https://thecauldron.si.com/because-i-m-not-through-with-this-game-yet-that-s-why-c04382612e71#.4x419pq9fThe end wasn’t supposed to look anything like this. Not after I’d finally come so close after so many years. Not after I’d paid my dues and proven myself. And certainly not with me splitting a pair of free throws in the Eastern Conference Finals because the opposing coach made a strategic decision to intentionally put me on the line. I mean, I was once a No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick. An All-Star. A lifetime 74 percent free throw shooter! And now I’m out there because someone else expected me to fail?
No, this definitely was not the ending I’d envisioned when I dreamed of situations like this as a kid. I was supposed to sink the game-winner. I was supposed to be the hero, draining an impossible “No-no-no! … Yessssssssss” shot, like P.J. Brown for the Celtics during their 2008 championship run, or at least going out famously as I suffered a career-ending Achilles tear on a fadeaway three as time expired to win a playoff series.
In reality, though, I didn’t make (or take) the imagined shot. I wasn’t the hero. We got swept, and the only action I saw was from the free throw line. And just like that, it was over.
That’s basically how it went down after I was unexpectedly called into duty in Game 1 against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, even though I still believed I had something to contribute on the court. Even though I’d averaged just six minutes a night during the regular season, I felt like the moment was my destiny, my chance to make a lasting mark on the league.
Our Atlanta Hawks were really good last year. We weren’t a fluke. Coming into that series, we all felt like we could beat Cleveland. Though I wasn’t getting much run, I knew I could still ball if called upon. Why couldn’t I be the guy who came through in the clutch? It would have been a heck of a capper to my career. Help the team, win the game, be part of a championship … and ride off into the sunset.
Instead, we lost that game, and then the next three, and before I knew what hit me, three weeks had flown by in free agency with exactly zero offers to continue playing in the NBA. Sorry, thanks for playing, but we’ve got nothing for you here. Game over. Career over.
I know what you’re thinking.
Dude, you’ve made over $167 million in your career.
You’re not a good player anymore. No one wanted to sign you.
What possible reason could you have for joining the Sixers, a team with a 3–33 record?!
The truth is, my decision to return to the NBA isn’t about money, and it isn’t about rings. It isn’t even about me, really, although every athlete would like to go out on his or her own terms. It’s about repaying what’s owed, about making sure that the young men who follow in my footsteps get what they’re entitled to (and what I haven’t always given them).
It’s not so much that I failed the guys I was tasked with mentoring over the years; it’s that I barely even tried. I never took the time to share the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s writing with them. I never sincerely answered their questions about what David West was trying to warn them about during NBPA meetings. I didn’t tell them why they should be reading Etan Thomas’ essays.
I was simply too busy following the NBA blueprint that had been engrained in me from the beginning: Play well, keep your head down, offend as few people as possible, and get paid. Now, here in Philadelphia, my adopted hometown, I’m excited to have a chance to do things differently — be a positive influence and help the organization get back on track.
You might’ve noticed we’ve got a pretty talented kid on the roster in Jahlil Okafor, someone I happen to share some things in common with. Despite how he’s been portrayed, I know Jahlil. He’s a good kid with a good heart. He’s not unlike most 20-year-olds you probably know, and he’s definitely not at all different than most of his fellow players. Hell, if camera phones were around when Brad Miller, Ron Artest, and I were Jahlil’s age, we might’ve been banned from the league altogether, never mind suspended for a few games.