It didn’t make a whole lot of news, and it almost got lost in the chaos of Gary Gate 2009, but former Terp and three-time NBA All-Star Steve Francis was waived by the Memphis Grizzlies Tuesday. Could be the end of the line for the 31-year-old point guard from Takoma Park.
Interesting symmetry here…the then-Vancouver Grizzlies took Francis with the second pick in the 1999 draft. Francis, who wanted to go to Chicago with the first pick, famously walked up to the podium with a big scowl on his face (he basically forced a trade not long after). And now, almost ten years later, he has been spit out the bottom of that same crappy franchise. It’s almost like the Grizzlies said “hey, he screwed us ten years ago. Let’s get him now for fifty bucks and a plate of boiled parsnips and then drop him like a bad habit without playing him first. Maybe we could put a kick-me sign on him, too. We could really do that shit. Oh man, call the Rockets. We’re doing this.”
During his one season as a Terp, the 1998-1999 season (also my senior year at Maryland), I had mixed feelings about Stevie Franchise. On one hand, he had otherworldly hops, and knew how to get the crowd going. He made “Plays of the Week” every Sunday. It was awesome watching a 6′ 3″ point guard rise up and flush it on some stiff center. I was at the Maryland-Carolina game at Cole that year, which was televised on CBS, and watched Francis drop 22 on the Tar Heels in a Maryland victory (ah, the good old days). I actually got on TV that game. I made an acrostic sign (“Can’t Beat Steve”) and stood right behind the basket. Funny thing is, it happened to be my Dad’s birthday, and I happened to be a broke college student, so I wrote “Happy Birthday Dad” on the sign, too, and he saw it. I’m a very good son. Best cheap gift I ever got someone.
On the downside, Francis, who was a juco transfer, took up a bunch of minutes and, in hindsight, hurt the team chemistry. They lost in the second round of the tourney that year to Ron Artest’s St. John’s team, which was disappointing. We had a pretty good team that year. Senior leaders in Laron Profit, Obinna Ekezie, and Terrell Stokes, plus Terrence Morris and a couple of young guys named Dixon and Baxter. That’s six NBA players on one roster.
That underacheiver status dogged Francis in his pro career, too. He only made the playoffs once, with Houston in 2003-2004, and his team lost in five games. He put up good numbers (19.2, 8.4, 7.6), but it wasn’t enough. That Rockets team was a good one, too…Francis, Yao, Cuttino Mobley, Maurice Taylor when he was still alive, and of course, the immortal Moochie Norris. Francis’ waiver from the NBA, along with the Stephon Marbury drama, probably signals the end of the shoot-first point guard experiment.
Bottom line: Francis had some good years, but never really maxed out. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but it was like he assumed that because he could throw down a vicious dunk he would automatically just become the next Jordan. It didn’t go that way. Good solid career, but not great. But hey, he’s set for life and he probably had some fun doing it. So best wishes to Stevie Franchise.
Here’s a pretty damn-near perfect Youtube mix of his career highlights: