Lone Wolf Without the Cub
I have said some preposterous things in the past about Julius Hodge, so let me fire off one more before lowering the veil of reason: Odom, as many flowery shrines as I have constructed in the place where his name once was, belongs to L.A. or South Beach. Much like KG only makes sense stalking the tundra, he’s got an easygoing guile that agrees with the limelight. But imagine Odom transfigured and hunched by the harsh glare of NYC, stuck on the train with his stomach growling, and bounding onto the courts to hustle cats for days. Multi-skilled and spectral as ever, but with a hunger, fire and cockiness that practically screams Harlem World.
(If someone wants to try and argue that Odom is indeed the heart of Queens, or that Queens is much more like Miami than I think, go ahead. Just please don't tell me you read that entire paragraph thinking that I didn't know where Lamar Odom hails from)
As much as I support Julius Hodge in all things he does—especially in his ongoing, nearly epic planetary rivalry with McCants—I’m not blind to the facts. He’s got a wiry frame minus the outlandish spring and tension that makes Odom, KG, and Miles into their own brand of human engineering. This does add a touch of Iverson to his player profile, but AI’s small, not fragile. And at the moment, he’s got no shot to speak of, a luxury afforded only to defensive specialists. Despite his impractical rise from second-rounder to near-lottery (without the scouting report on him ever changing all that much; it’s like the world just decided they were pulling for him), the twenty-two year-old Hodge ends up without a role on a team already overstocked with middling guards and swingmen. Way too late along in his life to stash him away as a project—that’s both an insult to a man who, if nothing else, deserves none from the NBA, and would tempt some team to try and start signing prison ballers.
When the DL was handed down from up on high, I refused to give in to the throngs who demanded I have an opinion. It was second-class citizenry in a league that’s one big walking piece of the pie, fucking with the glacial divide between the guaranteed and the guaranteed-not’s, and just generally insufficient for developing high-priced investments in a controlled environment. No more recently than yesterday, second-rounder Monta Ellis confidently to reporters why he sure as hell wasn’t headed there:
"I'd rather this, not playing and working in practice, instead of being in the D-League and playing," Ellis said. "I just feel like the D-League is just not my level of play. I feel like this here is going to be better. I like to be pushed. I like for people to go at me and make me better and I make them better."
Now witness Hodge, New York legend, blacktop terror, college stallion, flat-out authority, on his decision:
“I think it was pretty easy," said Hodge, who would not take a cut in pay to drop to the D-League. "I'm a basketball player. I work hard on my game and continue to get better every day. It doesn't matter where I'm at, just what I'm on the team doing."
Prior to Hodge’s revolutionary act of civil obedience, there had been exactly one and a half stories in the new look NBDL: Marcus Fizer, he of the endless downgrade, counted as half since he should probably just be in the Association, and Dennis Johnson, from interim Clip Show skipper to his usual role as the Wandering Black Jew of the Celtics Greats Tribe. Lo and beholdeth, DJ will be coaching none others than my(?) Austin Toros. But Hodge’s move (also to the Toros, incidentally) is more than mere human interest. With it, he’s doing what no team had the guts to do, and certainly what no flimsy Euro or stuttering high schooler could do: in deciding to accept a demotion and live the farmed out life, he’s actually admitted that he needs to get better. If Hodge were just a humble guy, he would’ve been content to—and quite possibly needed—to stay within the sightlines of the father figure. But striking out on your own to hone your craft, undertaking adversity in the name of self-improvement, that presents the challenge of the NBDL as an exercise in fierce maturity, not infantilization.