Unless you happen to be the most punch-drunk Gonzaga Bulldogs fan around, it’s easy to hate Adam Morrison.
When he was in college, the former Zag had a penchant for knocking down frustratingly impossible shots, often displayed a bad attitude, threw tantrums, yelled at teammates and coaches, didn’t hustle, wouldn’t play defense, openly wept on a national stage, rarely showered (supposedly), and refused to shave the dirty sanchez on his upper lip. Add to that the greasy crop of hair he wouldn’t cut for five years and you pretty much had the most repulsive human being on the face of the planet.
Three years later, Adam Morrison is a Los Angeles Laker who has been humbled by injuries, unfortunate circumstances, and a trade.
He no longer wears his hair long, rarely lashes out at the people around him, makes an effort to play defense, and has learned that hard work and hustle is a requirement for a guy looking to get off the bench.
The out-of-place mustache is still there, and no word on whether he showers or not, but at least fans can now look at Morrison and feel something for the former first-round pick that they never felt before: compassion.
It has been exactly 37 months since Morrison was selected third overall in the 2006 draft by the Michael Jordan-led Charlotte Bobcats. If you knew nothing about Morrison at the time, you knew enough about Jordan to realize that this pick could very well blow up before everyone’s eyes.
Jordan had never translated his on-court success into the front office, first destroying the Washington Wizards franchise (he drafted uber-bust Kwame Brown with the first overall pick in the 2001 draft, then traded Richard Hamilton to Detroit for Jerry Stackhouse) before taking his act of destruction to the expansion Bobcats. His Airness selected Morrison with visions of superstardom in the back of his mind. He boldly drafted the 6’8″ small forward ahead of such players as Brandon Roy (taken No. 6 overall), Rudy Gay (No. 8 overall), and of course Mouhamed Sene (just kidding, though he was taken at No. 10 overall).
Morrison had a fairly promising rookie season. He played in 78 of the team’s 82 games and averaged 11.8 points per game in the process. For a first-year player on a horrible team, Morrison should have been celebrated.
Instead, he was skewered. Fans and media members alike demanded more of such a lofty draft pick. It wasn’t enough for him to be a key player on this team. If he were to ever live up to the hype, he would need to be THE player in Charlotte.
Unfortunately, Morrison’s efforts towards improvement went all for naught when he suffered a torn ACL in the 2007-2008 preseason. The injury forced him to miss the entire ’07-’08 campaign, and all of a sudden one word was being tossed around to describe the mercurial forward: bust.
Through intensive rehab and hard work, Morrison made it back on the court for the ’08-’09 season. By the time he made his return, however, the landscape had changed dramatically in Charlotte.
Gone were former head coaches Bernie Bickerstaff and Sam Vincent, the latter being hired and fired before Morrison had ever played a game under him. Instead, veteran coach Larry Brown, who had led Detroit to a championship in 2004, sat at the helm of the fledgling franchise. Brown, who had a reputation of being tough on young players, showed no desire to give Morrison the minutes he had received as a rookie. The third-year player was demoted to a reserve role, starting just five games through the first half of the season.
By February, the Bobcats (or, more accurately, Brown) had grown weary of trying to turn Morrison into the superstar they had envisioned. Along with guard Shannon Brown, Charlotte sent their former first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for veteran forward Vladimir Radmanovic.
Though he went from an underacheiving ballclub to a team that would eventually win the championship, Morrison went from being a seldom-used backup as a Bobcat to becoming a complete afterthought in L.A.
He played in just five games with the Lakers and spent most of his time trying to get healthy in practice. He was a spectator throughout the playoffs and watched as his team defeated the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals. He celebrated with his teammates at the Los Angeles Coliseum and sported the championship hat and t-shirt. But he was barely a factor in his team’s season, and he wouldn’t be remembered as a contributor in this crowning achievement. He had, for all intents and purposes, hit rock bottom.
Not two months removed from the championship celebration, Morrison is once again playing basketball. This time, he’s suiting up in the NBA Summer League wearing the practice jersey of his Lakers. Unlike the preceding two years, Morrison is once again putting the ball in the basket on a consistent basis. Through four games, he is averaging 20.8 points and, perhaps more impressively, has logged an average of five rebounds and two assists per game, as well.
He’s still far from superstardom and nowhere near the player he was in college, but Adam Morrison is recovering. Recovering from his knee injury. Recovering from his season-long demotion. And most importantly, recovering from the kick in the pants he needed to save him from his ego.
He may not be a model citizen or the hardest worker, but Adam Morrison is doing something he was never able to do before: earn our respect.