Guaranteed or Your Money Back…….

By Jerold Wells Jr.
Updated: May 9, 2005

Antoine Walker of the Boston CelticsMINNESOTA—As the playoffs grind on a familiar voice rings out over the airwaves. The words this voice offer are futile, but loved nonetheless. Loved so much that respected publications print them and radio shows, barbershops and sports bars nation wide discuss their merit. I see the voice as that of the overmatched, the inexperienced, and the unlearned. The words we hear carry guarantees and promises of victory. They hold preferences and requests. They are imprudent; thoughtless even. The voice I speak of is that of the player who guarantees victory, who favors one opponent over the other, who speaks of an outcome before a genesis takes place.

Jerome James, Antoine Walker, Dikembe Mutombo and Gilbert Arenas all took the liberty of speaking confident words before the opportunity to prove their merit was available. Walker and Mutombo have the bitter taste of a first round playoff loss to cope with, while James and Arenas have to deal with their own respective Game 1 thrashings to consider. If there is a lesson here, it is to speak softly and just play ball.

After a thrilling overtime in Game 6 of his opening round series with the Indiana Pacers, Antoine Walker, perhaps a little excited due to his late game heroics, commented that Reggie Miller’s last game in Conseco Fieldhouse just ended. I believe that moderate arrogance is an acceptable trait for an NBA player to possess. The NBA is the best basketball league in the world and for a player like Antoine Walker to have longevity in such a league; he would have to possess a high level of skill and talent. My beef is not with his comment; it is with the resulting performance. After guaranteeing a win in Game 7, the Boston Celtics turned in one of the worst playoff performances in recent memory. They were embarrassed in their own building and worse still, Antoine Walker did not have a good showing tallying only 20 points and five rebounds. A guarantee of victory deserves much than 20 points and 5 rebounds where I’m from but that is neither here nor there. The bottom line is that Antoine Walker wrote a check that he could not cash. Perhaps next time he’ll check his balance first; to make sure enough heart, passion, and resolve are saved up for any outstanding purchases.

When asked when he would break out his famous “finger wag”, Dikembe Mutombo responded, “I’m waiting until we play Phoenix.” Phoenix huh? Perhaps he should have brandished the finger wag a little earlier. All Mr. Mutombo can do now is watch as Dallas and Phoenix prepare to embark on a track meet fit for the upcoming Olympics in Beijing. Again, we have an example of an athlete assuming his bravado could influence the outcome of a playoff game. Instead of collecting block after block, Mutombo played 4 minutes, yes 4 MINUTES, and watched from the bench as his team limped to a Game 7 loss at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. Should Dikembe’s guarantee have carried any weight? Probably not. Should Dikembe have backed his words up? Definitely.

Gilbert Arenas celebrated his game winning shot against the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 of their opening round series by jubilantly declaring,” It’s over!” By it, he meant the series and I assumed he would take special care to ensure victory. Instead, Arenas tallied 19 points on 6-24 shooting and managed seven assists. If it was not for 16 Chicago Bulls turnovers, a late game breakdown by the Bulls while trying to inbound the basketball and 19 points apiece from Antawn Jamison and Larry Hughes, Arenas might be home contemplating his worthless guarantee also. I personally expected a better performance from a budding superstar in this league, but perhaps the pressure of his own words proved too much to shoulder. Maybe he should not have uttered them at all; maybe he should have just done it.

Last, as well as my personal favorite, Jerome James confessed to the nation his preference of facing the two time world champion San Antonio Spurs in the next round as opposed to the Denver Nuggets. Excuse me? We are talking about the Spurs who suit up one of the most dominating players in the league today. (Tim Duncan) We are talking about a team that is just as comfortable running and shooting as they are playing a disciplined half court offense. We are talking about a team that has a reserve of frontline players (Nazr Mohammed, Rasho Nesterovic and Robert Horry) that have started in this league and are more than capable of scoring, rebounding and defending very well. As absurd as such a request may sound we have to take a minute and consider the source…..JEROME JAMES!!!! Far be it from me to take away from the performance Mr. James put forth in the first round against the Sacramento Kings. He was a force inside and held his own offensively as well as defensively. He scored rebounded and blocked shots effectively and proved to be the X-Factor in the series. It bears mentioning that those exploits were accomplished against Brad Miller, Corliss Williamson, Kenny Thomas and Darius Songaila. None of them possesses the mettle to offer much resistance to a seven foot, 290 lb. center, so playing well against them should be no cause for celebration. Instead of being humble, basking in the glow of victory and relishing the opportunity to play in the next round, James made a foolish request. Well Mr. James you have your wish and the San Antonio Spurs will be your opponent for the next four games. That is right, four games. After an embarrassing Game 1 performance, in which James offered a paltry 4 points and 2 rebounds, the Seattle Supersonics just do not look to have the ability to compete in this series. Compound said Game 1 performance with injuries to Ray Allen as well as Vladimir Radmonovic and a sweep is almost certain. I do not expect Jerome James to offer any more than what he did in Game 1, these are not the Kings after all, at any time in this series. I would be foolish to do so. I do however expect his words to drift into the sea of nothingness which ebbs and flows with foolish chatter. He is a center, not even a particularly good one, in a league devoid of true centers. That must be reason enough to make request nowadays.

This year’s playoffs have not been a disappointment. There have been lights out performances, truly epic contests, and career defining moments. Sadly, in the midst of all the pomp and circumstance unnecessary talk, mindless babbling, and worthless prognostications have also crept into the limelight. As a fan of the game, I hope the nonsense stops and the great basketball continues.