Let’s be honest, before the shocking news about LaMarcus Aldridge’s sudden retirement due to an irregular heartbeat, you didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about him.
Sure, if you were a Spurs fan, your answer would be completely different. Or maybe for Brooklyn Nets fans, his arrival to the team after clearing waivers made you excited about potential championships to come.
But for the general public, Aldridge wasn’t… everyone’s favorite player. Sure, everyone respected the heck out of his work — seven All-Star appearances and three All-NBA Third Team and two All-NBA Second Team selections were proof of a quietly amazing career.
Yet for all his accolades, it isn’t common to find someone evangelizing Aldridge the way other fans do for their favorite players. Damian Lillard fans get enraged whenever anyone questions his playoff resume, and Luka Doncic true believers are just waiting for the moment he puts things together for the Dallas Mavericks.
Aldridge never inspired the same type of rabid loyalty and widespread appeal. Was it because he played a huge chunk of his career in small market towns like Portland and San Antonio before moving to Brooklyn? Maybe. Or perhaps it’s because his career highlight mixtape will just consist of step-back midrange jumpers, perfectly timed offensive rebounds and putbacks, as well as solid screens and rolls to the rim?
Well, that’s LaMarcus Aldridge. He was unashamedly old-school in his approach to the game. If aliens typed “basketball power forward” in a search bar and read the descriptions of that position, Aldridge wouldn be the perfect example of this.
It’s unfortunate that Aldridge has stepped away from the game before we can ever give him his flowers. You could tell that the letter he penned and posted on Twitter was agonizing. After all, he moved to Brooklyn for a shot at the one accolade that has eluded him for 15 seasons. All his career, he was an underdog. The one time he gets a legitimate chance to enter the big dance, the lights are shut off before he can ever enter the dance floor.
An NBA championship is now out of his grasp, but its absence won’t tarnish his legacy he leaves behind: a sweet-shooting power forward who could make mincemeat of any defender on any given day. The pump fakes, jab steps, and counter moves that people turn their backs on helped him finish with 19,951 points, a number that should put him in for future Hall of Fame consideration.
Three years ago, I had the chance to cover the 2018 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles. In the All-Star interview, each of the participants set up shop in individual booths for the media to interview them. The line to interview superstars like LeBron James and Steph Curry went deep. Stars like James Harden and Russell Westbrook also had throngs of people waiting for their opportunity.
And then there was Aldridge, in his booth. Someone would occasionally wander towards him and ask him a few questions before scurrying off to interview a more popular player. I watched this go on for a few times until eventually there was no one walking his way, giving Aldridge an opening to fade into the background and walk away from the media.
Sometimes we mistake a player’s personality on the court for how they are in real life. That’s not the case with Aldridge. He truly didn’t want the pomp and circumstance. After all, when players leave a small market team, it’s to play in the heavy hitters of the basketball world. He was an ultimate professional.
But remember this, despite not wanting to be in the spotlight of the All-Star Game, the fact remains that LaMarcus Aldridge was there. With only 24 spots reserved for the most elite players of the season, Aldridge was one of them. You may deny his presence, but no one can deny his basketball greatness.
In the 2019 season, the Spurs faced the Oklahoma City Thunder in a grueling double-overtime game. Aldridge was a monster and registered 56 points, his career high. When the buzzer sounded, the first thing he did was look for the ball, hold it near to him, and take it with him as a memory for the rest of his life.
The simple gesture showed that underneath that cold and emotionless exterior, those moments meant the world to him. We should be thankful that now he will have many more of those moments with his family for years to come.