Now is done thy long day's work;
Fold thy palms across thy breast,
Fold thine arms, turn to thy rest.
Let them rave.
Shadows of the silver birk
Sweep the green that folds thy grave.
Let them rave.
- Lord Alfred Tennyson, A Dirge
Far too many NBA players are judged by their lack of championship pedigree or blank postseason ledger. As argued ad infinitum, basketball is a team sport. The results foisted upon Player A depend a whole hell of a lot on the efforts of Players B-G, no matter how singularly awesome Player A performs. (Ask Kobe 2004-2007.) This is a dependent sport. Independent brilliance isn't enough.
So all those vomit-worthy slanders levied against Shareef Abdur-Rahim's name in the early part of this decade, those made me sick. Reef wasn't without a playoff game because of anything he did, just as Elton Brand suffered the same fate not due to his own effort or talent. Reef's magick berth in '05-06 in a Royal Purple jersey was magnificent not because it validated his career, but because it made the idiotic, black-white, depthless pundits shut the hell up.
Not 100 players in the history of the NBA have averaged more points per game than Shareef. Only 76 players have a higher career PER, only 78 have more defensive rebounds, only 87 have more offensive rebounds. These are, for the most part, counting stats: numbers you earn by playing a really, really long time. But Shareef didn't play some absurd long time, only 11 full seasons (one of those shortened by the lockout).
He was remarkably dependable in two senses: he rarely hit the injured list (never, until Portland), and he always produced. This isn't a feast-famine high-scorer. Reef scored and rebounded EVERY DAMN NIGHT. He's the basketball version of clockwork: you put him in the game and you know exactly what you're getting. Some referenced that fact as a knock, as in "Shareef will never wow you." Another thing Shareef would never do: disappoint, underperform, fail.
He got knocked out in December '05 by a rabid Zach Randolph elbow. We had some great moments in '05-06 -- there was this dismissal of Tim Duncan by Bonzi Wells, and of course Kevin Martin's first appearance on SportsCenter. But Shareef's valiant return against the Lakers might have been the best.
Reef had his mouth wired shut. He could eat only smoothies. He missed just a few games, and played as soon as he learned to breathe through a centimeter of space between his teeth. The biggest struggle, Rick Adelman told the media, was keeping his breath for more than a few minutes and communicating on defense. Understandable: his jaw was wired shut.
That first night, Shareef earned a technical foul for arguing a call. WITH HIS JAW WIRED SHUT.
Unfortunately, that season was roughly the end for Shareef. His legend as a player wasn't built out much further here. Hopefully as a coach or coaching influence to Spencer (his closest comparison), Jason and Shelden, he can develop his NBA legacy some more. His legacy doesn't need any frills: he goes down tonight as one of the best forwards in modern history, and a damn fine player. He'll never get the press some of his contemporaries draw -- fair in some cases, not in others -- but none of that matters. Fans know Shareef, and we'll never forget him.