Former Mad Ants guard Oliver Lafayette has a prime seat for Game 7 of the NBA Finals, close enough to feel a possible ring slip onto his finger.
Signed by the Boston Celtics after the D-League season ended, Lafayette has been with Celtics throughout the playoffs. He's part of their 15-man roster, although he hasn't been on the 12-man game-day active roster during the playoffs.
He works out and shoots before the game with his teammates, then freshens up, slips into his street clothes and sits behind the Celtics bench for the action.
“The experience is the biggest thing,” Lafayette said in a phone interview. “Seeing what these guys do. Seeing how they play, seeing the plays they make, I've learned a lot.”
The Celtics face the Los Angeles Lakers at 9 tonight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, with the winner taking the NBA championship.
Lafayette's rise to a spot with the potential champs should be an inspiring one for other would-be NBA players. Before the season, he was cut by the Erie Bayhawks. Mad Ants president Jeff Potter, remembering the times Lafayette had burned the Ants in the past, talked with coach Joey Meyer and signed Lafayette and his fellow cut Erie teammate Rod Wilmont.
Lafayette took over at point guard, and finished the season averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. He helped lead the Ants to a franchise best 22-28 record, including eight wins in the last 10 games.
He played the final regular-season game with the Celtics after being signed, and scored seven points with four rebounds against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics were interested in signing him, not only as insurance in case of a playoff injury, but to use him as part of their summer-league team.
“It's a big break for me to be around these guys, to be able to learn from Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce,” Lafayette said. “Coming in here and being around them has given me a lot of confidence for the future.”
Lafayette said the atmosphere around the finals has been electric. If the Celtics win, Lafayette will earn an NBA championship ring and receive some portion of the $2.1 million playoff share the team would split.
“It's crazy,” he said. “It's amazing how this group of guys can stay focused.”
Lafayette acknowledges that it has been quite a season when he looks back at those early days of D-League preseason when Erie told him they were cutting him loose. He said playing in Fort Wayne set him up for the Celtics opportunity.
“Coach Meyer is a great coach to play for,” Lafayette said. “He let me play my type of game.”
Lafayette's game has taken him all the way to the NBA's ultimate showdown. No Mad Ants player has had a better view of what it takes to be an NBA star.