Now is the time of the aging superstar.
The veteran MVP. The injured scoring leader. The first-ballot Hall of Famer coming off of the bench. Once upon a time, these players drove the league and led jersey sales. They put up record stats as the face of their franchise and carried their teams deep into the playoffs. They were met with our undying love and adoration.
But now, the latest generation of greats has reached the point when they can no longer produce at the highest level.
It’s difficult to say that you’ve already seen the best out of somebody, already witnessed the culmination of their talents. You’ve idolized this person. Defended them against haters. Found stats that helped prove your case, and referenced historic ballers who kept playing at a high level deep into their golden years, just to keep faith alive.
Like John Stockton. Kareem. And, well…Charles Oakley?
Inside, you know. Call it the end of an era, the passing of the torch. All their skills, all their talents will inevitably decline. It happened before, to the likes of Magic, Bird, and Dr. J…and it happened when they came into the league as well. The new, younger breed will step in, mature, and take the place of the old guard. Like true six-million dollar men, they will jump higher. Run faster. And they will play better than your all-time favorite player.
Inside, you know. It is time for the fresh faces to drive the league. It’s just depends on whether you can let go in time.
* * *
Think back six years ago, to the summer of 2004.
and Shaq had just parted ways, though there was deliberation as to who was better at the time. Kevin Garnett was in Kobe , having just led the league in double-doubles on his way to the ’04 MVP. Allen Iverson was scoring at a historic pace in Philly, Steve Nash had just left Dirk Nowitzki in Minnesota Dallas for the valley of the Suns, Tim Duncan was putting up career numbers in , and Jason Kidd’s Nets were still the beast of the East. San Antonio
In a year from now, not one of these players will be producing anywhere near their 2004 levels. Some have already seen a major drop in their production. Others will see a decline soon, probably a drastic one. Other than possibly
, I’d wager that none of these 2004 standouts will be in uniform four years from now. Kobe
These guys were the league. They drove revenue. They were in the conversations that included the words “best ever”. They won championships, MVPs, struck fear in their opponents, and produced at unreal levels for over a decade.
Now? An afterthought. Dirk has been a shell of himself after the championship run in 2006. Though Kobe is still putting up stellar numbers, his scoring average is down five PPG from two years ago, and almost ten from the ’05-’06 season. Brittle Nash and Duncan will probably lose major chunks of the season to injury, not to mention Garnett’s already shaky left knee. Iverson, for all his bravado, will probably come off the bench for a .500 team this season. And some say Shaq - quite possibly the best center we will ever see - will actually make the Cavs worse than last year.
Defend them, sure, but enjoy them all you can. In the shadows of the Wades, Dwight Howards, and LeBrons of the world, the days of the aging superstars are numbered.
And just wait until Kevin Durant’s crew really gets going.
I’ve never been satisfied with the way the public tosses aside all-world talent in favor of the Next Big Thing. This is especially true in football, where running backs may lead the league one year, and are cast aside the next (think Larry Johnson, Ladanian Tomlinson, even Steven
…and yes, I realize two of those are NBA names). It just takes a bit longer in basketball. Jackson
The toll of 40+ minutes a night, night in and night out. 100+ game seasons. Offseason Olympics. And what do they get once they hit the twilight of their careers?
If you’re the leading scorer of all-time, you get a rocking chair. Anything less, and your enormous ego – the one that helped your confidence thus far - usually gets you ostracized by your team. If all goes well, perhaps you quietly slip away, into the anonymity of team management or car-dealer ownership.
And that is no way for a hero to go down.
* * *
If it were up to me, there would be decorations for later-year players. Something like a life-time achievement award, or stripes for an army general, but while the players are still significant. Roll with me on this one for a minute.
For example, I would retire
’s jersey right now. (Yes, #24. Not #8.) Even with all the drama over his Kobe fiasco, his feuding with Shaq, and his tantrums early-on, there is no denying that he’s delivered for the Laker franchise. Four championships, an MVP, scoring titles, and yes, veteran team leadership. Colorado
It’s not commonplace to retire his jersey early. But it’s going to happen eventually, so why not do it when he’s still near the top of his game?
Kobe Bryant defined this decade of basketball. You can’t really argue with that. And in this era of free agency, when players hardly stay with the same team anymore, this would pay tribute to that achievement. If he or, say, Tim Duncan were to get their jerseys raised at the start of next season, as an honor, would you really have a problem with it?
It wouldn’t hurt anyone. It’s respectful. Besides, if
Jordan can play with a statue of himself outside the United Center, then can handle seeing his number in the rafters. Kobe
Yes, NBA players get the benefit of many aspects of society. They are healthy, famous multi-millionaires who, in their heyday, are celebrated on a global scale. But considering the decades of injuries and financial troubles that so often become a part of their post-basketball lives, I say why not cherish them now. Celebrate them. And, if appropriate, honor your aging superstar in a way that is both considerate and, best of all, genuine.
I’m fairly sure I’m ok with this idea. But don’t worry, Laker fans, Shaq’s jersey can wait.