(Author’s Note: This is a very personal story, and it’s quite dark in some places. If you don’t want to read it, feel free not to.)
It’s nearly a year since I was last in the USA. During that time, along with my other travels, I spent a few days visiting my cousins in Houston.
While there, I took a secret day trip. I told the family that I was going to go to Galveston for a day by myself, a request granted by my mum since we were sick of each other at this point. But my real destination was Jackson, Mississippi.
As far as I know, Jackson has no sights worth seeing. That wasn’t my plan. I was going in search of Monta Ellis.
Not him personally, mind. Monta lives in Memphis in the off-season and even if he was in Jackson, I would have about zero chance of seeing him. No, the sports blogger in me wanted to find out more about the guy who, when all is said and done, will probably be my favourite Warrior of all time for a long time.
I visited his old neighbourhood and high school. I made up a bullshit story about being an Australian PhD student who was studying deprivation in African American communities and comparing it to that in our Aboriginal communities – I don’t think the office lady bought it, especially since I was wearing a faded Tupac t-shirt and basketball shorts, but neither do I think she gave a shit. If you’re wondering, yes I did shoot hoops on their court. I was making 3s – pretty rare for me. And I played ball with some neighbourhood kids. As tough as a lot of them are, a cool accent goes a long way to breaking the ice, especially since a surprising number of them were Crocodile Hunter fans cause “that Steve Irwin was one crazy motherfucker.” (Of course the scars on my face are from wrasslin’ crocs and feral pigs myself, and totally not from fights and childhood bike accidents).
When I left that night, I left with a greater understanding of why Monta meant so much to me as a fan, and why I felt such an emotional connection with him.
More than any athlete on any team I go for, I’ve watched Monta grow up. I’ve watched him go from a skinny high school kid who’s hat looked too big for his head to the leader of a dysfunctional yet occasionally maddeningly brilliant team. I’ve cheered for him, I’ve cursed him, I’ve loved him, I’ve been frustrated as hell by him, but ultimately I too have grown with him.
When he was drafted, I liked him instantly cause he kind of looked like me. (I still think we have a slight physical resemblance even though he’s got five inches on me). I was a scrawny 15 year old on the fast track to delinquency – when my mum wasn’t watching that is. I hoped this guy could make it.
Turns out that not only did he make it, he became a damn important cog. Every good team needs a guy who can get his and score in bunches, even if only to provide a change of pace. On the ‘We Believe Warriors’, Monta was that guy. He was the little brother to Baron, J-Rich and Captain Jack – the guy who would come off the bench, heat up at the flick of a switch and swing games. Things were looking good for both of us. By now I was 17 and still built like a stick (not much has changed except alcoholism has added extra unhealthy kilos to my frame), but I was balling well, I had my first real girlfriend and was doing as well for myself as I thought I could. I even went to Oakland to go see Game 6 of the Mavs series. Life was great.
Then it all came crashing down. For me, it happened earlier than Monta – when my girlfriend got pregnant, the Warriors were still a seeming lock to not only make the playoffs but go somewhere when there. Monta was seemingly thriving as the starting 2 guard and putting up record field goal percentages.
I heard later that they missed out on the playoffs during a pickup game. By now I was way out of the loop. I was homeless and squatting around Newtown and the Rocks with my pregnant girl after we were both thrown out of our homes following the announcement. Nevertheless, I was beginning to start putting my life back together. I was making money (I won’t say how except that it didn’t involve drugs) and she was still covered by her parents’ health insurance, and she had a cousin or someone who was willing to take us in. Monta and the Warriors would pick themselves up after the season, Baron would re-sign cause he knew where this team was going, and we’d be back.
Then, in the space of a few weeks the only woman I’ve ever loved had a miscarriage and committed suicide.
It was the same off-season that Baron signed with the Clippers and Monta crashed his moped. In hindsight, given that I didn’t have to support a child and the Warriors didn’t have to support BD’s waistline, maybe we were all better off (except the fast food outlets of the Bay Area).
I spent some more time on the streets before finally giving up and going back to my parents, who took me back when they learnt that I was not going to be a father. I wasn’t a kid any more, that’s for sure. My boy Monta was also getting a crash course in growing up as the Warriors began to rebuild around him. We had both gone through difficulties, but once again I believed in the ability to come back bigger and better from them.
