Journey of a General
Damon Stoudamire has revamped his ‘Jail Blazer’ image.
by Tyler Richardson / @Ty_richardson
From the blacktops of Portland to the hardwood of Memphis, one thing has remained constant about Damon Stoudamire’s basketball career: The journey has never stopped.
The tattoo was an iconic symbol of its generation. Like Iverson’s cornrows, Mutumbo’s finger wag or Stockton’s shorts. The Mighty Mouse tat on Stoudamire’s right bicep is more than just a piece of ink. It’s a representation of the struggle derived from years of sweat and determination.
“I still take on that whole Mighty Mouse persona today,” Stoudamire said. “That shaped the person I am. No matter what life brings, you just have to weather the storm and stay the course.”
For Stoudamire, that course has always consisted of the game he loves. The 5-10 guard from Portland, OR, has embraced every step and misstep along the way. For him, it is about the struggle. It is about the grind to the top. He lives for that moment when you are knocked down and people are waiting to see if you will get back up.
He quickly quieted the boos when the Toronto Raptors selected him seventh overall in the 1996 Draft. With a kiss on the head from GM Isaiah Thomas, Stoudamire was handed the keys to the expansion franchise, and within weeks fans were asking, “Ed O’Bannon who?”
Something about the crafty lefty, in his Jurassic Park-themed pinstriped jersey, drew attention. His range kept defenders honest, yet his quickness allowed him to slice into the lane with his patent spin move and teardrop finish. His low center of gravity and wicked double crossover injected life into a city where basketball was a mystery. He was the complete package with the heart of a general.
You could see the twinkle in Thomas’ eye as he watched Stoudamire earn Rookie of the Year honors. When the Raptors drafted Marcus Camby the following year, it looked as if the pair would be the cornerstones to a new era in Canada. But during the ’98 season, Thomas resigned as GM and Stoudamire was shipped to the Trail Blazers.
Stoudamire had early success with the Trail Blazers, including two consecutive trips to the conference finals in ’99 and 2000. His time in Portland was marred by a string of marijuana-related incidents and arrests, with the most infamous coming in 2002, when he and Rasheed Wallace were pulled over in Stoudamire’s yellow Hummer.
For most athletes, a string of drug-related incidents would spell the end of a career. Stoudamire, however, is not like most athletes. He learned from his mistakes, didn’t run from truth and let his life be an open book.
“Everyone has skeletons in their closet,” he said. “Mine just happened to play out on a major scale. We were young and didn’t handle business the right way. Those life experiences make me who I am. I may have bumped my head along the way, but that is the beauty of who I am.”
After his time in Portland, Stoudamire signed with the Memphis Grizzlies. He got injured his first year with the team, but bounced back to have a solid ’06-07 season. The Grizzlies drafted Mike Conley Jr that summer, and Stoudamire knew his stint in Memphis could be over.
The lights began to dim on his innovative career. The Mighty Mouse mantra had long since faded. Kids had traded in their No. 20 jerseys, and the “Jail Blazer” jokes subsided. The game that had given him so much was getting ready to say goodbye.
“In the later years, you see the end more than you see the beginning,” Stoudamire said. “You have to come to the realization that you can’t play ball forever.”
Coming to the realization that people would no longer connect him with basketball was a challenge for Stoudamire. This game was all he knew. It was his life. It was his passion. In a sense the game had become who he was.
“I always wanted to stay in the game that blessed me so much,” he said. “I told myself if I stay in the game I will still be visible. People will still know I am a part of it.”