He has Abraham Lincoln’s face tattooed to his neck. His house has its own ATM machine. And despite only averaging seven points a game throughout his 13-year career, he is the only player in the NBA whom Jay-Z has written an entire rap for.
DeShawn Stevenson is the Most Interesting Man in the NBA.
But besides creating perplexing stories that show up on various sports blogs every so often, Stevenson has also paved out one of the most unique careers in NBA history.
Today, 13 years after he was supposed to take the league by storm, Stevenson is now the wise veteran on a youthful Atlanta Hawks team.
Initially selected in the first round of the 2000 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz as a teenage prodigy, Stevenson drew comparisons to Michael Jordan for his athleticism and shooting touch.
He set the California state record for points scored in a high school career and became the first teenager west of the Mississippi to be drafted into the NBA.
Unfortunately, Stevenson’s early career hit turbulence. Playing for a zero-tolerance leader in Jerry Sloan, Stevenson’s immaturity consistently left him in his coach’s doghouse. After expecting fame early in his career, Stevenson was hit with a wake-up call, after averaging only seven minutes a game as a rookie.
Off the court, the 20-year-old’s problems were even worse: Stevenson found himself in a statutory rape lawsuit with a fourteen-year-old girl in 2001.
Had it not been for his immense potential, Stevenson’s off the court issues would have cut his career short.
Fortunately for Stevenson, Sloan decided to take him on as a project: “I think Jerry Sloan helped me a lot,” reflected Stevenson. “He helped me be a man. He let me know me that it was not all about me. I probably would not still be in the league without him.”
Still, even under Sloan’s tutelage, Stevenson’s wore out his welcome in Utah. In 2004, the Jazz traded him to the Orlando Magic, where he continued history of severe underperformance on the court.
It was not until Stevenson joined Washington in 2006 that he started to become an impact player.
At 25-years-old, Stevenson recognized that his opportunity to become a star in the league had probably passed.
Stevenson instead focused on defense and developed an identity as a stopper. Assigned to consistently guard opposing teams’ best players, Stevenson thrived as a physical menace and verbal taunter.
“I did not like him,” recalls former opponent and current teammate Devin Harris. “I really did not like him.”
In the 2008 playoffs, Stevenson was launched into the national spotlight after he told reporters: “LeBron James is overrated. And you can say I said that,” as his Wizards faced the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.
James, dismissive of Stevenson responded to the media, “With DeShawn Stevenson, it is kind of funny. It is almost like Jay-Z saying something bad about Soulja Boy. There’s no comparison, enough said.”
The contention blew so out of proportion that Jay-Z even wrote a song titled “Blow The Whistle,” in which he attacked Stevenson for trashtalking James.
James simply let his team do the talking as Cleveland effortlessly dispatched Stevenson’s Wizards in six games.
Stevenson eventually was traded to Dallas in 2010 as the Wizards entered a rebuilding phase.
In Dallas, Stevenson matured even more as he played alongside veterans Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki, As his Mavericks torpedoed through the playoffs in 2011, Stevenson became an indispensable perimeter defender and high-energy player.
When Dallas reached the NBA Finals, Stevenson was given the opportunity to redeem himself in his feud with James as he was tasked to guard the reigning MVP on the league’s biggest stage.
This time, Stevenson got the last laugh.
Holding James to average fewer than 18 points a game while simultaneously shooting an outrageous 57 percent on his 23 attempts from behind the arc, Stevenson became arguably the Mavericks most important role player in the Finals.
While Stevenson reflects on the performance by insisting that, “It had nothing to do with LeBron,” it should be noted that after winning the championship, Stevenson famously traded his Mavericks NBA Championship T-Shirt with a fan in the tunnel who wore a shirt that read, “Hey LeBron! How’s my Dirk taste?”
Two seasons removed from his championship, Stevenson now finds himself as the most veteran Hawks player and the lone player on the team with a championship ring.
While he has recently been sidelined by a lingering knee injury, his contributions to the team go far beyond his stats on the court.
Anthony Morrow, who has played with Stevenson for the past two years said, “He is almost like a big brother figure in terms of letting us know what to do and what not to do.”
“He plays the right way,” added Zaza Pachulia. “His veteran presence is huge for our team.”
The long journey from prodigy to bust, to troublemaker, to role player, to champion, to veteran leader, is only fitting for a character of Stevenson’s caliber.
His long history truly makes him the most interesting man in the NBA.
Originally published in The Emory Wheel the week of January 25th, 2013