This was supposed to be a “we told y’all” piece. We. Plural. The story of two DC b-ball prodigies that did, with God’s gifts, something only Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing were able to do from that same concrete.
While folks are calling what Kevin Durant is doing in these NBA playoffs without Russell Westbrook “hero ball”; right now, the only thing close to “hero” that could be associated with Michael Beasley is whomever might be able to save Beasley from himself.
Twenty-four years old seems too early, too young to write about how the promise of one person’s destiny has ceased, while the other’s has been fulfilled. It seems like there should be much more time to let this story develop.
But direction… direction and path… the paths that these two lives have taken…
Earlier in the week, the report came out that Beasley, the Phoenix Suns drama-prone forward, had another claim to add to his resume. This time he was being investigated for sexual assault. Not that there is any truth to the accusation that he is guilty of the crime (no criminal charges have been filed against him), but the fact that he is once again in the news for something non-basketball related and counterproductive to advancing basketball career makes the directional difference between his and Durant’s careers as drastic as Calvin Johnson’s and DeSean Jackson’s.
See, Beasley and Durant came up together. Same hood, same dreams. “We.” From the time they were nine years old on the PG Jaguars AAU squad together, people had visions of them (even though Durant is nine months older and separated by one year in school) riding one another’s coattails into a limelight laced with All-Star games, signature sneakers and dueling max contracts.
But for some odd, unexplained reason life got in the way.
Beasley came with a negative rep attached. It was Beasley that was so “OC” that Minnesota Timberwolves president David Khan had to openly admit as much when explaining why they gave up on Beasley (“a very young and immature kid that smoked too much marijuana”).
We? Gone. Separated somewhere between the time Durant was forced by the NBA to relocate from Seattle to OKC and when Beasley was forced by the NBA to pay $50,000 for his involvement in a drug-related incident that occurred during the 2008 rookie symposium.
Maybe it’s the early instability in Beasley’s career that has allowed it – and him! – to remain so unstable. Attending six different high schools in five different states can’t be overlooked when the end result, thus far, is a “kid” still trying to find himself in a game where he is playing on his third team in five years and will spend the summer wondering if the 10 ppg/3.8 rpg he gave the Suns coming off their bench is going to be enough to keep him in the league if the sexual assault charges don’t stick.
Maybe Durant being given the immediate responsibility of shouldering the burden of a franchise has made him look at basketball differently than Beasley. Maybe it made KD grow up faster, allowed him to see what it looks like from the elite level and how much there really is to lose.
From the outside looking in on both of them, it’s clear that their stories are more about who one is and who one became – Durant a modern day “Iceman” Gervin, Beasley the new “Bad News” Barnes. Kevin, for whatever reason, has found a way to turn his life over to the game of basketball as if it were a religion and Michael simply can’t seem to stop finding ways of blocking his own blessings.
Before them, of the potentially transformational post-Jordan generation ball players, it was the duo of Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury that were supposed to have the next Magic-Bird joined-at-the-hip type of careers that fulfilled all hype and promise. It didn’t happen.
After them, it was supposed to be the careers of Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry that became inseparable. That didn’t happen either.
Then came LeBron and Melo.
(Note: After being tied together by a now legendary 2002 game against each other while in high school, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony came into the NBA in the same draft, as really good friends and on almost equal footing. Although Anthony is still considered by some as one of the best players in the world, James, during his NBA career has, can we say, “separated himself” from Melo and everyone else in the game by not only winning four league MVPs in five years but putting himself in the G.O.A.T. conversation with Michael Jordan. Their story is separated by Anthony living up to his hype and LeBron living beyond his.)
While KG went on to MVPs, rings and things; Steph was livestreaming himself eating Vaseline and bugging out in bathroom mirrors. While Chandler went on to a Defensive Player of the Year award and playing on a championship team, Curry was struggling to stay on someone’s roster, playing a total of 26 games in four years for three different teams.
Durant and Beasley were supposed to be the two who broke that spell of inseparability. Be different then the other new school prototypes. Rise together as one. The fact that their story was authentic in origin and not one that came together by draft or trade or other outside sources gave it a foundation believed to be unbreakable. Strong enough to weather the NBA storm that has destroyed some careers, while exalting others.
Theirs was to be the story of the childhood friends/teammates/brothers-from-different-mothers that chased the same dream and once they both got into the NBA…
Lemme stop there. No reason to go any further. You already know. The ending – even though it’s not the end – at least for one of them, ain’t so pretty.
(Retraction: When this column first appeared, it contained a misinterpretation of a New York Times Magazine feature on the Thunder and attributed inaccurate events to Kevin Duant's early life.)