One of the most fun parts of Shea Serrano’s new book Basketball (and Other Things) (which was reviewed here last week) was the chapter on what Serrano defined as a “memory hero.” This is how Serrano describes the concept:
“A memory hero is, in most (but not all) cases, someone who you remember as being way better than he or she actually was. Most times, the talent inflation happens because the memories were formed when you were a child or young person [...] since children and young people don’t know things and are very bad at placing things in context.”
The chapter is filled with many of Serrano’s friends and fellow basketball writers providing their own examples of this concept.
Because it is such a fun topic and one rich for conversation, we here at GSoM decided to have our own little discussion about this. The question was asked of all of us at GSoM— Who is your NBA memory hero? Why? What happened or what did they do to earn that distinction?
Patrick: Who has scored the most points in their first three starts in NBA history? I’ll give you a clue… Since 1985, only 15 players have scored at least 20 points, seven assists and a steal for six games in a row. That list includes Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Chris Paul ... and Jeremy Lin.
Anyone who remembers the period that became known as Linsanity in it’s full knows how crazy this was. The Knicks were terrible as usual, their point guard play in particular horrendous. Then in a desperation move Knicks coach D’Antoni threw an undrafted Harvard guard from the Bay Area into the game. The rest was history.
What do you mean his per game career averages are only 12 points, 4.5 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals on 43% from the field and 35% from three point range?
Honourable mention: Jason Williams at his most ‘White Chocolate’ in Sacramento. I don’t care for your shooting percentages, but my eyes tell me this is so pretty…
Charlie: Ben Ashenafi Gordon of the Chicago Bulls is the the real GOAT. After his UConn days with Emeka Okafor, he decided to inspire a whole generation of young Chicago Bulls fans—a beautiful time when no shot was a bad shot. Air Gordon single-handedly won games for the Bulls in the fourth quarter. The angel of fourth-quarter death was tattooed on his left bicep. He led the Bulls in scoring for four seasons. Some say he was a defensive sieve. I will always remember him as Air Gordon, the greatest Bulls player since Jordan..and Derrick Rose. :) Always remember, this could have been about Harrison Barnes, but I want to keep this a safe space.
Duby: Well, I don’t know if this qualifies because he was legitimately good, but I’m going to have to go with Patrick Ewing. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s was hard for a local Warriors fan. My older brother was a big Jordan/Bulls fan, so of course I naturally gravitated to the Knicks as a foil. But more importantly, I loved (and still do) Ewing’s play style - excellent defense and very versatile offense - so much so that I sort of modelled my game after his.
I remember that he didn’t have a ton of talent around him but the Knicks still fought hard and were one of the best teams in the league. I told myself this was almost exclusively because of Ewing and used to argue with my brother that he was as good as Jordan. It broke my heart when he bricked that finger roll in Game 7.
Daniel: (horrifiedly drops iPad with Basketball Reference for “2001-2002 Sacramento Kings” queued up) Wait, you’re telling me Mike Bibby didn’t average 70 points per game and shoot 91% from downtown for the Sacramento Kings’ playoff war against Shaquille O’Neal’s and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers?!
Apricot: I have a soft spot for Jason Richardson and still am bitter about his getting traded right after We Believe. But I remember him as a 3-point sharpshooter and good defender, but the numbers don’t agree. Dude could definitely dunk though.
Tom: The 1993 NBA season and playoffs provided me with many of my earliest basketball-watching memories. That Bulls-Suns Finals was one that I have very distinct recollections of watching and one of the things I remember thinking throughout that postseason was that Dan Majerle was one of the greatest 3-point shooters to ever exist.
But beyond those seasons playing with Charles Barkley in Phoenix, Majerle really didn’t do a ton and his 3-point percentage was never all that great (even in those peak seasons with the Suns, he never averaged high enough to put him in the top 10 for 3-point shooting percentage). Also looking at that 1993 playoff run that took the Suns to the NBA finals, Majerle made more 3-pointers than anyone but he also attempted 50 more than the second-highest number of attempts (by his Phoenix teammate Danny Ainge).
