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Monday, August 2nd, 2010 at 9:00 am  |  46 responses

Where’s The Love?

Steve Francis was a great player and even better athlete. A few years later, do people remember that?

No story has generated more Trash Talk in the past few months then this Stevie Francis feature that ran in SLAM 140. With that in mind, and with word leaking that Franchise hopes to play for Miami next year, we felt like the time was right to post the full feature online. Enjoy. —Ed.

SLAM 140: Stevie Francis.

by Bonsu Thompson

Nobody knows where Steve Francis is. Not his business partner Kenny Westray. Not his manager-slash-agent Nate Peake. Not even Steve’s nameless buddy on the other end of Nate’s cell. The sour sky blanketing the DMV region this soggy April afternoon sets the perfect backdrop for the mood inside We R One (the retail hub for Steve, Kenny, Nate and Nick Van Exel’s clothing line of the same name). From biz partners to store employees to the journalist awaiting an already hour-late interview, everyone’s itinerary has been paralyzed by the local legend nicknamed Stevie Franchise. Yet, while Nate’s furrowed brows and tight jaw projects “Where the hell is my client?” Kenny has a question that’s different yet still relevant to Steve Francis’ absence: “How the fuck you just get tired of making millions?”

Steven D’Shawn Francis hasn’t been seen earning NBA millions since 2007. Powered by bunny hops and an underground crossover, the Takoma Park, MD, product gave us nine NBA seasons, including an electric first six which generated ROY honors, three consecutive All-Star game elections (one start) and a runner-up finish to the greatest performance in NBA Dunk Contest history. Then Stevie went MIA as quickly as he arrived. If the League has a backdoor, Francis slipped through it.

“Here he go,” says one of the eager We R One employees, staring out of the store’s rain-slicked front window. Francis enters the room and the tension exits behind him. Everybody’s now rocking a smile—Steve’s the widest as he greets his peeps with orchestrated pounds. Fortunately, he’s ready for his interview. Unfortunately, first he wants to get a shave at the barbershop next door (also owned by him). “This all I do, Bon,” he says, arms spread eagle, entering the chop shop in his patented diddy-bop. “Just chill—kick it with my peeps and check on my businesses.”

These businesses include a construction company, boxing promotions and of course the barbershop and clothing line. But what Steve claims he’s most passionate about these days is his budding rap label. He has dreams of becoming the Master P of DC—millions invested into 30 artists, none more a priority than the others, in a region that, Wale notwithstanding, has traditionally been as hip-hop fertile as Joan Rivers. It’s a baffling business model, though not more baffling than why a 33-year-old with career averages of 18, 6 and 5 is living the entrepreneurial life of an ex-player 10 years his senior. Not more confusing than why a PG who claims he’s currently “100 percent healthy” and was “the best point guard in the League from 2002 to 2005,” walked away from the game at age 30.

“NBA players only have a small window,” Steve yells over the barber’s buzzing clippers. “So after seeing stories about guys being broke, and then I just seen some shit about Antoine Walker…I was like, let me put my head into my business for my family.”

Healthy financial investment, family and future security: all valiant but unsurprising goals for a millionaire, especially a professional athlete. What’s hard to believe is that the chase of a strong portfolio could replace the competitive spirit of a player who led both his junior colleges (San Jacinto in TX and Allegany in MD) to undefeated records before becoming a Maryland Terrapin. A baller who after an NBA All-Star season sharpened his game on summer blacktop from The Dome in Baltimore to Harlem’s Rucker Park. Nope, not buying it.

Steve concedes. He finally relinquishes the truth: Both the Houston Rockets and his own ego play huge roles in him being inactive today. It began with Jeff Van Gundy replacing Rudy Tomjanovich as the Rockets’ head coach in ’03. Van Gundy quickly replaced Francis as the team’s offensive focus in favor of Yao Ming. Francis’ freestyling, run-and-gun game was of no interest to Van Gundy, and after a season of PG/coach head-butting, Steve-O was traded to Orlando. Though rough for him at first, Disney World became home to his second-best statistical season (21.3 points, 7 assists, 5.8 rebounds). In the middle of the ‘05-06 season, Steve was bounced to the Knicks, into the middle of the Larry Brown nightmare. In ’07, Francis found himself back on a Rick Adelman-navigated Rockets team. “They ain’t start me [and] that rubbed me the wrong way,” says Steve through a jaw full of shaving cream. “I’m playing behind a guy that wasn’t drafted—Skip To My Lou. You can’t put a three-time All-Star on your bench. So [I decided] if I’m getting x-amount of dollars, I’ma fall back and just get my money for my kids.”

