Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

Monta Ellis

In Basketball, Best of CDH, Long form on August 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Monta Ellis came to the Warriors in the second round out of Mississippi’s Lanier High School. He was a perfect fit for Head Coach Don Nelson’s approach to the NBA; a lights out shooter who could travel the floor, score in transition and play little-to-no defense.

He once told The New York Post that he’d be dead or in jail if it weren’t for basketball.

And when you watch him play, you know its true. Unlike LeBron or CP3 or any of the other marketable stars that light up ESPN’s highlight reels, when Monta retreats from a sunk basket there’s a deadness in his eyes that holds no respect or care for what he has done.

No doubt he has pride. As a father, as a man, he has tattooed his roots on his chest. His belief in himself doesn’t echo in the nosebleeds of Oracle Arena. He doesn’t promise championships or recognition for a team that, some might say, has overpaid him for his talents.

Monta Ellis will never win a ring as a Golden State Warrior. He will never be MVP. If he is lucky, one day he’ll make an All-Star team as a coach’s selection or last minute substitution.

He averages 25 points a game, a handful of assists and two or three steals a night. When he’s on the court, there are very few defenders who can take him one-on-one. He plays hurt.

He has a complicated relationship with the press. He doesn’t grant many interviews. He doesn’t really smile on the court, smash his chest with bravado or get in the face of his teammates.

On a team marketed by the clean-cut visage of Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis doesn’t fit in.

He’s inefficient. He’s selfish. He isn’t a team player. He hasn’t taken the steps or made the sacrifices required to make his team better.

That’s pretty much all there is to say about the Mississippi Bullet.

When I grew up, I knew that one day I would play second base for the San Francisco Giants. If I had a fallback, it was the United States Senate.

I got to high school and quickly learned my talents on the diamond wouldn’t cut it on the freshman squad, much less the major leagues. In college, I made the types of mistakes that typically hamstring a political career (Unless you’re George Bush. Or Bill Clinton. I still have a shot).

We all move on. Few possess the unfair combination of skill, drive and luck to fulfill childhood ambitions. That’s why we celebrate rock stars, athletes and politicians. They live out the fantasies we toyed with as children. It’s the only explicable reason I own a Ray Durham jersey without a misplaced sense of irony. He wasn’t that good, but the man played second base for the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants were terrible. The A’s were never going to win a World Series. The glory days of the 49’ers evaporated when Steve Young’s Hall of Fame career concussed its way out of the NFL.

Even then, the Warriors were the bastard child of Bay Area

Latrell Spreewell had come and gone, leaving his All-Star numbers throttled on the throat of PJ Carlesimo. Chris Webber left Oakland for Sacramento after one year in a franchise that had made a habit of chewing up talent (and knees, and ankles) and spitting it back out. I remembered the glory years of Chris Mullin and RUN-TMC like I remembered everything else from kindergarten – I heard it was fun.

Along with Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis led the Warriors to their first playoff berth in 13 years, shocking the heavily favored Dallas Mavericks in six games. They were flashy, they scored a lot of points with “Nellie-ball” and revived a dormant, long suffering fan base.

I was halfway through a shift at a bar in the East Bay when Baron Davis dunked over Andrei Kirilenko.

“Do not mess with the boss in his own building” – the announcers screamed. The crowd exploded. The bar was a mess and no one gave a fuck.

It was a perfect moment for Bay Area sports fans; and it wouldn’t be surpassed until Brian Wilson fanned Nelson Cruz on a 3-2 slider to win the World Series in November, 2010.

Despite losing 2-4 to the Utah Jazz, the Warriors were poised to be a legitimate threat in the Western Conference for the first time since I was four years old.

Baron Davis was injury-prone, Stephen Jackson was a head case and, despite whatever brilliance he showed in his sophomore campaign, Andris Biedrins remains no one’s idea of a star.

The Warriors posted an impressive 48-34 regular season record in 2007-2008, but it wasn’t enough to make the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference. Jason Richardson was gone, Al Harrington and Mickael Pietrus wanted to be gone and, by the end of the season, the writing was on the wall for Baron Davis.

In the off-season, Ellis destroyed his ankle in moped accident. When he tried to lie to the Warriors organization about it, he was suspended. The Dubs went 29-53 that year.

He made a full recovery and regained the respect of the organization, being named team captain upon his return. But despite Ellis posting his best career numbers in PPG, APG and SPG the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons, the Warriors were never in contention.

I was looking at a stack of disciplinary violations. My grades had tanked. Confidence that was taken for granted had crumpled in a heap.

You grow up and make mistakes. You say and you do stupid things. The promises you had made to yourself, and the promises others made to you, aren’t always kept.

There are infinite dreams of making the big leagues that never reach fruition. And even for those that get there, the promise of youth is not indicative of becoming the pinnacle of success.

Bullets slow down. Titles aren’t won alone. Eventually everyone comes to realize that they’re not quite the best. Being damn good becomes its own reward – which requires no hubris and no anger.

It just is what it is.

Monta will probably get traded.

He never delivered the future we thought we had in him. He never was the leader we wanted. He never won an MVP, or powered a team to the top like Durant or Derrick.

But I defy you to say you didn’t like watching him play in Oakland.

He stole the ball at the top of the key, darted to the strong side and cut back toward the basket without a defender in sight. Cameras started flashing when he crossed half court. The Oakland crowd held its drinks in the air when he reached the free throw line and exploded when he flew the final twelve feet to the basket, laying the ball in as gently as he would an Easter Egg.

My dad was speechless. “Did you see that?” he asked over the roar of the crowd.

For a second, Monta looked like Michael Jordan.


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