Wednesday, June 3

Rashard Lewis: The Invisible Sonic

I’m not sure exactly when it was Rashard Lewis ceased being a someday and started being a today.

Perhaps it was when he scored 50 points against the Clippers in the early stages of the 2003-04 season. In typical Lewis fashion, his exploit took place 10 time zones away in Japan, rather than in Seattle or, you know, North America.

Maybe it was the entire 2001-02 season, when Lewis began to emerge as a legitimate 20-point threat, cracking the hallowed mark more than 20 times at the tender age of 22.

Or (and, I confess, this is where my sentiments lie, so get ready for a long-winded explanation), it was the spring of 2000.

After a lackluster year in which he failed to score more often than he scored 20, Lewis didn’t enter the playoffs with high expectations from Sonic fans. Heck, with Seattle battling Sacramento for playoff positioning (the 7th seed would get Utah, the 8th seed would get the superior Lakers), Lewis failed to reach double-digits in the box score in more than a quarter of the final month’s games. As someone who only started eight games all season, not much was thought of the young man.

Despite Lewis’ somewhat stumble to the finish line, the Sonics held off the Kings and emerged to face the Jazz in the first round. Although he had been a starter the final five games of the regular season, Lewis was, not surprisingly, nervous in his first NBA playoff game. Still only barely 20 years of age, his first taste of the post-season was a bitter one, as he committed five fouls in only 16 minutes and finished with four points in a 104-93 Jazz victory.

That, however, would be the end of his struggles.

For the remainder of the series, Lewis showed he had earned his starting role, contributing 19 points in only 23 minutes of game two (another Sonic loss), 14 points and 10 boards in a game three win, 20 points in the game four win which pushed the series to its climax, and, finally, 20 more points in a game five loss in Salt Lake City which ended, as every Sonic fan worth his, well, salt, will tell you, a Chuck Person (!) missed three at the buzzer.

It was if, in the span of a mere two weeks, Lewis had transformed himself from the kid who got bypassed in the first round to a legitimate NBA offensive weapon.

He had eliminated the someday from the stories about him.

The only time 'Rashard Lewis' and 'Lunchbox' appear in the same sentence.“The worst curse in life,” Ken Brett once told a reporter (and he would know), “Is unlimited potential.”

Such it was with Rashard Lewis during his tenure in Seattle. At 6’10”, he could seemingly do anything on the basketball court. But rather than celebrate his accomplishments, too often we derided his failures. His lack of intensity on defense, the fact that as a 6’10” small forward he averaged fewer blocked shots than some point guards, and, more than anything, his nonchalance never failed to irritate his critics in the Emerald City.

It was fitting, then, that his departure from this city was met with the same feelings he generated as a player – apathy. Although he scored more points in a Sonic jersey than Shawn Kemp, Gus Williams, Dale Ellis, Xavier McDaniel, or Tom Chambers, Rashard never entered the hearts of Sonic fans the way those players did. (And, judging by how frequently he updates his official website, it would appear that he’s not connecting too much these days, either). Whether due to a lack of playoff games during his tenure or his blasé on-court attitude, Lewis was an untasted entrée on the Seattle fan’s plate.

When asked their favorite memories of Lewis during his time in Seattle, most fans would struggle to come up with even one. In fact, for the majority of us, the enduring memory is watching him lying in pain on the San Antonio court during the 04-05 playoffs, his injured toe sidelining him for the rest of the playoffs at a time when the team desperately needed his scoring ability.

And yet, I imagine that a sizable portion of Sonic fans will be cheering for him during the Finals as his Magic take on the Lakers. Sure, for many it’s either out of spite for the hated Kobe Bryant (and that’s certainly as good a reason as any) or out of love for the underdog, but for others maybe time has allowed them to appreciate what Rashard Lewis offered to Seattle all those years.

Yes, his on-court emotion was more light jazz than Soundgarden, and, granted, his contract is a bloated anchor which will inevitably drag the Magic down, but does anyone in Orlando care about that right now? Not likely.

His clutch three-pointers during this year’s playoffs have forever altered our perception of Rashard Quovon Lewis, transforming him from a poor man’s Alex English into a potential Horry-like figure (albeit one who gets paid Kobe-like money).

It’s too bad that Lewis’ best days have come while wearing blue and white rather than yellow and gold, but so be it. Rather than point out his failings this spring, I’ll be celebrating his accomplishments. His pivotal battle with Pau Gasol at power forward will be crucial towards deciding who hoists the championship trophy this June, and that’s all you can ask for as a franchise player.

Is he worth the money? At this point, who cares. In the biggest series of the season, on the biggest stage basketball has to offer, Rashard Lewis will be front and center.

I hope he’s ready.


steff said...

Go Rashard!

chunks brother said...

favorite Rashard Moment: At Dallas, Baseline Dunk on Jerry Stackhouse.

Anonymous said...

Oh, hell yes! That was totally sweet. I'll always remember him scoring 20+ against the Kings to close out the first round in '04-'05. Such a sweet feeling to be a Sonic fan for that brief window of time.

kp said...

My favorite Rashard memory is the way he played down the stretch in 2007-08 after Ray Allen went down for the season, showing he could carry the load.

That is, along the lines of the article, classic Rashard Lewis in Seattle. His best basketball came in a totally meaningless period when the team was better off losing games.

I think you can simplify why Lewis did not make a major impact to the fact that he played for teams that won a combined one playoff series. What he and Ray have done since leaving really makes you wonder how the Sonics were unable to build a team around them that could compete more consistently.

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