While the Rockets won 55 games, No. 3 wasn’t exactly looking his strongest. In December of ’07, Francis suffered a knee sprain, then went through a bout with the flu. As soon as he was germless, he tore his quadriceps, requiring season-ending surgery. With speedy rookie Aaron Brooks shaping into a floor general for the future, the Rockets shipped Steve’s rights to Memphis. The Grizz had as little interest in the aged Stevie Wonder as the Rockets. Just like they would bench another past-prime little man known for his huge game a year later, Steve had to compete against the team’s youth investments—Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry.

Standing over Steve listening in, Nate adds his two cents: “Why should he have to prove himself to an organization that’s not winning but gonna put guys in front of him that haven’t proven themselves?” The client-agent tag team. “If you bring your product to the table and they don’t respect your product, you gotta go in a different direction,” says Francis, who notes that Nate negotiated a healthy buy-out from Memphis. “I got a bag [of money] from ‘em. I’m not gonna be whored out by nobody.”

——

Steve is now lined-up. His face is shaven smooth. Yet he remains in his barber’s chair for a leg massage. Only the hum of the electric contraption being run over his legs can be heard. Steve is quiet—in his head, too busy remembering Opening Day of the ’08-09 season. He breaks out of his cloud and answers the question: “The first day [of the season, when] I watched those games and I wasn’t in training camp…man, I was sick.”

While it’s understandable watching the NBA season would make the veteran a bit ill, one would imagine his sickest period of all might be now, during the NBA postseason. Steve was picked second overall in the ’99 Draft. Baron Davis, Lamar Odom, Rip Hamilton, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry all trailed him in the Lottery that summer. Ron Artest went 16th. All the aforementioned players remain heavy contributors to their respective clubs. The Jet, Matrix, LO and Ron-Ron all competed in the ’10 postseason, with the latter two looking like Finalists, if not champs.

To see Francis’ peers balling so sufficiently makes the former PG’s absence even more acute. “He’s a rare guard,” says Baron, who met and bonded with Steve on a trip to B-More after his freshman year at UCLA. “He’s 6-3, can shoot, can pass, get to the hole at will and dunk on you. Makes no sense for him not to be still playing.”

When asked how he stays NBA-ready, Steve quickly notes that Nate doesn’t allow him to play streetball anymore because he has nothing else to prove. These days the bulk of his shooting takes place on his home court with his 2-year-old son. “I can go out on the court right now and bust anybody’s ass,” he says. “If a team called, just give me two weeks and I’ll be ready to rock.” He ciphers back to cash. “It’s just that at this point, with two kids and a wife, it’s about the money being right.”

——

It’s four hours later and the sun has set. The We R One store is closed to the public but nobody in this crew has left. Kenny, Steve and the WRO crew are huddled together staring up at a mounted television, where ESPN is airing No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson. The latter part of the documentary touches on AI’s refusal to be a bench player and his undetermined legacy (“Me and [Bubba] Chuck on the same page,” says Steve). The doc’s last 10 minutes could just as easily be about Francis’ legacy, a subject he’s crystal clear on. “To be the greatest player out of the DC/Maryland area since Len Bias,” he states, “Kevin Durant can’t say that. Michael Beasley can’t say that. None of those guys can say that. I am the best player to come out of DC since [Bias].”

“He’s like a Nick Van Exel or a Rod Strickland or Mahmoud Rauf,” says Davis. “He’s gonna go down as one of those guards that was dangerous but never got the credit they deserved.”

Steve is not tired of makin’ millions, but he has grown weary of the NBA’s disposable nature. He’d rather be bought out than sell himself short. While there’s still an internal battle to be won, there’s surely a lot more hoopin’ inside of Steve Francis, or maybe we just want there to be. He’s got his money. Now he just wants respect and opportunity. It’s a convoluted Catch-22. For everyone, that is, except Steve.

“Like Jay-Z say, ‘I shut it down for 10 summers. Numbers don’t lie. Where’s the love?’”

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  • Fat Lever

    Wow, best player out of DC since Len? Maybe if he kept going. Won’t matter though, Durant will surpass him in about 2 seasons to claim that title, without question. But I get the feeling that in Steve’s head, no one will be better than him. When you’re still balling at a consistent level, it’s a good thing to have that confidence. When you’re not running and getting shaped up instead of cutting guys on the court, it sounds delusional.

  • Karl

    Ed – There is an error in the subtitle:
    Steve Francis was a great player and even better athlete. A few years later, do people that?
    Other than that, great read.

