Saturday, February 10, 2007

Part 2: The League

Samuel Dalembert was drafted by The Philadelphia 76ers with the 26th pick in the First Round of the 2001 draft. Twenty-Six also happened to be the same number of blocks and turnovers he had in his last college game, a loss in the East regionals of the NCAA tournament.

For Samuel, numbers have always had a mystic significance. He immediately saw the connection between him and his new team, commenting on draft day how 76 had long been a number of importance in his life. When pressed for details, he offered only this cryptic response: "76 man. Good number man. The rooster and the blood. Good number man."

Upon arriving at training camp he quickly claimed the uniform number 1, representing the amount of money he had when he arrived in America, and which he immediately spent on three bags of bar-B-Q chips and a cherry hug.

Always humble, his rookie season proved a long test of his endurance as a basketball player and a man. Playing 177 minutes all season, he mostly got in at the end of blowouts and missed ferocious dunk attempts between overzealous sprints up and down the court. His hunger for playing time manifested itself in a zealous approach to shot-blocking that would characterize his early days in the league. No shots were safe, not even shots that were already in the hoop and falling through the net. His energy and enthusiasm was magnetic and he became a welcome sight for all Sixers fans ; as he hopped off the bench and bounded into the game, sometimes so focused and excited he forgot to remove his warm-ups and ties his sneakers, the crowd would buzz and the now-familiar "Sammmmmmy D!!" war call could be heard bouncing off the rafters and towards the floor.

Injuries curtailed a sophomore season destined for steady progress and momentarily weakened his passion for the game. During the long months of rehab and boredom he became obsessed with hair and collecting pokemon cards, often spending thousands of dollars a week on new hair styles for himself and rare pokemon cards from Japan. A hastily organized retreat to Las Vegas with teammate Allen Iverson got his mind back on track. Ready to live and play the right way, Sam entered 2003 in a groove.

While not officially a stat until the 2006-2007 season, it was in 2003 that "Dalemberts" became a important reference point for Sixers fans of all ages. Recognized as "a shot, foul, or play of any sort that results in disaster but begins with the highest of hopes and best of intents, most precisely conducted by Samuel Dalembert of the 76ers in his eager pursuit of victory"(NBA rulebook.Article 6 Section12), Sammy repeatedly smashed his own records and left the stat book in tatters.

Over the next three years Sam would perplex the fanbase with his sporadic play, often causing grown men to shake their heads in disbelief at his temerity at both ends of the floor, yet simultaneously showing brief flashes of breathtakingly solid play that quieted his critics for entire quarters at a time. What makes Sam special is his likability. Whether he's fouling Tim Duncan from behind as he dunks at the end of a close game or grabbing a rebound off the rim a split second before it's about to go in, for his own team, Sam Dalembert is always our friend, our smiling spokesman, our talisman of hope and dreams.

He is now entering a new phase in his career, one that sees him as perhaps the most important player in the organization, a terrifying and amazing idea to most Sixer fans. Should his progress continue, should the talent harness itself as we all assume it will, then the Sixers future will be brighter than a Haitian New Years. Should he somehow fall short of the expectations and merely settle for explosive and fun mediocrity, well then the future of the franchise could get darker than Halloween in Camden. Sam's favorite holiday, in case you didn't know, is July 6th. The Dalai Lama's Birthday. 7/6. If that doesn't reassure all you Sixers fans out there, nothing will. Except Oden/Durant.