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Sebastian Telfair: On the Footnote of Kings

February 20, 2010

"In the future, when something comes up, you tell exactly how it happened but write down for yourself the way you think it should have happened."
--Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn


The NBA trade deadline is all about movement.  Big names, All-Stars even, are reduced to migrant workers, forced to go where the fruit is in season.  The Cavs acquisition of Antawn Jamison involved six NBA players alone.  The transaction saw Al Thornton, Brian Skinner, Zydrunas Ilgauskus, and a first round pick arrive in Washington, a truck full of Joad's, grown weary of the west.  The Clippers welcomed Drew Gooden, and Antawn Jamison arrived in Cleveland by what appeared to be a ticker-tape parade; but that covers only five of the six vagabonds.  Rarely mentioned, just a footnote in history, relegated to the role of a supporting actor's stunt double, was Sebastian Telfair, who at the ripe old age of 25 found himself headed to his fifth team in six years.

Legend.  Cult hero.  Guillotine crossover and a mushroom cloud no-look.  Sebastian, despite his name sounding like an 18th century composer, appeared ready to do battle with LeBron, Dwight Howard, and Shaun Livingston for the right to be his generation's Tzaddik Ha-Dor, the one who would change everything about the game and how we view it.  These four were the chosen few, able to sit as children in the Temple debating with Pharisees whether or not God should be spelled G.O.A.T.  Is it any coincidence that Sebastian at age six forced the wise sages of Coney Island's blacktop and hardwood to scratch their heads and to believe in miracles as the lane opened like the Red Sea for an infant?  And it was this signature innocence, pressed against a chain linked fence, until the metal became an accent, that made us believe that this child might lead us Through the Fire.       

Time will cut hope in half and eat it like a sandwich.  Those who were in the Staples Center the night Shaun Livingston's knee imploded described the sound like a curtain ripping, and most people could not find the resolve to turn their heads away from the mangled limbs; but if one did turn eye to rafter, then they saw a slight breeze blow through the purple and gold banners: escaping.  This world is full of unexpected dangers, that seize one body and soul, so it is not difficult to imagine that the soul often feels suppressed by bone and muscle, wanting to leave for a place more sacred.  We can deal with that.  We all go through it.  A knife hangs over all of us, waiting to split us down the middle, that we know and come to understand.  This knowledge is what so often fuels us to embrace every opportunity and is also why the soul that forces the body to play with the knife mesmerizes us, like a mirage on the horizon's desert.  Time is precious, so who amongst us would dare taunt the blade?

With a smile that appeared wider than he is tall, Sebastian Telfair appeared ready to play basketball in a manner that would constantly taunt death.  Like a pharaoh, the location of his birth was surrounded by the the pyramids of the past from Bob Cousy to Nate Archibald to Kenny Smith, Mark Jackson, and Stephon Marbury.  This city is the home of kings.  And, because these ghosts haunted always the hoops above his head, Sebastian saw death as a halo, especially when the neighborhoods around these royal courts were a fallen empire of drugs and violence.  Every statistic was against Sebastian, so when he smiled with confidence, everyone believed in that confidence.

Maybe #13 is unlucky.  When Sebastian announced he would forgo college and turn pro, he was eighteen, and, on that day, he also announced his signing of a one to two million dollar deal.  This deal placed the expectations for Sebastian into the stratosphere.  Adidas' biggest spokespeople were League MVPs Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, and, in the '90s, the company signed Kobe and T-Mac to deals when they entered the League out of high school.  This elite company set the bar for this Coney Island legend to be the player of his generation, an MVP, a champion, or in the least an All-Star.  All of these traits are of the physical world, described by Plato as a contest put on by puppets and shadows; of course, they are also all we can see.  After Sebastian signed his shoe deal, the Portland Trail Blazers drafted him with the thirteenth pick, and the exile began.

Jesus and his eleven loyal disciples make twelve.  Add in Judas, and the reservation for the Last Supper requires a table that seats thirteen.  See thirteen is an unlucky number.  Sebastian Telfair's career numbers are 7.8 ppg, 3.9 apg, and 1.6 rpg.  He averages 23.6 mpg.  These numbers do not carry the weight of Sebastian's promise, yet they do.  If all thirty NBA teams play on the same night, that's 450 players in uniform, which is about the size of the freshman class where I teach high school.  In a country of over 300 billion people, "while the unemployment rate is now 9.7 percent [and] the jobless rate among African-Americans is hovering around 15 percent," to tell it fair, Sebastian Telfair is very lucky to be amongst the chosen.


Still, Sebastian's destiny never appeared to be that of a vagrant, and one can't help but think that as Sebastian arrives in Cleveland his thoughts will echo the words of Napoleon Bonaparte: "Ambition is never content, even on the summit of greatness."  Can an emperor be happy kneeling before a King? Is it too much to ask that he mesmerize again? Is this where the knife cuts all to sunder?

4 comments:

Iceman, AD said...

Man he shoulda gone to Louisville when he had the chance and learned how to plan PG from Rick Pitino. Or is that an oxymoron?

February 20, 2010 at 11:55 AM
Teach said...

A stint in college would have at least tempered expectations and made the fall less severe

February 21, 2010 at 2:30 PM
Deckfight said...

sorry i came to this late, but i read the book by some SI writer with him on the cover. his recruitment and all that, looking at how he was the first PG from high school in the lottery...before shaun livingston, i think. (or were they the same year?) anyway, looking back, guards can't survive that young. they're too fragile. derrick rose & brandon jennings at least got meat on their bones & john wall is on his way. it was the knife, it was the wolves, it was the coney island pressure...his body never caught up to his hopes.

February 25, 2010 at 9:31 PM
Teach said...

tragically the same draft...livingston went #4...dwight howard was number #2...

February 25, 2010 at 9:38 PM

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