Morrison reignites fire far from NBA
Adam Morrison is playing in Serbia, where he's scoring and emoting like old times
Morrison didn't live up to being No. 3 pick and was mocked for bit role with Lakers
After bottoming out, ex-Gonzaga star, 27, has fallen back in love with the game
Better late than never, the Adam Morrison story was about to begin.
This interview was supposed to have occurred the day before, and the delay was not only symbolic but also understandable considering the logistics. As if managing the eight-hour time difference and making a video phone call from Serbia to the United States wasn't tricky enough, there was the unforeseen drama on the roads that had pushed back the original plan.
Morrison and his father, John, ran into construction while returning from his Red Star Belgrade practice the night before, and a 20-minute drive turned into a two-hour trek when the language barrier also got in the way. But Morrison has finally found someone to speak his native tongue now, and he will spend some 40 minutes discussing the many roadblocks and reroutes he endured in these last four frustrating years.
The 27-year-old who went from cult hero in college to purported NBA bust describes the inauspicious start in Charlotte, from the pressure of being the No. 3 pick in 2006 to the devastating knee injury that cost him a season, and how the hopeful return went awry with his unproductive pairing with coach Larry Brown. He talks about the two lost years with the Lakers in Los Angeles, a professional hell of individual failure and collective success where he might have been the most mocked champion in the history of the game. He details the disappearing act thereafter, how his release from the Washington Wizards in October 2010 led to such a low that he fell out of love with the game that once inspired him.
But he wouldn't have agreed to chat if his story stopped there, his many failures leading to so much embarrassment and a quiet exit from the basketball world. Nor was he looking to recount the Gonzaga glory days, those halcyon times when the long-haired forward was deemed "a poor man's Larry Bird" and captivated the country in a season-long shootout with Duke's J.J. Redick.
No, as Morrison twirls those unleashed locks in his fingers and agrees to share some of his soul for once, this conversation is happening because he is in the midst of a revival that simply must be explained.
A pair of online videos featuring Morrison in all his unique glory emerged like digital diamonds in this NBA lockout rough last month. One of them showed him burying deep jumpers and risky runners like before, his play begging the question of where that fire and flare had been all this time. The other featured the feisty side that used to define him, with Morrison involved in a scuffle and ejection so full of fury and raw passion that it gained notice half a world away. They were reminders of what he once was and clues of what he might become again, hints at a long-overdue revolution from the man who had seemed to surrender in recent years.
Is Adam Morrison back? He certainly is, but not in the way you might think.
This isn't about the NBA anymore for Morrison, about the dogma of a pro sports league and whether a certain player can fulfill his expected place in it. This is about his relationship with the game, a romance that went so very wrong before it could be renewed.
In that sense, the unconventional script is now a perfect fit for the nonconformist. Add in the irony that he's finally having fun on the floor while most of his former colleagues have been benched by a prolonged lockout, and it's looking like the basketball gods are smiling down on him again.
Even Morrison's loyalists aren't ready to predict a return to prominence anytime soon. Seven games played and a scoring average of 17.1 points in the Adriatic League hardly guarantee another chance in the NBA, even if he's playing with the same style for which he was once known. Morrison is battling inconsistency as well, alternating between offensive fireworks one game (a high of 30 points, with outings of 23, 23 and 27 points) and flame-outs from the field the next (a combined 17 points in his three worst games). Besides, there is no opt-out clause in his one-year contract worth about $350,000, and thus no chance to re-enter the NBA until the 2012-13 season.
But when the ejection video started making the rounds back in his hometown of Spokane, Wash., it was as if a missing person's case had finally been solved. In the eyes of those who know him best, the comeback that mattered most was already complete.
"We were just tickled pink that he found his passion again," his father said of the thoughts that crossed his mind while watching on his computer from home. "It made my heart feel good to see him out there on the court like that again."
Said Don MacLean, the all-time leading scorer at UCLA who has trained Morrison since the summer leading into the draft: "It looked like the guy I met two weeks after his college season ended -- kicking ass and taking names and talking s--- and all that stuff that made him so good."
Added his agent, Mark Bartelstein: "It was almost like an exorcism, like something had been taken out of his soul. To watch him play with that chip on his shoulder, with that fervor, and angry like he played at Gonzaga, it's just great to see it. It's like the guy is back."
It happened on Oct. 6 in Belgrade, where the famously maniacal group of Red Star fans were fawning over Morrison. They're stomping, shouting, celebrating his swagger and this ejection as if it were a buzzer-beater to finish off Bayern Munich in the so-called "friendly" match.
The elbow in the paint from Bogdan Radosavljevic is what flipped Morrison's switch, and hours would pass before would feel some sympathy for the 18-year-old opponent who, unbeknownst to Morrison at the time, is Serbian and was playing in front of family and friends in his homeland. If anyone could relate to being shamed in your own backyard, it's Morrison.
But those thoughts would come later, when he headed back to his apartment to reflect on his latest basketball breath of fresh air. In the moment, though, he clearly didn't care.
He gives Radosavljevic a forearm shiver as they run back down the floor, then a chest bump. He mutters angry English even though it isn't likely to be understood, then stays in pursuit even as the whistles have blown and a two-handed shove in his chest hasn't deterred him. Before Morrison relents and heads for the showers, he flaps his arms at the crowd and sends the decibel level soaring.
The locals are loving this, loving him. But no one is loving this as much as Morrison.
"It was such an adrenaline rush and an emotional high to be out there on the court again," Morrison said. "Everybody who has done something in their life that they've had a passion for or done for a long time, and then all of a sudden it's not there anymore, and then it comes back to you in such a rush [can relate].
"I would've run through a brick wall that night for anything. Goose bumps. Sweating. That whole day, I've never been so focused. It was a friendly game, and I was thinking, 'All right, I'm going nuts tonight. I don't care what happens. I was ready to fight, to do anything, just to play."
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