Cuttino Mobley Will Announce His Retirement Today

According to a report on ESPN.com, Cuttino Mobley will announce his retirement today.

I must admit, when I first heard that the trade between the Knicks and the Clippers was held up because the Knicks were reviewing the results of the physicals, I reacted petulantly.  The delay meant that Zach Randolph would not be suiting up for the Clippers in their game against the Hornets, and I suspected it was some sort of ploy by the Knicks.  So that's just another reminder for me to try to reserve judgment and not to attribute motives to other people's actions.

I wish I knew more about hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the disease that is forcing Cat to retire.  I know that it was the root cause in the deaths of Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers.  As a Pepperdine fan, I watched Gathers play for Loyola Marymount many times.  It was of course an incredible shock when he collapsed and died - this mountain of a man, this supreme athlete, sprinting the court in Paul Westhead's breakneck offense - dead at 23.

The cases of Lewis and Gathers are cautionary tales for Cat in many ways.  Both had signs of trouble before their deaths.  Gathers had collapsed in a game in December of 1989, but the cardiomyopathy was not identified at that time.  Furthermore, the coaching staff at LMU didn't like the effect of the beta blockers on their star, and got his dosage reduced.  Misdiagnosed and misinformed, he was dead 3 months later.  Lewis likewise had suffered a preliminary collapse, this one in the 1993 playoffs.  In his case, the initial diagnosis was correct - hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and he should never play basketball again.  But that recommendation was simply not acceptable to him, and he sought a second opinion.  He was cleared to play by a second set of heart specialists and died during an offseason workout, 3 months after his first collapse.

From what I understand, Cat was known to have a heart condition going back to his rookie season in Houston.  He's played 11 seasons of NBA basketball, never had a heart related incident that I'm aware of, and has been examined every year in training camp, as well as in 3 prior trades to the Magic, Kings, and Clippers.  I don't know if the testing is more sophisticated today, or if his condition has worsened - in short, I don't know why the severity of the condition (severe enough to force his retirement) has been identified in November 2008 when it wasn't in countless prior examinations.  But in light of the situations with Gathers and Lewis, let's be thankful that he has gotten the proper medical advice at this point.  Tim Thomas (not my favorite basketball player, but apparently a genuinely nice and level-headed guy) put it very well:

I mean, basketball's been great to him. He has made a lot of money, he had success and at this point he's in his 11th year or whatever, so I mean, he has a son and his family, and the most important thing is his health. He can always come around and be around and things like that, but the most important thing is his health.

Cat was a terrific player for the Clippers in his three plus seasons in LA.  Ironically, given that he is retiring for health reasons, he was far and away the most durable Clipper during his tenure.  On a team that saw major injuries and extended time lost to every significant member of the roster, Cat played in 245 of 257 games while he was with the team.

What's interesting about Cat is that he was not at all the player I thought he was when the Clippers acquired him.  It's impossible to follow every team at the level one follows one's own team.  I can remember Cat having some big games against the Clippers (he just destroyed them during his brief stay in Sacramento), but mostly I knew Cat Mobley prior to 2005 from a fantasy basketball standpoint.  He could score, and he could shoot threes, but he didn't shoot a particularly high percentage, and he didn't get a lot of rebounds or assists.  As a fantasy-centric basketball guy, I thought I knew who Cat was: a chucker.

But I was wrong.  Cat Mobley did all of the little things.  He was a leader, he hustled, he got his hands on a lot of balls, he was always in the right position, and he played tough, tough defense.  Literally, you cannot see any of that in a box score.  But coaches see it.  MDsr needed Cat Mobley on the court.  Cat gave him such a visible sense of security that I bestowed on him probably the first nickname ever christened on Clips Nation - Blanket.  Cat was to MDsr as the blanket was to Linus - his security item. 

And it's little wonder.  The guy was steady.  He always played hard, he rarely made mistakes and he always played defense.  When people talk about the Clippers' dominance of the Nuggets in the 2006 playoffs, the way the team frustrated Carmelo Anthony is usually the first point of emphasis.  In the collective memory, we tend to think of Quinton Ross as defending Carmelo, and certainly Q took his turns.  But I guarantee you that Mobley got more minutes than Ross against Carmelo in that series.  He had an uncanny ability to defend against much taller players.  Although he doesn't look strong in the Corey Maggette, Ron Artest body builder mold, he was able to hold his ground against players like Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki and Lamar Odom, despite giving up 6 or more inches and 30 pounds.  And nobody in the league - nobody - was better at raking the ball out of the opponent's hands as they turned to the basket.

Looking back over Cat's career statistics, one thing really jumps out at me:  consistency.  His career shooting percentage is 43.3%.  His best shooting season was 06-07, when he shot 44%.  His worst was his rookie year, at 42.5%.  11 seasons in the NBA, and his shooting percentage varied less than 1% plus or minus from his career average.  And although it's not a great percentage, when you factor in the number of three pointers he made, his effective shooting percentage was always solid.  Cat was a big time scorer earlier in his career - he actually averaged 21.7 points per game in his fourth season in the league.  But as a Clipper, he was never the first scoring option (he was usually more like the fourth option), and he accepted his role with his usual professionalism.  I was as critical as anyone of his style on offense - pounding the ball in the post while the rest of the team stands and watches has never been my favorite approach.  But it fit perfectly with coach MDsr, and it must be stated the Cat Mobley was very, very good at it.  When the 05-06 Clippers were clicking, it was because MDsr could pick his matchup and milk it.  Does the opponent have a guard who is a weak defender?  Well either Cat or Sam will punish them in the post.

Perhaps the greatest legacy of Cat Mobley in Clips Nation is the very fact that he signed with the Clippers at all.  In the summer of 2005, the Clippers were desperate for a shooting guard.  Quinten Richardson had been allowed to leave in the vain pursuit of Kobe Bryant the year before.  The Kerry Kittles experiment didn't really work out.  In summer 2005, Ray Allen was never really an option.  But the second best shooting guard on the market that summer was Cuttino Mobley.  There are some who think that the Clippers overpaid for Mobley when they signed him to a 5/$42M contract - I disagree.  Or perhaps it's a semantic issue - it's certainly a lot of money, but it was the going rate for a starting wing. Don't forget that Mobley was essentially replacing Bobby Simmons on the wing.  Simmons signed for 5/$47M, so don't tell me Mobley was overpaid.

More importantly, Cuttino Mobley was the first significant external free agent signing in the history of the Clippers.  Prior to Mobley, the team had never convinced a single NBA starter to take their money.  By his very act of signing, combined with his veteran leadership and that of Sam Cassell, the Clippers franchise began to change.  As a direct result, the team made the playoffs and won a playoff series that season.  Since Mobley's signing, the Clippers have behaved more like an NBA franchise - they pursue free agents every summer, and they even sign one from time to time.  I don't think that Baron Davis would be a Clipper today if Cat Mobley had not signed with the team in 2005.

In the final analysis, this trade has seemingly worked out well for all involved.  The Clippers got a talented young player in Zach Randolph.  Cat Mobley got valuable medical advice that could be saving his life (of course we'll never really know about that, but the stories of Gathers and Lewis tell us what can happen).  The fact that he was traded to the Knicks, a franchise that had recently dealt with the heart condition of Eddy Curry, was probably significant as well.  And given that the Knicks made the move primarily to clear cap space in 2010, it works out fine for them.  After all, Donnie Walsh went forward with the trade even after the preliminary examinations revealed a potential problem. 

In sports, we occasionally talk about the win-win trade where both teams benefit.  But this is the first one I know of that may have saved a player's life.

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