By Brian Taylor
The memory was still fresh in my head today when I wrote this.
It was a Monday morning a few weeks ago, and the NBA was in the midst of a huge shakeup. The heavily favored (and in most circles, already-crowned) Billionaire Boys Club of Dallas was looking at the prospect of “going fishing” with E.J., Kenny Smith and Sir Charles, when a fresh face appeared on ESPN’s morning broadcast, with the following tagline underneath:
“Has Dirk gotten treated unfairly by the fans now that his team is losing?”
I removed my wave cap and wiped my sleep-encrusted eyes to see a dapper Jamal Mashburn explaining why Dirk shouldn’t be crucified for his team going down like the Titanic. Despite the horrendous teleprompter grammar, an ex-Mavs star talking about a current one was a light-bulb-over-the-head moment that inspired me to highlight the Monster Mash today.
One of the League’s most consistent scorers (and one of the youngest to net a half-dollar’s worth of points in a single game), Jamal started out going bananas in NYC playing ball and working hard, like most other kids with hoop dreams. He used to ride his bike around the city, delivering for a deli for cash, but it wouldn’t be long until Rick Pitino came calling and Mash got a spot with the Wildcats.
At Kentucky, Jamal was a man among boys, almost like his Michigan counterpart Chris Webber. You could see him and the Wildcats on any given night (wearing those denim blue jerseys) throwing down vicious dunks and terrorizing any and everyone in the SEC. After an All-American junior year, Mash decided to put his name into David Stern’s hat and in 1993’s draft, the Dallas Mavericks scooped him up.
Dallas in 1993 was a far, far cry from Dallas in 2007.
Everything routinely went wrong in Big D before Mash, from the 11-71 record (the worst EVER), to Reunion Arena falling apart, to the cheesy “M wearing a ten-gallon hat” logo, to the Mike Iuzzulino/Derek Harper backcourt. The Mavs had recently picked up Ohio State star Jimmy Jackson, and Mash was a fine compliment to J.J.’s play. Mash led all NBA freshmen with 19 points per game, and earned an All-Rookie first team spot. The next year, with a baby faced Jason Kidd on board, the Mavs improved and did damage.
However, Mash got hurt (the knees, always the knees) and didn’t quite have the dynamite in his legs he had in his first few seasons. Couple the injuries with the alleged Jim Jackson/Jason Kidd/Toni Braxton love triangle and Mash had plenty of reason to split Texas, so he was shipped to South Beach.
In Miami, under fellow Wildcat alum Pat Riley, Mash was used in a lesser offensive role with Timmy “Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That” Hardaway and ‘Zo making the buckets. Jamal did well for himself in Miami, but it was in Charlotte that he revived his career and jump-started the careers of others.
At the hive, Jamal was the elder statesman on a team featuring a young Baron Davis and a not-yet-tainted Jamaal Magloire. He took a lead-by-example type role for the young guys to follow and earned himself a trip to the 2003 All-Star game in ATL. With the Hornets, he averaged around 20 points and 6 boards a game, and even had some playoff battles with a pre-superstar Dwyane Wade. It seemed like Mash’s potential was on its way, better late than never.
Even though he got his groove back, Jamal was still in pain, and decided to get surgery /sit out the season in order to get himself to 100%, but the business side of the NBA came calling and Mash was sent to Philly for (the previously profiled) Glenn Robinson. Mash never got a shot to run with A.I., as he was inactive an injured for two years straight, and in March of 2006 he retired.
That Monday, it was good to see Mash still around the game, even if he is suffering from the typical “from the court to the studio” syndrome that most talking heads go through. But if you want to see the Monster Mash in his heyday, check the links!