  • Hussman25

    Durant will pass Steve for that title for sure… Steve’s the greatest Terp since Lenny Bias tho…

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  • http://twitter.com/smileyoufckers Bryan

    This is what I’m afraid can happen to Lebron if he doesn’t shore up his fundamentals. I mean he was great for a time, but did he ever really improve? Once his athleticism faded he was gone.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Bryan
    He was still somewhat crafty. He needed a better jumper, and he needed to compete harder, but I can’t say his game was done when he lost his hops. He was still hit layups with the Knicks, even if they used to be dunks. The biggest problem for steve was that he was a ball dominator, like Iverson, and once he stopped having the talent to be the best player on the floor, him dominating the ball wasn’t as positive a thing. It wasn’t just about the hops, more about the style of play that allowed him to excel.
    I don’t know if Lebron will have that problem or not, but lots of cats in the league would struggle if they lost their bounce. Hell, Jordan did.

  • http://twitter.com/smileyoufckers Bryan

    I just don’t think he ever really got better over the course of gis career.

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    Bryan, like Allenp says all players will eventually struggle when they lose the hop in their step. LeBron however has a great BBall IQ which will be able to carry him when (and if, remember he’s a never seen before freak-of-nature) his athleticism fades. Steve had a very weak basketball IQ, just look at how he failed to realise that passing to his 7-6 fundamentally sound center was a better plan, than doing multiple crossovers and hoisting fadeaways.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    Bah. Steve spent his entire time with a 7’5 guy, 300 lb on his team waving him off post ups and NOT passing to him, instead preferring to do his “bad bromance” 2-man thing with Mobley and jack up lots of contested shots. He got by on his elite athleticism, grabbed a lot of rebounds and scored a lot. But that’s it.

  • JTaylor21

    If and when bron loses his athleticism, he will turn into a Magic Johnson type player which is what he should have been from day one. The cavs dropped the ball on that one.

  • http://dez@nba.com dez

    what a loser.

  • total scrotal implosion

    I ball every day like cuttino mobley, I got a cartier but have you seen my rolee?

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Actually, the Cavs played Lebron at the one when he first came into the league, and Paul Silas got called an idiot for doing it. just to be accurate.

  • http://www.stonesthrow.com Michael NZ

    Steve – and his crew – are a little deluded.

  • Homie

    He was delusional from day 1 – pouting when my Grizz drafted him. Glad to see he’s as down to earth as ever. Rap label? Idiot.

  • http://lastknickstanding.blogspot.com Bryan

    Joel O – Steve played like 2 seasons with Yao tops.

  • total scrotal implosion

    Bryan and joel, it was exactly two years. Steve had a great year in orl, then got traded to knicks for ariza, where he rode the pine and got hurt, and like that, it was over. Quickest descent in nba history

  • http://lastknickstanding.blogspot.com Bryan

    Agreed. Allenp he went from 21 and dunking his as$ off to 14 the NEXT year , then 10 then 5 then out. And I don’t remember MJ ever truly struggling. I mean even in Washington at 40 years old he was putting up 26 and 6 and 5 until he hurt his knee. Francis never worked on his game , and when his physical tools disintegrated he was done right away. There are plenty of guys who lose athleticism but are able to stay effective, Ray Allen, KG, Kobe, are currently doing work while being half the athletes they used to be. If you have outstanding skills and fundamentals you can be effective well into your thirties. Francis was done at 28.

  • Niio

    I don’t really see why everyone’s is hating so hard. I’m real happy for Steve for making sure he continues to get paid long after his career is done. I mean how many 30 y.o. athletes have 3 businesses that they run and own? Steve’s game was pure electricity and a joy to watch. Sure he wasn’t no next Jordan but he was the pre-Wade!

  • barnabusb

    *insert signing with Miami joke here*

  • Dark Kai

    It is easy to own three businesses when you have start up cash. The question is whether they are actually making money and whether he will recover his investment.

    You can tell from this piece as it is all about him chilling, BUT, he says that is all he does. Jay-Z works alot harder or wiser than that.

    His attitude stinks, but then I was never an ALL STAR who was dropped to the bench.

    As for not passing to a 7foot 6 dude… that is just brainless

  • http://www.slamonline.com Pardeep

    People say Steve Francis’s basketball IQ wasn’t high because he did crossovers and shot fade aways instead of passing to Yao thats nothing to do with his IQ it just means he was selfish.

  • Robb

    @Bryan exactly.

  • http://www.stonesthrow.com Michael NZ

    @Pardeep: yet you don’t see this about Iverson?

  • http://www.datecover.com Dating Girl

    Don’t be hatting. He is continuing his career in something else. What is wrong with that.

  • http://www.twitter.com/dfrance21 dfrance

    People are talking like Yao was ever a domniating game changing force under the basket. Yeah he’s big, but he’s also slow, not the best passer out of doubles and as big as he is, he still got pushed off the block a lot. Don’t be fooled by the numbers. Not saying Steve couldn’t have dumped it down more, he could have, but Yao is not Shaq or Duncan.

