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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Crossing the Mendoza Line

About a million years ago... back when fantasy hoops drafts took place in dorm rooms, with beer, and stats were looked up in the USA Today and entered into Excel spreadsheets... I joined a league with a co-owner. His name was Vic Mendoza.

I didn't know Vic all that well, but I was told he was a big NBA fan and knew his stuff. And I had some sort of conflict and could only attend the first hour or so of the draft, so I needed someone to fill out the roster. Hey, any port in a storm, right?

I don't remember many of the details of the league, except that it was auction-style, and that Vic and I spent a good portion of our budget on Magic Johnson. This was in early November of 1991 -- just days before "the announcement."

It's sixteen years later, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Johnson was my favorite player as a kid. Hearing that he was sick -- not just sick, but HIV positive -- was like a punch in the stomach. We knew so little about AIDS and HIV back then; I certainly didn't think Magic would still be around in 2007, trading jabs with Charles Barkley on TNT and opening movie theaters. I don't know how to describe how I was feeling, but "heartbroken" is as good a word as any.

I ran into Vic later that day. I'll never forget what he said to me:

"I picked up Sedale Threatt."

(For readers who aren't up on their Lakers-circa-1991 depth charts, Threatt was Magic's replacement at the point.)

Now, I don't want to make Vic sound like a bad guy. He's not. He was thinking the way many fantasy owners would... "my guy isn't playing, pick up the guy who is." He didn't know he was dismissing the illness of my childhood hero. But at the time, I was furious. And the idea of fantasy sports -- the idea that I needed to react to Johnson's announcement and minimize the damage to my pretend basketball team -- was about the farthest thing from my mind.

I was reminded of Vic Mendoza and Magic Johnson last night, when I saw the reports of TJ Ford's injury. My immediate, reflex fantasy player reaction: put in a waiver claim on Jose Calderon. After all -- I thought Calderon was a worthwhile selection before the injury. With Ford hurt -- possibly seriously -- Calderon's value would go through the roof, right?

And then I remembered. Head and neck injuries are nothing to mess with in general; for TJ Ford, given his medical history, there's even greater cause for concern. At that point, I didn't know how badly he was hurt, if the injury was career-threatening, any of that. And I decided that I needed to step away from the waiver claim form... because sometimes, real life has to be more important than fantasy.

For what it's worth, It sounds like Ford will be OK. And I still think Calderon is a potentially excellent pick-up.


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