As someone who fell in love with basketball during the height of the Allen Iverson era, I adore watching Marshall Henderson play the sport.
In an era where stars—both collegiate and NBA—are scrubbed mostly clean of any outward displays of personality, Henderson is the polar opposite. He talks enough trash to make Rasheed Wallace blush. He does the Gator Chomp in the face of Florida fans, pops his jersey at Auburn fans after knocking down game-winning free throws and flips the bird when he loses. Sometimes he even takes it too far and decides to pop a teammate in the face.
In the post-Iversonian era, it's strangely comforting to see a player give that much of a damn so outwardly. Make no mistake. Henderson is so outwardly emotional not because he's some cocky, arrogant kid who hasn't met anyone willing to punch him in the face.
That's part of it, of course, but Henderson's personality—at least on the floor—is rooted less in selfishness and more in competitiveness. He plays with that reckless abandon partially because he's a ball hog, yes. But he's a ball hog because he wants to win so badly—the ultimate juxtaposition.
Some would call that a justification, just as they would call the way Henderson acts on the basketball court unbecoming. They say that he lacks the common sportsmanship. And they villainize him to such a degree that he was undoubtedly the most controversial player in college basketball last season—perhaps second behind only Dwight Howard among all players in the United States.
Still, we often forget that basketball and other sports are performance art. If you don't like watching Marshall Henderson play for basketball reasons? Well, welcome to the club. If we were choosing among the "stars" of college basketball we'd most like to play with, he'd almost certainly be the last pick.
But if you're not endlessly entertained as a spectator by Henderson? Have fun watching C-SPAN and drinking Metamucil. The man is good for college basketball, just as Iverson was for the NBA. Believe it or not, fans like arguing about whether players are that certain synonym of Richard far more than they do about the latest State Farm commercial. Henderson creates that conversation.
I say all of this because, after Wednesday's announcement by Ole Miss that the school has suspended Henderson indefinitely for a violation of team rules, the controversial guard may have played his last collegiate basketball game—or at least he should have.
Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger was the first to report on the story, which then took on a national life of its own. Rebels head coach Andy Kennedy released a statement on the matter, in which he called for Henderson to shoulder a greater leadership burden:
Since the season ended, we have talked a lot about Marshall taking a greater leadership role with our team. With that comes greater responsibility, and he must do a better job of living up to the high standard we expect from him and he desires from himself.
If that all seems vague, well, that's how these things usually go. An initial press release is put out via the school, which cannot technically disclose anything of substance about its student athletes, and then "sources" wind up leaking the reasoning for said suspensions.
And that's exactly what happened here. Not too long after Kellenberger broke the news on Henderson's suspension, CBS Sports' Gary Parrish reported the suspension was due to a failed drug test:
Marshall Henderson's suspension from Ole Miss is related to a failed drug test, a source told @CBSSports.— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) July 10, 2013
Offseason suspensions—especially ones with non-definite timeframes—rarely mean anything. The word "indefinite" can mean forever, or it could mean juuuust long enough to last right until camp opens for the basketball team. Parrish also reported that this is not one of those typical suspensions.
I'm told Marshall Henderson's future at Ole Miss is genuinely up in the air. This is not a typical offseason suspension that means little.— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) July 10, 2013
Anyone who knows Henderson's story knows why Ole Miss is seriously considering booting Henderson for good, just as the school should.
Here are the facts: Henderson has had a drug problem dating back to high school. As a senior, he and a friend purchased 57 grams of marijuana with $800 worth of counterfeit money. Fifty-seven grams of marijuana isn't a small amount, folks. It's enough to make Snoop Dogg cock back his head.
Federal agents later found out about the counterfeiting scheme and charged Henderson with forgery, to which Henderson pleaded down to avoid a federal case and get probation. The counterfeit money thing is a relatively minor, kids-make-mistakes sort of thing.
It's the violation of that parole that's more salient from Ole Miss' perspective. Henderson was later sentenced to 25 days in a Texas jail after testing positive for cocaine, marijuana and alcohol, violations that coincided with the star guard also failing to comply with other provisions of the case like community service.
During this period, Henderson bounced around to three schools—Utah, Texas Tech and South Plains College, a junior college in Texas—before even landing at Ole Miss, partially due to his problems away from the court.
Henderson is off probation, so there are no legal problems that can come of this. And there is a general repulsiveness to those who stand atop their mountain of piety and condemn a college kid for making a few mistakes. This is not that condemnation on drugs or people's social liberties. The rush from columnists to berate college athletes for doing the same things their contemporaries are out doing is always laughable, usually written with the get-off-my lawn attitude of someone nearing retirement.
There's a difference between making a mistake and having a drug problem. Henderson will be 23 years old in September. We're reaching a half-decade of him making drug-related mistakes, and his positive cocaine test signals that growing pattern.
And there's also a difference between staying true to yourself and thinking you're above any punishment whatsoever.
Henderson's reaction was typically defiant. He told Fox Sports broadcaster Erin Andrews that he would "mock" her, ostensibly after he returns to Gainesville as part of the Rebels. He also appeared in an Instagram video with Ole Miss football player Denzel Nkemdiche who asked him his thoughts on the matter, and Henderson smiled and said "sadness, ho," per Parrish. The video has since been taken down by Nkemdiche, who went straight to the social media excuses well, saying he was hacked.
I don't believe for a second that Nkemdiche was hacked, but that's not salient to the point. And no one needs Henderson to suddenly turn into a choir boy and become fake-contrite the moment this report hit, either. People see through a lack of sincerity better than anyone realizes, which is what made Henderson's strange apology in April rather cringe-inducing.
Frankly, to put it in the most simplistic terms possible, Henderson has just screwed up too often and in too many ways for Ole Miss to risk having him around any longer.
No one ever told Allen Iverson "no," either. His prodigious talents enabled him to have free reign over the Philadelphia 76ers organization. He practiced when he wanted, took bad shots when he wanted and had numerous off-the-court issues. The punishments doled out by the Sixers organization were rarely harsh—mere slaps on the wrist that allowed Iverson to continue pushing an underwhelming supporting cast to the playoffs.
Over time, Iverson picked up just about every vice available to the world's most wealthy. He gambled and drank heavily. He was involved in an assault case with his bodyguard, one that saw him pay out $260,000 in damages to the victim.
Should Ole Miss reinstate Marshall Henderson?
And once Iverson's playing career ended, the vices didn't stop. He's now divorced, still with that gambling debt and alcohol problem, and so broke that he can't afford a cheeseburger despite making $150 million during his playing career.
None of this is to say Marshall Henderson is guaranteed to share the same fate. Sources told Parrish that Henderson might seek help for his drug issues in a rehabilitation facility. That's great for Marshall Henderson the person. I hope everything works out for him, he stays clean and winds up having a wonderful post-collegiate career in Europe.
It's just time someone tells Marshall Henderson "no" and actually mean it. Henderson has been given chance, after chance, after chance, after chance to put a happy ending on his story. It's likely that he'll get another, and I hope he's back on the court popping his jersey, chomping his arms and flipping all the birds he wants.
Just not at Ole Miss.
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