Monday Morning Point Guard
Caught up in the initial euphoria of winning his first NBA championship last June, Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett gave one of the most awesome interviews in recent memory. He howled ("Anything is Possssibaaalll!!!"). He cried. He adjusted his cap several times to hide his tears. He fell into someone's arms. He gave shoutouts to 'Sota, Chicago, South Cak and his mother (Mama, I made it!). He got boastful (Top of the world!). He flirted with ABC's Michelle Tafoya ("You look good tonight, girl."). And finally, before he embraced the NBA's greatest winner, Bill Russell, Garnett looked into the camera and verbally wiped 13 years of dirt off his shoulder.
"What you going to say now?" Garnett asked, rhetorically. "What can you say now?"
All that anyone could really say back was, "Congratulations." It was easy to root for Garnett after the former league's most valuable player toiled for 13 seasons in Minnesota, watching Kevin McHale botch draft picks, trades and free-agent signings -- and only getting out of the first round one time.
When the Celtics won the championship last season, it represented what could happen when star players are able to make individual sacrifices for the greater good. And Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen provided three likeable, multiple all-star veterans who were finally able to add championship rings to their respective individual honors. The general feeling among most non-Laker, NBA fans was, "Those guys deserve it."
But if Boston manages to repeat as NBA champions this June, you likely won't hear this statement uttered too often: "I'm so happy that Stephon Marbury finally won a championship. He deserves it."
Marbury's reputation as a self-absorbed, coach-killing team-wrecker has followed him for most of his 12-year career. He has never won a playoff series in just four trips, yet had the audacity to call himself "the best point guard in the NBA" four years ago. Marbury has undeniable talent, but the New York Knicks cut ties with him last week, saying good riddance and hoping that the doorknob actually did hit him on the way out.
He signed with the Celtics and re-united with Garnett some 10 years after his petty jealousy with his former close friend led to him forcing a trade out of Minnesota.
I'm not one who thinks the Celtics have made a mistake in signing Marbury, or that Marbury will be a disruptive force on team chemistry and stunt the development of Rajon Rondo. I actually support the signing because the Celtics and Marbury need each other right now. Marbury is better than any player they currently have on the bench and will probably be on his best behavior (we might actually see what Steph's best behavior is) in Boston. I think he'll accept his role and play nice. Not having the burden or expectation of being the guy should liberate Marbury.
But you get the feeling that no matter how good Marbury is over the next two or three months -- if he hits a game-winner or two or gleefully waves his M.L. Carr towel from the bench -- it won't make up for his past NBA sins (and no, those inexpensive sneakers didn't either). There have been players with much, much more questionable character winning championships (i.e. Isaiah Rider with the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers), but you get the feeling that karma would be against Marbury having a Garnett moment.
The list of great NBA players who retired from the game ringless includes Elgin Baylor, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Dominique Wilkins and Reggie Miller. But here is a list of good-guy, active NBA veterans with more than 10 years of experience that I wouldn't mind seeing embracing that Larry O'Brien trophy, crying like a baby and hitting on Tafoya some day.
Antawn Jamison: Jamison may go down as the most unappreciated player of his era. The two-time all-star has been a steady, and sometimes prolific, scorer and rebounder for his entire career. Jamison ranks 14th among active scorers (15,352) and fifth in scoring behind Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Stephon Marbury and Juwan Howard among active players who have yet to reach the conference finals. He has given his all to a crappy Wizards team this season.
Grant Hill: Injuries robbed Hill of four of his 15 NBA seasons in Orlando and, most likely, enshrinement in Springfield. But Hill, 36, has remained one of the NBA's class acts even when he has had had no success in the postseason, losing in the first round in his six playoff appearances. Heck, Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson has a ring and Hill doesn't. Does that sound right?
Dirk Nowitzki: Nowitzki has scored more points than any active player not named Allen Iverson to never win an NBA championship. Arguably the greatest player to ever come from Europe, the former league MVP lifted the once-lowly Mavericks to prominence and led the franchise to the NBA Finals in 2006 before Dwyane Wade destroyed Dallas. The guy deserves something for having to deal with Mark Cuban his whole career.
Steve Nash: Nash and Karl Malone are the only two-time MVPs without an NBA championship. Like most of his peers in the 1990s, Malone could blame Michael Jordan. Nash can blame some bad luck. Joe Johnson's facial injury in 2005, Amare Stoudemire's knee injury in 2006 and suspension in 2007, and even his busted nose in 2007 contributed to Nash, 35, never even reaching the NBA Finals.
Antonio McDyess: McDyess, 34, was one of the most gifted athletes to ever play the game (he was Stoudemire before Stoudemire). He won an Olympic gold medal and made the all-star team before a serious knee injury made him change his dunkadelic game and play more below the rim. He joined the Detroit Pistons the year after they won the championship in 2004 and has been dealing with disappointment ever since.
Joe Smith: You could argue that Smith should've accomplished more after being selected No. 1 overall in 1995. Smith, a 33-year-old journenman has never made an all-star team and had never won a playoff series until last season with Cleveland. But after reaching a buyout agreement with Oklahoma City late Sunday, Smith has a chance to re-sign with the Cavaliers, latch on with LeBron James and chase that ring once again.
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