Greg Oden As Bill Russell and the Other Top NBA Failed Nexts
Sometimes life just isn't fair.
Take for example the poor folks that have to cover the Clippers this season. Just not fair.
I was doing some online research recently, reading about Greg Oden's most recent lost season, when someone turned on a radio near me. As I read about Oden's micro-fracture surgery I heard it start. I cringed, tried to drown it out by humming, but it was inescapable. I had to listen to Lenny Kravitz's rendition of "American Woman."
There was no escaping it!
It dawned on me as I continued to read about the surgery that was going to cost this promising young center another NBA season while listening to Kravitz butcher the Guess Who original song, that they both had something in common.
I'm sure Kravitz didn't intend to destroy the song, it just turned out that way. Simliarly, Oden didn't want this to happen; I'm pretty sure he hoped he was the next Bill Russell as much as we all hoped it for him.
Where Lenny Kravitz recorded a song that makes lisening to someone scratch a blackboard while two cats fight and someone blows a bullhorn seem bearable; Oden, through no fault of his own, failed to measure up to the original, Bill Russel.
It is one of sports most enduring curses. Along with the dreaded "vote of confidence" and the "SI cover curse" is the "Next" label. Some welcome it, some encourage it, others ignore it, few ever measure up.
The following is a short list of the top fail failed "Nexts" in no particular order. Some never got the chance to prove their worth due to injury, others just werent that good. All five, however, have one thing in common, for one reason or another, they were a weak imitation of the original.
Jason Williams As Pistol Pete Maravich
Hey, it's a short white guy who has a lil' pazzaaz, he's the next Pistol Pete! Um, no.
I remember one game, I think it was a rookie game during All-Star weekend, where Williams decided to play unrestricted. There was a fast break with the guy some called "White Chocolate" leading the charge. He had a player to his left and one to his right. What happened next was classic Maravich slight of hand.
Williams bounced the ball so it came up to about his eyes. He circled the ball with one hand, imagine the basketball as the sun and Williams hand as the earth rotating around it. Then, as the defender was wondering what the heck was going on, Williams batted the ball with his other hand to a wing player who went in for a score.
To be fair, I don't think Williams came in to an Association that welcomed what it saw as theatrics. Where Williams did that once or twice, Maravich seemed to make a daily habit of slight of hand assists.
Hall of Fame player John Havlicek said "the best ball-handler of all time was (Pete) Maravich." and he was cited by the Hall as "perhaps the greatest creative offensive talent in history". This was a dude that was so good he had his jersey retired by the team he played longest for (the Jazz) and the team that now plays in the city he played in (the Hornets).
Williams has had a respectable career, but he fell short of the 24.2 NBA average Maravich enjoyed and even further short of the "Oh's" and "Ah's" watching Maravich invoked.
Greg Oden As Bill Russell
A defensive-minded presence at the five with just enough of an offensive game to draw comparisons the the Celtic great.
Portland was faced with the dilemma of having to choose between the next Bill Russell or some skinny kid from Texas. How dumb would they looked if they passed on freaking BILL RUSSELL!?
The rest is another sad chapter in the Trail Blazers sad draft history.
Oden is still young enough to recover from this recent setback and return for at least a shot at proving his detractors wrong. Will he come close to the 11 rings Russell owns?
Um, there is a better chance the Clippers beat the Wizards in this year's NBA Finals.
Shaun Livingston As Magic Johnson
A tall point gaurd with a certain flair fell into the Clippers laps in 2004. We all knew he wasn't the next Magic Johnson, but he was about as close as we had seen since. At times, Livingston would flick his wrists and make a pass that, if you squinted and angled your point of view just right, looked like something from Magic's bag of tricks.
He couldn't hit a jumper, but neither could Johnson when he came out of college. This kid Livingston, had potential.
Then, his knee decided to stop working. Sad.
Randy White As Karl Malone
Randy White was cursed. He went to the same college as the NBA's second leading all time scorer. Had great numbers at school and a similar passion for weight lifting as the Utah power forward. He was Karl Malone 2.0.
Well, not exactly.
He played in 281 games while averaging 7.4 points and 4.9 rebounds. This mailman didn't really deliver.
Ralph Sampson As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Sampson was a freak. He was a seven-foot point guard. All of L.A. was drooling; wanting to see him in the Great Western Forum wearing the purple and gold.
Instead, he ended up in Houston and had a respectable career, but like every other "Next" listed here, he didn't come close to living up to the original.
Harold Minor As Michael Jordan
It's funny now, looking back, how we started to look for the next MJ long before MJ was ready to leave us. Harold Minor put up insane numbers at USC and really looked the part. Poor kid was dubbed "Baby Jordan". Kiss of death anyone?
Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, poor Minor didn't come close to His Airness. Kobe is close, probably about as close as anyone will come in a while.