Jermaine O’Neal has been playing in the NBA for fifteen years. For those of us who were in our teens when O’Neal–also in his teens–entered the league, this is ridiculous. He was part of a radical experiment: for the first time since hardship cases Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins plied their craft, really, really young men were going to participate in the NBA. This, even more than grunge music or the widespread use of the Mosaic web browser, portended the coming of a new age where youth would be served rather than merely employed in the service industry.
These teenage heroes would change the game. They’d break every record. No longer would basketball prodigies be encumbered by RAs, GPAs, and crusty deans. And maybe, as far as Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant were concerned, this proved to be at least partially true. But what about Robert Swift? Darius Miles? Jonathan Bender? These guys washed out, disappeared, were erased from the map.
O’Neal himself has had a good, not great, career. He was an All-NBA third-teamer for a couple of years. He played solid defense. His teams went to the playoffs occasionally. But now he’s got a lot of mileage on his 33-year-old legs. He can’t put the Celtics on his trick ankle, much less his chronically achy back. When he does play, he moves like an old, tired man.
It was in the course of considering O’Neal’s decline that I realized my youth, or what was left of it, had come to an end. I haven’t accumulated lot of mileage–hell, I haven’t accumulated much of anything–but I’m starting to fall apart anyway, much like a grandmother-owned car that never leaves the garage yet still winds up being completely worthless when her wretched grandchildren go to sell it.
But perhaps it’s not over yet. As a friend pointed out, ancient former Seattle Mariner Jamie Moyer is coming out of hibernation to give baseball another go. So is Dmitri Young, who managed to shed all of the fat he carried around back in the early 2000s. Heck, pinch hitter extraordinaire Matt Stairs lost 30 pounds using Subway sandwiches Nutrisystem™ and now claims to be in the best shape of his life.
Don’t we all deserve a second chance at a first start, whatever that means?
—Photo Raps Fan/Flickr