Footsteps with No Prints: The Already-Evaporated Non-Legacy of Rashard Lewis
USA Today Sports
Take a gander at Rashard Lewis‘ career stats and have your mind boggled: only 34 years old, he’s top-100 all-time in both games and minutes. He’s seventh all-time in three-pointers made, and he’s shot those three-pointers at a better percentage (so far) than historic deep threats Larry Bird, John Stockton, or Dirk Nowitzki. He’s top-100 in Win Shares also, contributing more cumulative value than Hall-of-Famers Dennis Rodman, Bob McAdoo, Tiny Archibald, or James Worthy.
That paragraph right there has the same form and tenor of an impassioned argument about Hall of Fame inclusion. The examples I’ve picked are cherry-picked and slanted dramatically in favor of the defendant, yes, but how could you compose anything cleansed of bias if you’re talking about something fueled so dominantly by emotion and feeling as the Hall of Fame?
But I don’t want to argue that Rashard Lewis belongs in the Hall of Fame, because you and me both know that arguing for Rashard Lewis to enter the Hall of Fame is lunacy. But look at those stats. Why, again, is it lunacy?
A quixotic sidenote that conveys, I think, a wider truth: Rashard Lewis loves the same dapper sports as white gentrification.
Here is a short feature on Lewis’ involvement with horse racing, including interview footage with the man who is supposedly Rashard’s best friend, a sad-eyed Houstonian commercial real estate investor:
And here is another short feature, this time showing Lewis fishing off the manicured Miami beaches while showing a terrible grasp of the spirit of the phrase “giving back to the community”:
Please don’t interpret these videos as a veiled statement about Rashard Lewis and racial-socio-economic-whatever. That’s not the point. The point here is: Rashard Lewis is boring. His ideal life of leisure is a life of La-Z-Boys and weekdays on the golf course and “all-inclusive” resorts and cruises, investing $15 chunks of his NBA earnings in giant cocktails with striped loopy curly straws.
Of course, Rashard Lewis is totally allowed to like these things and pursue these most mainstream of interests. But these interests are the reason that Rashard Lewis inspires apathy more than any other emotion and apathy more than any other NBA player. Unlike the players who stare up at him on the all-time charts, watching Lewis feels languid, lazy, like dusting potato chip crumbles off while digging for the remote in the couch cushions. The NBA is flush with players who make your heart sweat or palpitate; with Lewis there is only atrophy.
Shorter marksmen like Kyle Korver or Anthony Morrow are praised as technicians–for Lewis, relying on the three has always felt like a clever excuse to spend as little time as possible doing the unpleasant trench warfare of establishing position and careening off people on the hunt for rebounds. Lewis’ prodigious scoring (that’s 117th of all-time) feels cheap and selfish when his career assist percentage (8.9) is lower than plodding bigs like Al Jefferson and Jermaine O’Neal, with a career rebound percentage (9.5%) of a hustling 2-guard.
An even more condemning dimension of Lewis’ career–even more condemning than being suspended for PEDs, an incident still regarded as a misprint more than anything–was his existence as a toxic contract. The greats do not exist as toxic contracts. From time to time the greats may spend their final days on wholly forgotten side projects; but never are they toxic contracts. The contract that the Orlando Magic signed Lewis to is unfathomable, a miscalculation sizable enough to tremble the very foundations of CBAs, to crash the servers of Twitter (if they were so well-trafficked in 2007): 6 years, 118 million dollars.
By contract’s end, the annual raises bumped all the way up to the maximum, Lewis had not only been traded for the league’s one just-as-onerous contract (that would be three years of a non-effective Gilbert Arenas), he contributed what has to be one of the worst seasons in NBA history. For the Washington Wizards in 2011-12, Lewis appeared in 28 games (earning a starting spot in only 15 of them on a 20-46 roster), averaging 7.8 points and shooting 23.9% outside the arc, his one useful dimension zapped into oblivion. He did this for 21.1 million dollars–nearly a million dollars for each mediocre night of droopy wing play. It is, within the realm of realistic possibilities, very much near the worst-case financial scenario; money that would be stratospheric even for today’s Brooklyn Nets dished out to a player who provides more or less what any D-League All-Star is instantaneously capable of. I can’t help but remember Rashard in any other way, so flagrantly unwilling or unable to muster earnest respectability or leadership or inspiration or any of the things that $20-million dollar men are paid to provide.
The megadeal finally over, his great-grandkids’ Beats by Dre already nestled in their velvet travel cases, Lewis joined the Heat in 2012-13 for the veterans minimum. Contributing 14.4 minutes a game in the regular season–and then 47 total throughout the entire playoffs, the excess fat that tightened postseason rotations necessarily trim away–he rode the Big Three’s coattails all the way to a championship ring, as essential to securing victory as Juwan Howard.
Never–well, aside from the PED thing–has Rashard Lewis done anything wrong, this whole time. It’s just thatLewis plays the game like a Houstonian commercial real estate developer, impersonally leveraging an artificially inflated resume for maximum personal gain. We don’t value the staggering career totals because, with each of Lewis’ achievements, we can immediately respond with a counter that denounces his game as languid mediocrity. He never, in all those hundreds of games against brutal competitors in raucous arenas, played with his heart exposed, so we can’t bring ourselves to use our own hearts when thinking about him.