- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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Most sagas don't come in packages. But the only one in the NBA more compelling than this one is watching "The Unforgiven" play itself out in the Wizards' locker room.
And just as the (gun) smoke clears from that ballad of ignorance, the thread that weaves Tracy McGrady and Nate Robinson together might prove to be even bigger, exposing the true nature of everything we always wanted to know about big-money sports -- but, as with sex, were afraid to ask.
Individually, each player's story is a tale of defiance versus pride. One player is not being allowed to play because the team plays better without him; the other is not being allowed to play because the team wins more games with him. (You try to figure out which one is which.) But when merged, when superimposed, when looked at as one big picture -- not just separate snapshots of two players isolated in messed-up, "What did I do to deserve this?" situations -- the saga speaks to true power as it exists in professional sports.
What was the title of William C. Rhoden's book again? "Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete."
Here's the script: One player wants out; one wants in. The respective coaches want nothing to do with either one. The teams are shooting down rumors that one player will soon be wearing the other player's (former) team's uniform. One player was granted an indefinite leave while his team looks at trade options; the other was fined $25,000 because his agent publicly requested a trade. One in his return after missing 58 games because of microfracture knee surgery was allowed to play only 46 minutes in six games, coach's decision; the other sat on the bench, healthy, for most of December (14 straight games), coach's decision.
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When it comes down to it, both players just want to play; it's just that neither is in a position to play the game that's being played on him. Mind games are vicious.
T-Mac and Nate-Rob in the past month have become the victims of two sets of mind games that are usually reserved for children younger than 20 who have at least two years left on their partial scholarships. And in the end, Li'l Nate and Big Tré are going to be the ones who come out looking like the bad guys (despite Robinson's heroic attempt to make Mike D'Antoni look like a fool by scoring 41 points -- 30 in the fourth quarter and overtime -- on Jan. 1 in his first game in a month). Two grown-ass men who are (were) the respective faces of their franchises are being treated like stepchildren with Jalen Rose's back-in-the-Fab Five-days haircut.
And if you think NBA franchises (and coaches) trying to prove a juvenile point wouldn't get caught up in even more juvenile games of schematics with players that come off looking more like personal vendettas instead of coaches doing what just happens to be in the best interest of the team or organization -- cue James Brown -- please, please, please think again.
(And it's not just the NBA; think about how the Philadelphia Eagles -- albeit justifiably -- handled the T.O. situation, basically sacrificing almost an entire season to prove a point.)
Because when the credits roll and the checks are written, it's all about power and control: who has it, mixed in with the non-discreet message to all the other $40 million workers: "Don't ever underestimate the extent to which we will go to remind you who has the power and who doesn't."
McGrady and Robinson are caught up in it. Bad. Real bad. It's not their fault, but they are paying as if they went on Jimmy Kimmel half-naked or got into an argument while gambling on a team flight and never let it go.
Rob Marriott said it best when he wrote: "Think about your job. If you're not in charge, you might get 'incentives' to cushion the bleak reality: a bonus, a raise, or shares of the company stock maybe even a promotion to lieutenant. But is that because you are loved or is it because the company knows damn well how to make it hard for you to leave the crib and the so-called good life? No matter how high up the ladder you are, there's always somebody making a profit on your hard work -- and taking the lion's share of the credit and the proceeds. Guess what that makes them?"
The title of Marriott's book: "Pimpnosis."
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
Tracy McGrady and Nate Robinson are caught up in NBA power plays: power and control.