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Antonio McDyess retires: and the NBA mourns his loss

In a news story more bitter than sweet, ex-Piston Antonio McDyess has decided to retire from NBA basketball. McDyess's comments about retirement are difficult to swallow for Pistons fans who were front-and-center for this once-lost player's rebirth:

"This was not at all how I wanted it to end, but signing here was one of the best things I did in my career," he said then. "I wouldn’t trade these two years for the world, one of the greatest times of my whole career. I just wish we would have gone farther."

Early in the 2001-02 NBA season, this athletically-dominant power forward fell to a knee injury that most considered career-ending upon impact. It wasn't until after Detroit's 2004 NBA championship that McDyess became a force once again, showcasing a calculated, cerebral playing style that was hidden behind the highlight dunks that were his signature.

This was a truly remarkable transformation in the NBA. A player who lived and died by above-the-rim leaps and dominance-by-muscle entirely lost his edge, then gained a new one by careful, patient effort. All of a sudden, McDyess developed a 20' shot that was nearly indefensible, and a knack for boxing-out on rebounds that kept him competitive on the glass far after his leap had left him.

Who doesn't love this kind of story? A beast of an athletic player brings dominance to the basketball court, then loses everything. Instead of giving up, he fights back by develping a new kind of talent and a new place in one of the league's most dominant frontcourts.

What's sad is that this man never won an NBA championship. This player of unparalleled heart never received a ring, while so many other coattail riders and twilight ring chasers wind up champions. If he'd earned a ring or two with the Pistons or another NBA team, his name might have appeared on Hall of Fame ballots in the years to come.

That suggestion isn't out of line. While McDyess's numbers may not have earned a hall of fame berth, we're talking about a once-in-a-generation character that is deserving of HOF attention. Antonio McDyess was one of the most high character players in the NBA during his career. Before his injury and after, he was all smiles, all respect, all love for his community and all grace for his luck to be a part of it. This wasn't just the guy you'd trust to watch your kid, to hold onto your money in a pinch, this was the guy you could trust with the face of your franchise. But he'd never ask for it. Antonio McDyess was nothing if not humble.

The NBA lost one of its greats today, and few will honor his passing. This guy was the consummate teammate, the consummate power forward, the consummate unsung hero and the consummate symbol that every NBA player should strive to one day represent.

Goodbye, Antonio. You were more a Piston than any other, and I hope the next generation of NBA players learns plenty from your example. [hat tip: piston powered]

UPDATE -- upon reading a few other reports, it looks like retirement isn't certain for McDyess. If it's still up-in-the-air, here's to hoping Antonio's NBA story isn't over yet...