A year later, Stephen Curry was drafted to Golden State.
Even if they had somewhat similar player profiles, in persona Steph and Monta are worlds apart. Curry grew up the son of an NBA player and had a comfortable upper middle class upbringing (although I imagine it was one with plenty of MILF jokes – seriously, have you seen the guy’s mum?) where he was hanging around the NBA most of his life. I remember hearing a story when he got drafted about how he would get in shooting contests as a kid with members of the then-Charlotte Hornets and win. As I mentioned earlier, Monta grew up in not relative but total poverty. This in turn seems to have influenced their personalities. I obviously don’t know either of them personally and they don’t know me from a turd, but you can get a good enough read into guys from the media these days. Curry is charming, polished, eloquent, the kind of guy who a girl could take home to meet her parents. I didn’t write a feature referring to him as the “Prince of Smooth” for nothing. Monta is tougher, brasher, more “fuck you” and seemingly less concerned with his perception. Less Michael Jordan, more Allen Iverson.
Again, don’t get me wrong here – I’m not criticizing Curry at all. I fucking love the guy and hope he’s a Warrior for life once his ankle heals up. He’s a terrific player, a terrific kid and a credit to his family, the organization and himself.
But even though my upbringing – from the first act in the San Jose burbs to the second in the Shire as the son of a IT guy and a doctor – was much closer to Steph’s, I always identified far more with Monta as a player and a person. Although that was probably just cause we had way more similar basketball games. Steph always reminds me of one of my cousins who’s the same age as me (again, I love both of them) but who was far better at fitting the “Indian” mold than I ever was or have been. And yes, he can only shoot jumpers on the court.
Anyway, that line of rambling is over. Despite rumours that one of them would be traded, GSW brass chose to give the undersized backcourt duo a chance to work together which sent the franchise into a state of drift that again matched where I was. I managed to finish school after doing summer classes at TAFE to make up for what I didn’t do when I was on the streets, got a good UAI but not good enough for law school in Australia, so went to Auckland for a year before coming home (when I realized I was both homesick and didn’t like law) and have basically been drifting through college since then.
When I first heard about Monta being traded to Milwaukee, for more than a few moments I seriously considered switching teams. I felt so inexorably linked with the guy by now it just seemed unimaginable that I could ever cheer against him. And, I’m being completely honest here – if Golden State had traded for anyone but Bogut I probably would have. (OK, maybe not Dwight either. But anyone else who was available, yes). No matter how much he’s frustrated me over the years with his play, he’s my guy. Always has been, always will be. I am buying his Milwaukee jersey (once I can afford to – gotta get a Bogut GS one first but) and I’ll continue to follow his career closely, even though I will cheer against his team when the Bucks play Golden State. (I’d be perfectly happy if he went for 50 points in a losing cause though).
Once again, I’m being forced to take a look at myself here. I’m 22 in April and are close to graduating college. Once I finish I’ll probably leave Sydney – the town that may not be of my birth but has been my home for more than half my life and will always be my hometown in my heart. I too will be forced to leave, not because someone else is pushing me out but simply because it’s too damn expensive to live in this city anymore.
Whatever happens, I hope I handle it with the class Monta handled his departure from the only NBA home he has known (he took an ad in the SF Gazette to thank the fans, and praised us in every interview he gave after the trade).
Ultimately, while the connections I’ve described here are probably just coincidences (freaky ones, but coincidences) I did learn a lot from Monta Ellis.
I learnt from a 6’3”, 185 pound shooting guard that you don’t have to fit a mold to succeed.
I learnt from every drive he got pounded to the ground that courage and determination are two of the most valuable qualities a baller and a man can have in his hardest times.
I learnt from his refusal to bitch about the organization or the team that even if it seems like the people who control you are out to get you, you don’t have to show them they’re winning.
And I also learnt to never drive a moped. (I’d also say I learnt to not send dirty pictures of myself, but as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows very well I never learnt that lesson).
So I guess it’s goodbye Monta. For all you’ve taught me as a fan and as a man, there isn’t much else for me to say.