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  • DC Hoops

    Best player in DC since Bias? What an absolute moron: Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Adrian Dantley, maybe even Johnny Dawkins.

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  • Supersonicsfreak

    Found this interesting response to this article from a vancouver Grizzlies fan @ http://thethunderground.blogspot.com. Makes several comparisons of Lebron to Francis, worth a read to see the perspective of someone who definitely does not feel Francis deserves ANY love.

  • dcslim

    steve’s biggest problem is his attitude. if shaq is humble enuff to come off the bench then he should be too. you’re not less of a player if you come off the bench and still contribute. you tarnish your legacy by being an idiot like he is. even at the veteran’s minimum NONE of his businesses pay him that. We R One sucks, no one wears it in DC, barber shops do ok, donn’t know about his construction company but his record label isn’t making a dime. none of his artists have any buzz. steve’s trippin.

  • Shanks

    Better than Durant? Stevie better put down the pipe.

  • Aaron

    if i was miami i’d go ahead and sign him and sign tmac and play bron at the 4. most pfs in the league are soft anyway lol. ef it, go for broke.

  • AD

    i had to be the biggest steve francis fan, and he really never got the credit he deserved next to iverson, vince carter, and all the other elite ballers. besides that one all star start, and if i member correctly it was bcuz some1 was injured. he should have stayed in orl, when he went to NY he had marbury and j crawford to compete with and it just never worked out from there. he’s still a free agent in nba2k, i signed him to my team, nice backup pg still. Its good to know that he IS still actually alive though.

  • T-Money

    Francis was never that good. He put up stats but his style of play was not conductive to winning basketball. Real point guards don’t b-tch about having to feed an all-star big man, real PGs are f-cking stoked about feeding people. As for LeBron, when the hops will fade, he’ll still be fast as hell and he’ll still have outstanding court vision and deadly finish from both hands. he’ll get his a– on the block like larry, mj and kobe did when they stopped being able to go to the hole all the time. Folks like to pretend that MJ came into the league with a deadly post game.

  • TRobb

    What’s sad about this is that Stevie Franchise is going to look back in about 10 years and regret not giving it a shot while he still had the legs to do so. What a shame.

  • Mike

    Maple ave represent.

    Kind of sad that Wink’s not in the L anymore, he was living the dream for all of us who used to play at the firehouse, or at the rec center, or at spring park.

    Hope he has good financial advice and he’s stacking his money properly. He made enough that he shouldn’t have to worry about the future as long as he doesn’t go balls to the wall on the spending.

  • Donnie

    I watched this man play every home game at Trojan Square Garden (Bob Kirk Arena) during his 1 year at Allegany and watched on t.v. every game during his 1 year at UMD. Never did I think in 10-15 years I would see him out of basketball. He worked so hard to become who he was as a player to let his ego and Van Gundy get the best of him? It really is a shame. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a place for him in the NBA anymore, especially not Miami.

  • Sasa

    I like steve,he is my favourite player and i want to see him playing.He was in a all-star game 3-times and i think that he can be good again…Good luck Franchise…

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  • http://www.djpatlok.com Pat Lok

    Most exciting maybe. Best? Hahahahahaha. A glorified Marbury at best.

  • http://google Larry

    I would like to see Stevie Franchise get in top shape drop the ego and prove he still has the game to play in the NBA, he could be a great option for a team needing instant offense, coming off the bench,its not who starts its who finishes.

  • Ben

    Franchise is my favouriate NBA player and I wish him a come back neither in the NBA or else where, I will be waiting to get his next professional jersey!!

    Good luck Steve!!

  • YB from the H

    yall are stupid as heck…. steve francis wa inspirational…. who would have wanted to be on the grizzles back then they were trash…van gundy was a freakin moron and so is the whole van gundy family …basketball is more mental than it is physical the fact that steve still thinks that he is the best out of MD shows that he has the right mentality .. ego is what makes you or breaks you … i guaruntee had steve been with phil jack. he would still be playing today … the rockets have some of the biggest morons in there managment so i dont blame steve who the hell wants to work with an organization who gives up rudy gay for shane battier ….. exactly no and for all you ppl that are hating on steve … lets not forget that right when he was traded the rockets were doing damage in the west….. i have more respect for steve than even tmac or lebron…he didnt flake or fake …

  • BORNE2WIN-BONITA1

    Steve “Franchise” Francis is “Borne2Win”
    What’s your story? Everybody has one…

  • Big Shimo 215

    For us to comment on this player must means that this type of player is what the game has been missing. Is he the best out of his area. Name a player that could today that could have checked him. I seen him retire players in the Rookie game (remember that guy that played for UConn. yeah can’t remember him cause he was cut by the Bull after being embarrassed in the Rookie game. What I’m saying is simple he pimped the game and didn’t let the game pimp him.

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