Hustle Time

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

But what else would they say? If camaraderie is the most important thing in an NBA locker room, the appearance of camaraderie is a close second. That's what keeps the pack at bay. These are men skilled in the art of the generic quote, and their faces rarely change. Whether they're talking about a teammate, an opponent or what they had for dinner, it's the same: You've just asked the World's Dumbest Question, and sure, they'll answer, but only because the suits say they have to.

But something different happens on the face of Donyell Marshall. A beefy, six-foot-nine forward, Marshall signed with the Cavs just a month before Jones did. He also was asked to help shoot Cleveland to the playoffs, to take pressure off James and Ilgauskas. He has struggled, just like Jones. But Marshall, publicly anyway, keeps to himself. So the fans leave him alone.

Perhaps it's that. Or perhaps it's the fact that Marshall, who has played for seven NBA teams, knows what it's like to zigzag around the NBA. Whatever it is, when you ask Marshall about Jones, something different comes across his round, fleshy face. Something strange for an NBA locker room. Something...real.

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.

"He's a guy who struggled to get into this league," Marshall says, his voice rising above standard-issue monotone. "Because he clowns around a lot, people think he's just a clown. But that's a guy who, he struggled so much, he's like, 'Let me have fun with it, because I know what you can go through.' You can't sit up here and be serious every day of your life. You can't. He clowns around a lot, but he has just as much passion as anyone I've seen in this game...What's wrong with having a little fun? What's wrong with being a comedian?"

Jones would love to hear this, but there's 50 minutes until game time, so he's not around. He's somewhere in the tunnel, slowly smiling his way to the locker room, shaking the hand and making the day of some unsuspecting food-service girl.

On a dreary, wet Saturday, Jones opens the door to his Westlake home, his eyes droopy, his smile lost in weariness.

The home is beige and brick, a ten-room cavern littered with the contents of a Pottery Barn catalog. Jones bought the 4,000-square-foot home from Bobby Sura, the former Cavs guard, for almost $600,000. It's in a quiet development not far from the freeway. There's a hoop in the driveway. He hasn't shot at it once.

Jones has agreed to spend the afternoon discussing himself. But even this, his favorite topic, doesn't seem to muster much enthusiasm. "I can't sit here and fabricate that everything is all hunky-dory," he says.

Perhaps it's the clouds and the rain; Jones misses the Miami sun desperately. Or maybe it's the recent road trip. The Cavs just returned from Miami, where they got trounced by the Heat. Jones found himself sitting on the bench, considering what could have been. "It brought back a lot of memories," he says. "I had a lot of time to think about 'Wow. How did I get to this point?' "

But more likely it's that tonight, when the Cavs tip off against the Sixers, he knows he'll be on the bench. He knows the announcers will talk about how he has to start hitting those shots, and that somewhere in the stands, a fan will mutter something about the Cavs needing a real goddamned point guard. Afterward, as he walks to his car, he knows someone will holler something, sarcasm and Miller Lite dripping from their voice. Keep shooting! They'll have to go in eventually! Something like that.

Jones swears he's "high on life," and that life for him is "just awesome." But for the moment, he looks baffled. Baffled that a guy who climbed all this way, whose teammates and coaches have always loved him, is the one guy Cleveland won't warm up to. Baffled that the media keeps coming by his locker to chat, then reporting that he needs to shut the hell up.

"You have to understand who I am," he says. "Nobody knows about the $277 a week I made eight years ago. No one was on that bus with me, 19 hours to Winnipeg, Canada, or 15 hours to Fargo, North Dakota. And the product of that is the way that I act now. I'm happy."

Somewhere in the house, there is a binder. It holds clippings, quotes, snippets Ė all the negative things that have been written over the years. Though he swears he doesn't care "what the fans think or the media thinks," he's been steadfastly archiving it all.

He considers getting the thing out, but there isn't time. Lunch, a nap and, in a few hours, the Sixers. There just isn't time.

A few hours later, the dreary day gives way to a night of cold, dense mist. Long after the rest of his teammates, Jones slips into his ready-for-the-runway suit, climbs into his Mercedes and drives downtown, hip-hop blaring.

When the game finally starts, he's on the bench. A buzzer rings sometime near the end of the first quarter, and he takes the floor to a quiet reception of boos.

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