I’m staring at an ad in a magazine right now. It’s a two-page spread, a perhaps two second clip of a man approaching a basket and then dunking. It’s broken down so you see five of him all at once. There’s the dribble, the gather and finally he’s in the air, elbows at the rim, sneakers exposed. Oh yeah, at the bottom is a logo. All caps. A sort-of backwards Nike sign crowning the top. AND 1. The date on the front of the magazine, which is stuffed into a corner, whimpering beside a close-up of a frighteningly angry Mark McGwire, is 5.17.99. Back when AND 1 was rollin. Back when they packed the house. Back when… Larry Hughes was a pitchman?
Yes, it turns out he was that. He’s the kid in this ad, just a rookie in Philly, not even starting, and yet he’s getting love in ESPN The Magazine.
Amazingly, Larry Hughes was not on a team last season – meaning he wasn’t in the NBA at all – and I didn’t even notice. Coming off his monster deal – five years, $70 million – that he got after the best season of his career, Hughes didn’t find a pursuror who interested him. So as he told the Washington Post’s Michael Lee:
“I had time to hang with my family, reconnect with my kids. It wasn’t a lost cause at all and I got healthy,” Hughes said. “I was really enjoying the time. When it’s time to get ready to go somewhere you can go. You don’t have to check with a team, look at the schedule, you can just go, living the free life.”
Hughes plans to get back into the NBA at 32 years old, and he’ll take another step in November when he brings it back to ’99. The Flight Brothers will reunite. According to Lee, Allen Iverson and Hughes will play together on the same team for Iverson’s “Las Vegas Superstar Challenge.”
Why is this a big deal? The two barely played a year and a half together before Hughes was shipped across the country to Oakland to play for the Warriors. During the time they spent together, Iverson dominated and Hughes was relegated to the occasional highlight. But to me, it means something. When they did connect – as they seemed to do at least once a night on backdoor lobs – you couldn’t help but get excited. Iverson finally had a sidekick.
[Related: The Larry Hughes All-Stars]
It never worked out – mostly because Hughes was too much like AI: low efficiency, coupled with a shaky jumper, a gambling attitude on defense and a penchant to hold the ball. But for four games against Orlando in the 1999 NBA Playoffs, I was positive it would. As Hughes’ minutes increased each game, he scored in double figures each night. In Games 3 and 4 in Philly, he was the difference, going for 13 and eight with two steals and two blocks to spark the 76ers in the first one. In the series clincher, he put up 14 and seven. His numbers weren’t huge, but I can still vividly remember him catching dunks and lobs and mocking the Magic by pretending to call timeouts. It happened a couple of times, and was replayed over and over on SportsCenter. Iverson even jumped in and started doing it too. The connection was there, but it was cut before it had the chance to grow.
Philly rolled over the No. 3 seeded Magic with guys like Hughes and AI making Penny Hardaway look incredibly old. The crowd was hyped; Philly thought Hughes had arrived. It never turned out that way. Still, in November, those two – who stayed great friends all throughout their careers – will be reunited and hopefully, they’ll put down one more backdoor lob, punctuating it with a mocking timeout signal.
Will Hughes find his way back into the NBA?
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