Center of Attention
Gather 'round, children. Pull close now, and pay attention. Allow me to tell you a story from my youth, from a time when I was less cynical and the world didn't seem such an evil, awful place.
The year was 1993. The country bumped to gangsta rap while a president fondly referred to as Slick Willy got settled. It was a magical time. Sniffle, sniffle.
Then everything changed.
I remember the day the music died (my dad kicked in the stereo with a jackboot, but that's another tale altogether). Coincidentally, it was the same day of the NBA draft. As a young lad, smart as a whip and destined for great things--like being the errand-toting monkey boy for an alternative weekly--I'd led a good life, though it was beset on all sides by terrible hardship. Chief among these issues were my beloved Philadelphia 76ers, who were as horrible on the court as their gaudy uniforms might suggest. Many a night was spent tossing and turning, wondering why the brass traded Charles Barkley for a few stiffs and a deflated basketball.
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Finally in my darkest hour came light. The Sixers secured the second pick in the draft that year. It was a glorious happening, one I was sure would catapult them back to the top of the Atlantic Division. With players like Chris Webber, Anfernee Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, Isaiah Rider, Allan Houston and George Lynch in that class, even my favorite star-crossed franchise would be hard-pressed to foul on the selection. That's what I thought. That's how I get into trouble: when I think.
Why am I telling you this, you wonder? Because sharing tough times with those who can empathize is good therapy. That's what my shrink says. (But, then, she also says I can stop wetting the bed whenever I want. Shows you how much she knows.) You feel my pain because you know my pain. Pain's name is Shawn Bradley.
The Sixers took him with that second pick. My life was altered immediately. Rather than helping, he hurt--bumbling, stumbling around. The only way to watch his buffoonery was to curl up in the fetal position and suck my thumb. I did this regularly. It was a harrowing experience, one that helps explain why I'm a bit imbalanced. (Damn you, Shawn Bradley! I'm sending my therapist bills your way.)
As it happens, it appears the Fates aren't without a sense of irony. Last week, in an attempt to retard my mental--a successful endeavor--the Mavericks, your Mavericks, handed the big man what amounts to a lifelong contract. Seven years with incentives that could make it worth up to $40 million. The exact base amount wasn't disclosed, which is probably for the better because my head might explode and ooze what little brain I have all over the floor.
When the Sixers traded Bradley to New Jersey oh-so-many years ago, it was a wonderful thing for the city and for me. I thought I'd never have to deal with him again. Now I'll likely never be able to rid myself of the man. More disturbingly for you, it's your cross, too.
"We're unbelievably thrilled to announce that Shawn has signed a seven-year deal with the Mavericks, which hopefully means he's going to spend the rest of his career here with the Mavericks," Mark Cuban says obsequiously. "Typically, it's the changes you don't make that make you look the smartest."
Or that make the rest of us go screaming into the night, mumbling like loons about absurdly tall men who miss dunks.
"I'm really excited about this," Bradley concurred, sitting next to uber-agent David Falk. Surprisingly, Shawn didn't stand and point at me and yell, "Bite it, bitch!"
"I think this is something that is going to be great for us and for this organization. My goal was to find a place I could finish my career. The first contract I signed was a very good contract for me. I've gotten traded a couple of times, but I've really found a home here in Dallas. My wife and I love the area; we love the community."
Fine. And true. In his defense, the man is a wonder off the court--kind and congenial and involved. A good person. But his character isn't in question. His skills, or lack of same, are.
Smiling and laughing and having a generally good time, Bradley got around to talking about how he's seen his career develop, and how he's sure it will continue to evolve. This is an interesting piece of news. I must have missed all that growth. Seems to me that his numbers have always been right around 10 points, eight boards and three blocks per game. Oh, and about 1.2 SIBs, too--that's self-inflicted bricks, for the uninformed. At 7-foot-6, the man routinely snuffs himself on the rim or plays small and gets blocked by guys nearly a foot shorter. His "grace" is almost mesmerizing, like watching a drugged, stilted circus performer.
His proponents, of course, will tell you that he can change a game defensively, that he's a difference maker. At times, that is the case. But, having watched him throughout his career, I have to wonder: Why doesn't the difference maker play during key situations? Why isn't he always on the court, rather than averaging a little more than 28 minutes per game over his career? Why does he come out if he's so good?
The answer is that his presence can be disruptive. Often, he needs help defensively because he's slow of foot. He doesn't run the floor well. He doesn't always catch well. And, when the offense is flowing, when Nash and Finley and Nowitzki and Howard are really moving, when the Mavs do what the Mavs do best, there's no place for a lumbering bamboo stem.
Still, some say that isn't his role, that he's only here to plant himself under the basket and alter shots. If that's the case, OK by me. But don't trot him out there and tell everyone how good he is, how he's the starting center and cry bully, if he's really only backup-caliber and fakes the funk.
Here's the other, significant issue: He has a temper. Now, placed in the right context, a little fire in your belly doesn't have to be a detriment. But when you turn in 7.1 points and 7.4 boards, as Bradley did a season ago, and you're hit with 18 technical fouls (good for fifth in the NBA, but only three away from second place...try harder next time, Shawn, you slacker), the production hardly offsets the destruction.
"I'm working on that," Bradley offers. "I think I've gotten better the past few years. I grew up on this ranch, and I have a temper."
Oh, that explains it. Never mind, then.
So now what? Well, there's hope yet. That is, Bradley recently earned his German citizenship and plans to play with Nowitzki on the national team. Perhaps the Germans will keep him, or at the very least retain him for a while at Customs.
In the meantime, if anyone needs me, I'll be at home. In the fetal position. Sucking my thumb.
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