Yesterday, it occurred to me (mainly because it occurred to the guys at PodCavs in their last episode and it occurred to me to listen to that episode and … wait, you all know how thinking works … sorry) that in the flurry of stories about the moves the Cavs made at the trade deadline, lost in the din of the move that brought Baron Davis and the Clippers’ unprotected 2011 first round pick into the Cavs waiting and loving arms was the fact that we had to say goodbye to a player who had become a pretty important part of our professional-basketball-following lives over the past three years. We had to say goodbye to Mo Williams.
And, as the man who wrote a defense of Mo earlier this year, I’d like to say a few words beside the Mo Gotti 2 Pyre before setting it respectfully ablaze and letting it drift its slow dark march down the Cuyahoga.
But, first, a special guest: Sir Elton John (to be fair, I told Elton that Mo wasn’t actually dead and that what had gone on between Mo and Cleveland couldn’t reasonably be considered a tragedy … but he insisted.)
Cue Sir Elton…
Goodbye, Mo Williams/
Though I never knew you myself/
You had the balls to want to stay/
While those around you left/
Came here from Milwaukee/
The Boy Wonder to LeBron/
We needed another superstar/
But what we got was you/
And it seems to me, you lived your life/
Like a candle in the wind/
Never knowing who to cling to/
When the rain set in…
Okay … it kinda falls apart at the end. But you get the idea.
I view Mo as a bit of a tragic figure – not because I think it particularly sucks to be Mo Williams (there are very unique ways why it both does and certainly does not suck to be Mo Williams) – but Mo seems to be that rare professional athlete who fell short, not of what we, the fans, expected from him (though he did his share of that), but of what he expected from himself.
Mo seemed to have a genuine joy about being on the LeBron-led Cavs teams. And, why not? He left a losing situation in Milwaukee and got to come and win the most games of any team in the regular season over the last two seasons.
He also seemed genuinely damaged when he wasn’t able to come through in the post-season and, after each set-back he claimed that he would come back, he would work harder, he would not fail again. We could trust him, he seemed to be saying. He would not let us down.
Then the team (not only Mo) let us down and LeBron left and Mo had his “feel like my heart has been pulled out” and “Pls don’t trade me, I’m not ready to go. I’m begging. My work ain’t done yet. I’m on both knees … pls. I’m serious” tweets that had people questioning his mental toughness (and, in part, showing me that Mo Williams is one of the more relatable professional athletes we’ve seen in a while … he was reacting like we were reacting … playing for the Cavs was not a just a business, but something that stirred up real, human emotions for him – and we turned on him for it).
After last summer, Mo said many things about wanting to lead the team this year – that he was a player who could be effective as the primary option on a competitive team. Then he showed up hurt (rumored to be out-of-shape) and clearly had his finger ready to flip the switch when it became very clear that basketball in Cleveland this year was not going to be a thing of beauty, or of fun, or even something that for long stretches resembled professional basketball. When that switch went from “we can do this” to “damn, this really, really, really, really sucks” there was no going back for Mo because this was no longer a team that allowed his joy of playing to come through and he, bless his head-banded little head, did not have the skills to make this team (or any team) truly his, no matter how much he really wanted to.
Mo Williams is not the guy who thinks he’s better than he actually is; he’s the guy who wishes he was as good as some of the better players he sees and is just good enough to think he might be one of them. That’s actually a big difference, because the former is insulated from bearing the personal responsibility of failure, while that personal coming-up-short is something the latter, Mo, may never break away from.
I’ll probably always like Mo Williams as a player. I fell for him in the way we’d all have probably fallen for Larry Hughes if he had anywhere near the positive impact that Mo had – and I wish him the best in Los Angeles.
RIP The Mo Gotti Era. Now watch that crooked river burn.