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Irish Coffee: Kobe Bryant’s Ray Allen praise wasn’t easy

Wake up with the Celtics [1] and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

For the first half of this month, Boston was the hub of the NBA universe, as the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics welcomed four other championship contenders to the TD Garden — the Mavericks, Magic, Lakers and Heat — in a span of nine days. Sports Illustrated writer Ian Thomsen followed the C’s every step of the way for a cover story [2] in the magazine’s issue that hits stores this week.

From each game, Thomsen uncovered some pretty juicy anecdotes. Here are the highlights …

Mavericks 101, Celtics 97

Celtics 91, Magic 80

Lakers 92, Celtics 86

Celtics 85, Heat 82

SOURCE: DON’T EXPECT JERMAINE O’NEAL [14] BACK

In that same SI, writer Chris Mannix breaks down some of the worst contracts handed out during the most recent offseason. And surprise, surprise, Jermaine O’Neal‘s deal tops the list [15].

The C’s big man has played just 17 games this season and wasn’t expected to return from left knee surgery until at least April. However, as one source told the magazine, that might be wishful thinking:

“They say he will be back in time to help in the playoffs,” says one scout. “Try and find someone who believes that’s going to happen.”

IS ANTHONY PARKER [16] ON CELTICS RADAR?

A free agent at the end of this season and under contract for $2.86 million, Cavaliers [17] guard Anthony Parker joined Nets forward Troy Murphy [18] and Pistons guard Rip Hamilton as potential trade targets [19] for the Celtics. Here’s what CBS Sports columnist Ken Berger wrote in his most recent coumn [20]:

Sources say the Bulls and Celtics are widely expected to make a move before the deadline, and each is seeking wing help. The Cavs’ Anthony Parker would be an ideal fit in both places. Wizards [21] guard Kirk Hinrich [22] would be a good fit, too, but his $8 million salary next season would make such a transaction troublesome.

RAJON RONDO TURNED DOWN SKILLS COMPETITION

According to a report [23] on RealGM.com, Rondo declined an invitiation from the NBA to participate in the Skills Challenge at the upcoming NBA All-Star Weekend. Here’s what he told the website:

“Maybe when I don’t make the game. I wouldn’t do both.”

Had he accepted the league’s offer, Rondo would’ve participated alongside Stephen Curry (Warriors), Tony Parker [24] (Spurs), Derrick Rose [25] (Bulls), Tyreke Evans [26] (Kings), John Wall [27] (Wizards), Russell Westbrook [28] (Thunder), Baron Davis [29] (Clippers) and Derek Fisher (Lakers).

REMEMBERING CHUCK COOPER

In the midst of Black History Month, the Duquesne University newspaper took a look back [30] at alumnus Chuck Cooper, who became the first black player taken in the history of the NBA draft when in April 1950 the Celtics selected him with the third pick in the second round.

From a nice piece that details Cooper’s legacy, here are some highlights from the writer’s conversations with the late Cooper’s son Chuck Cooper III and fellow trailblazer Earl Lloyd:

Chuck Cooper III: “[My father] always gave credit to Jackie [Robinson]. At that time, baseball was America’s pastime. He went through it first and he went through it on a bigger stage. …

“All we saw was a caring, loving father who came home every day. To endure what he did to become the first black player drafted in the NBA really speaks volumes to the kind of man he was.”

Lloyd: “People in St. Louis didn’t treat you decently. St. Louis is a southern town. We’re talking 1950. If it wasn’t us, it was going to be somebody. It happened to be Chuck, happened to be [Nat ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton], happened to be me. …

“If I had to hand pick a guy I had to follow, Chuck Cooper would be him. To know Chuck Cooper, you couldn’t know him and not love him. When he walked into a room, he filled it up. You knew somebody important was in that room.”

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee or a future mailbag? Send an e-mail tobrohrbach@weei.com [31] or a Twitter message to @brohrbach [32].)