In the early 2000’s, basketball looked like it had a very good future. The Los Angeles Lakers were fresh off a three-peat; Allen Iverson had had an amazing MVP season, and the San Antonio Spurs won their second championship in five years in 2003, with superstar big man Tim Duncan winning MVP that year. But even more impressive than the current NBA at that time, was the future of the NBA.
Two players headlined the future: LeBron James and Sebastian Telfair. The two were separated in age by about a year, with James being a year older than the latter. Telfair was supposed to be the next big thing — he was so incredibly talented that even Jay-Z and Derek Jeter would show up at his games. When LeBron was in his rookie year, he proclaimed that Telfair was up next. On top of this, he was featured on the cover of SLAM Magazine twice.
August 2002, two of the best senior and junior hoopers in the country grace the cover of SLAM Magazine, LeBron James and Sebastian Telfair. pic.twitter.com/VauC6BmpIk
— Branden Hunter (@JustCallmeBHunt) June 11, 2017
With all this praise and obvious talent, why is he so little known?
Telfair had everything going for him. He was the number two point guard in the nation and the number six player overall. It was obvious that basketball was in his bloodline, because his cousin just so happened to be Stephon Marbury, an NBA All-Star. When Telfair was just 17 he played a game of one-on-one against Marbury and won.
He was very clearly the next legend. The things he could do with the basketball in his hands were amazing — he could shoot, pass, and drive like a maniac. And although he was short, it didn’t matter, because he was so fast he would just blow by all of his defenders. When you combined that with his exceptional ball-handling skills, he was unstoppable. But to understand why he failed so miserably, you have to start from the beginning.
Telfair grew up on Coney Island in a cramped apartment barely fitting the entire family; they were so poor that sometimes they couldn’t even buy the children necessities like shoes. All Telfair wanted to do was get out of there. He watched in awe as Marbury rose to stardom and made his way out of the projects. That made Telfair think; If he can do it, why can’t I? And that was his goal. Do whatever it takes to take him and his family out of the hood. So at age six, Sebastian went to his older brother, who was coaching an 11 and under basketball team and asked him if he could play. His brother said no. But after the asking turned to begging and the begging turned to pleading, he was finally allowed to sit on the bench at their games. He would never get any playing time, until one game when the team’s star player got injured and Telfair was told to check in. From the moment he stepped on that court, he had the crowd captivated, doing moves that would be a shock to see an 11-year-old do, much less a six-year-old! That game was the moment everybody knew: this kid can become something.
Telfair became the man in New York. Before Twitter, Instagram, or even scouting websites came about, everybody still managed to know his name. His talent grew and grew, and so did his fame. Everybody wanted to see Sebastian succeed; they wanted him to make it. And he did, becoming a McDonalds All-American in 2004. That was his senior year, and it was time to make a choice: go to college or go pro? It seemed like the obvious choice was college, as he was the number six recruit in the nation. He had many offers, but the one that stuck out was the offer from Rick Pitino and Louisville. It seemed like a lock, and that came true when he held a press conference in which he stated that he would be attending Louisville, not going to the NBA. No point guard had ever made the jump from high school to the NBA, and Telfair would not be the first. Until one day.
Before he went to college and before he had even officially committed to Louisville, a murder happened at the same apartment that his family was living, Surfside Gardens. A man was shot and killed close to where the Telfair family resided. Sebastian knew that if that were his mother or one of his siblings, he would have never gotten over it. And that changed his mind. He dropped his commitment to Louisville and declared for the NBA Draft, hoping to get his family out of Surfside Gardens as quickly as possible, knowing that the millions a pro contract gives you would more than suffice.
The Portland Trail Blazers made him a millionaire overnight after selecting him with the 13th pick, moving his family out of the projects in the meantime. Everything seemed golden; his end goal was achieved, getting his family out of Surfside Gardens — but he wanted more. Now that his family was safe, he wanted to become an NBA legend.
In high school, his height had never been a problem because he was so incredibly superior than his competition, but this was the NBA; everyone was as good as him and better. His driving ability failed him, his jump shot was rusty, and he simply wasn’t the same player. Jumping around nine different NBA teams and playing overseas, he just wasn’t the star many saw in high school. The most points per game he averaged in a season were about 10 in his lone season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He couldn’t shoot anywhere near consistently enough, having a career 39-percent career average shooting from the field. He also had multiple encounters with the law, which didn’t help.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 30, 2017
He last played overseas in China for the Fujian Sturgeons.
With all of that being said, Telfair is simply a player that didn’t work out, the talent that never was. Perhaps in a different world he could’ve been an NBA star.