Dream Week: An Open Letter to Sam Cassell
Dream Week takes a brief digression, as Jay Caspian Kang reaches out to one of the Dream's more notable teammates. Speaking of FreeDarko, check out our NYTimes Q&A (also in print), and if you absolutely can't wait till Tuesday, rumor has it that some big chain stores already have the book out for sale.
Jay just started his own Tumblr. His other work has appeared in the Awl, the Morning News and TheAtlantic.com.
Yes, money and rings exist, but ugly is also hard, real. Naively, I reasoned your face was what forged your skills—the herky-jerky post moves, the busted jumper, the slowed-down fast-breaks. We eventually outgrow the need to turn our mothers into symmetrical ideas, but our favorite athletes suffer our meddling hands, our limitless scrutiny, until, one day, we discard the metaphor.
When you came to Chapel Hill and declared it a wine-and-cheese crowd, I was twelve and living on a block lined with dentists and perfectly spaced dogwoods. The dogwoods were all dying on account of an airborne pathogen. The dentists held coke-fueled orgies, to which my parents, of course, were never invited. Do I need to explain my allegiance to a brash, ugly man?
It worked. For years, really. When you were drafted, I went to the trolls in the hobby shop and traded my Dave Justice Leaf rookie for ten of yours. I’ ve since reached an age where I must acknowledge fiscal irresponsibility, but I still count it as one of the great moral coups of my lifetime. Houston proved me right, Minnesota, too. All the while, you and Popeye made all the top-five-ugly lists. Because I liked you for this, I assumed you liked you for this, too.
But then you were in Boston with no knees. The braggadocio had no more context—you barked and swore from the bench. Your khaki shirt was indefensible. At halftime, Charles called you Gollum. For the first time, I calculated the toll. Charles was defined by the rings you earned. Any man could have been made by your money. But there you were, holder of rings, money, stats, the hard evidence of a very-good-career, and your ugliness would still not deflate.
I can twist my selfish concern into the language of therapy and say: I wish you would talk about it. But, hard is hard, and, as they say, everything builds character. We are not friends, anyway. Instead, Sam, let me say this: we only notice the perfect teeth on the people we hate.