Funny, that he couldn’t see it coming. In the back seat of a black car during a day forever pasted in his mind, but still the brand of the car he came home in is a forever blur. Cars never mattered to him. He could care less, ‘less the thing couldn’t get him to the sanctuary, freeze up in December or flame out in June.
“You sure you don’t need to stop?” To the backseat, again someone asks. For some reason, the front seat is open, the fourth-grader content to stare straight into the back of a cushion.
“It’s fine if you have to stop…” It would’ve been fine to stop the ride home…if the fourth-grader could’ve seen it coming. No signs. Nothing. The rest of the day had been a revelation, one of those things someone never forgets.
Finally, it all came spilling out, all over the backseat of that black car, on the floor, on the back of the driver’s seat, along the ridge in-between the right and left side of the cushions, an upset stomach upset by what the boy witnessed earlier in the day, something he would never forget. A life-changer…
Initials reaction were mixed, combining both shock and hilarity. The story is not really a precautionary tale, but in a way, it is. It’s not really a comedic one either, but the picture and circumstances surrounding the event are almost always met with a laugh once knowledge is feigned.
In his first game in China with his new team, the Beijing Ducks, Steve Francis was thrown into the game for the final few minutes…with ice packs still sitting on his ankles. That’s not an exaggeration; it actually happened. He was given no warning about his participation that night, other than what his head coach Min Lulei said before the game, which was essentially, no, Francis will not play tonight. Instead, with the fans screams swimming down his spine to put in the once Houston Rocket megastar, Min folded and did so. For 17 seconds.
This is not a post meant to condone Steve Francis’ theatrics as a NBA player. He was a three-time All-Star and one of the leaders of the post-generation Jordan era, the most explosive and exciting point guard anyone had ever seen. But, Francis was also known as a ball-stopper, his playground style meshing with wins like LeBron meshes with humble.
An old, worn-out gymnasium once housed Francis’ theatrics. Deep in the heart of Western Maryland, barely a blip on the compass, let alone the basketball map, Francis destroyed people in awkward obscurity. Even during the summer of his pilgrimage to Maryland and Gary Williams, he was a nobody, his incredible hoop feats foreign to even those living within the communities surrounding Allegany Community College.
On the morning before he would head off to College Park and later the NBA and worldwide fame, in a small camp being run by his former community college coaches with perhaps 25 kids, Steve Francis showed up. He was only there for maybe 20 minutes, but it didn’t matter. Francis gave the camp one of the most ridiculous dunk exhibitions I’ve ever seen: windmills without even warming up, jumping from the foul-line, jumping from so far out of bounds that it really looked like he was gliding.
From there, he went on to average 17 points, 4.5 assists and almost three steals a game in his one season with Maryland, a year that also netted the Terrapins a trip to the Sweet 16 and Francis an All-ACC First Team selection. Life was good.
It got even better that summer when he was taken number two overall and then traded to Houston. His coach there, Rudy Tomjanovich, was in the process of turning the team upside down, from one that had failed to win a championship with Hakeem Olajuwan, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler to one of excitement and youth.
Francis was the man. He could do no wrong, take whatever shot he wanted and generally made SportsCenter every single night. That was his time.
But more recently, the Chinese Basketball Association issued Francis a “serious warning” because of a hand gesture he made during a recent game. The CBA ordered the Ducks to “educate and criticize” Francis for his “uncivilized behavior.” Apparently, Francis was waving the middle finger around as he sulked and took up roots at the end of the bench during the Ducks game against the Guangdong Tigers last Sunday.
He was a larger-than-life figure, someone so spectacular that those campers in attendance probably thought he could jump higher than Jordan, sing better than Jackson or lead better than Clinton.
It’s always interesting to dive into the psyche of NBA players, especially the veteran ones. It’s a study in what makes a person tick, the difference between those that try and succeed and those that don’t. The difference between fame and obscurity.
Why has Tracy McGrady gone from perhaps the best player in the game to a bit player on a horrible team in just a few short years? Why did Allen Iverson fall off the basketball map so quickly, and so hard, that he ended up in Turkey, playing for a team that doesn’t really know how to use him and in a culture that doesn’t know what to make of him?And most importantly, what really happened to Steve Francis? Injuries? Ego? The hands of time? Cuttino Mobley?
The real meaning behind IcePackGate isn’t the chuckling or even the update into Francis’ professional career, at least what’s left of it.
It’s a reminder to take advantage of the opportunities given to you. Francis didn’t always do that, didn’t always truly believe in the power behind the exterior of his talent. Now, he’s become what his talent should’ve never allowed: a loser. Obscurity.
That fourth-grader was me and that throw-up was mine. Thirty minutes after watching Steve Francis dunk and jump and do obscene things with a basketball and my life was different. His impact was so strong, I couldn’t hold it in, had to let it all come shoveling out of me.
Impact can be ironic. Why did it all happen like this? The point? How does someone rise so quickly only to fall off even quicker? The irony in that day’s impact still hits me every day. It doesn’t matter that he’s become a near caricature of himself. All that matters, at least to me, is that he happened.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney