Saturday / July 05 / 2014
When David Becomes Goliath
Rey Bulawan

FILE - This April 16, 2014 file photo shows Orlando Magic's Jameer Nelson thanking fans for their support prior to an NBA basketball game between the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers in Orlando, Fla. The Magic waived Nelson on Monday, June 30, 2014 parting ways with their longest-tenured player in a move to save valuable salary cap space and turn a page toward the future. Nelson’s departure comes just weeks before the team would have owed him $8 million for the final year of a three-year contract. (AP Photo/John Raoux, file)

A stoic Jameer Nelson sat beside an exasperated Dwight Howard on the bench when the once mighty Los Angeles Lakers captured the Larry O'Brien trophy at the Orlando Magic's home floor in the 2009 NBA Finals.

Instead of getting motivated, Nelson got even more devastated by the experience as the Magic never saw the Finals logo again on their parquet floors.

Three years after that loss, Nelson, a St. Joseph University standout, inherited the franchise leadership which required filling up the size 18 shoes of Howard, who left for the Los Angeles Lakers before signing up long term with the Houston Rockets.

Nelson's NBA journey began in the 2004 Draft where Denver took him as the 20th pick. He was supposed to be the understudy of Steve Francis whom the Magic had just acquired for disgruntled star Tracy McGrady.

It was on that same draft class that Howard was chosen No.1 overall while Gilas Pilipinas' naturalized player Marcus Douthit was taken in the second round at No. 56 by the Lakers.

Generously listed at 6-feet, the lack of length got Nelson overlooked on draft night. The need for taller combo guards in the NBA was reaffirmed that year when Ben Gordon, Shaun Livingston and Devin Harris were drafted at third, fourth and fifth overall, way ahead of Nelson.

But Nelson has since proven his doubters wrong by exemplifying leadership throughout his tenure in Orlando.

Waiving Jameer Goodbye

After a decade in Orlando, where he averaged 12.6 points and 5.4 assists per game, Nelson was recently released. The move saved the Magic $6 million worth of salary cap space for their youth rebuilding project.

According to the Magic's official website, the 32-year-old Nelson departs as their all-time leader in assists with 3,501. He ranks second in games played (651) and field goals attempted (7,033), third in minutes played (19,038), three-pointers made (874) and 3-pointers attempted (2,335), fourth in scoring (8,184 points) and field goals made (3,109) and fifth in steals (619).

Divorce is never easy, but this one is truly a sincerely happy one.

Orlando showed class in displaying highway billboards and releasing videos expressing their gratitude to Jameer's decade long contributions.

Nelson, on the other hand, thanked the Magic for the opportunity to win a championship elsewhere.

“The people, the way they embraced me there in Orlando over the last 10 years, were phenomenal. Not too many players can say they played in the same place in any sport for 10 years,” the Chester, Pennsylvania native told the Orlando Sentinel.

“I’d also like to give sincere and special thanks to the great Magic fans ... you have loyally supported me since my first day in Orlando, and have always been there for me and my family,” he added.

Hope floats

As uncertainty looms, an optimistic Nelson sees only a flicker in the dark. Unfortunately for Jameer, personal tragedy has steeled him in these times of sadness and incertitude.

In the summer of 2007, the deceased body of Jameer's dad – Pete Nelson – was found in the Delaware River, a mere 10 miles from Hay's Tugboats where he was a welder. The elder Nelson had kept his job even after his son had hit it big in the NBA.

Fate's cruelties attempted and failed to snuff the life out of Jameer's spirits.

"I'm not worried about my own feelings. One of the hard things is to go to others [for help]. That's just the way he (his Dad Pete ) raised me. I want to figure things out on my own," Jameer quipped.

Speed, strength and length are important attributes necessary to be a successful point guard. But having a warriors' grit and the chest of an inborn leader are traits that have made the 6-foot Nelson taller than the competition.

It's a visceral example for aspiring NBA guards to realize that a wealth of immeasurable traits can overcome a lack of height.

Nobody knows what the future holds for Nelson, but when his NBA career is said and done, he'll be fondly remembered as one of the rare Davids who conquered the land of the Goliaths.

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