BOSTON — "It didn't hit me until I stepped out on the court, got those first minutes, scored those first points, got those first assists, that first steal," Philadelphia 76ers guard Tim Frazier said following his NBA debut on Friday night. "That's when it really hits you and then you just play the game of basketball you've been playing all your life."
Frazier stepped out on the parquet with 6:31 remaining in the first quarter of the Sixers' loss to the Boston Celtics wearing the only sneakers to his name. When the former Penn State point guard received the call to join Philly on a 10-day contract in Boston on Wednesday night, the Maine Red Claws' facilities were closed for the evening and he was unable to gather his personal collection of shoes stowed away in his Portland Exposition Building locker.
"Basically, you've got 30 minutes to pack your bags and head down to Boston," Frazier said. "We had a car ship me down. I met the team on Thursday for practice and played today."
Frazier played his first NBA regular season minutes in grey, black and red adidas The KOBEs. The sneakers were originally released in 2000, back when Frazier was in middle school — adidas since relaunched the shoe as the Crazy 1 in December 2013. The KOBEs are constructed like cinderblocks, designed to look like the Audi TT Roadster. They're sneakers you would wear if you were trying to dress up like the Tin Man. They're clunky, the antithesis of the flywire, light-weight era that has swept the basketball shoe game.
He still managed to perform. With starting point guard Michael Carter-Williams sidelined with an ailing right foot, Frazier dished out 11 assists to just two turnovers in 35 minutes off the bench. He quarterbacked the Sixers' third quarter rally that trimmed an 18-point halftime deficit to just six after three periods. He helped trim Boston's lead to 80-77 with 8:14 left to play.
The bulky sneakers didn't prevent him from jetting past Marcus Smart and subsequently spinning Avery Bradley with a mean in-and-out dribble for a floating, fast-break, and-1, lay-in.
"Like that, you lose your starting point guard and your backup point guard, the rug is pulled from underneath us and you shake a kid's hand yesterday and you give him the ball," Brett Brown said. "You really don't have anything to go to, you can't run plays, you've got no winks and blinks and notions within our structure and it ends up, ‘Let's just guard and run,' and run a few things that we showed him. But for Tim to come from Maine, drive [down] 95 and change his uniform and go get 35 minutes in an NBA game, that's a hell of a story."
The Sixers were pleased with Frazier's poise and control of the point guard position during his two-week stint with the team this summer. He spent about a week training with the team at PCOM before playing five games and starting four for Philly during the Las Vegas summer league.
Boston saw enough in him to extend Frazier a training camp invite. He played a grand total of 23 minutes in four preseason games with the Celtics before Boston waived him and assigned him to their D-League affiliate in Maine.
Frazier starred for the Red Claws, climbing to No. 9 in the D-League Prospect Watch while ranking second in the league in assists (8.9 per game), ninth in steals (2.0 per game) and, amongst guards, seventh in rebounding with just his 6'1, 190-pound frame.
"He's just a really quick floor leader," Brad Stevens said. "He can pass, he can score, he can play. He's clearly, from a speed stand point, a guard at this level."
Frazier frequently ventured down to TD Garden to watch Boston play during his stint with the Red Claws. In fact, he was in attendance for the Celtics' loss to Miami on Super Bowl Sunday, never imagining he would be playing against the very team that waived him on that very same court only four days later.
Now, only seven players in league history have totaled 11 assists in their NBA debut: Carter-Williams, Damian Lillard, Jason Kidd, (the original) Isiah Thomas, Maurice Cheeks, Ernie DiGregorio and Frazier.
"It's a great story," Brown said. "To that kid's credit, he delivered."
The Sixers flew back to Philly late Friday night. With Carter-Williams doubtful to play Saturday against the visiting Charlotte Hornets, expect another high-usage evening for the rookie point guard.
Frazier's not going to change his shoes anytime soon, either.