Funny thing about Kwame Brown. Most guys have one shot, if that, to make it in the NBA.
After that, they've either impressed and earned themselves a second contract, floundered and found themselves in the NBDL or Europe, or teetered on the edge of minor success and major disappointment. Then they hope for someone to give them a second shot at proving themselves as contract-worthy.
There haven't been many exceptions to the above because it's a fair, business-like process. Who are you going to argue with? It's natural selection. Survival of the fittest. And the rest will figure something out.
Kwame Brown, though, has been the exception to the rule.
No one has ever been given so many second chances based solely on potential. A 6'11" 26-year-old with Karl Malone's shoulders, teams have taken gamble after gamble on Brown, hoping that Brown's tenure with them will be the one that finally brings Brown, the monster he could be, out of Brown, the slug that he is.
On occasion we've seen flashes, but Brown's always returned to form.
In 2002, after the Wizards registered a mediocre 37-45 during Brown's rookie season, this Washington Post article was written on Brown. I read it then, and I've read it a few times since because it's an extremely good read. And if you've never seen it, it's highly recommended.
It's been six years since that article was written, and sadly enough, the article proved a forecast of the trajectory of Brown's career. An article about an immature kid with promise who wasn't ready for life as anything but a live-in momma's boy, it now represents the reason why the old cliche about hindsight being 20/20 does not apply here.
It's now just one of several signs in Brown's early career which made us say, "This kid'll be out of the league in no time." We were given a window into the life and times of Kwame Brown up front so we would never end up needing to question our judgments about him retrospectively.
"Caveat emptor," the article warned of Brown. "Kid's got some issues." But in the end, you'll never have a problem selling your land—even if it's swampland—if the buyer thinks there's gold underneath.
And so there have been buyers. And that's been Brown's career. From the Wizards to the Lakers to the Grizzlies and now to the Pistons for a two-year, $8 million deal.
Sure, some guys make livings like this, but those guys are called NBA journeymen. Unlike the journeymen, though, Brown's been paid like a starter or a key reserve.
And while he may be making a killing relative to his actual worth in the NBA, is that money worth being dubbed a career-long albatross? I've got to imagine that Brown's years in the league have battered his self esteem to the point that it'll never recover.
Then there's the aberration that has been Brown's trade value. At his peak with the Lakers, Brown was never more than serviceable at his position, but somehow, he's been the main bargaining chip in the trades moving Caron Butler to DC and Pau Gasol to LA.
Granted, Butler was nowhere near the star he is now back then. Nonetheless, it was all but unanimous in public opinion that LA had gotten the short end of the stick. The Gasol trade might not have been nearly as simple in terms of two teams hoping to plug in a new starter as Butler/Brown, but trade value is trade value, especially when the return is a trip to the NBA finals.
All this is just a testament to the statement that there is an upside to having your team acquire Kwame Brown: chances are, in a couple of years, after embarrassing the front office's judgment and being booed by his own fans, you'll pick up an All-Star in exchange for Brown. At least that's been the trend thus far in Brown's career.
So while he may not be the best short-term investment, history supports picking him up for a couple of seasons.
And this is why I have such a hard time making my mind up about the polarizing Kwame Brown.
He was born in a position to make millions of dollars based on his physical gifts. He makes money on his physical promise, which in the end, has very little to do with him. As long as he's around, someone's willing to pay him.
And in that sense, his NBA career has been little more than a professional sports annuity. "For every year you're still here, Kwame, we'll pay you X amount. How's that sound?" He makes money simply for being.
On the other hand, this guy, whether he has the talent or not, has had it rougher from an acceptance perspective than probably any other current NBA player. His teams' fans have hated him everywhere he's played. He's been seen as a plague, with fans denouncing their front offices for even sniffing around trades involving Brown.
Teammates have had to stand up for him to the public for the sake of team solidarity, and not because they genuinely cared about him. Can you blame any of them when Brown is widely recognized as the worst No. 1 pick in NBA history?
He's a tragic figure, one I have a hard time not feeling sympathy for.
I'm conflicted in choosing to feel bad for or laugh at Brown. He's had all of the tools to succeed, and he's been paid accordingly, but he's never capitalized, and that's arguably been his fault.
It's hard to fathom walking a mile in his size 19 shoes, because I could never relate to what he's been through. Maybe he's given everything he has, and the transition from high school to the NBA was just particularly brutal on him. Or maybe he's just never had the dedication needed to have a productive NBA career.
Whichever view I take, I can't help but look at a another 6'11", 270 lb. teen drafted first overall just three years later out of a Georgia high school. I can't help but wonder just what it was that made one into a first team all-NBA player and the second into perennial trade bait.
How many NBA teams does it take to spot an NBDLer floating around in the NBA? TBD. Let's hope, for our sake and Brown's, just four.
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