We've all had discussions with family or friends to discuss our dream jobs, haven't we? "Musician" is a popular choice, as is "Actor." And, I assume, many/most of us have had dreams of running the point for the Silver and Black. And what a thrill, right? Imagine breaking the defense down with help from a Tim Duncan screen, bringing two help defenders over before finding Manu Ginobili open in the corner for a back-breaking three. The lead swells from five to eight with just under a minute to play, the Heat call time-out, and the AT&T Center goes nuts. You walk back to the bench with Timmy slapping the back of your head, you and Manu celebrate the dish and the bucket, Pop tries not to allow a smile to crease his face ... this is the life.
Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
Well sure. In the context of "basketball" and "dream job", that's more or less how it would go. But when you take the dream out of it -- Well, I'll come back to that in a moment.
THE HUMAN BODY AT TWENTY-ONE
Young people have a reputation for carrying on as though they are indestructible, right? Young people don't buy health insurance even when they can afford it, they drive too fast, they eat sackfuls of junk food that never seems to obscure their six-pack abs...basically, young people behave like this because they're made of iron. When I was Kawhi Leonard's age, I would leave work after a full-day's shift and go play full-court basketball afterwards. My soreness the next day lasted an hour, two hours tops. And I was never in particularly good shape. I was just young.
Which is why the recent Bill Land interview of The Big Island on Spurs Live Pregame gave me pause. Leonard was talking about how part of his routine in adjusting to NBA life involved "...getting treatment, time to heal, time in the ice bath..." and so on. Kawhi Leonard has about as much body fat as Geoff Peterson and probably hasn't been out of shape his whole life. Why on Earth would Kawhi Leonard, at the height of his indestructible phase, need to spend any time in an ice bath?
Basketball is a hard, hard game. If NBA rookies, twenty-one, twenty-two year old guys in great physical condition, most of whom don't play thirty minutes per game need this kind of treatment for their bodies, what does this tell you about the physical demand the game exacts?
REMEMBER THE PISTOL?
Pete Maravich. There was a great basketball player, right? Sure, he wasn't in the pros what he had been at LSU and sure, he wasn't an especially well-rounded player. Maybe Maravich was a little overrated all things considered, but 23.6 points per game is nothing to sneeze at, right?
I doubt such a fat scoring average was much consolation to the Pistol. After all, virtually his entire professional career was spent on the losing side. In his first nine seasons in the league, Maravich played on one - ONE! - winning team: The 1973 Atlanta Hawks, who at 46-36 finished ninth of seventeen teams and lost their only playoff series. In 1971, 1972, and 1974 the Hawks managed to qualify for the playoffs despite losing records, and they were first-round outs each year.
Maravich was then traded to the expansion New Orleans Jazz (boy, those sound weird together) just a stone's throw from his old stomping grounds in Baton Rouge. The idea was that Maravich would rediscover the magic he had in his LSU days. Believe it or not, things got worse. The Jazz missed the playoffs every year from 1975 to 1979, and Maravich would miss 97 of 328 games. Midway through the 1980 season, Maravich was waived. He was picked up by Boston and played 35 games - twenty-six in the regular season, nine in the playoffs - for the only NBA championship-caliber team the Pistol ever played for, the 61-21 Boston Celtics. Ending his career in a whimper, Maravich played 11 minutes a game during the playoffs for the Celtics, averaging six points.
This rather inglorious pro career was not played by some scrub. This wasn't a guy cobbling a decent career together with a bunch of ten-day contracts - this was Pete Freaking Maravich! When your body is getting pounded into Jello every night en route to 28 wins, what does this tell you about the game of basketball? Not always as much fun as it sounds, right?
"ATHLETES ARE HEROES. THAT IS THEIR JOB." - Bill James
My intent here was not to play Lament for Lamar Odom or somesuch. Basketball players have many wonderful compensations for all the hardships. I'd love to have a pickup line like "I'm a guard for the Golden State Warriors" instead of my stand-by "No, I don't smell anything". I'm not here to tell you not to boo, not to have high expectations, not to be a fan -- nothing like that. And of course I realize that many reading this are aware of how hard it is to be a pro athlete. But for any time we've ever wondered why some guy followed a 25 and 11 night with 7 and 4. When we question why the point guard didn't take that drive all the way to the rim. To balance out the critical thoughts about what happened to that role player's three-point shot: here's some time to remember that this is a hard game, even on those who make it look easy.
Still want to be a basketball player? Want to spend time in an ice bath? Want to take a stray elbow from Dwight Howard? Want to play through tendonitis or bruised ribs? Want to get cut three times in a year? Want to lose your job to a guy doesn't know the difference between a screen and a screen door but can score twenty a night anyway?
It's a dream job, but a job all the same.