Monday, December 21, 2009
Throughout this holiday week, the High Socks Legend will be taking a look at a handful of random NBA players from years gone by. It could be a guy that made multiple All-Star teams...it could be a guy that rode the bench for an entire career. You never know where this train is gonna stop. First up: Vincent Lamont Baker, or as he would come to be known, The Big Margarita...
Sometimes Vin Baker is only remembered for his precipitous food and alcohol-induced fall from grace, and that's unfortunate. Because when #42 had it going for the Bucks and Sonics in the late 90s, he was as good as any power forward in the league. I mean, there were games when Baker was flat out unstoppable. He had a clever little post-up game built more on craftiness and precision than sheer force or athleticism. His fadeaway J and baby jump hook presented a lethal combination that few in the league could defend.
I would always get excited when TNT would head to the Pacific Northwest for the second leg of the Thursday night doubleheader during those years because it meant a steady dose of Gary Payton, Detlef Schrempf, and the quietest superstar in the league in Baker. Many NBA pundits felt like Seattle got fleeced in that trade by giving up Shawn Kemp and getting Baker in return. But in the first year following that blockbuster, the Sonics ripped off 61 wins, which is most definitely nothing to sneeze at.
(Sidenote: that Baker-Kemp swap might go down in history for the most combined weight gained by two players following a trade. Kemp started packing it on as soon as he hit Cleveland, transforming his once-sculpted physique into something that could best be described as "doughy." His high-flying ways of the past were now being replaced by a steady diet of long 18-footers from the wing while munching on a chicken wing in the process. By the time Kemp finished up as a member of the Magic in the '03 playoff loss to the Pistons, he was testing the 300-pound waters and gradually losing playing time to the forgettable Andrew DeClercq, who incidentally happened to be the only man ever to play in the NBA without a human soul.)
Unfortunately for Baker, the beginning of the following season was delayed by the lockout, giving him ample free time to do things he should not have been doing. In short, the lockout hit Baker hard...and right in the belly. While other NBA stars were maintaining their bodies by working out and playing pickup ball, Baker just kind of chilled out and got in touch with his inner-appetite. In a big way.
Ol' Vincent picked up the knife and fork, plowed through a few thousand pieces of pizza and birthday cake, and when the season finally got underway, he was on the wrong side of three and a half bills. Soon after, his obsession with grub turned into an obsession with the bottle, and in a couple short years, Vin had went from a star on the verge of superstardom to a washed-up 30-year-old journeyman that required oxygen following each trip down the court.
It is only appropriate that Vin Baker's career finally came to an end with him squeezing into an XXXL Los Angeles Clippers jersey and playing out the string behind mooks like Vladdie Radmanovic and Zelly Rebraca. So on April 19th of 2006, knowing it might have been his final night as an NBA player, Vin decided to turn it on one final time. He knocked in a few jumpers, got himself to the line, and found himself logging heavy minutes for the first time in a long time. Only, by this point, Vin's body just didn't move the way it used to. His defensive mobility was severely lacking, and to say that the girl currently starring in the movie Precious would have been a better option on D is not an understatement. Baker picked up the maximum six personal fouls in just 25 minutes of play, quietly left the court, and just like that, his basketball career was finished.
He could have been the next Karl Malone. Instead, he became a right handed Derrick Coleman. Vincent Lamont Baker. Number 42 in your programs...and probably nowhere close to number 1 in your hearts.
Drop your own thoughts on Bakes here, or shoot me an E-mail at email@example.com