You might not have noticed it, but buried in the notes at the bottom of the Associated Press game story about the New York Knicks’ Martin Luther King Jr. Day victory over the Chicago Bulls was a sentence that could mark the end of the single most flagrant disgrace of the Isiah Thomas era.
That it ends with not with a bang or a blaze couldn’t be more appropriate; a whimper and a wheeze more than suffice for little-used, little-caring, little-consequence, huge-salary, huge-appetite, huge-mistake center Jerome James.
Not sure who had it first: the AP, Knicks beat writer Frank Isola of the New York Daily News (and its knattily knamed Knicks Knation blog) or someone else. Either way, the reports came out Monday that James suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during practice on Sunday — an injury that will reportedly require season-ending surgery, likely spells the end of his tenure with the Knicks and could mark the end of his pro basketball career.
So we can now close the books on James, at least for the 2008-2009 NBA season, for which he is to be paid $6.2 million, according to the handy HoopsHype salary database. (After ’08-’09, he’s still got one year remaining at $6.6 million on the five-year, $29 million contract he signed in August 2005.) Through 39 games this year, James — affectionately nicknamed “Big Snacks,” which would be funny if it wasn’t so damn sad — had logged 10 minutes of court time for Dominant Team Pringles; that’s less than half the number of DNP-CDs that James compiled in ’08-’09.
It’s safe to say that at 7’1″, with a weight very generously listed between 280 and 300 lbs. — were I a betting man, I’d bang the over with most of my paltry salary — and virtually no distinguishable offensive skill set, James wasn’t a great match for the Mike D’Antoni offense (although watching him spend more time on the floor could have driven the fine, talented gentlemen at Seven Seconds or Mess to agony and ecstasy in equal measure).
Obviously, no one wants to see a man undergo any injury, let alone one serious enough to potentially cost him his very lucrative livelihood, even if you could make a pretty compelling argument that he wasn’t exactly earning that livelihood to begin with. It’s our hope here at this is the city line. that Snacks can rehabilitate fully and either catch on with a club somewhere (just not one that plays its home games at MSG) at what’s certain to be a damn sight better than a living wage, or, failing that, that he’ll find some enjoyable and productive way to spend the remainder of his days after his exit from the game.
But the pure math on this is just stunning. In the final analysis, Jerome James — JEROME F’N JAMES — will have earned $620,000 per minute of PT this year, or about 182 times the league average calculated by the Salt Lake Tribune’s Ross Siler last month following a discussion with TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott. Nice work if you can get it.
But wait — there’s less. In a post-mortem on James’ season published Monday, RealGM Executive Editor Chris Reina — who may want to crack the whip on the folks responsible for his site’s Clippers coverage — used some more “creative accounting” to break down just how James’ five-year deal played out on the floor, assuming he doesn’t come back to New York next year:
$2,507,204.61 per hour on the floor
$325,842.70 per game played
$130,044.84 per point scored
$177,914.11 per rebound
$743,589.74 per blocked shot
Wow. More from Reina:
James had more combined turnovers (75) and personal fouls (179) than points [and] was just about as apathetic as any player I’ve seen. My most lasting vision of his tenure will be when I saw him counting multiple hundred dollar bills all by himself after another game in which he didn’t even dress …
To his credit, Reina bites the bullet and admits that he liked the signing at the time because “James had a very good season for an exciting and successful 04-05 Sonics team that culminated with an excellent playoff series against Sacramento in which he averaged 17.2 points and 9.4 rebounds,” and because in the days before Eddy Curry and after the Knicks dealt Nazr Mohammed and Kurt Thomas, New York needed a pivot (“The remaining bigs on the roster at that point were rookies Lee and Channing Frye, plus Malik Rose, Mike Sweetney, Jackie Butler and Maurice Taylor”).
Just for fun, here’s Isiah’s post-signing take:
“When I looked at Jerome, the first thing I looked at was his shot-blocking ability, his ability to clog up the middle. He gives you a defensive presence. It was what we lacked last year. We needed size, we needed girth, we needed a space-eater. We also needed some intimidation in the middle.”
“At this point of my career, I wanted to move to the next level. I’m very comfortable playing the supporting role, but I not only wanted to hold myself accountable for what I feel I can bring but I also wanted an organization to demand more from me. The Knicks presented me that opportunity.”
Sure, all that is laughable now. But of course, it was pretty laughable at the time, too.
Yeah, the Knicks’ front line stunk on ice, but James’ “very good” ’04-’05 season –which saw him put up merely decent per-36 numbers (10.7 pts. and 6.5 rebs., in addition to an admittedly eye-catching 3 blks) — was an obvious mirage. He’d never notched a PER above 13.1, he’d never averaged more than 16.9 minutes per game in a season, and with a nickname like “Big Snacks,” it’s not like anyone expected dude to become a workout demon and prepare for starter minutes after getting a multi-year, multimillion-dollar deal. It was an atrocious signing at the time, one that led Paul Merrill at Supersonicsoul to write the following:
Does he deserve $29 million over five years? No. Will he be out of the league, bankrupt, and selling sports drinks out of the back of a van in five years? Probably.
Confidence-inspiring, to be sure, and sadly prescient. But that someone wrote that AS IT WAS HAPPENING — that this take on James’ abilities wasn’t just the preachings of a lone nut, but the FREAKING BOOK on him — bolsters my contention:
More than the weird Maurice Taylor and Malik Rose deals, more than the Steve Francis and Jalen Rose trades, more than the Jared Jeffries signing and even more than importing Eddy Curry, the decision to sign Jerome James to a five-year deal and pay him $30 million was the single most asinine and completely indefensible move made under the Isiah regime. To borrow a line that standup comedian Patrice Oneal once used on Opie and Anthony, it was the kind of deal that made you go to the thesaurus to find synonyms for awful.
And now, by the looks of things, its putrid stench might vacate the premises of the World’s Most Famous Arena.
Just one more millstone shed from the necks of D’Antoni, Donnie Walsh and the New York faithful. Just one more brick mortared to the wall we’re building between ourselves and the traumatic memories that Isiah Thomas once ran our favorite basketball team. Just one more step toward a future that, while maybe not full of the King or 2.0 or CB4 or Black Jesus or Nash or whomever, is at least open to new possibilities. Just one more reason to be happier than you ever in a million years thought you’d be to root for a 16-24 team.
Vaya con dios, Jerome. Go haunt someone else.
P.S.: Perhaps the most staggering thing about Jerome James? That I saw this on his ESPN.com player card:
See that 0.1% under the “% OWN” column? That means that someone out there has Jerome James on his or her fantasy basketball team. Noodle that one for a while.