Shawn Kemp’s ’99 Lockout Demons

08.10.11 8 years ago 6 Comments

With the threat of an entire year without basketball looming, we’ve started to bemoan the eventual disasters of collateral damage that this labor dispute will cause. Players leaving to play overseas, a lost year on the end of Tim Duncan‘s career and an entire October of actually having to watch baseball (oh wait, the NFL is back. Deliver us from evil!)

One of the most common myths of the last lockout was that Shawn Kemp, veritable NBA superstar and Krispy Kreme aficionado, was one of the players most physically damaged by the lockout. The Internet has been buzzing with the question: “Who will get fat after the NBA lockout?”

The answer? I’m not so sure that matters.

In the 1997-98 season, Shawn Kemp had averages of 18 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.4 STL and 1.1 BLK. During the lockout season, in which there were only 50 games played, Kemp admittedly came back with a little more meat on his bones. One New York Times report said of players returning to NBA action: “Kemp, who says he was only a few pounds overweight, showed up in Cleveland with a waistline that resembled his nearly 40-inch vertical leap.”

However, Kemp’s averages for the lockout season said otherwise, continuing to peak at 20 PPG, 9.2 PRG, 1.1 STL and 1.1 BLK. The same can be said for the next full season in 1999-00 when Kemp, growing fatter and fatter, started all 82 games for the Cavs and put up averages of 17.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.2 STL and 1.2 BLK.

So, the lockout in 1999 made Shawn Kemp fatter but didn’t drastically reduce his impact on the game, save for a few more personal fouls.

What made Shawn Kemp take such a nosedive in his first year in Portland? Well, to summarize this piece by Dave over at Blazer’s Edge, Kemp played for an under-performing team while simultaneously abusing drugs and food. Kemp went into drug rehab in 2001 and his myriad personal problems (read: baby mama drama) created a marked and understandable drop off in performance.

For now, I think the DeMarcus Cousins‘ of the world are safe, lest they have outlying personal issues come a full season of NBA lockout. In the case of Shawn Kemp, the reality is that when the 1999 lockout rolled around, he was 29 years old, in the prime of his career and had just signed a massive contract a few years earlier. He wasn’t the high-flyer he’d once been but he was absolutely still a productive NBA player. That he took such a hard fall was difficult for many of us to watch, especially considering his behavior was so outlandish at times. It made it difficult to feel sympathy for the stereotypical “overprivileged athlete.”

Kemp didn’t fit that model, however, and he was a much more complex person than that. The Reign Man’s career is certainly a tale of “what if?” that NBA fans or Kemp will never be able to reclaim, despite a failed attempt at re-entry into the league in 2006. What the ’99 lockout did was give Shawn Kemp idle time with too much money for a man that obviously needed some kind of help wrestling his demons. For Shawn Kemp, the 1999 NBA lockout wasn’t so much about things going wrong between meals as much as it was about things going wrong between the ears.

What do you think was the main reason for Kemp’s demise?

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