They say you can’t go home again, meaning you can return to a place but not to a place in time. It’s never quite as we remember, and we ourselves are not the same.
It has also been interpreted as meaning that you can’t go home again without being deemed a failure.
Bynum never played once in Philly, watching from the sidelines and resting his chronically aching knees, eventually having both joints scoped out to remove loose debris.
This season, he played 24 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers before being traded to the Chicago Bulls, where he was promptly waived. In February, he was signed by the Indiana Pacers, appearing in just two games before being dismissed.
Another comeback had ended in failure. And perhaps a career as well, for the 26 year-old former All-Star.
“How do the legs feel?” was the question. “Good enough to walk around on,” was the answer.
The conversation took place at LAX airport last week as the giant Bynum strolled from the concourse to the parking garage, followed by an insistent paparazzi for TMZ. The questions didn’t stop coming: “Are you a free agent now? Where are you hoping to land? Your home is in L.A., would you like to come home to L.A. or what?”
Bynum tossed back the kind of disinterested responses that turn into the written word. Asked whether he’d like to play for the Clippers or Lakers, he gave the only answer that a two-time champion with the Purple and Gold is likely to give, unless feeling an uncontrollable desire to be launched head first into death-by-media.
That was good for a couple days of breathless headlines. But what about reality? Would Lakers executive Jim Buss welcome back a player whom he once considered unworthy of trading? And is there enough left in Bynum’s knees to offer minimum salary value?
Bynum’s downfall came shockingly fast, even for someone who clearly had health issues. The youngest player ever drafted into the NBA, he was 17 years old when selected by the Lakers as the No. 10 pick in 2005.
He was raw, huge and knock-kneed, and in time, became one of the most dominant players in the NBA. He was an absolute beast under the glass with the added benefit of soft hands, excellent passing skills and ambidextrous hook-shot ability.
At his best he was a fierce rim protector at one end of the court and a surprisingly mobile offensive force, showing solid footwork and an array of post moves that when combined with sheer strength, made him difficult to deny.
And then there were all the surgeries and the lengthy rehabs. He played just one 82-game season, averaging 46 games per season over his nine-year career.
Laker fans got used to holding their breath every time he went up for a dunk, lugging that monstrous knee brace with him. And when he landed without incident, collective breaths were released.
Apart from the obvious problems with his pins, there has always been the question of Bynum’s dedication to the game. An innately curious sort, his interests include building computers, tinkering with his custom Ferraris and traveling the globe. He excelled at basketball but also chafed at the repetitive nature of playing inside the painted box.
During his short time with the Cavaliers, Bynum indulged his boredom with Mike Brown’s stifling practices by incessantly chucking up the ball from long distance. According to Adrian Wojnarowski from Yahoo! Sports: “Before Bynum was thrown out of his final practice and suspended, he was shooting the ball every time he touched it in a practice scrimmage, sources said – from whatever remote part of the court he had caught the ball.”
Of course, the notion of coming home again isn’t necessarily confined to a place in time. It can also be where all the old familiar faces are.
In January, Phil Jackson, now president of the New York Knicks, appeared on Fox Sports Live and was asked whether his former star center could still be a force in the league. Jackson mused about the pain and difficulties but also added: “I think he’s going to give it another try. This kid is really talented. He’s a good shooter, he’s got a good touch, got a left and a right hand."
In New York there would be Lamar Odom, who played alongside Bynum for all those years, Jackson of course and now the Knicks’ new head coach—Derek Fisher.
Writing for Bleacher Report, Kevin Ding poses an interesting scenario: “Andrew Bynum, just the sort of one-year free-agent flyer who makes sense for the Lakers to try this summer, might be next in New York, given how he absolutely reveres Fisher.”
The question of Los Angeles versus New York might seem overreaching to some, considering Bynum played just 26 games of actual basketball over the past two years. But athletes of his size and talent are rare commodities in the NBA, and it’s hard to completely dismiss a 26-year-old 7-footer with a couple of jewel-encrusted championship rings.
Where does the truth lie? Is it revealed through the leading questions of a paparazzi and the briefest of responses? Is it shown to us in the most obvious of ways—the pain, injuries and steep downward trajectory of the past two years?
Or could Bynum awaken out of a Rip Van Winkle slumber and return to the place where he spent seven seasons, to Staples Center where the banners hang? Kobe Bryant is still there of course, as is Buss who championed his draft selection relentlessly for years.
You don’t have to come home as the conquering hero and you don’t have to save a team that nosedived to its worst loss record in franchise history this past season.
But Bynum could simply return to a place where he once felt a sense of belonging. There is a not-unreasonable chance that he could make a contribution off the bench as a minimum salary veteran.
And perhaps close out one of basketball’s most enigmatic and puzzling stories by completing the circle and coming home to the Lakers next season.