It’s really hard to age gracefully in basketball. There’s no sport more reliant on individual prowess and personal aptitude. It takes dozens of different mechanisms and positions to build a great baseball team, or a great hockey team, but in basketball one great player can totally change a team’s outlook.
LeBron James singlehandedly dragged a regressing Dwyane Wade and a dinosaur named Chris Bosh to two straight NBA championships. There’s just a level of transcendence in basketball that exceeds any manufactured drama, and part of that is watching the great ones fall. A sluggish Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform, a broken-down Shaq sitting on the Celtics’ bench – every poetic hero needs an equally poetic decline, and nothing does tragedy quite like the NBA.
With that in mind, we’ve highlighted a number of retired, or soon-to-be-retired NBA players, and have picked a song that best represents their career – something that captures the full breadth of any hope, disappointment, victory, or crushing defeat that happened along the way.
Jason Kidd: The Notorious B.I.G. – 'Juicy'
After years of struggling as the best player on several mediocre teams, Jason Kidd managed a late-career renaissance thanks to a memorable championship run with the Mavericks, a fun season with last year’s Knicks, and immediately being tapped for the head-coaching job for the new, hip Brooklyn Nets. For the first time in his entire career, it seems like Jason Kidd is not tremendously stressed out. Like the sole beacon of bright optimism on an otherwise violent, puerile, and paranoid hip-hop record.
Grant Hill: Nas – 'New York State of Mind Part II'
Man, this guy was awesome for a while. Grant Hill, in the handful of seasons before the injuries started, looked to be an absolute world-beating superstar in waiting. But once he fractured his ankle, things were never the same. Sure, he was still productive, and still fun to watch, but Grant Hill never became the Grant Hill we all desperately wanted to see. As he retired, most of us thought of the failed promises he left behind. Sort of like a famous rapper desperately looking to his classic back-catalog to refresh his stagnant inspirations…
Tracy McGrady: Bon Iver – “Holocene”
Unlike plenty of other former superstars, T-Mac seemed pretty happy to spend his twilight years bouncing from team to team, collecting paychecks, and generally being a good guy. Catch him lounging on the Spurs bench as better players like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili soaked up harsh playoff minutes on their already ragged bodies. McGrady wasn’t resentful, he’s comfortable in his miniaturized role. There’s a hint of melancholy on 'Holocene,' but mostly it sounds like someone who’s entirely comfortable with death.
Steve Nash: William Basinski – 'The Disintegration Loops 1.1'
OK, so technically Steve Nash has not hung up his frail, Canadian sneakers yet, but for someone who’s going to turn 40 over the course of next season, it only seems like a matter of time. 'The Disintegration Loops' is a piece of music composed by sound-engineer William Basinski, according to folklore as Basinski was converting his decades-old tape-loops to his hard-drive, the tape itself started to fall apart. The resulting sound is a long, melancholy march of actual music disappearing right before our ears. It tells a solemn story about the destruction of all things. Steve Nash’s entire career is a solemn story about the destruction of all things.
Vince Carter: David Bowie – 'Where Are We Now?'
He says he's not retiring soon, but look he’s not the guy he used to be, and his classic work is more than a decade behind him. Nevertheless, he’s manage to reinvent himself into a valuable contributor on the outside of greatness, and every once in a while he’s still able to muster up something that looks like the good old days. No matter his diminished powers, you’re always excited when you get a chance to see him.