Two boys stand on a tree branch. One falls and his career as the next big thing is taken from him. The guilt remains for his friend.
Greg Oden could have been the one. You, Mike Conley, were always in his shadow, as he received most of the credit for the overwhelming dominance of Lawrence North High School and Ohio State, where you stayed together and nearly destroyed the Billy Donovan dynasty.
Draft day, everyone knows about Oden and Durant, and Al Horford, star of the shockingly great Hawks. There were notables like your new teammate Jeff Green, Joakim Noah and Nick Young. You are one of the forgotten men of that Draft, despite the fact that you’re a point guard bringing your team to the Playoffs, winning series year after year, knocking out No. 1 seeds, sending Chris Paul home for the summer. Once Kyle Lowry was sent away, you were able to blossom as the show runner, yet mention the Grizz and people talk Gasol and Z-Bo. With Lowry experiencing wild success up North, you fade even further from the spotlight. Maybe this motivates you?
In the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles, two friends named Gene and Phineas come up through an elite prep school together. Gene tells the story; Finny is the charismatic star athlete getting all the attention, just like Greg in your high school and college days. Bad injuries happen to Finny, and those injuries derail his future, so you can see where this is going. The boys have a reunion where the past comes back to confront them.
A key element of the novel is that Gene may have caused the injury to Finny, whereas the Oden situation has nothing to do with you. Still, he was supposed to be a League-changing figure, and now here you are with a career that towers over his. Maybe you think about your days with Oden, maybe not. Gene is able to reflect on those times and find peace in his life, but first he has to look back. Memphis is built for another Playoff run as an entire team in the shadows. You have a few months before you have to steel yourself for the Playoff wars, which is the perfect time to sit back and read a novel that speaks directly to your past. Just don’t read it while sitting on a tree branch overlooking a pond. Read the book and you’ll know why.
Sam Rubenstein is a SLAM contributing writer and a high school English teacher in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @SamRubenstein.