Hearing Spurs point guard T.J. Ford was forced to retire after a series of spinal injuries which came to define his career nearly as much as the potential he carried in his small frame was something like a punch to the gut. With one simple tweet, Ford announced he would be stepping away from the game while his body still allowed him to; a choice Brandon Roy reluctantly came to following a long history of knee ailments only months ago. The decision came five days after his latest scare following an elbow to the back from Baron Davis.
The 2003 NBA Draft has already drawn comparisons to 1984 and 1996 in terms of talent. Ford was one of main the reasons why thanks in part to a stellar two year run at the University of Texas which saw his Longhorns battle a Carmelo Anthony-led Syracuse team in the ’03 Final Four. That season is largely remembered by Melo’s almost unfair dominance over Big East compeition that year, yet Ford proved himself to be one of the most exciting floor generals college basketball has ever seen. And before that, he along with former Duke standout Daniel Ewing and Ivan McFarlin carried on the lineage of Willowridge High School in Missouri City, Texas, as a national powerhouse (and him into a local legend).
Though this tale has been depicted countless times before, T.J. Ford’s retirement is a reminder a great majority of stories across the league fail to produce storybook endings. Each individual sport, whether it be baseball, football, basketball, hockey or soccer, is physically taxing and requires one third talent, one third dedication and one third luck. Not every career ends on top. Most end with the reality check of realizing the ability to play at a high level only lasts but for so long, which is why T.J.’s own admission sticks to the ribs that much more. “I don’t think anyone plans to retire early,” Ford said. “I was hoping I could get to that 34-36 age. It’s tough. I wasn’t planning on coming into this season retiring.”
Who would’ve guessed his career would never be the same not even 60 games into his rookie season after colliding with Mark Madsen of all people? It’s the thought of the unknown which make the NBA, let alone sports, the world’s greatest reality show. Now it’s the thought of the unknown that’ll forever define what could have and should have been in T.J. Ford’s time in the NBA. Charge this one to the game.
Bonus: Speaking of careers that never lived up to their billings, check out this footage from the 2001 McDonald’s All American game. Not only is T.J. one of the game’s premiere players, but pay close attention to Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry and DaJuan Wagner. About the last one, you couldn’t have told me Wagner and LeBron weren’t going to kill everything moving in Cleveland.