Hustle Time

Damon Jones has traveled from UH to all around the NBA chasing stardom and a sound bite

The journeyman is coming! Thank God.

They've been huddled like this for minutes, minutes that seem like hours, ever since the game ended. They have deadlines, all of them: the stone-faced beat writers, the rosy-cheeked sportscasters, the cheery-voiced radio guys. They have copy to file, updates to phone in, B-roll to edit. It's past ten o'clock. They need quotes, damn it, sound bites, snippets. And fast!

But the Cavaliers just lost to the Knicks, so the pack is huddled in the middle of the locker room, looking scared and lost. After wins, it's different. After wins, it's Hey, what's up, nice game! Smile, shake! Quote, quote!

With LeBron James drawing attention, Jones hoped to repeat the success he found in Miami.
Walter Novak
With LeBron James drawing attention, Jones hoped to repeat the success he found in Miami.
With LeBron James drawing attention, Jones hoped to repeat the success he found in Miami.
Walter Novak
With LeBron James drawing attention, Jones hoped to repeat the success he found in Miami.

But after losses...

The journeyman is coming! Thank God.

They don't typically swarm to journeymen. They prefer stars, guys whose names sell papers, whose faces stop channel surfers mid-click. But this journeyman, he's different.

He went to Cleveland with hopes his and the city's of ditching the tag for good. Journeyman: He always hated that word, but that's what he's been called since he left Houston the city where he grew up, played college basketball and still lives in the off-season. In Cleveland, he wanted badly to be the guard who could shoot the Cavaliers to their first championship a sort of loudmouth Steve Kerr to LeBron James's Michael Jordan.

But the shots haven't fallen, so the boos have especially tonight, when he finished with just three points, missed shots he's paid handsomely to make and got torched by the Knicks' guards. In a few short months, the journeyman an ardent self-promoter who calls himself, among other things, the "world's greatest shooter" has become the town's best scapegoat. And the only thing the pack likes more than a star is a scapegoat.

But they also swarm for him because, well, he's pleasant. He compliments their outfits. He takes interest. And he doesn't give them that look, that scrunched-up face that asks, Who the hell are you, and why are you at my locker? That's the go-to face of the NBA, especially after losses to the Knicks. But this guy's face his toothy smile; his warm, droopy eyes says something different. Something like, Stick with me, Reporter Guy, and you'll hit that deadline just fine.

"I'm gonna be the keynote speaker," he announces, weaving through the throng and sinking into his leather chair. Then, in case their recorders weren't rolling, he repeats himself: "I'm gonna be the keynote speaker. Everyone settle in."

The whole pack moves, a swarm of bees. They jockey for space, jabbing at his mouth with mikes and recorders and cameras. They don't smile not after a loss but there is a certain calm in their eyes. Visions of pithy sound bites, nailed deadlines and pleased editors fill their hurried heads.

"This is gonna happen once," the journeyman says, "and it's not gonna happen again." There is a pause for effect; if he's going to do this, he's going to get a laugh. "I'm officially in a slump."

Money! They're all grinning now. Roaring, in fact. The journeyman has been talking for weeks about how he wasn't in a slump, how he's never in a slump, doesn't even know what a slump is. Now he's "officially in a slump"? This!

This the toughest slump you've been in?

"No. I had a tougher slump than this last year, and I like this slump better because I don't have a seven-foot-three, 365-pound guy on my ass telling me if I don't make shots, he's gonna send me to Siberia."

He's talking about Shaquille O'Neal, his old teammate in Miami. Pure gold!

What's going on? Bad karma?

"I don't know, but I'm gonna start my voodooism tonight by not taking a shower. Hopefully that helps. Hopefully, going on the road, I'll make more shots because I'm funky."

They love it! They're still grinning as the pack disbands. They're still grinning while the journeyman, for anyone who may still be recording, keeps talking. "I'm livin' bad right now," he says. "I gotta get married. Anybody got a girl for me?"

They're still grinning, but they're not writing this down, because they're done with him. They're ready to go, to tally all his misses and tell the people what they want to hear: that Damon Jones needs to shut up and make some shots.

Flat on his back, basketballs vibrating the floor around him, Damon Jones lets out a soulful "Fu-uck!" The word ricochets off the padded walls of the small upstairs practice court where, three weeks after his State of the Slump address, Jones and the Cavs are finishing a Saturday-morning workout.

In his last nine games, Jones has averaged just five points and lost his starting job, which was granted only by an injury to Larry Hughes. Whatever voodooism he's tried, it hasn't worked. The San Antonio Express-News has ranked him the league's top free-agent bust. Kenny Roda, a Cleveland sports-talk host, has taken to calling him "Amon Ones" no D and no J. And with the trade deadline looming, callers are wondering if there's any way isn't there anything we can do?! to get rid of him.

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