Back in the summer, when Milwaukee’s atmosphere was a whole lot warmer than it is now, the thing Larry Sanders really had going for him was the likability factor.
Here was a young and talented basketball player, and one poised to get better, and one who wasn’t crowing about the brighter lights in those bigger cities.
Here was a guy who seemed to genuinely enjoy his time in Milwaukee. Here was a man who committed his future to the Bucks during a press conference at a local Boys & Girls Club, and did so speaking underneath a scoreboard that he donated, one that bears his name.
Here was someone who had embraced the city and had seen that embrace returned with a long-term contract. Here was someone Bucks fans could grow up with.
And now, here are the growing pains.
Word came down about the bar fight. Then word came down that a hand injury suffered in said bar fight would sideline him at least six weeks. Never mind how he originally fibbed about hurting the hand in a game and not the fight. And never mind the scuttlebutt that he was defending himself against superior numbers, because the main error was letting himself be in that position to begin with. His wife was just days shy of giving birth. None of it looked good.
And now comes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s report that he once kept his puppies out in the cold too long. That was last winter, while the forthcoming one seems laden with his discontent.
None of this has to mean that Sanders is a different person than you thought he was. It may make the soon-to-be-25-year-old less likable, but it doesn’t necessarily change his nature. If you thought he was a good person, well, good people can do bad things, too. If you thought he was merely putting up something of a smokescreen, well, then you’ll see this as so much smoke clearing.
I don't really know Larry Sanders beyond press conferences and locker-room conversations, but whenever I’ve spoken with him, I’ve found him to be more engaging and thoughtful than the average athlete. Perhaps that’s because he’d not yet put up all the walls that seem to rise in lockstep with an athlete’s fame. Perhaps these latest incidents will make him more guarded, have him parrying away questions with clichés rather than meeting them with contemplation. Perhaps they won’t affect his personality at all.
They are, in the kindest light, unfortunate, and in the darkest, an indictment on his character. They are also the last things the Bucks need while the team tries remaking its image in Milwaukee.
The upshot is this: We didn’t really know Larry Sanders before. We'd heard several good things about him, and now have heard some bad things, too. His wife knows him. His new daughter will. His teammates and coaches, for the most part, do. But we did not, and we still don’t know him now.
But he’s young and promising enough that the reintroduction remains worth watching.
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