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Michael Redd, the same as he ever was

Oct 21, 2010, 4:05 PM EDT

MRedd

Michael Redd used to be the center of all things Milwaukee Bucks, but those days are long gone. Injury after injury and rehab after rehab rendered his fully functional return a pipe dream, while his bloated salary handicapped a franchise on the rebuild. Fair or unfair, many among the Bucks faithful hold Redd’s health against him, and the frustration both internally and externally regarding his unfortunate streak of injuries is undoubtedly significant.

In that frustration, I only ask that we not forget that Redd is one of the NBA’s classiest acts, and that as irritating as it is to think of him rehabbing his leg instead of helping his teammates (or even instead of sitting on the bench with them during their brief playoff run), it bugs Redd himself more than you know. Basketball may not be everything to Michael Redd, but you’d better believe that he cares about playing and not playing, leading and not leading, and willing the Bucks to victory or watching them be burdened by his very presence on the roster.

He never chose this path. He didn’t get busted on a criminal charge, face legal allegations of any kind, or divide a locker room with an over-the-top persona. Redd just played basketball. He made mistakes, surely, but the marks held against him are often for events largely out of his control.

I’m not saying you can’t dislike Michael Redd. That’s your business. But hate him? For being injured of all things? That’s beyond petty. His poor health may have crippled the Bucks, but the NBA has far more compelling villains than a humble, professional, former second rounder who carved out a spot for himself in the NBA by expanding his game and sharpening his skill.

Skill he probably won’t be using to help Milwaukee this season, even as he eyes a potential return in February…so long as the Bucks will have him. He’s not forcing his way into any discussion or any rotation. Redd knows that this team is no longer his, and yet his words ring only with hope and humility. Redd’s not throwing a tantrum, not demanding attention, and certainly not making a fuss over the Bucks’ decision to move on. He’ll just play if they need him, and sit if they don’t. Basketball is a passion, but in this case, it need not be a production.

It’s a pity that this is what Redd’s career has been boiled down to. That this is the fate of the man who, about six years ago — before he became a semi-household name and before his own injuries marred his career — shared this exchange with Scoop Jackson of SLAM:

Before each game, he lays his hands on the ball. Rubs them across David Stern and Spalding. And prays. And while most players ask the Lord for 30, not to get embarrassed by Tracy McGrady (who has found ministry through Redd), or a victory so they can maintain home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, Michael Redd prays for health. And nothing more than that.

“When I grab the ball before every game,” he says, “I pray that nobody gets hurt.”

“Nothing else?” I ask him.

“Nothing else.”

This is how he gets down.

It’s how he still does, I’m sure. That prayer means something far more specific now than it ever did then, but the man uttering the words is the same. Redd was a terrific scorer for a long time, but even though he doesn’t cock back his signature jumper these days, he’s no more worthy of hate now than he was six years ago. He’s the same man, even if he’ll never be the same player.

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