- Ric Bucher, NBA Reporter, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer
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Rafer Alston is content with his decision to leave the Miami Heat, because it wasn't about losing his starting job. It was about being told he was no longer going to play and deciding that looking after a twin sister who tried to take her life just a few days earlier was more important.
"The way I handled it was wrong," Alston said Tuesday in his first public comments since leaving the team last Friday. "I didn't really tell [team officials] why I was leaving."
He said he texted team officials that he was going to Texas to be with his family rather than call or meet face to face out of fear his emotions would get the better of him. He was already coping with his twin sister Racine's attempted suicide when coach Erik Spoelstra pulled him aside and said he was being dropped not only from the starting lineup but also from playing altogether.
"There was no argument or anything like that," Alston said. "I've never been a quitter and I still want to go back and tell them face to face. But after I had a little time to think about the fact that I wouldn't be playing any more, I felt the best thing was for me to be with my loved one. I just knew if I'd gotten on the phone and they said the wrong thing, voices would've been raised. I know myself. It would get bad."
Alston's exuberant and fiery personality has been a source of both strength and trouble as the slender (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) New York City playground legend carved out an 11-year NBA career. Nicknamed "Skip to My Lou" and known as "Skip" for short, he is the first and only And1 Mixtape Tour star to make the jump. But right before getting drafted, he was required to take a one-year anger-management course after pleading no contest to assaulting a former girlfriend. Even after being made the 39th pick in 1998 by the Milwaukee Bucks, he was dismissed early on as little more than a flashy ballhandler who couldn't shoot or defend.
But he worked on his 3-point range while languishing for three seasons on the bench with the Bucks; after two seasons split between Toronto and Miami, he returned to the Raptors and became a full-fledged starter. While he spent the next 3½ seasons in Houston, the pinnacle of his career came last season when the Orlando Magic acquired him at the February trade deadline to fill in for injured point guard Jameer Nelson. Alston was a key contributor to the Magic's unexpected run to the NBA Finals, averaging 12 points and five assists in 29 games, 28 as a starter.
With Nelson back, Alston was on the move again. The Magic dealt him to the hapless New Jersey Nets over the summer as part of a three-team trade that netted them Vince Carter. The Nets, much like the Heat, used Alston initially as a starter but then dropped him from the rotation in mid-December. His stay in New Jersey was marked by a locker room squabble in which he questioned how hard some of his teammates were playing. He negotiated a buyout of his contract a few weeks later and signed with the Heat.
"It's been a tough and long year," he said. "I'll be 34 in July. If I can come back and play one more season, that would be great. But if not, I'm still happy with my decision. I played 11 years and had a solid career. Maybe I didn't leave Miami the right way. But I left for the right reason."
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.