"DAMN IT! WE LOST AGAIN!"
Don't Ever Give Up supports winners and sinners generally, but on this tenth day of May, I'd like to give a little literary respect to a fellow who, despite having a successful college and professional career in basketball, tends to...well...lose. Not just in basketball. Rony Seikaly loses in life.
Despite a negative image of Rony Seikaly that exists to this day (in terms of talent, at least), he was a pretty solid ballplayer. He took his Syracuse team to the national championship game. He was the Miami Heat's inaugural pick. He won the NBA's Most Improved Player award. He once hauled down 34 rebounds in a game. He also once a running hook shot from about eight feet out of bounds, behind the backboard, arcing it over the shot-clock and in. The man had could play, and he was also a humble guy, quoted in the The Black Game saying "If 80% of the league is black, that means that black players are better than white players...the black players are superior. No doubt." You don't hear too many white centers say things like that.
Unfortunately, in terms of winning, Seikaly found himself in just about the worst situation possible, all the time, for his entire life.
It all started when he was born. Where, you ask? Perhaps in Lithuania or Yugoslavia? No. Rony Seikaly was born in Beirut, which was the home of one of the world's nastiest civil wars. It started when young Rony was ten [and continued for 13 years]. (Interesting fact: Steve Kerr and Keanu Reeves were also born in Beirut.) Fortunately, Seikaly, who would have made one big target, moved with his parents to Greece, where he went to an American high school.
Seikaly seemed like he was on the right track when he went to Syracuse and played center for noted monster mack Jim Boeheim. Playing for the Orangemen, Seikaly made an immediate impact. He had only learned to play basketball in high school, but he was a polished inside scorer and a strong rebounder. He shot 56% over his career and in his senior year was a second-team All-American who averaged 16.3 points and 9.6 rebounds a game, along with more than 2 blocks.
Seikaly was never a perfect player. His foul shooting was...inadequate. He had a knack for fouling out of games (perhaps due to his Beiruti battle-heritage). In his Freshman year fouled out of a full third of the games he played.
(From the Orangehoops.org webpage:) "It was in the NCAA tournament his junior year that Seikaly put his game together. Fueled by some caustic remarks by announcer Brent Musberger, Seikaly exploded for 33 points against Florida and the Gators' highly-touted Duane Schintzius." If that's not the best sentence I've ever quoted, it's close.
Everything seemed in hand for the National Championship, as Syracuse, which also had Derrick Coleman and Sherman Douglas (who was ill in college to the tune of 18.2 ppg, 8.2 apg, 2.5 rpg his senior year), played Indiana University, who had professional bums Steve Alford and Keith Smart. The Orangemen were heavily favored, and Seikaly was probably thinking that he was on the way to a long, wonderful career. Unfortunately, despite taking a one-point lead with about 20 seconds left, Seikaly and the Orangemen lost on one of the most famous shots in the history of the NCAA tournament, college's version of "The Shot". (As you can see in the video, poor Rony (#4) plays solid defense on the play, but there's just nothing he can do.)
At the time, Rony was not used to losing, and he probably just figured that with Douglas and Coleman coming back next year, he would have a good shot. Things were going as planned until Sherm the Worm went down with illness right in time for the NCAA tournament. Even teams with the two best big men in the country can't win without a point guard (ask Shaq and Stanley Roberts), so Rony was once again shit out of luck.
When Seikaly was drafted by the Heat with the eighth pick in the draft, he still had a lot of his career ahead of him. Things looked like they could work out. Then his team went 15-67.
Then they went 18-64.
Then they went 24-58.
Seikaly (who averaged around 17 and 10 consistently) made the playoffs for the first time when the Heat, whose nucleus of Sherman Douglas, Seikaly, and Rice had been together for years, finally went 42-40. They lost in the first round, and Seikaly was traded. His first year: 26-56 with the Golden State Warriors.
The next year, the Warriors went 36-46. Suddenly, though, there was hope. Seikaly was tabbed as the man to replace Shaq alongside Penny. The team went 45-37, and things were finally looking up!....then they lost in the first round...to the Heat...Seikaly's old team.
Then: 41-41 (no playoffs).
And Then: 16-34 (strike shortened).
And Then....Rony retired. His career record? A sphincter-shattering 337-533. What is most devastating, though, is the consistency with which Seikaly lost.
A torturous career, no doubt. But it gets worse. If you search for Rony Seikaly's image to, say, write a column about him, you get a bunch of photos like the one on the right. Why, you ask? Is it because the internet is so depraved that even a nonentity like Rony Seikaly gets connected to pornography?
No, sir. That is Elsa Benitez, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, and she is Mrs. Rony Seikaly. (Rony once wrote an article about how people try to steal her.) Or, rather, she was Mrs. Rony Seikaly. Now you're starting to dig this guy's bad luck in a big way, I suspect. (Anther interesting fact: Benitez had tickets for TWA flight 800, which crashed on my birthday. She was sitting in the airport, and went nuts, calling Seikaly and telling him that the plane was going to crash. He told her she had nothing to worry about. She refused to board. She would have been toast.)
The final blow came not on the court or in the bedroom but at the beach. Rony tried his luck this past April as a professional volleyball player and entered the AVP Cuervo Gold Crown Miami Open. He actually faired pretty well, but in the end, lost 21-9 and 21-18 to Craig Demott and Dameon Holmquist, who as we all know are beach volleyball powers to be reckoned with. Seikaly said after the game "I'm in shape, but this is different. The sand makes a difference." I would note that his former wife seems oblivious to the sand. Perhaps this was behind their falling out.
So Rony loses a lot. He did once refuse to play for the Jazz (who didn't in the early 90's?), but he also challenged Magic Johnson to a game of one-on-one after his HIV diagnosis to show that it's fine for an HIV-infected player to play basketball. He also works to fight cystic fibrosis. Could this be the basis for my theory that he is the nicest guy in the world, and is therefore doomed to finish last in ways that are more heroic and devastating (losing a championship, and a swimsuit model) than the average nice guy? Perhaps. But perhaps not.
Rony had his number retired by Syracuse this past year. He had an article written about him by a Heat fan recounting his first days of Heat fanship rooting for Seikaly (and learning the "Bullshit" chant from Seikaly screaming it). Perhaps after hitting rock bottom (beach volleyball), Rony will get some of the respect that has eluded him for so long.
Or perhaps not.