NEW YORK —
It rained here and the umbrellas came out on Tuesday.
So did the news about Sebastian Telfair, the one-time childhood-basketball legend who was sentenced a day earlier in a Brooklyn courtroom to 3 1⁄2 years in prison on a gun charge.
“Please don’t take me from society right now,” the former Portland Trail Blazers guard begged the judge. “I am 34. I can go play in China for six years and take care of my family.”
He shouted. He pleaded. He cried.
Baller — turned “bawler,” The New York Post wrote.
Really, just all-around sad if you think about it. Because you and I remember Telfair being drafted by the Trail Blazers in 2004 — No. 13 overall. Then-team president Steve Patterson and general manager John Nash loved the kid. And a lot of you did, too.
There was a Sports Illustrated cover. A book about his life. A documentary, too. And there were moments in his first preseason — a gorgeous half-court bounce pass in his first game, for example — that made you think he might be a star.
Telfair moved to the Portland area and bought a car and a house. Brought his girlfriend from Brooklyn with him.
Also, his neighborhood childhood friend “Bubba” came along for the ride. At times, the media covering the team wondered if Bubba might have the best life in the bunch. He washed the cars, did the driving, but never really had to produce.
Truth is, Sebastian Telfair never really arrived, did he?
He also did not listen to veteran players on the Portland roster who attempted to mentor him. I have spoken with several former teammates. None of them wanted to be quoted. But be clear, Telfair did not listen to coaches, or more experienced NBA players, who were dealing with a lot of the same pressures.
Said one former Trail Blazers player: “I get the pressure, but I never carried a gun.”
Telfair was not as gifted as his cousin, Stephon Marbury, either. He struggled to shoot from outside. His was decent, but not the star his childhood promised he might become. The Blazers eventually gave up on him, but not before a loaded gun was found on a team plane in a pillowcase belonging to him. The team fined him. He promised to do better.
Telfair privately hinted at the time that he was concerned about threats and people from his old neighborhood. Publicly, the NBA player said it was dumb mistake. A year later, he was arrested in Yonkers, New York, on a second gun possession charge after he was pulled over for speeding.
Now, he is going to prison for another gun charge.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said: “The mandatory prison sentence he received (Monday) is required by law and he has now been held accountable for the unlawful conduct.”
Still, I am struck by how distraught Telfair was in the courtroom. He rambled. He wailed. He looked around, for someone still willing to believe in his legend. But ultimately, there was the law and a judge who assured him that this case would not erase what he has accomplished in his life.
Telfair is 34.
A young man, still.
It’s true, he could have played in China for a few more years. There was money to be made, even after suiting up for eight different NBA teams. Children to provide resources for, too. But what is clear is that when he was driving around in his Ford F-150 with a cache of weapons in his car, Telfair was not thinking about any of that.
He did not have his lights on, per the police report. He was illegally parked on the median. He had a submachine gun in a locked compartment, magazines of ammunition, a ballistic vest and three loaded handguns. All legally licensed in Florida, but not in New York.
No way around it.
Not just because he is going to prison. Not because he is a professional athlete, either. But because Telfair’s story was destined to have a different ending, wasn’t it? So many resources. So much hype. So many people who invested in him, and cheered for him, and believed in him.
Yet, here he was, being led away in handcuffs.
It should have had a different ending.