Unfortunately, the NBA is a business.
A fan favorite, Powe has defied odds his entire career, battling homelessness, injuries, and his lack of size (for an NBA power forward). The NBA is a cruel world, though, and, when Powe tore his ACL and meniscus in his left knee, the Celtics decided to cut him loose.
How do you let Powe go, Danny, Wyc, Doc, or whoever the hell made the decision? This is a guy who was once a homeless kid on the streets, a guy who became a father-figure and the man of the house at the youthful age of seven.
In case you didn’t know, that was when his little brother accidentally lit his house on fire, and the house burned down, taking with it the Powe’s last semblance of a normal life.
The family was left without a home, without a father (who had left the family when Leon was two), and without any hope, either.
His family bounced from one place to the next, vagabonds and nomads not by choice, but by necessity. Leon took on far greater responsibility than a kid his age should be forced to shoulder, becoming the de facto father of his five siblings.
When their mother was out working long hours to make ends meet, it was Leon at home watching the children. When the children were taken away from the mother, whose long hours at work got in the way of her parenting, and they were placed into foster care, it was Leon who kept the children hopeful and together.
When Leon’s mother died of a heart condition when he was only a junior in high school, it was Leon who comforted and consoled his siblings—it was Leon who made them continue to function through the brutally rough times.
Meanwhile, Leon was given a lifeline by his basketball talent. A consensus top-10 player in the 2003 high school class, Leon was poised to change his life by the skills he demonstrated on the 94’ x 50’ hardwood.
Still, the young power forward from Oakland, California just couldn’t catch a break. Powe had his first knee injury during his junior year of high school, and it nearly destroyed his college prospects and certainly ended the ideas he had entertained about going straight to the NBA out of high school.
His fierce determination refused to let the injury keep him down. He ended up accepting a scholarship to play at the University of California, where he was the Pac-10 freshman of the year, leading the conference in rebounding along the way. Powe was once again well on his way to the NBA, a great prospect with terrific potential.
If you haven’t been able to tell already, it just wasn’t meant to be that easy for Leon. Just when everything was starting to look up again, Leon’s world once again came stumbling to a halt when an ACL injury ended his sophomore season before it even started.
NBA scouts wondered how Powe would return from his second major knee injury, but Leon didn’t disappoint. He rehabbed maniacally and returned for his junior season better than ever.
Averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, Powe made his way back into the picture for the NBA Draft, and was rewarded for his outstanding recovery when he was drafted in the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets and subsequently traded to the Boston Celtics.
Powe had finally made it, but he still had to battle once he came into the league. Leon didn’t immediately receive playing time, but fought and fought until Doc Rivers had no chance but to give the young, bruising power forward minutes.
The following year, when Powe erupted for 21 huge points off the bench in Game Two of the NBA Finals, he solidified his reputation as a tough scorer and one of the NBA’s more productive post options off the bench.
When Kevin Garnett went down in the 2008-2009 season and the Celtics needed someone to fill in for his production, Powe became a monster. He had the best stretch of his career just when the Celtics needed it the most, becoming a double-double machine and scoring with amazing efficiency down low.
Sadly, he couldn’t maintain his production, and once again, it was through no fault of his own. Powe had yet another knee injury, a strain this time, and it sidelined him until just before the playoffs.
Leon wouldn’t let the injury keep him down. He’d fought much bigger problems, and he couldn’t allow a simple knee strain to hold him back. He returned to the Celtics' lineup and immediately proved himself healthy enough to contribute to the Celtics' championship defense.
Four games after Powe returned, his season was done. His knee had once again given out on him, his luck once again proved to be inexplicably bad. It was a contract year for Leon, and his injury would keep him from earning the big bucks his play had warranted.
Do you want to know the sad part about the Boston Celtics’ letting Powe go? He sacrificed his entire career to help this team win. Powe must have known his injured knee hadn’t fully recovered, yet he still came back to help his team try to win its second-straight championship. He knew it was his contract year and just sitting out for the playoffs would have made him millions.
But he didn’t care. All he wanted to do was help his team win basketball games. He was willing to flush his next contract down the drain for the Boston Celtics, and now they won’t go to bat for him. They won’t tender him a qualifying offer, not even after all he’s done for the organization.
So, where’s the loyalty, Celts? Don’t you remember what this kid's been through to get to where he is? Don’t you know what he gave up just to help your team in the playoffs?
Here’s a quote from Doc Rivers about how he was lobbying for Powe’s return next year:
“Oh, I lobby all the time. I just don’t do it publicly. I lobby for all my guys. Any guy that has your team at heart, I’m lobbying for him. It’s good to have soldiers in your locker room.
“Forget the basketball. For me, that’s a huge loss. I look at the big picture sometimes, and forget the basketball, he’s going to be a free agent this year. He’s going to have reconstructive surgery, there’s a chance he’s not going to get a contract. He’s done everything right for his coach, and everything right for his team. This kid was homeless, so that hurts. He’s everything that’s right about our league.’’
And the Celtics have demonstrated everything wrong with the league. Money-hungry owners failing to show loyalty, even to the players who have remained most committed to their team.
Powe gave up his contract just to help the C’s. He lost guaranteed millions by demonstrating the loyalty, passion, and devotion to a franchise that turned around and stabbed him in the back.
Leon Powe is everything that’s right about the NBA.
But his story shows everything that still needs to be fixed.
Brought to you by Celtics Town.