What’s so wonderful about this Monday’s rally at the Federal Courthouse in Seattle, is the fact that two of my heroes – Gary Payton and Xavier McDaniel – will be taking time out of their lives to come and show their support for the cause. Heck, if you haven’t rooted for the team in 15 years, isn’t a chance to see the X-Man reason enough to take off work early on Monday?
Growing up rooting for the Sonics, four players in particular had more impact on my fandom than any others. In the early 1980s, it was Gus Williams, because he was the best player on the roster, because he tied his shoelaces in a funny manner that I liked to replicate, and because his nickname was “The Wizard.” In the 1990s, it was Nate McMillan and Gary Payton, for coolness (Nate) and ferociousness (GP).
But in between was the X-Man, Xavier McDaniel. His turnaround jumper on the baseline, his starring role in “Singles,” his all-star game appearance, and, most of all, that famous poster “The X-Man Cometh,” where he donned a trench coat and glared out of the glossy paper with the fury of a man who would not be denied.
That poster had a place of honor on my wall in my dorm at the University of Oregon. There were others alongside it (Chris Sabo, Eric Davis, and others; I was a Reds fan those days), but it was the X-Man who drew the most attention. The sea of Blazer fans that inhabited my dorm always saw fit to mess with the Sonics, especially Gary Payton, and, boy, there’s nothing a U of O student hated more in the 1990s than an OSU grad (Payton) playing for the Sonics, especially when that OSU grad was full of more smack than Eliot Spitzer’s girlfriends on payday.
But Xavier McDaniel? No, nobody criticized the X-Man, at least not to my face. Seattle has long been known as a latte town, the kind of place where outsiders come in and get away with whatever they want. As a kid at the Kingdome watching the Mariners, my family was the only one that stood up and booed the Mariners (and there was plenty to boo about, believe me), and that’s only because my parents were from the east coast, where children are taught to boo before they learn to write.
The X-Man was different, though, he was a hard-ass in a town of huggers. A man in a city of mice. I ask you: Was it any wonder that the most famous memory of McDaniel in Seattle isn’t a winning jump shot, but of him choking the life out of the Lakers’ Wes Matthews?
Suffice it so say that the day I saw that photo of X in the Seattle Times I ran to my mom’s desk, grabbed the scissors, cut out the picture, and used up half a roll of scotch tape to put it on my pee-chee. It was a small tribute to my favorite player, but for a 14-year-old, it was as big a tribute as I could manage.
So, to see that McDaniel will be traveling all the way from his South Carolina home to Seattle just to make an appearance at the rally on Monday, well, it just validates everything I believed about him two decades ago. Tough then, and still tough today.
You can have your Steve Largents, your Edgar Martinezes, and your Jack Sikmas – I’ll take the X-Man, thank you, and won’t look back.