Penney off to San Antonio Spurs to realise his dream
For a guy a step closer to achieving his lifelong dream, Kirk Penney sure presented a glum visage yesterday when he confirmed he was heading to the NBA's San Antonio Spurs.
But it was a reflection of the class of the 29-year-old shooting guard that his immediate emotions concerned the team he was turning his back on, and not the one he was about to join in Texas.
So, instead of being giddy with excitement at the prospect of joining stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili at the Spurs, Penney had to fight back tears as he revealed the emotional cost of leaving behind his NZ Breakers team-mates just weeks away from the tipoff of their own league.
Penney flew out yesterday to attend the Spurs' veterans' camp, invited to stake his claim for one of their remaining roster spots for the upcoming season. No guarantees. Just give it your best shot.
He could be back. He probably won't.
The Breakers had no hesitation in releasing their star player – the second leading scorer overall at the recent world championships at 24.7 points per game – even though it left them somewhere between a rock and a hard place for the looming Australian NBL season.
It was an emotional time for all concerned when Penney's situation came to light at the North Shore club on Wednesday, and that was still vividly clear yesterday as he spoke about his chance to show he's better than two short stints in the NBA around 2003-05.
"The two values I hold very dear are loyalty and selflessness," said Penney as he blinked away tears. "I can see through this process I'm not necessarily looking loyal and it does look quite selfish. I just hope people understand it is a dream of mine and the Breakers have supported me throughout."
The classy 1.96m scoring machine made it clear that he left with somewhat of a heavy heart. "This is my family, we come here every day and work together every day and for a lot of us we've been together for a long time and there's been a goal to win a championship," he said.
"We've been through so much together and our bond has only gotten stronger. The timing of it is just awful, because I've left them in a tougher spot than I would have liked."
Penney admitted he hadn't reached the point yet of being excited about the opportunity in front of him.
"Right now it's just making sure everyone here understands what I'm trying to do. Once I'm on the plane to San Antonio I'm going to have to make a mindset shift where I'm embracing this opportunity. I need to play very, very well and have all my focus on performing otherwise this won't work out."
It was interesting also to hear Penney reflect on being a long way out of his comfort zone as he headed stateside.
"I'm putting myself into a situation where I have no guarantees, all for a dream," he said. "But I believe in myself, I know I want to give it a crack and if don't I'll look back on this moment in time and regret it."
The Tall Blacks standout was asked if he'd thought ahead to the first pre-season match against the much talked-about Miami Heat.
"I'm not going to get caught up in that," he said, noting how he'd been so nervous in his first NBA appearance in 2003 that he'd been unable to do himself justice.
"I need to get to that game first. I need to work hard, go to camp, and prove myself. The first position I need to take is getting through the first day of camp, then the second day."
But Penney did let us in on a glimmer of his excitement when he spoke about team-mate Corey Webster telling him this was "the dream of every New Zealand kid who plays basketball".
"I was one of those kids. Since a very young age when I picked up basketball cards I wanted to play in that league," Penney said.
"I remember I had a card of a white shooter who was 6'2, and I was like, 'Man, he's 6'2 and he's in the NBA. If I grow to 6'2 I might be able to get into the NBA."'
Penney's outgrown his physical ambition. It now remains to be seen whether he can achieve his hoops one.
WHO ARE THE SPURS?
The Spurs are based in San Antonio and play in the Western Conference of the NBA. With four championships, they trail only the Boston Celtics, LA Lakers and Chicago Bulls for league titles.
Last year: Finished seventh in Western Conference, upset the Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in first round of playoffs and were then swept 4-0 by the Phoenix Suns in semfinals.
The history: Four NBA Championships (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007) Four NBA Western Conference Championships (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007) 19 Division Titles (11 Midwest, 6 Southwest, 2 Central)
Star players: Tim Duncan: A future hall of famer and one of the greatest power forwards to have played in the NBA. At 34 is in his twilight years but still a tough cover. Tony Parker: The French point guard is perhaps as well known for being married to Eva Longoria as he is for his dazzling end-to-end play with ball in hand.