Thursday, September 03, 2009
Arcane Birthday Biographies: Mighty Mouse
"Oh, and yeah, he was small." -Damon Stoudamire
"...when the Toronto pick was announced, Raptor fans at the SkyDome in Toronto, the site of the draft, booed loudly. They wanted [Isiah] Thomas to choose Ed O'Bannon..." -Sports Illustrated
"This franchise isn't in it to go to the playoffs someday. We're here to work toward winning a championship, and anything short of that is failure. That's one of the reasons we wanted Damon. He comes across as the type of player who won't be satisfied to have a good career and no ring." -Isiah Thomas
Five foot nine inch Damon Stoudamire's had a good career, but no ring. Today, we celebrate his birthday and remember his many ups and downs in a career that saw its share of disappointment and enmity. We also remember that he was one of the most talented point guards of the late 90's.
Damon Stoudamire was a native of Portland, Oregon, and he grew up without a father. His uncles got him into sports and despite his small stature, Damon was a natural basketball player. He won two championships in high school before leaving town for Lute Olson's Arizona Wildcats.
In Arizona, Stoudamire formed what some called the best backcourt in college basketball with Khalid Reeves, and led the team to the 1994 Final Four (which Arizona lost in the semi finals). Stoudamire played one more season after the Final Four, averaged 22 and 7 his senior year, and was projected to go in the mid-teens in the draft. Isiah Thomas, however, intervened and in a risky, highly-criticized move, picking him seventh. Stoudamire's rookie contract had a provision that mandated that he attend that year's NBA finals (Bulls over Sonics) in order to whet his appetite.
The pick paid off. Unfortunately, the 1995-96 Raptors may have been the worst team in NBA history. The five leading scorers after Stoudamire that year were, in order: Sharone Wright, Tracy Murray, Oliver Miller (yes, that Oliver Miller), Willie Anderson, and Tony Massenburg. The fact that the team won 21 games is a tribute to Stoudamire, and he was the only thing Toronto had going for it.
The next year, the team added Marcus Camby and Walt Williams and won thirty games. So what did Isiah Thomas, the GM/VP do? Trade Stoudamire for Kenny Anderson, of course.
The underlying reasons for this trade were actually more nuanced than they now seem (and on its face it's a terrible basketball decision). Stoudamire indicated that he would want a lot of money and conditions if Toronto intended to resign him, and that he might not resign at all. As a result, they started shopping him. The Raptors were literally minutes away from moving Stoudamire in a three-team deal that would have sent Penny Hardaway to the Nets and perhaps changed the course of NBA history, but Stoudamire told the Magic he would not re-sign with them, and the deal was off. Damon wanted to go home to Portland, where he would be a hero. He was partially successful.
When Stoudamire arrived in Portland, he was not popular. He was initially benched for Scottie Pippen, who split time with Bonzi Wells at the point, and it looked like his career was in jeopardy. However, he made it back to the starting lineup and eventually became a key component in the most balanced team in the NBA. Before long, the Blazers would establish themselves as one of the best teams not to reach the finals in the last twenty years.
That 1999-2000 Trailblazers are most famous for their tragic combustion against the Lakers in which they blew a 19 point lead in the final minutes of the seventh game of the Western Conference Finals. Although that memory is surely unpleasant, it's easy to forget just how amazing it is that any team was able to take the Shaq and Kobe juggernaut to a seventh game, let alone have them down almost twenty in the fourth quarter. That year, the Pacers were the prospective opponents in the NBA finals, and the winners of the West were all but guaranteed a championship. The Blazers were incredibly balanced and poised to beat the Lakers, but unfortunately fell victim to one of the greatest rallies in the league's history.
From there, the Mighty Mouse began an undignified downhill path to retirement. His consistency deteriorated and could no longer carry his team. He was held up as an example of the bad attitudes on the Jail Blazers because of a couple of possession charges (one of which was thrown out when a Judge ruled police had illegally searched Stoudamire's home). There was still talent there (in 2005, Stoudamire scored his career high of 54 points at age 31 in what can only be described as a massive anomaly) but the rest of his career became a quiet wind-down as he played the part of the NBA veteran point guard who can give you some quality minutes but is essentially disposable.
Stoudamire's career was marred by bad choices (which his agent probably had more to do with than him), bad publicity, and bad losses, but he was one of the quickest, best point guards of his generation. Happy birthday, Mighty Mouse.
Posted by Jimmy at 1:00 PM