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June 30, 2013

Dear Paul: If Only You Were Tall

I'll miss you
If Paul Millsap's career with the Utah Jazz is nearing its finish line, as the general feel around town suggests, the memories of number 24 will be mostly good. But there will always be that one nagging what-if, the wondering of where our relationship with Paul could've gone if just one thing about him were different: his height.

The man who was known for never having a nickname (Boozer's Understudy? The Garbage Collector? Cerebral Paulsy?) was instead always known for being too short. This isn't a knock, just a fact. A fact that was drilled into our heads for three seasons in a row when the Los Angeles Laker-Giants dispatched the Jazz from the playoffs in 2008, 2009 and yes, 2010. Pau Gasol was way too big, Andrew Bynum was way too big and even Lamar Odom was too much length for Paul's scientific scrappery.11.  This was the best term I could come up with to define Paul's game. He's a scrapper, but not a wild one like the one's we usually know (see: DeMarre Carrol). Paul always relied on smarts and hustle. And doesn't that last opponent tell you about all you need to know about Millsap's constant size disadvantage? The Lakers, at any time they wanted, could roll out their small forward (Odom) and still outsize the Jazz's power forward.

It's certainly not a popular storyline in the sporting world to bash on someone for not being tall enough. We sportorialists (in my case, sportorialist wannabe) prefer to make statues and heroes out of the small legends who perform at All-Star levels despite their relative tiny-ness. You know the list, guys like Allen Iverson, Emmitt Smith, Spencer Hansen. So when we hear the opposite -- “Ah, he was good, but he was just too short” -- it kind of makes you cringe a little.

Height or no height, we’ll always have the Miracle in Miami. Was there anything more surprising than seeing a guy who doesn’t shoot threes rain down with pure accuracy when it mattered most? How many NBA players can list ‘Scored 11 points in 28 seconds’ on their resume?

Give the man a few more inches and who knows how that resume could’ve swelled.

1-inch … division champion?
2-inches … Western Conference Finals?
3-inches … All-NBA?

Then again, if Paul were six-foot ten he would never have made it to the Jazz in the first place. He’d have gone from second-round steal to first-round building-block, and that second-round designation is as much a part of his identity as anything size-related. And so I’m made to remember the old adage: it's better to be small and have lost than to have never played at all.

On second thought … yeah, you’re right. It probably isn’t. Oh well. If it makes anyone feel any better, Boozer was too short too.

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