- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

EAST RUTHERFORD N.J. — After failing to get to a loose ball he thought he should have reached, New Jersey Nets forward Kenyon Martin delivered three hard — very hard — slaps to the press row table.

In the past, the blows might have been preceded by some ugly Martin shenanigans. He once regularly saw the words “what’s wrong with the NBA?” accompanying his name in newspaper stories and TV sound bites.

But things are different now for Martin, the 6-foot-9 No.1 pick in the 2000 NBA Draft. Rather than lose his head in Tuesday’s Game4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Martin outplayed Detroit’s Rasheed Wallace and finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds as the Nets evened the series with a 94-79 victory.

Now, following Friday night’s 127-120 triple-overtime win, the Nets have a chance to eliminate the visiting Pistons tonight in Game6 and move to the conference finals against the winner of the Indiana-Miami series

“I’ve grown up a lot,” said Martin, 26. “I don’t know what prompted it; it’s just maturing. That’s the way it goes, I guess. Some people get it, and some people don’t. I think I got it.”

After Game4, Martin, who has become the Nets’ most quoted player, was able to make light of the situation

“I didn’t break my hand [pounding the table], and I didn’t want to break one of your laptops and have to pay for it,” Martin told reporters jokingly.

This is a far cry from his second season of 2001-02, when Martin accumulated an NBA-high six flagrant fouls and lost $347,000 in salary because of fines and suspensions.

“A lot has changed since then,” Martin said.

These days the only ones complaining about Martin, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, are the teams he doesn’t play for.

“I love the passion,” said Lawrence Frank, the Nets’ interim coach. “That is what we are all about. Kenyon feels it, and you need that. You have to enjoy and love playing this game. The passion, emotion and the fire are contagious.”

Said point guard Jason Kidd: “No one will question that one of our strengths is feeding off Kenyon’s emotions. That’s a big part of what gets this team going.”

Even though he fouled out of the Nets’ dramatic victory Friday, Martin’s kinetic energy played a major role in putting the Nets in position to advance today. His 22 points, nine rebounds and two blocks didn’t hurt either.

Though the more volatile side of his personality gained him infamy early in his career, Martin has always had another side that is endearing. He readily signs autographs before and after games, making him a fan favorite at the Meadowlands.

And during last season’s playoffs as the Nets made their second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, Martin and wife Heather had their second child, a girl they named Cierra Reign. The child was born a month and a half prematurely, and Martin spent most of his free time with her in the hospital.

“That will change anyone, the birth of a child,” Martin said.

And even though he got into some spirited back-and-forth with Tim Thomas of the New York Knicks in the Nets first-round sweep this postseason, Martin seems years removed from the perception many had of him.

He was named to his first All-Star Game this season, and although he turned down the invitation, Stu Jackson, NBA executive vice president of operations and a Team USA selection committee member, recently acknowledged that he had approached Martin concerning his interest in playing for the Olympic team.

Martin rejected the chance of going to Athens because he said he wanted to be nearby as contract talks begin this summer.

“I don’t know what my future is. That’s the most important thing. If the contract was taken care of last year, I’d be playing [in the Olympics],” Martin said.

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