The end is another beginning

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It is almost New Year again. It is the time of the year again when we say goodbye an old year and welcome a new one. It is as if closing a chapter of a book only to start a new one with a different story line. I cannot help but recall some basketball personalities who ended a part of their career and quickly redefine themselves in opening a new one.

As a kid who slowly get to enjoy the NBA and its roster of cagers, I used to brand Michael Jordan as an “I” with no “team”, one who owns the highest scoring average of the NBA but could never get to the finals because of his stance. His role in Chicago was then often described by the Detroit Pistons as “Jordan Rules”. I recall watching highlights of the game in black and white TV when he established a playoff scoring record of 63 points during the 1986 playoffs against the Boston Celtics. Larry Bird described his performance during that game as “God playing basketball”. But Jordan could not get past the Celtics. Larry Legend and the Celtics let Jordan rule but cut down the Bulls by a broom, eliminating them via a sweep.

That’s Jordan during his first five years. A high-scoring guard who cannot cut the mustard come playoff time. He did lead the league in three of the five years (37.1, 35, 32.5) but he lost in the first round thrice, lost in the conference semis once and lost in the conference finals once. He is Air Jordan who rules the Bulls but does not have good prospects for the NBA Championship.

Then Jordan decided to close this chapter of his book. At the start of the 1989-90 season, Tex Winter and Phil Jackson introduced the triangle offense, mainly to counter the Pistons’ Jordan Rules defense. It requires Jordan to defer some of the offensive responsibilities to his teammates. And instead of fighting it, Jordan conceded. As Piston great Isiah Thomas aptly said in an episode of NBA Open Court, Jordan learning how to pass made them practically indestructible.

It resulted beautifully for Jordan’s new chapter. He would no longer put up astronomical points data, his highest during full implementation of the triangle offense is just 32.6. He, however, would still lead the league in points per game during the next seven times he played a full season. What is even better is that Chicago is now a different team in the team concept. They lost just once in the conference finals (1989-90 season) and won the finals six times in seven playoff appearances, along the way establishing the two best team record for wins in a season, 69-13 in the 1996-97 season and 72-10 the following year.

Jordan clone, Kobe Bryant, also did a closure of his own. Earlier in his career, he wore number 8 on his jersey. He was instrumental in the three championships that the Lakers won during 2000 to 2002. Experts, pundits, and fans, however, always credit these to Shaquille O’neal. And they are probably right in saying Kobe was only second fiddle on these ones.

So what does Kobe do for his pride? He closes this chapter of his book and opens a new one. When O’neal was traded to Miami on 2004, he accepted the challenge of becoming the franchise’ Alpha Male and led the Lakers as their cornerstone.  At the start of the 2006-2007 season, he ditched his number 8 and changed it to 24. He gave his reasons but I still believe it is a sign of his wanting to close a chapter in his basketball career and opening a new one.

While the Lakers’ top brass did a good of getting Pau Gasol for draft failure Kwame Brown in what was thought to be a lopsided trade at the time (Memphis seem to know what they are doing because the other Gasol they obtained in the trade is now their cornerstone) and drafting Andrew Bynum to patrol the paint, Kobe is definitely the top gun when the Lakers won two more championships in three finals appearances in the next six years since O’neal was traded. Along they way, he fired 81 points to become second in NBA history on points scored in a game and became league MVP once. This easily quashed any doubts on his inability to led the Lakers to the promise land.

While Bryant refused to relinquish his Top Gun Tag up to this moment, a former Celtic great gave up his to become a different kind of leader for his team. When Paul Pierce was traded to Brooklyn last year, Pierce accepted a new role to stay relevant in the league. Under Jason Kidd’s watch, Pierce showed signs of maturing and accepted reserve roles for “the good of the team”. He even exhibited willingness to accept coming off the bench if needed to, something his former teammate Ray Allen could not do which eventually sparked Danny Ainge act of ending the new Big Three Era.

As a result, the Washington Wizards signed him for two years to play this role. And The Truth knew it was time to close his being the front man role in Boston in order to open another chapter as the wise veteran leader in Washington. And he is doing his role to perfection. Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report says “Pierce (is) providing (a) blueprint for NBA aging”.

“He’s leading the Washington Wizards to a level they couldn’t possibly have reached without him. Pride and stubbornness are valuable traits for athletes, and it sometimes seems the best ones have more of both. The greater the player, the harder it is to subjugate those qualities, and the reluctance to accept declining skill has made for more than a few uncomfortable final chapters. Pierce has become the exception to the rule, managing his physical slippage smartly and leaning on the most valuable commodity in his arsenal: hard-earned experience. As a result, he’s been a blessing, not a burden, to head coach Randy Wittman and the Wizards.” continued Hughes’ article.

We shall see later this year if Pierce new chapter ends with championship champagne showers.

If anyone needs to close a chapter to open a new one, let it be for a good reason. It is a futile exercise to close a year and not to become a better person the next year. Happy New Year everyone.

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