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Outside the window within the coach's office, we could see Brandon Knight still on the court inside the Detroit Pistons' basketball facility. These had been hard training camp practices, and yet Knight still hadn't gone home. The Pistons' coach, Lawrence Frank, nodded toward him and shook his head.
"He won't leave the gym," Frank told me on that September day. "We have to chase him out at night."
When Knight had plantar fasciitis in the offseason, Frank had to confiscate Knight's sneakers so he couldn't sneak into the gym and play against doctor's orders.
"This kid will get every ounce out of his ability," Frank promised.
As the Los Angeles Clippers crushed the Pistons on Sunday, Knight did something that surprised no one within the franchise: Between DeAndre Jordan catching a lob and dunking on Detroit, Knight leaped and tried to stop him.
For this, he's a punch line now. He's a joke. For everyone celebrating Jordan's fantastic lob dunk over a guard some 8 inches shorter and 80 pounds lighter, they've made Knight an object of ridicule. A widely followed parody account of comedian Kevin Hart tweeted that Jordan had been brought up on "charges of rape & aggravated assault against Brandon Knight," and tombstones declaring Knight dead were popping up on the Internet.
The message is clear to players everywhere, on every level: Run away. Hide. Don't try to take the charge. Don't try to disrupt the play. There's no reward. This is how backward the basketball culture has become, how twisted the value system.
This time, it was Brandon Knight. A year ago, it was the Clippers' Blake Griffin dunking on Kendrick Perkins. As a center, Perkins is bigger, stronger, and that makes Griffin's dunk more impressive. They gave Perkins this treatment, too. Even now, he still comes back for more.
"If I was in the same position, in the same rotation, I'm going to jump again and again and again," Perkins told Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears. "A lot of people are afraid of humiliation or don't know how to handle embarrassment or would even get embarrassed. I don't care.
"That's my job. How will my teammates look at me if next time I just back out of the way and just let him dunk when I'm supposed to be defensive-minded, a shot-blocker? That would be a coward move on me.
"He'd just have to dunk on me again."
Jordan made a spectacular play. No one will soon forget it. So congratulations and all. Jordan has a $43 million contract and yet still doesn't have one offensive move, an ability to score outside the paint. Yes, he can leap, dunk on little guys. And somehow that makes him an achiever in the sport now. After this, perhaps even a folk hero.
For Brandon Knight, who had the guts to stand in there, there were prominent people writing that he had been raped and assaulted and killed on Sunday night in Los Angeles. Eight inches shorter and 80 pounds lighter, Knight understood the right thing is seldom ever the most popular. Brandon Knight didn't run and hide, didn't spare himself the humiliation.
The culture of this sport has never been so backward, never so twisted. Hell of a dunk out of DeAndre Jordan, but maybe the wrong player gets the ovation.
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