I’ll never forget watching Seattle’s run during the 2005 playoffs. They played the future champs – San Antonio – to a virtual tie in the second round, losing in six games but not before they nearly pushed it to seven. They were a fun team, really one of the last in Seattle to matter. Ray Allen was in his prime as an all-around player, and they gave minutes to a lot of memorable guys. Their front line packed more beef than an offensive line: Danny Fortson, Reggie Evans, Nick Collison and Vitaly Potapenko. But the biggest of them all was Jerome James. In 11 playoff games, he provided us with the first and the last glimpse of the Jerome James that mattered.
In eight of the team’s 11 playoff games, James scored in double figures and in the first round against the Kings, he actually dominated at times. 17 and 15 in Game 1 with five blocks. 22 and nine rebounds in Game 3 before following that up with 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocks two nights later. Overall, his numbers in the playoffs were worthy of the contract Isiah Thomas gave him during the offseason. Too bad we all knew it was a mirage.
We all know how the story goes from there: James gave up trying, spent more time in street clothes than warm-ups and become a poster child for the evils that evolve out of guaranteed contracts. Thomas gave him $29 million that summer – I joked at the start of free agency that if there was ONE GUY in the whole league who was going to overpay for James, it was Thomas… and look what happened – and we never again saw the guy who had been using trash bags as wings just a few months before.
James turned 36 years old today and I wonder if he still thinks about this run. For once in his career, we knew him for what he did on the court rather than off it. For once, he became more than a gimmick, someone you had to gameplan and be prepared for, and yet it was over quicker than it began.
Did you ever think James would become a good player?
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