Thursday, March 15, 2012

Andrew Bogut

Only Rhonda Byrne knows why certain people have targets on their backs, while others sail through life ignorant of what band-aids are for. But Andrew Bogut is certainly one of the former.

A basketball player first saddled by the label ‘number-one draft pick’, and secondly by ‘injury-prone’, Bogut has faced more than his share of obstacles in his NBA career.

The pro game didn’t come easily to him. But Bogut never pouted when stardom didn't prove microwaveable. He never carped about playing for a mediocre franchise in a small, Midwestern market. The affable Australian merely set about sharpening and refining his skills.

By his third season, Bogut was showing signs of becoming the talented center first envisioned by NBA scouts. By his sixth, he was leading the league in blocked shots.

Having become by this time a high-percentage shooter, excellent passer and a potent rebounder, Bogut was rightly viewed as one of the league’s emerging talents. The hare of expectations had been passed by the tortoise of Bogut’s diligence. It was a feel-good story you could feel good about.

Then came the injuries.

No one paid much mind when his second season was cut short due to a severe sprain in his left foot. He’s a big man, jumping up and down in a small space occupied by other large men. You aren’t always able to see where you’re going to land. Chalk it up to occupational hazards. They happen.

His fourth was reduced to thirty-six games because of lower back problems. Potentially serious, but Bogut recovered. During his fifth (a breakout year for both he and the team), a horrific injury to Bogut’s right arm sidelined him just as the Bucks were on the verge of clinching their first playoff appearance in years.

With their MVP on the bench, the Bucks were eliminated in the first round.

His sixth season was marred by a recurrence of back, leg and arm problems, and his seventh never really began, owing to a fractured ankle just twelve games in. Now Tuesday’s trade to the Golden State Warriors, a hapless franchise in perpetual disarray.

When it rains, it pours.

Bogut reclaimed a talent the NBA threatened to invalidate. Bogut then endured multiple lonely and painful rehabilitations that would have sidelined a lesser man. To date, he’s been knocked down five times and made it back to his feet four.

But it will be exponentially harder to escape the tag ‘injury-prone’. Once labeled, you become a financial risk. A virus no one wants to catch. Ammunition for talk show callers demanding the head of the GM who signed you. There may as well be a sex offender-styled web site.

Even Wolfgang Puck doesn’t offer a pressure cooker that can compare.

Despite the cushy lifestyles provided by otherworldly salaries, basketball is brutal. The list of players with promising careers snuffed out by injury is a long one. Penny Hardaway. Larry Johnson. Grant Hill. Gilbert Arenas. Brandon Roy. Even David Robinson qualifies.

No one knows why one athlete has a career rupture like an ACL while another doesn’t. Life isn’t fair. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson only some of us have to learn.

In the end, it might be fitting that Bogut is now a Warrior not just in outlook, but in name. Maybe he's the guy who can put the warrior back in Warriors.

Best of luck in the Golden State, Mr. Bogut.

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