I always thought Thunder Dan was some kind of dead-eye all-time great 3-point shooter. In reality, he made a lot of 3-point shots, but he also attempted a lot and that inflated his numbers.
I guess the rose-colored glasses of 90s basketball nostalgia and early basketball memories in my life led me to inflate Majerle’s resume.
Nate: This is sadly pretty easy for me: Jimmy Jackson. It’s a sort of complicated path to how I found myself wearing Jimmy Jackson’s number (24) in my first couple of years of high school ball, but it actually began with Jason Kidd. Kidd, as some of you may remember, was a local legend before he even started playing at Cal. As a Berkeley native, I instantly became a Cal fan when kid went there. So naturally, when he made it to the NBA, I started rooting for his team: the Mavs (and even got a Mavs Kidd jersey for Christmas one year).
At the time, the Mavs were supposed to be The Next Big Thing with the “Three J’s” (perhaps the least creative nickname for any core in any sport ever): Kidd, Jamal Mashburn, and Jimmy Jackson. For some reason, with the Warriors just beginning their descent into darkness, I was totally taken by that team’s potential and especially Jackson in that I saw him as the future of basketball. I saw him as a versatile wing who had the tools to handle the ball, run the offense, score and the size and length to defend -- just the type of player I wanted to become as a freshman in high school.
Suffice it to say that my assessment as a kid just entering high school was probably exaggerated.
I try to remember this whenever some young student of mine makes an absurd claim, like that one time when a sophomore kid refused to relent in his argument that Carmelo Anthony was the best player ever.
What would adolescence be if we didn’t learn from our mistakes?
I also devised a slight variation the “memory hero” concept. Serrano brings up the notion of the player that we thought was better than they actually were, but I wondered...
Who was the player you thought was awful but, with the benefit of hindsight, were not actually as bad as you originally thought. Who is your memory... villain? Your memory anti-hero?
Duby: Mike Dunleavy Jr. God I hated watching him play. No handles, weird semi-athleticism that just made for some awkward moves.
But in retrospect, he was ok. Efficient, a decent defender, and able to switch on defense to pretty much cover 2’s-4’s.
Daniel: Rick Fox actually did more than look uncomfortably handsome?!
Tom: When he played for the Warriors, my stepdad complained virtually nonstop about Rony Seikaly and how bad he was. Many a Warriors game in my youth was spent listening to him complain about Seikaly turning the ball over or failing to score an easy bucket. That reverberated in my mind and I’ve remembered Seikaly as some sort of Andris Biedrins-Hasheem Thabeet stiff big man.
Now, don’t get me wrong, no one is mistaking Seikaly for Hakeem Olajuwon or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but the stats show that he wasn't the worst player to ever set foot on a basketball court (which is, quite honestly, how I remember him). Before coming to Golden State, Seikaly was consistently scoring around 15 points per game while also grabbing 10 rebounds. After leaving Golden State, Seikaly’s numbers trended upward as well. Clearly, playing for those post-Webber Warriors had a negative effect on his game. But those sub-par Warriors seasons hung around Seikaly and shaped how I viewed his NBA career.
Nate: I find this question much harder than the previous one, but I’d have to go with David Robinson here and for two reasons. First, I was so obsessed with calling him soft that I don’t think I ever took time to appreciate just how good -- and consistent he was. I thought it was ridiculous when he won a MVP award that one year and savored every moment of Hakeem Olajuwon dismantling him in that one playoff series. Before he won a title, I said he was too soft; when he won with Duncan, I said he was too soft to win it without tanking and getting help.
But second, I also wonder how well Robinson would fit into today’s NBA with bigs that need to be more versatile and agile. There’s no way a lot of those centers from the 80’s and 90’s could hang with today’s NBA. But it’s sort of interesting to think about how Robinson (not to mention Olajuwon) might have translated into a more modern center when you consider that he would’ve been trained/developed very differently than he was given his athletic tools.
TL;DR: I just need to stop hating on Robinson.