Thursday, June 19, 2008

SPORTS: Regrets, Garbo

I'm going to miss Garbo. Jose Garbajosa, the Spanish hoops hero, reached an agreement with the Toronto Raptors on a contract buyout for the final year of his contract with the NBA team and will almost assuredly never play another game on this side of the Atlantic.

And that's too bad.

Garbajosa was something too many NBA players are not. Smart. The definition of 'wily old vet,' ends with "see Garbajosa, Jose." His intelligence made a willing body into a dangerous basketball player for more than a decade in Europe. Garbajosa came over in the European invasion two years ago, bringing along ex-pat Yank Anthony Parker to play with countrymen Jose Calderon. Never underestimate the effect Garbo had on returning confidence to his young countryman. He earned this last pay cheque for that fact alone.

Garbo wasn't tall enough to play power forward, nor quick enough to guard small forwards. He didn't have the best outside shot and frankly, he could get beaten down the court because he wasn't fleet afoot. That's what he wasn't. What he WAS was a rebounding forward who could guard more small forwards than he couldn't. He hit big shots from outside and it was telling that his NBA-career-ending injury came when he WOULD NOT give up on a breakaway, trying to swat away a gimme and landing awkwardly.

The pleasure in watching Garbo was in seeing just how much smarter he was than his opponents (and sad to say, teammates). He would fake a drive, fake a shot, fake a pass. He'd do all three on the same play, thus setting a record STILL UNMATCHED today for most fakes in a game. He'd position himself to get rebounds standing on the ground (John Wooden once found that 60 per cent of all rebounds were gathered in by players standing on the floor). He'd elbow his way between other players to get to balls or spots on the floor denied less-determined players.

We never saw the best of Garbajosa. He was a beast in Europe for a LOOOOONG time before landing here in Toronto. He played the same smart physical game there as he played here. But the years wore off some of his sharper edges. He could still get a lot out of his physical talents. And he played with such smarts that sometimes you didn't notice that he couldn't really defend the best of those small forwards anymore, and he had to cede the power forward spot to all-star Chris Bosh.

But he always played with control, effort and a slight little grin that showed just how much he loved playing this big boys' game of basketball.

And for that, I will miss Garbajosa. Good luck in the future, Jose.

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