Roll with the new

Welcome to Media Day, the NBA equivalent of the first day of school, where flashing cameras capture young millionaires while ambivalent sportswriter types mill about. I’m here toda.y to talk with DeJuan Blair, the 6-foot, 8-inch, 265-pound Pittsburgh native who the Spurs selected with the 37 pick in the draft and who my father has already dubbed the Randy Moss of the NBA.

“It could be a little early in the year,” cautions a Spurs insider when I mention my interest in Blair. “While several outside folks have already made him the next Charles Barkley, I think internally we don’t know what his role will be. With Tim `Duncan`, Antonio `McDyess`, Matt `Bonner`, and Theo `Ratliff`, we already have a lot of talent on the frontline.”

“Just being here is amazing. I love it,” says Blair in a somewhat reserved tone. “They welcomed me, and I just can’t wait to see what all it comes with.”

“I just want to keep working hard,” he repeats, still reserved. “I’m just gonna play me. I don’t take myself as being like anybody because I’m DeJuan Blair, I’m not Charles Barkley. My body type is just like his. It’s a compliment saying I’m gonna be like that, so I’m just gonna work with it.”

When talk turns to his second love Blair’s eyes finally light up and you catch a glimpse of him as a person, as opposed to a professional athlete. Now that French rhyme-sayer Tony Parker has unofficially hung up the microphone, DeJuan fills the void as the team’s resident music-maker working in the medium of hip-hop. Blair’s passion is channeled through his off-court endeavor, Put On Productions, and his musical influences range from Sam Cooke, to T-Wayne, to yes, Amare Stoudemire.

Last season, along the way to being named the Big East Co-Player of the Year and an AP, USBWA, and NABC First Team All-American, Blair dropped the Back At It mixtape, featuring lifelong Pittsburg friends Chicken and Young Meez. Hosted by Blair, the mixtape is a candid snapshot of street life in the steel city, an area often overshadowed in hip-hop by bigger brother Philadelphia. Aided by Auto-Tune, Blair’s singing voice is featured on several cuts, including standouts like “Tonight,” “Drop and Move,” and “2 Hard Living”, which features the most memorable Sam Cooke interpolation this side of Ghostface Killah’s “The Soul

“I like to sing,” says DeJuan, reflecting on the poignant track, after practice a couple of weeks later. “That’s just all of us. All of our family and friends who passed and it came from the heart. That’s one of my favorite songs. I listen to that before every game, and it just relaxes me.

“I love music,” he continues. “I love to work with it. That’s what I like to do on my off time, just to sing and make songs, listen to them rap. I think singing shows the sense of humor in me, because you see my big body and everything and then you hear me sing, it’s just nice.”

On the court, Blair has exceeded all expectations as the highlight of the San Antonio pre-season, and captured the hearts of Spurs fans, particularly those on the internet. With a deft combination of hustle, instinct, and determination, he has thus far proved that rebounding is universal and that he should be a fixture in Coach Pop’s regular-season rotation. Blair is a living example that in the NBA, it’s better to live on your feet than die on your knees, a quality those close to him have recognized all along.

“It was really just the fire from all the negative that really made him go,” says lifelong buddy Andre “Chicken” Jones. “On draft night when he didn’t go first round, we couldn’t find him in the hotel. Once he got picked we were just so happy, everybody started going crazy. DeJuan finally came around and he was just crying and he looked at me. I was just like, ‘You did it.’

“It’s really a big triumph because there were so many doubters, and there were so many people telling him that he’s not gonna do it, from the time that he had his first ACL tear,” Jones continues. “So to really see that all the work he put into it, and the emotion he put into it, he really got where he wanted to go. A lot of people don’t get to reach their dream, and he’s 19-20 years old and he’s reaching his dream already. That right there is amazing.”