LOS ANGELES — We've seen it big-time with an aging Kobe Bryant, and if you go back far enough in recent Los Angeles Lakers history, Karl Malone set up shop in that corner locker in his final season of 2003-04 and just poured out frank and heartfelt sentiment.
There's something about the end of one's playing days that gets players to stop worrying about being political correct for sponsors or considering the All-Star votes of mainstream fans. They just tell it like it is, how they feel it.
To wit, here is what Steve Nash, 40, had to say about spilling his truths, especially on Grantland's The Finish Line documentary-short series, which he calls "cathartic":
This is that universal story that we all sweep under the rug: that you come to the end of your day, whether you're a writer who's run out of words or you're an athlete who can't keep up anymore. And whether it's high school, college, pros, there comes a time you have to hang it up—or you face retirement.
In the case of a professional athlete, I think it's heightened because you've done something for 18 years that you've become accustomed to doing and built your life around and even your identity around—and to feel for a moment like that's disappeared is a frightening place. But to move on, to see the future and have to move on to that, it is something I think everybody goes through at some stage.
I had friends who don't play basketball, don't play sports, call me up and say, 'I've been feeling that way lately just in life. I'm 40 now. What the heck's going on?' It's a transition. So, that was the goal. It might look now in some respects because it has been well-received that people say, 'Wow, that was a smart move.'
But in some ways, especially with the money comment (about not retiring and losing $9.7 million), I just felt it was an opportunity to be really honest—and backlash be damned. It felt right at this stage of my career to be open and to hell with being judged. That is the truth."
One key note from the last installment of the Grantland series is good friend Dirk Nowitzki, 35, answering Nash's question about what he would do in Nash's shoes now: "What you go through, and all the treatments and in and out…I don't know if I could do it. All the rehab and knowing it doesn't really get better, and play one game and it's worse again, I don't know if I could do it."
Nash allowed he has been "a bit of a nightmare" for the Lakers. But he calls himself "positive and optimistic and hopeful" that he'll have a better summer of health to prepare for one last NBA season amid his ongoing nerve damage.
D'Antoni's Assistant/Brother Moving On
Marshall University's hiring of Lakers assistant Dan D'Antoni, Mike's older brother, as its head basketball coach shouldn't be viewed as any sort of indication about Mike's Lakers future.
Independent of what happens with his brother, it makes sense for Dan to go coach in college. He coached 30 years at the high school level before Mike brought him up to the big leagues, and Dan has always been even more of a purist about the game than Mike. Somewhat in the way Tex Winter was, Dan was greatly irritated by the solo NBA style (as popularized at times by Bryant and Nick Young the past two Lakers seasons the D'Antonis have been around).
As far as Mike goes, the Lakers haven't drawn their conclusion yet. But Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is steadfast in his stance that D'Antoni did well this season.
"Under the circumstances," Kupchak said, "I'm not sure anybody could have done a better job than he did."
It might have felt like a long season for suffering Lakers fans, but for employees who didn't get hurt and get to skip games like the players did, it was really a grind.
One Lakers staffer whose identity I'll protect for his own sake raised two fingers as halftime ended—two more quarters—in the season finale in San Antonio. When the fourth quarter was about to begin, he didn't raise four fingers to connote the importance of winning time, he raised one finger to show all that was left.
Before that game, I asked Time Warner Cable SportsNet TV analyst Stu Lantz, who just finished his 27th season broadcasting Lakers games, about his offseason plans.
Lantz said he was going to lock himself in his house so no more people could ask him how to fix the Lakers.
Kevin Ding covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.
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