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Back from the Brink: Kudos to Antonio McDyess

This is the vision of Antonio McDyess I remember best. Hunched over, looking a bit battered. It was six years ago, during the 2003-04 season, when McDyess was a Knick. And for anyone who’d ever watched basketball, he was clearly a player on the way out. Beaten down. Fragile. Fighting an uphill battle with his heart against a body that simly couldn’t and wouldn’t keep up.

To understand how sad it was to watch, one had to understand the recent history and promise of the player leading up to that point. McDyess had established himself as an NBA stalwart. A member of the 2000 Olympic team, he had the physique and game of Amar’e Stoudamire long before AMare’s arrival. During that 2000-01 season, he averaged 20.8 PPG and 12 boards a contest — and a block-and-a-half a game to boot. He was a member of the Western Conference All-Star team. A 26-year old with plenty of runway left and maybe even some more upside. Then it disappared.

By the time McDyess arrived in New York, a lot had changed. Early in 01-02, he went down with a ruptured patella tendon and has season-ending surgery. It would then be almost two years before he came back to the floor after re-injuries and multiple setbacks. The Knicks had high hopes for McDyess. I remember. I was hoping he was the guy before the injuries. It was clear even early on that he wasn’t. Then, it happened again. McDyess didn’t even make it through the exhibition season. A broken kneecap in an exhibition game shelved him again.

Eventually, he’d return to play 18 games with the Knicks and finish in Phoenix. Career lows of 5 and change points/boards a game, but, more telling, he looked done. It was like watching Jose Reyes run the bases a few years back. You closed your eyes and hoped nothing bad would happen. In McDyess’s case, it was every dunk, rebound of fastbreak. He looked just unsteady enough to go down again.

Regardless, it was clear his career was on the swift decline. It was sad, moreso because you could see in his eyes how hard he’d fought to get back…how much he wanted to be the old explosive Antonio…how hard he was fighting against nature knowing it was a losing battle.

Fast-forward to today and how I landed on this post. Earlier this evening I was reading about the Pistons early moves in free agency, signing Charlie Villaneuva and Ben Gordon. The ESPN story ended with the following:

“The Pistons now turn their attention to re-signing forward Antonio McDyess, but they’ll have competition from the Cavaliers, Celtics and Spurs.

And that’s when I stopped…and gave Antonio McDyess a long-distance fist-pound. Good for him. Sure, I was fully aware that McDyess was still around and a member of the Pistons. But, in the context of his career, the final sentence of that article is somewhat remarkable. The mere notion of McDyess playing in the NBA if offered up six seasons ago might likely have been greeted with laughter by even the most prophetic of pundits. The concept that McDyess might be sought-after having proved himself still valuable after a season in which he averaged nearly a double-double over 62 games?

Yet, McDyess now enters his 14th season in the NBA and is due to make many millions. Whether it’s the Pistons who ante up, or some of the many other suitors rumored to be seriously interested, they’re getting a gamer. For anyone who is a Knicks fan like me and watched McDyess wither into a shell of his former self six years ago, it’s a pleasure to seeing him continuing to play the game and contribute. Who knows maybe he’ll even latch on somewhere with a chance at a ring. It would be a fitting close to a career that many lesser players might have abandoned a long, long time ago.

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