by Sandy Dover / @SandmanSeven
I feel for you, I do. It’s a hard thing, to be the star and then have to swallow the pills of your (relative) hard knock life and acknowledge that you are no longer what you once were. You know this better than me. I just hope you remember where your strengths are and how compatible (or incompatible) you are for your team against the Dallas Mavericks. Please remember who they are and who you are, because they will run all day on you and take you off the dribble. You were never overwhelmingly athletic, but now you are even less so. It’s not a personal matter in your case; you may not be able to help your team in the way that you once knew how.
Again, for all of Coach McMillan’s philosophies that I’ve differed with, he’s got a team now strengthened with strong, capable wings who have been All-Stars (Gerald Wallace) or look to be All-Stars (Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum); even your competition of the past four years has been healthy and productive and happy (Sergio…oops, Rudy Fernandez). Please, if you can, remember what your team is battling for, and remember that your passive-aggressiveness via media interviews hasn’t endeared you to your detractors and naysayers in the past. It only makes you appear needy and whiny, with the slightest bit air of pretension, and you don’t wanna make this tough situation tougher. You can’t be traded. You probably ought to be traded, from a basketball standpoint, in the Portland Trail Blazers‘ collective mind, but you cannot. You’re there to stay, so you gotta make the best of your situation. It’s not ideal for you, surely not, but you can learn to be a better teammate right now.
Instead of thinking about how bad it is for you, talk to some people who’ve had it rough, who’ve had their glory taken from them, too. Talk to Chris Webber; he knows a bit about having to be different on the court. Talk to Grant Hill. Talk to Sam Bowie. Talk to Larry Johnson, to Bernard King, to Shaun Livingston, even. You can’t have it your way all the time, man. You just can’t. Root for your boys. Your teammates have leapfrogged you in the pecking order of minutes because your body just couldn’t survive the conditions to be for the future what you were in the past, so don’t blame it on your coach or the nebulous idea that you merited better treatment. Remember how Rudy felt about being brought to America by the Blazers and was virtually promised some prime time? No one knew you were gonna be an All-Star. NOBODY. And do you know who suffered because he couldn’t get some learning time on the court? Rudy did, and Rudy took it, before he started to complain and it wore on people; maybe it wore on you. Don’t be that way, OK? Please, sir. Take one for the team right now.
This is the time that your teammates need your support, and I know it’s hard; I empathize with you. It’s a personal matter, a sensitive matter…but people will start believing that you only care about yourself while your team is facing a dominant and superior club that can be upset with the right balance of powers directed against them, and you are one of those powers — only now, your power is inspirational and supportive, if not peripheral. They need to know that you’re game in spirit and not worrying about your minutes. You’re an injured man, a chronically injured athlete who has suffered some serious misfortune. It’s not the end of the world, but it could be the end of Portland’s in 2011; and if you don’t make it clear what you’re in the game for, then your world may get much, much worse. You won’t be martyred for your ambivalence about how you feel, certainly not via the media. It’s the nasty game of being a professional athlete. Lots of money from the inside, little sympathy from the outside.
Remember what this is all about. It’s not a question of your manhood; your wealth of colliding emotion and the prospect of discharging tears is secondary to me in all of this, and you shouldn’t be condemned at all for that, for being a human being. A wise (and unintentionally funny) man said that, “You play to win the game.” You’re not playing like you used to, but isn’t it about the Trail Blazers winning? You may not be able to call your number, but you can make the call on how you want to respond to adversity. Be the emotional straw that stirs the drink of success for Portland; choose wisely not to be spoiled cream or the spilled milk on the way to the cup.
Sandy Dover is a novelist/writer, artist, and fitness enthusiast whose work has been featured and published by US News, Yahoo!, Robert Atwan’s “America Now,“ and now in Buckets and Playmaker magazines. You can find Sandy frequently here at SLAMonline and at Twitter as well.