magic fans out there.
I can probably imagine the sports stores at Fashion Fair and Sierra Vista Mall probably won't have too much Orlando merchandise, because Fresno is closer to L.A.
But I will say that if you go for the Lakers tonight, there might be one person on the other end you should cheer for.
Yes, Rafer Alston has stepped on some toes throughout his life. He got in trouble while at Fresno State, he's had arrests, he even tried smacking around Eddie House of the Celtics recently while on national television.
But cheer him, because of two things—he could be the best hope to win an NBA title as a former Bulldog, and because of his determination to get here.
No Fresno State player who played in the NBA, from Chris Herren to Courtney Alexander has ever made it this far. Alston has.
Alston has bounced around in the league and has lasted this long. At 32 years of age, he's gone from the Bucks, the NBDL, to even a time where he wanted to quit the game after his debacle in Toronto.
But through it all, Alston has survived because of his talent, passion, and determination to get to this point.
Alston is actually a student of the game, an excellent dribbler, he's a reliable shooter, and has shown himself to be a favorite of coaches.
His former Fresno City College basketball coach Steve Cleveland said this to the Fresno Bee today:
"He was such a great leader," Cleveland says. "If there was any chirping in a huddle, he put an end to it. The coaches were always in charge. The game meant a lot to him and he didn't take it for granted."
Even the most infamous of Fresno basketball coaches, former Bulldog coach Jerry Tarkanian, had this to say about Alston:
"He really was a good guy," Tarkanian said this week to the Fresno Bee. "First in practice every day. Last to leave every day. Things went wrong for him [in Fresno], but he's a great player."
Fresno State basketball fans probably remember Alston for being a part of the infamous 1997-1998 Bulldog team, the one with all the arrests, suspensions ,and even a segment on "60 Minutes."
But Bulldog roundball fans may now have to cheer him on starting tonight. He's perservered through the arrests and suspensions—as well as having to change his address several times.
He's also the first, and perhaps final hope, to win an NBA title as a former Bulldog. He might get embraced in the valley, the same way Trent Dilfer did when he won a Super Bowl with the Ravens back in 2001.
Whether if the valley is for the Lakers or Magic tonight, the city of Fresno should cheer on Rafer Alston throughout the NBA Finals.
We were ecstatic when Trent Dilfer got on the big stage. We might as well not leave Rafer out.