Morrison reignites fire far from NBA (cont.)
To understand Morrison's high, you have to go back to his many lows.
He was ready to retire, to run from the ridicule and live the sort of low-key life that ensured the "kick-me" sign would be removed from his back. Shipped out of Charlotte, laughed at in Los Angeles and cut by the Wizards after he failed to deliver on a make-good contract last November, Morrison headed for the hills of his hometown on the east side of Spokane.
Just near the tree line and in plain view of the mountain range that peered down on him as a child, his new ranch offered 10 acres of undiscriminating bliss. The people he loved and trusted most were there, from his longtime girlfriend to his two daughters. His parents, who lived nearby, would stop in, along with friends who knew him before his memorable rise and through this humbling fall.
Morrison was just your everyday Joe when in Washington. He spent most of his days shoveling snow off the long driveway, using an all-terrain vehicle he had rigged with a snowplow. There were trips to the dump every five days, and the installation of a well on his property that kept Morrison and his father busy for months on end.
He embraced life as a stay-at-home dad, enjoying his kids, ages 3½ and five months. He thought about finishing his college degree or perhaps beginning a coaching career, but never moved forward with those plans. The man who used to only operate in fifth gear was officially in neutral.
"It was a mental break," Morrison said of that time, "just inhaling and exhaling and being with the family."
What he didn't do was play basketball.
"I didn't touch a ball, didn't want to watch basketball, didn't really want to be associated with it," he said. "I wanted to be forgotten as far as the public spotlight.
"To be honest with you, I just said, 'I don't know if I really want to play anymore.' That was the bottom line. It wasn't the fact that I didn't like basketball. I was just fed up with people taking shots at me for the way my career went."
His home was his safe haven, but he didn't have to go far to find the nearest critic.
"You'd go to the grocery store or wherever, and you can see how people look at you different," said Morrison, whose family moved to Spokane when he was in the fourth grade. "You hear them whispering behind your back when you leave. You can feel the tension.
"You see people who take joy in your failures, when they walk up to you and say, 'Man, I thought you played.' They know what happened, but they just want to pick and poke fun at you. That's part of life."
His life, anyway.
That's how it was in Los Angeles, too, except that the jabs and jokes were often broadcast across the country rather than on the nearest street corner. He played just eight games in his first season with the Lakers after being acquired from Charlotte in February 2009 and only 31 games in his second season, watching two championship runs from the bench in street clothes.
Among his teammates, he said he always received support, encouragement and respect. In some factions of the media, however, Morrison became a convenient punch line.
"You get the first ring, and then it's on [ESPN's] PTI -- 'Do you think Adam should deserve a ring?' " he said. "It's like, 'Well, I got traded here, so what do you want me to do?' And then to be the only guy to not play on the opening ring ceremony night and then not play the whole playoffs, and not even suit up, it's tough."
Even tougher when the media types who had celebrated his ascent were making light of his fall.
"I remember Gonzaga played Pepperdine in L.A., and I had the two guys who used to [commentate] our games from Gonzaga ... basically berating me [in an off-air discussion] and kind of mocking me for not playing," Morrison said. "What do you say to that? They're saying, 'How come you don't play?' They think it's funny, but at the same time, it's like, 'Man, I'm on a good team, I go to practice every day, I play hard, I'm supporting my teammates, which is what you're supposed to do.' ... I guess some people don't understand that."
No one was tougher on Morrison than late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel.
First came his 2009 appearance to celebrate the title: Morrison sitting quietly in the back row next to his seven teammates, then Kimmel chiming in with a quip of "Adam is so baked right now" that sent everyone but an uncomfortable-looking Morrison into hysterics. Kimmel took it to a new level and a new low a year later, this time taking aim at Morrison when he wasn't even on the show. With Kobe Bryant heaping genuine praise on Morrison and the group of seven Lakers likely wondering why he had come up in the conversation, Kimmel cued a clip of "Adam Morrison's contribution to the NBA Finals" that featured unflattering shots of a suit-wearing Morrison playing the part of cheerleader.
With every shot taken, he recoiled a little more.
"When Jimmy Kimmel moved in and started making fun of Adam, and the media all caught on and Adam became this guy who it was en vogue to make fun of and say he was a bust, I think Adam was like, 'F--- it, whatever, I don't need this,' " said Tommy Lloyd, a Gonzaga assistant coach who met Morrison in the ninth grade and is one of his closest friends. "Then the next year, he's getting ready to go to the Wizards, and at that point he hated basketball. He was like, 'I'm sick of it.' But he couldn't quit. So he goes out for the Wizards, and I don't even know if he wanted to make the team, to be honest with you."
It would turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And after Morrison was cut by Washington, he headed home in a heap of humility.