Over the course of his 14-season NBA career, Shawn Kemp covered most every status on the basketball spectrum. As a young star with the Seattle SuperSonics, he stood out as one of the most ferocious and athletic power forwards in league history. Then, after several controversies, including his fathering of several children out of wedlock by different mothers, Kemp fell out of favor. His reputation arguably reached its nadir after the 1998-99 lockout, when he became the poster-boy for players who failed to stay in shape when the league was out of service. Like many once-beloved players of his era, Kemp left the NBA with little fanfare.
Now, a decade after he played his last game, we can look back on that unfortunate era of Kemp's career with at least a little levity. In an interview with Vince Grzegorek for Cleveland Scene, legendary sportswriter Terry Pluto, author of the greatest book you'll ever read on the ABA, remembered one particularly goofy moment from Kemp's time with the Cleveland Cavaliers (via SB Nation):
What's one G-rated or PG-rated story about an athlete that you've heard but haven't had an opportunity to share?
Shawn Kemp was late for a flight back in his Cleveland days, as he often was. He was beginning to run out of excuses. The one he gave the Cavs this time was, "My dog fell asleep in front of my car and I had to wait until he woke up."
Poor Randy Wittman was the coach and he just took it. That's when we knew Randy was in big trouble. He was a rookie coach and Kemp worked him over. It actually said a lot about a bunch of things that were going on with the team at the time. Kemp was losing control of his life and Randy was overwhelmed. The best thing Jim Paxson did was find a way to hoist Kemp on Portland, which set it up for the Cavs to eventually get LeBron.
So Kemp's lame excuse about his dog falling asleep in front of his car in some way can be traced to the LeBron era?
Look, I think this is a perfectly acceptable excuse and not something Kemp concocted after encountering Clifford the Big Red Dog. He was just taking the old saying "let sleeping dogs lie" literally, like the NBA's version of Amelia Bedelia.
The weirdest part of this story is the idea that Kemp's tardiness eventually led the Cavs to be bad enough to obtain LeBron James through the draft. The timeline here is a bit vague, but the argument makes sense. Kemp last played for Cleveland in the 1999-2000 season, after which they completed three seasons of 30 wins or fewer on their way to the 2003 draft. While Kemp was not the star he once was, the Cavs also failed to replace him with a player of equal value. When the 2002-03 season came around, it was logical to lose as much as possible in the hope of winning the lottery.
The lesson here, I guess, is that any front-office executives looking for cover to unload a team's best player should carefully place a sleeping dog in front of that player's SUV. Then, in three years, that team will draft the best player of his generation. This plan may sound ridiculous, but it's just as likely to work as any logically organized rebuilding process.