Spurs assistant Ime Udoka went all-out to sign LaMarcus Aldridge
Most of the reasons LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the San Antonio Spurs are obvious — the best coach in the NBA, a tradition of winning, a chance to contend for a championship immediately while play alongside at least one future Hall of Famer. But had it not been for an assistant coach on Gregg Popovich’s staff, Aldridge may have made a different decision.
Ime Udoka, a 38-year-old former NBA player who played with Aldridge in Portland when LaMarcus was a rookie, made an incredibly persuasive pitch to the then-free agent. Not only that, but Udoka got on a plane with Aldridge and flew halfway across the country just to deliver it.
In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today Sports, Aldridge explained how Udoka flew with him from Los Angeles to Dallas just so the two could chat on the plane.
“It (the meeting process) was done. I was down to two teams, Phoenix and the Spurs,” Aldridge recalled. “I thought (Udoka) was staying in San Antonio for the summer, so I was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a jet going to Dallas. You could get a flight from Dallas to San Antonio (to head home).’ So he was like, ‘Cool.’
“So he gets on the jet, and I’m like, ‘We’re leaving. You should buy your flight (to San Antonio from Dallas) on the plane. Go buy your flight.’ He was like, ‘I ain’t buying no flight.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ He’s like, ‘I live here (in Los Angeles) right now. I’m flying just to answer any questions that you have.’ I was like, ‘Man, you’re crazy.’ I said, ‘Get off the plane.’ He said, ‘No, I’m going to answer any question that you have.’ So I’m like, ‘You don’t have to do this. Don’t do this.’ He’s like, ‘Nah, I’m not getting off.’”
Udoka flew with Aldridge and the 30-year-old’s kids and mom, helping to address any concerns Aldridge might have about joining the Spurs.
“Everybody was making this big fuss about how I’m not going to be able to take shots anymore, or be the scorer that I am, and he was just telling me, ‘We need a guy to score down there. Tim (Duncan) is older, and we need a guy to command a double team down there,’” Aldridge added. “So I was like, ‘Maybe I’m not a Spur, because I’ve been averaging 23 (points per game) for the last three to four years, and maybe I don’t fit into y’all’s system of let’s all average 17 (points per game).’ And he was like, ‘No, we’re not trying to change who you are and make you average 16 or 17. We want you to be you, because you’re going to help us be better and vice versa.’ He kind of reaffirmed that they didn’t want to change me, and that who I am is ok.”
That sounds a lot better than the plan the New York Knicks had to try to convince Aldridge to sign with them.
It’s certainly possible that Aldridge would have signed with the Spurs anyway, but Popovich was fortunate to have an assistant with a connection to Aldridge who was willing to help that much during the process.