Life is dotted with moments in time that turn out to be pivotal or landmark in our personal journeys. Age, a milestone of time spent in a career, devastating injury and loss are all examples of instances of these types of moments. For this series, I’ll take a look at a few players who have reached those points in their NBA journeys, providing a perspective around them that I hope sheds insight into who these players are and how their individual life paths are expressed through basketball. I, through The Sports Fan Journal with Phillip Barnett providing visual aid, present: The Crossroads. The next player is Anthony Davis.
Years Played: 6
2017-18 Stats: 28.1 PPG, 11.1 ORG, 53.4% FG, 34% 3FG
Song Relevant To His Crossroads: The Black Keys – “Everlasting Light”
For thirteen years, Kevin Garnett was the cornerstone for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was the face of the franchise, and rose to be one of the best players in the NBA. But while in Minnesota, he only won two playoff series, and the Timberwolves only had that season in which they had a real championship contending team. After that 2003-04 MVP campaign, the Timberwolves were never the same. Kevin Garnett spent the prime of his career on below-mediocre teams until the Boston Celtics came calling, trading for the then-32-year-old. This move was possible because while Garnett was still good, Minnesota knew his best years were behind him.
This is a fate — not necessarily the fate — that can befall Anthony Davis should be stay in New Orleans. Last season, he and the Pelicans won their first playoff series since changing the team name from the Hornets. Even after losing former teammate DeMarcus Cousins to an Achilles’ injury, Davis refused to let the Pelicans miss the playoffs in a very crowded Western Conference. As the sixth seed, Davis led New Orleans to a sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. All Davis did was be what he has been since being drafted: the cornerstone.
A conundrum that haunts superstar players is attempting to turn individual greatness into team success. Unfortunately and because those of us surrounding sports place so much abnormal weight on winning, how good someone is and was can be tarnished if he or she doesn’t win enough championships relative to his or her ability. We overlook the basic concepts of team structure and general luck playing major factors in team sports. Not everyone can overcome near-impossible odds as an underdog to win a championship. Also, if the best player and team can’t win them all, how can we expect anyone else to win enough to satisfy us?
But we do. The better man and team must win every time because our need for the regimented outcome is massive. But equally as massive is our desire for heroic struggle in sports. We root for feel good stories until the people in those stories get too good. Then, we feel betrayed and search for another hero to come along and overthrow the villain we’ve now created in our minds. We loved the New England Patriots in 2001. We wish they would just stop winning here in 2018. The same is true in the NBA for the Golden State Warriors.
We are living in the Warriors’ NBA world. The NBA Journey last year (and this upcoming year? Stay tuned) ended where we thought it would: with them winning a third title in four years. They have forever changed the NBA landscape that had begun shifting once superstar free agents decided where they were going to play. This recent realization of freedom has shined a light on yet another concept we knew but omit at times — no superstar can win by himself.
This is the land marker where Anthony Davis is. On the NBA map, Davis’s “You Are Here” dot rests in New Orleans with a hunger for winning and his best basketball days still ahead of him. I will say it again:
But there is more than just age to think about here. Already a superstar, Davis needs to figure out how to parlay his ability into winning while the best player and best team in the world are still dominant. And alongside that factor, there is a desire to be the central piece to something with the potential of being really good being built. Davis has expressed many times how much he loves the city of New Orleans, and that love is mutual. Another possible scenario is that other star players will want to play with him in New Orleans because those players know how much better he’ll be. The NBA is different in the sense that major markets aren’t needed that much by players. Superstars can call anywhere home. If the situation is right, it can be easier to bring another superstar someplace like New Orleans that doesn’t have an extended history of winning. Davis could hope his ability and trust in the front office will bring about a championship-caliber team. In all scenarios, Davis places all future bets on himself.
That outside and possibly internal pressure to win championships grows as he does, and it may be a case where he needs to change teams sooner than Kevin Garnett did. Then again, we look at Garnett a lot differently now that he won a championship. We look at him much differently than we do Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady — two superstars who rose to the top of the NBA with zero championships to show for it. We know how good they were, but there’s a question next to that ability because it never translated into the highest form of winning. And the reality that sits above all these possible endings for Anthony Davis is still: whatever he does will not guarantee him a championship.
So, what lies ahead of Anthony Davis at 25? Hopefully, a lot of excellent basketball and maybe, with a little luck joined with his amazing talent, an NBA title in his future. All possible outcomes are before him.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse’s good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.
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