Ja's morass

Well, here we go again: Another talented, young, Black, American pro basketball player is in trouble with the law, running around with guns, threatening people, acting like a gangster. This time it's a kid named Ja Morant, who plays with the Memphis Grizzlies. He's been taken off the team for a while to think about his conduct. The details of his antics of the last few months are easy enough to find, for those interested. A brief roundup is here.

This routine has played itself out enough times now that there are three foreseeable outcomes.

One possible ending to the story is the one that happened in the case of Sebastian Telfair. This guy, from Brooklyn, started his career with the Trail Blazers here in Portland, and you knew he was trouble pretty quickly when it was discovered that he had brought a gun onto the team plane. That was the start of a long and checkered career, in which he bounced around through various teams, including a few in China. Telfair was arrested several times, allegedly with a gun every time. A year and a half ago, he was one of eight players indicted on charges of defrauding the league's health insurance plan. He has no positive legacy in the game. None. Will Ja be the next Bassy Telfair?

On the other end of the spectrum, there is Zach Randolph, who also started in Portland and got himself into lots of trouble on the streets and in the many strip clubs and no-tell motels around town. He was a mere teenager when he was here, talented as all get-out, but driving up and down MLK in an Escalade half the night and declaring himself "a gangsta, not a Blazer." He was shipped off to New York, then to L.A., and finally to Memphis – where Morant plays now – and there, Randolph seems to have undergone a miraculous transformation. He grew up. People in Memphis loved him. They retired his number, the first time they had ever done that. ZBo, as he is known, proved that redemption is possible.

A third possibility, kind of a middle ground, is Allan Iverson. Like Morant, Iverson was an other-worldly talent who remained a creature of his upbringing. He always had quite a motley crew around him, and they got into a lot of scrapes, including with the law. He was convicted at one point on a weapons charge, and he made a scene on more than one occasion at casinos in Atlantic City. The trouble that A.I. brought with him usually was carried out by his bodyguards, not him. And so he managed to complete a successful and lucrative career in the league, paying some damages along the way and getting benched now and then for disrespecting the team, but never rubbing the gangster bit in personally, on the internet, the way Ja has.

So what will it be for Ja Morant, Door No. 1, 2, or 3? Only time will tell.