In a league defined by superstar talents, Antawn Jamison was simply an anonymous face in the crowd.
Only that face came along with one of the finest statistical resumes of his generation.
It's a tragedy of this era and an indictment of the media that covered it that Jamison appears to be destined for a life outside the walls of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His numbers scream enshrinement, but the lack of individual recognition—either a byproduct of or responsible for an indifferent fanbase—seem to tarnish his candidacy beyond repair.
This is more than simply damage control, greater than a grassroots campaign to push Jamison inside of basketball's pearly gates. It's an overdue acknowledgment of a generational star forgotten by his own generation.
He'd never ask anyone to give him an ounce of praise. Frankly, he doesn't need to.
By The Numbers
Like so many of his hardwood achievements, Jamison's latest gem was barely a blip on basketball's radar. Chances are if you even noticed it, you met it with that same dismissive shoulder shrug that's kept the 37-year-old out of the limelight over the course of his 16-year career.
This milestone, fittingly, came during a game rife with storylines not his own.
The 37-year-old sat on the brink of a major entry into the basketball history books, yet you wouldn't have known that from the pregame coverage. This game was defined as Doc Rivers' return to the TD Bank Garden, nothing more, nothing less.
Jamison, now a ring-chasing part-timer, tickled the twine early in the second quarter to make his mark.
But that imprint was met with little more than a simple tweet of recognition:
In a seemingly meaningless game in the middle of December, his achievement—something just 38 players had done before him—became a footnote in the roundup. The 20,000th point of his career was fat that could be trimmed if a deadline-pressed newspaper editor needed to save space.
Only, Jamison didn't just join the 20K club that night. That group wasn't exclusive enough for his body of work.
With that three-point shot, his name stood alongside so many of the game's all-time greats:
Of course not. Just like none was needed for the 15 players who hit those marks before: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, John Havlicek, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Robert Parish, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird, Walt Bellamy, Bob Pettit and David Robinson.
Jamison's numbers aren't simply the product of longevity. They're a testament to his dominance, not his endurance.
From his second NBA season (1999-00) to his 12th (2010-11), he averaged at least 19.6 points in nine of the 12 seasons and at least 8.0 rebounds nine different times. Over that stretch, he scored (20.3) as well as Garnett (20.6) and rebounded (8.1) like Nowitzki (8.6).
Yet, Jamison's never been held in the same regard as those perennial All-Stars. His problem comes down to perception, one he hopes will be corrected by his production.
"You look at my career and hopefully the numbers will say that," he said, via ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi. "To have those numbers with the guys who do have them in the hall of fame speaks volumes. It’s a dream and hopefully it comes true."
It won't come true unless we allow it to. In order to have that epiphany, we have to debunk some myths surrounding his career.
Perception Can't Be Reality
Ask hoops heads about Jamison's Hall of Fame credentials, and you're bound to hear some baseless reasons about why to keep him out.
Some will point to his lack of team success.
It's true, he didn't have a lot of it. But there are already some key factors being left out of the discussion.
For starters, you have to remember where he logged his prime years.
His career started with the Golden State Warriors, a franchise sitting on a four-year playoff drought when he first arrived. He led the team in scoring in each of his last three seasons there. During that time, his most reliable help came from guys who were too young to consistently contribute (Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson) or underwhelming players in oversized roles (Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall).
He spent the 2003-04 season with the Dallas Mavericks, picking up Sixth Man of the Year honors in the process. The Mavs had more talent than he'd ever been around before, but, like a typical Don Nelson-led team, hadn't learned the importance of playing both ends of the floor.
Jamison spent the next five-plus seasons with the Washington Wizards, where he teamed up with Arenas (again) and Caron Butler. These Wizards had talent, but they didn't have LeBron James. King James' Cleveland Cavaliers dispatched the Wizards from three consecutive postseasons, literally shaking Washington to its core.
From there, Jamison's been a step behind in each of his NBA moves. He teamed up with James in the middle of the 2009-10 season, but the King made his infamous exit from Cleveland following a second-round loss to the Boston Celtics.
He played on the superteam-that-wasn't Los Angeles Lakers last season, and he has stayed inside the Staples Center with the Los Angeles Clippers this season.
Maybe Jamison's Clippers make a run for the podium. Maybe they end up like his previous teams and bow out early in the postseason.
At this point, it doesn't really matter for his resume. That damage has already been unfairly done, as if Jamison was at all responsible for building competent rosters around him.
There's also another fuel to the detractors' fire—Jamison has made all of two All-Star trips in his career.
First off, it's hard to criticize someone for not being selected to a team that we're somewhat responsible for putting together. You can't refuse to vote someone and then blame that person for not getting votes.
Let's also remember which players were keeping him out of the All-Star Game. The West was loaded with transcendent bigs during his early days: Shaq, Duncan, Malone, Robinson, Garnett, Nowitzki, Chris Webber.
If coaches needed to thin that talent pool, then team success was an all-too-easy barometer. Again, Jamison was a player, not an executive.
He was a force few recognized, but one whose numbers now demand recognition.
Something happened along the way that allowed Jamison to slip through the superstar cracks. And I'm willing to shoulder the blame for the hoops world.
Looking back, it's hard to remember Jamison as a team leader. We can't pinpoint those moments when he transcended his rank and willed his team to crucial victories.
Did those moments never happen, or did we simply fail to recognize them?
We use All-Star nods and individual accolades to weigh success, never once stopping to realize how our views might be more self-serving than we thought.
Jamison wasn't an All-Star because we never appreciated him as such. Now we're weighing his Hall of Fame merits and wondering where those All-Star selections are. He wasn't a highlight-reel kind of player. There's only so many times you can run footage of a 6'8" forward finding success off awkward flip shots. His teams rarely reached the public eye. He didn't jump to a major market until his prime was simply a thing of the past.
He was the game's forgotten superstar—a misstep on our part that we now choose to hold against him.
I hope Jamison's right. I hope his numbers do remind us all of the great career so many of us willingly missed.
It's impossible to change the past. None of us can rewrite history.
But we can pour through those books and believe what our eyes are finally telling us—Antawn Jamison has carved out a place inside the Hall of Fame. It's been there all along. As one of the game's real good guys, he was never going to point that out to us.
But with a nondescript three-point bomb during a game in which he was once again overshadowed, Jamison did what he's always done—he let his play do the talking. For the first time in his career, the basketball world was finally willing to listen.
*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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