An uncomfortable silence regarding a conspicuous void in the Bucks' frontcourt led to a rather dramatic rumor surfacing on Monday about Larry Sanders' passion for playing NBA basketball. A player whom we've come to know for making headlines (both good and bad) and highlight reels due to his aggressive action -- Milwaukee's agent of chaos, both on and off the floor -- has suddenly become the subject of speculation for something he hasn't done.
Larry Sanders has been M.I.A. for over a week due to illness or personal reasons or both or neither. He has also been silent about the ordeal for just as long, so there's been very little to report and very little in the way of clarification. It's amazing that inaction from Sanders could ever generate this much noise, but there is enough tumult for this to be considered more than nothing at all.
Here's the basic life cycle of the "Larry Sanders is done with basketball" rumor. On Monday afternoon, Gery Woelfel tweeted that Larry told Bucks officials he didn't want to play basketball anymore. Then Steve Kyler responded with his own report that Larry never told anyone he didn't want to play basketball anymore. Happy Walters (Sanders' agent) followed up with a statement not surprisingly refuting Woelfel's original report. Finally, the Bucks shuffled Jason Kidd in front of a microphone to squash the rumor. Kidd joined 620 WTMJ on Monday evening and he offered up this explanation for Sanders' absence:
"[Larry] had the flu and he also was taking care of some personal things, and that's, you know, what it is. We're hoping that he joins the team shortly, you know, hopefully here in the next couple of days, if not [Tuesday], and moving forward. So, we're excited to have him back when he does [return], and if that's tomorrow then it's great. And that's it. That's all we can report. That's what the story is. There's no more; there's no less."
When asked whether he thought Larry would play again this season, Kidd responded: "Yeah, he's ours. He's a part of the family." That's certainly an important statement to come from the head coach and centerpiece of the organization, but what the heck are the Bucks supposed to say anyway? How can you possibly answer a question about another man's passion to play basketball?
The difficulty in digesting this situation stems from the uncomfortable silence of Larry Sanders himself. Larry is a complex, introspective individual who has repeatedly shown a willingness to speak his mind -- whatever his thoughts may be. Even in his darkest moments as an NBA player, he's never been a guy willing to engage in the delicate PR dance of selling us on his "brand."
For the most part, we've been forced to accept or reject Larry on his terms. He's a challenging sports personality for fans to process because he's willing to let us see past the façade so many other athletes are happy to hide behind. He's an intimidating presence in a white-washed sports scene. He's passionate and unpredictable. We all like to pretend nobody would ever walk away from the money or the fame of professional sports -- which is to say we like to tell ourselves that we'd never walk away from that opportunity -- but from everything we know about him, Larry Sanders is totally capable of making a decision that radical.
That's what provides the fuel for a rumor like this one, regardless of its veracity. Larry is bold enough to not care what we think. Anyone else would have broken the silence by now. He's a complicated person, but aren't we all?
In our latest podcast episode, which we recorded one day prior to the huge Sanders rumor explosion (so adjust your expectations accordingly), Frank and I explored the Larry Sanders situation to the best of our abilities. We talked about Larry's personality, silence, checkered past, and his future. Some speculation is involved, so forgive us if you disagree with our assumptions and analysis along the way.
We also rolled John Henson and Zaza Pachulia into the conversation to help explain why it may not be time (or feasible) to cast Sanders off to the side just yet. If Henson's upside is comparable to Brandan Wright, and Larry is comparable to Tyson Chandler, then what should the Bucks do as they plan for the future?