Triple Double: The sad story of T.J. Ford
On Monday, point guard T.J. Ford announced his retirement from the NBA at the young age of 28. A series of neck injuries, including one from this season, have caused Ford to step away from the game.
Normally, a back-up point guard’s retirement would not be very notable, especially for Ford, who played only 14 games this season for the San Antonio Spurs, averaging just under 14 minutes and four points per game.
But I have some strong personal memories of Ford, and the news hit me a little harder than most retirements.
The Milwaukee Bucks selected Ford with the eighth overall pick in the 2003 draft. Being a Bucks fan, I was very interested in seeing who the Bucks got in the draft, which was stacked with future superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. When the Bucks picked Ford, I was unhappy to say the least.
Ford had a very successful two-year career at the University of Texas, winning the Naismith College Player of the Year Award as a sophomore. But his diminutive frame and lack of polished offensive skills were warning signs for his NBA future. Being only 12 at the time, I didn’t have a preference as to who the Bucks should sign. I just knew it shouldn’t have been Ford.
His rookie year was a perfect example of the benefits and risks of drafting Ford. He played in 55 games that season, starting each one and dishing out 6.5 assists in an average of 27 minutes a game. He showed flashes of playmaking ability and generated considerable excitement at the Bradley Center.
But on Feb. 24, 2004, Ford violently landed on the floor and sustained an injury that forever changed his career. Suffering a spinal contusion, he missed the remainder of the 2003-2004 season and all of the 2004-2005 season.
When he returned for the 2005-2006 season, Ford retained much of his explosiveness and started 70 games for the Bucks. But with the emergence of point guard Mo Williams, Ford became expendable and was traded to the Toronto Raptors following the season.
Ford had an excellent first season with the Raptors, averaging 14.0 points and a career-high 7.9 assists per game. But he missed 31 games during the 2007-2008 season and was again replaced as a starter, this time by Jose Calderon. Soon after, he was traded to the Indiana Pacers.
After another successful first season with a new team, injuries again reared their ugly head. He played only 88 games combined in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons and saw his playing time dramatically reduced.
Ford suffered his most recent injury on March 7, when an elbow to the back by New York Knicks point guard Baron Davis gave him what was reported as a stinger. But Ford decided to retire rather than attempt to return from injury.
While I never loved him as a player, I always rooted for T.J. Ford. I think it’s natural in sports to root for the smallest guy, and there was rarely a time when Ford wasn’t the smallest guy on the court. We as fans see ourselves in these types of players. We can’t relate to guys who are seven feet tall or guys with huge wingspans. But T.J. Ford is six feet tall and weighs 165 pounds. That’s relatable.
It’s never fun to hear about players having to retire well before their time. But with guys like Ford, I hope against hope that they’ll overcome the obvious obstacles and really make it in the NBA. And when Ford was on the floor, he often did overcome them.
I wish T.J. Ford the best of luck. It is great that he is retiring before any permanent damage can be done. He should have a high quality of life going forward; it’s just too bad that his underdog story couldn’t have had a better ending.