November 5, 2008

Saying Goodbye To Your One And Only

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Breaking up can be enormously emotional. I’ve had flings in the past, but no bond had ever lasted as long or been as powerful as my most recent attachment. Since the summer of 2002, I had been faithful to one person. On Monday, that person was taken away from me.
I have lived in the suburbs of Detroit my entire life and have had an obsession with the NBA ever since I was an infant and my dad implored me to appreciate the “Bad Boys” era of Piston basketball. I was too young to understand just how special players like Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars were, but when I finally began to understand basketball in the early 90s, I always had a favorite player. There was always that one player who I made “my guy.” I would wear their replica jerseys, collect their trading cards, and make sure to cheer for them at every opportunity.
The first player worthy of my fanatical enthusiasm was Michael Jordan. It was juvenile and pathetic – I should have understood that Jordan played for the rival Bulls and therefore was the enemy. Around the time that I realized my mistake, I jumped on the Grant Hill bandwagon. He was athletic, flashy, produced on the court and — unlike Jordan — played for the good guys. However, also unlike Jordan, he was soft and played passively in the clutch. I jumped ship and became an avid supporter of Kobe Bryant. Kobe was never a Piston and supporting him never felt right, but the Pistons roster seemed to be in constant flux while Kobe was taking the league by storm as a teenager.
In 2002, the Pistons earned their first playoff series victory in eleven years. They were finally headed in the right direction under the watchful eye of Joe Dumars, now the team’s general manager. My excitement about the team was building at the same time that Kobe was developing a reputation as a selfish jerk. I knew it was time for me to find someone new.
Along came Chauncey Billups. In July of 2002, the Pistons signed Billups to be the team’s point guard. I was instantly consumed with learning as much about him as I could. Within weeks, he became my favorite player in the NBA. He played point guard – my position on the court – for my favorite team and he played it well. Billups was tough, smart, talented, and fearless on the court. He earned the nickname “Mr. Big Shot” for his propensity to come through in clutch situations. From the day he signed in 2002 until he was traded on Monday, the Pistons compiled a regular season record of 336-158 and won 15 playoff series in six years. In 2004, Billups led the Pistons to the summit, earning Finals MVP as the Pistons captured the NBA Championship.
Through it all, Chauncey was “my guy.” I bought the Adidas C-Billups sneakers, pathetically tried to emulate his playing style in pick-up games, and argued that Chauncey was the team’s MVP before anyone else realized his value. I was his loudest supporter when he succeeded and his strongest apologist when he faltered.
At 11:35am Monday, the shocking news arrived in the form of a misspelled text. “Pistons just traded chauncy and dice for iverson.” That message was all it took for my heart to sink. I knew that there was a possibility that Billups would be dealt after Dumars announced an impending roster shake-up, but the idea never sank in. The past two days ended up being an emotional roller-coaster like I’ve never experienced before.
Denial: My first reaction to news of the trade was denial. Maybe my friend had just heard a rumor. Maybe the deal is still being negotiated and it will fall through. Maybe one of the players involved will show displeasure with the move and complicate matters.
I frantically opened up the and websites on my IPhone. Both had the same news. The deal was going to happen.
Shock: My finance professor started class at 11:40, but there was no chance I would be able to pay attention. There was a quiz coming at the end of the lecture and I needed to cram, but it’s because of days like this that he drops the lowest quiz grade, right?
With glazed eyes and trembling fingers, I spent the next forty minutes texting anyone I could think of who might have an opinion on the trade. Most people responded to news of the trade with the same question: “What do you think?” If I hadn’t been in a state of bewilderment, I might have been able to answer.
Confusion: After the trade finally began to sink in, I attempted to process all that was happening. I couldn’t. The Pistons were getting Allen Iverson – one of the fifty greatest players of all time – and under normal circumstances I would have been thrilled. However, all I could think about was the loss of Billups. I tried to wrap my mind around the consequences associated with all of the players who were changing teams. Later, I attempted to break down the salary cap ramifications. My mind kept wandering back to “Mr. Big Shot.”
Acceptance: Thirty-six hours later, I think that I have finally accepted the trade. After reading an insane number of articles that analyzed the deal, I have come to understand the logic behind the move. The Pistons needed to shake-up their roster and create financial flexibility for future season. Billups’ time in Piston blue and red had been great, but it had run its course.
None of that changed the fact that Chauncey Billups was leaving the Pistons; he could no longer be the player I worship most. The break-up was forced, but I had no choice but to come to terms with it. It’s too soon for me to start looking for a replacement, but I’m taking applications. Mr. Big Shot, it was great while it lasted.–