The Old Jamaal Magloire

Published: September 11, 2008

A couple of weeks ago my TIVO recorded an old Charlotte Hornets game that was being rerun on ESPN Classic.  In need of a basketball fix, I fired it up recently, and was immediately immersed in memories both good and bad.  It was Game 5 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the eventual Finals loser New Jersey Nets:  the game that eliminated the Hornets that year.

There was Baron Davis, proving he could take the ball to the rack at will, yet still jacking up eight transition three pointers with twenty seconds on the shot clock.  Of course, he only made one in a game that was only seperated by 4 points before the game-ending free-throw spree. 

There was Jason Kidd before divorce, knee surgery and age had turned him into a slow, frustrated shadow of himself.  He was relentless, running the ball down the Hornets throats at every chance and simply killing them.

Nearby stood a strangely young-looking Byron Scott, patrolling the Nets bench and not yet the master of the poker face he is now.

But the first thing I noticed was that I had forgotten just how scrappy those Silas-coached teams were.  David Wesley, the fierce little off-guard who backed down to no one.  George Lynch, the undersized power forward who was always fighting for the ball.  And the meanest, scrappiest of the bunch?  Jamaal Magloire, the second-year center who came off the bench behind Elden Campbell.  On his first play off the bench, he hooked Aaron Williams, couldn't reach the rebound that bounced long, and fell to the ground while throwing an elbow and dragging Williams with him.  Foul!  Against Williams!  Two plays later, he posted up against Kenyon Martin and simply shoved and beat on him until Martin got frustrated and fouled him.  And then it happened again the next time down the court.  Martin was fuming, and it became a recurrent theme.  Magloire fouled out Williams and put 4 fouls each on Martin and one of the Collins twins.  In his own, awkward, arm-flailing way, he was just as relentless as Jason Kidd.  Seeing him play like that made me remember telling my friends about the nasty little leaning screens he set.  His sharp elbows.  The way he liked to "accidentally" undercut dunkers and make them pay.  I remembered telling my wife how he was the kind of player you love on your team, and hate with a passion when they play for another team.

It's sad really, that I had almost forgotten that Magloire.  When the Heat signed him this week I just laughed at the "Heat sign All-Star Center" headline, but even as I laughed, I wondered what had happened to the guy.  He's only 30 and should be finishing his prime years.  He had shown promise too.  He managed a nice 13 points and 10 rebounds in his fourth year, and seemed primed to continue his growth as he was named to the All-Star game.  Five years later, how is he a minimum salary kind of guy and a joke as a potential starting center?

Watching that game provided that answer too.  Magloire was always limited.  He was tall and had freakishly long arms, but at the same time he wasn't terribly strong, and was fairly slow.  His ability to score outside of four feet was about as developed as Tyson Chandler's.  Still, he made up for all these deficiencies by never stopping and by being as brutal as he could get away with on the floor.  He was singleminded in whatever he was doing, and that made him effective.

The Jamaal Magloire that plays today isn't effective because he doesn't care.  He hasn't cared since that All-Star year.  Maybe it was that All-Star honor – which was the beginning of the petulant Magloire who clearly wanted out of the Hornets organization.  Maybe it was the injury he suffered the following year that cost him 59 games.  His game was predicated on physical contact, and realizing the contact can hurt him just as badly could have been a powerful motivator to lay off a little.  Whatever it was, Magloire doesn't play with fire any longer, which means he has to rely on his natural talents to get by.  Some people have the natural gifts that let them still produce without the effort.  Vince Carter comes to mind.  Rasheed Wallace. Derrick Coleman. Tim Thomas.  Magloire isn't one of them.

A shame really.  The Heat have determination and aggression in Wade, burgeoning explosiveness in Beasley, stolid professionalism in Haslem, and the box-score filling monster in Marion.  Imagine if they had just added a dose of hard-nosed brutality, instead of a stiff, limited center.  I have a feeling new Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra would be filing for unemployment midway through the season, and Riley would be once more preaching 15 strong.

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