The first basketball jersey I ever had was a Seattle Supersonics Shawn Kemp jersey. He was my favorite player as a child and why wouldn't he have been? He epitomized what the NBA in the early 90's was all about—he was tall, quick, big, and most importantly he could throw it down.
That was the NBA I knew and loved, when hanging on the rim didn't warrant a technical and trash talk deserved its own stat line.
Although I was a Magic fan, Kemp made me care about the Sonics in the West. One of my folders in elementary school had a picture of him, mid-dunk, plastered on it. The ball cocked back, determination on his face, it was pose that I attempted to duplicate on more than one occasion—those attempts however were made on a concrete porch with a plastic basketball hoop, weighed down by sand.
Never could I levitate like No. 40. But I didn't feel bad, because few could get off the ground like the Reign Man in his prime.
Not only could he leave his fingerprints on the rim, he could hit the mid range jumper and the occasional three. He was also very solid on the defensive side of the ball. He knocked shots into the laps of season ticket holders, he grabbed rebounds, he slashed and forced his way into the lane and subsequently produced more pictures for folders, posters, and whatever other NBA merchandise the league was peddling whenever his Reebok soles left the hardwood.
Kemp, along with Gary Payton, was the Sonics.
Kemp led Seattle to the Finals in ‘96 against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, and like others that faced the tongue in the post-season, he lost.
That would be as close as Kemp would get to that elusive ring. Not long after he became a victim of a dynasty, he fell from rarefied air.
Being an NBA superstar is unforgiving, when your star falls, it falls hard.
Kemp would soon become a Cleveland Cavalier and be forced to wear perhaps the ugliest basketball uniforms ever created.
He still played at a high level for a couple of years, but age and bad decisions would prove that Shawn was a mortal.
If you follow basketball you likely know about his legal woes. Guns, drugs, children from several women, and who could forget his ballooning weight that transformed the Reign Man into a puddle.
Without gravity and Payton by his side, the superstar became normal. He became a run of the mill NBA player.
No more signature shoes from sneaker companies, no more All-Star Games, and no more being talked about as a Hall of Famer.
If he still has autograph seekers, they likely ask him to sign cards indicating that he had a prime, that he was one of the best at one time.
It seems to be such a familiar story, one that seems so similar to so many other NBA players that once controlled the numbers on scoreboards, and made their last name so popular that others would wear it on their backs. However, just because it is common does not make it easy to accept.
My favorite player is trapped in YouTube videos, dunking on Alton Lister and pointing. He is trapped on my old basketball cards and on my now too small to wear Sonics jersey. I loved having that green No. 40 on my chest and back.
And I bet Shawn Kemp did too. He probably wishes he still could.