Hello, and Goodbye, to James Lang
When James Lang came back from his traveling basketball life, back from Israel and Provo, Utah and a whole bunch of other places and back to D.C., he saw Caron Butler. Caron almost didn't recognize him.
"He was like, 'Big fella, that's you?' " Lang reported. "I was like, 'Yeah, it's me.' "
Butler's confusion is understandable. Media members and team staffers did the same double takes when Lang showed up for the Wizards' pre-Summer League mini-camp last week. The big man left D.C. in the spring of '07 as a jolly, baby-faced 23-year old kid, released to make room for Mike Hall. He returned to the Verizon Center 45 pounds lighter, with a serious face and serious talk about his career.
"I'm not a boy no more," Lang said. "I'm grown, mature, and I'm just showing the guys I'm here, I'm available....Right now, my goal's not to go back overseas or [to the] D league. NBA, that's where I belong."
And then, barely 24 hours after telling us about his transformation, Lang was gone again, released as part of a first wave of summer league cuts. Kind of made me feel sick to my stomach.
I should explain that Lang was a remnant from the free-wheeling hilarity days, when the Wizards locker room doubled as a comedy club. There was the routine where Jarvis Hayes and Antonio Daniels insisted that Lang was from Mississippi (despite a "Bama's Finest" tattoo) and that his middle name was Cornell because "his people graduated from the university." There was the one where Lang told me that Gilbert had promised to put water on Lang's laptop and bedspread, make coffee in his bathtub and dump it on his mattress during road trips. There were constant jabs at Lang's weight and diet. That kind of stuff.
After getting cut by the Wiz and finishing the '07 season in the D League, Lang took off for a season in Israel, playing on Maccabi Rishon LeZion with guys like Larry O'Bannon and DeMarco Johnson. Along the way, he gave up midnight snacks, stopped eating fast food, began running four and a half miles every morning and working out every evening, shrank from 325 pounds (his Wizards weight) to about 280, got in the best shape of his basketball-playing life, inserted things like eggs and fruit and olive oil into his diet, and kept the weight off. Hence, the not-recognizing him thing.
"It was just the weight that held me back," Lang said of his first stint in the NBA. "And the whole time I was gone, I had that on my mind: I've got to get back to where I belong."
Lang said when he started playing basketball as a high school junior, he weighed around 400 pounds. He started dropping weight through his final two years of high school, and was a second-round draft pick by New Orleans in 2003, but he never made an impact, there or in D.C., and the weight issues never disappeared. When he was with the Wizards, he said, he would polish off an entire sleeve of Oreos before going to sleep.
I asked him when was the last time he had seen 280 pounds; "I don't think I've never seen 280, to be honest with you," he said, which raises a few questions better left unasked. "But I feel comfortable. I feel good right now. I'm still losing weight, as we speak right now."
When I accidentally leaned on the wall Lang had been resting against a few minutes later, I sort of confirmed that statement. Regardless, Lang said he used to give up during workouts, but now he can "go through a workout like it's nothing, and still have energy to go through another. He was a feel-good (summer) story waiting to happen.
"I love the Wizards, I love D.C.," he said. "Guys here like me, I'm a great person, but a great person can't make the team....It's just a learning experience, like, 'Ok, would you rather play overseas for the next 10 or 12 years, or play 12 or 15 years in theNBA? And I thought about it and I was like I don't want to be overseas or D league. I want to be in the NBA. So I made my mind up, and I'm here."
And now he's not. And it's kind of sad.
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