The vast majority of NBA playing careers end with more of a fizzle than a bang. Few athletes are lucky enough to walk away from the game on their own terms. That is how professional basketball works. Players develop, they decline, they age out. Retirement is seldom a conscious decision for the elite. ESPN Senior Writer Jackie MacMullan details the devastating waiting game seasoned veterans must play each fall, starting with former Trail Blazer Steve Blake, who, at 36, has yet to receive a call from an NBA team for the first time in 13 years.
There were 201 free agents on the market on July 1. There are still 24 who remain unsigned, among them Chalmers, Cole, J.R. Smith, Josh Smith, Kevin Martin, Matt Bonner, Kendrick Perkins, Andre Miller and Chris Kaman. Some of those players may not have known it at the time, but they have already played their last NBA game.
Blake is not planning to be one of them. He spent each morning during the preseason scrimmaging with Trail Blazers players at the team's facility near his Portland home, but that is no longer an option now that training camp is in full swing. At night, Blake lifts and does conditioning drills.
He doesn't need the money -- he just craves the game. Blake has three sons -- ages 9, 7 and 6 -- and he has moved them each time he has changed teams, from Portland to Los Angeles to San Francisco, back to Portland and, last season, to Detroit. If he does get picked up, Blake says, his kids and his wife, Kristen, will remain in Oregon, which will be a difficult adjustment for all of them. But it will be palatable because it will be for just ... one ... more ... year. While his first priority is to play, Blake says he is also open to taking a coaching job. He started planning for the future years ago by enrolling in coaching clinics and attending real estate symposiums.
Over the course of his career, Blake has played for the Washington Wizards, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Denver Nuggets, the Trail Blazers again, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Golden State Warriors, the Trail Blazers again, and the Detroit Pistons. He is the definition of an NBA journeyman. Whether he likes it or not, his journey may be over.
MacMullan also takes a detailed walk through the career endings of Jerry Stackhouse, Larry Hughes, and Alonzo Mourning. Her full article, which can be found here, is worth the read.