After playing for six teams in five years, NBA star Chauncey Billups had a reputation as a prodigy who didn’t pan out. “The Disposable Superstar,” our latest Notable Narrative, is the story of how a gifted player set out to reinvent himself.
ESPN writer Tom Friend launches his profile of Billups with a tried-and-true approach: starting deep in the action, showing his subject on the court in the playoffs. But Billups isn’t hot-dogging or dunking—he’s “rounding up all the players, all the misfits and flakes, and poking a finger in their chests.” Friend then cuts back to a night 15 years before when, as a high school junior inbounding the ball with nobody open, Billups bounces “the ball off [a] defender’s rear end, catches it… and dunks with two hands.” After which he apologizes to his grandmother.
The story traces an arc between those two moments—the young showoff and the team leader with a championship ring and MVP status who comes home to Denver. Through parallel storylines in which a father gives up alcohol and a son gives up the spotlight, Friend creates a powerful arc of a failed superstar who took a step back, chose the path of hard work, and apprenticed himself to more experienced players.
The account sometimes slows down a step for the basketball illiterate, but Friend has woven everything the reader needs to know into the net of his story. In the process, he also inadvertently influenced sports history: a Nuggets coach gave him partial credit for a May win in the conference final series against the Lakers. Read our interview with Friend to find out why.
Read “The Disposable Superstar” by Tom Friend