The journey of Michael Beasley is one defined largely by self-imposed mistakes and God-given talent. Google “Michael Beasley weed” and wait for 60,500+ results with a detailed history of the former No. 2 overall NBA draft pick’s storied past with marijuana. Google “Michael Beasley bust” and that more than triples with 198,000 inquiries. Google “Michael Beasley Kansas State” you’ll get 211,000.
The perception around the controversial 24-year-old swingman heading into the 2013-14 season was overwhelmingly negative. Some critiques focused on his devolving game lowlighted by a drunken obsession with his jump shot and comical attempts at defense. Some took more venomous jabs, like this blog post written just three months ago pondering, “And what a waste of a brain, if indeed Beasley has one. That is subject to debate.”
The Miami Heat has been aware of the red flags. They are, in fact, the team who drafted him in 2008 out of Kansas State, behind only Derrick Rose and before Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Roy Hibbert and his current teammate Mario Chalmers. In recent years, the Heat – more so Pat Riley – have become a foster home for talent the league has casted aside as scrap metal and used parts. They did so last season with Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Rashard Lewis. They’re doing so now with perennially injured big man, Greg Oden, and Beasley.
With Beasley’s return to the city that drafted came the groans of a player “stuck on stupid” and one who had “smoked his way out of the league.” It was coined as a low-risk, high-reward investment for a team who didn’t “need” him to embark on a run towards a potential historic third consecutive championship. For Beasley, however, his non-guaranteed contract from Riley was the last stop. His portfolio with weed, on-court shortcomings and an overall lethargic attitude strapped him with negative stigmas in league-wide.
Yet, leave it to one of America’s most perceived sinful cities to rewrite a tragedy of a career into one beginning to chisel away at a feel-good narrative. To be fair, the Heat has only played 21 games, meaning 61 regular season contests remain for something to go wrong for those adopting the “glass half empty” approach. But the fact Beasley has made relatively no news this season is enlightening.
The Heat’s mantra has long since preached - especially after they became the world’s most hated sports entity in the summer of 2010 by acquiring Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and subsequently throwing their version of a probate a day later – the importance of family. Everyone’s in and everyone’s down for two causes: the man next to them and the betterment of the team.
Maybe too young, too me-first or too whatever during his first five seasons, the wisdom of losing every ounce of goodwill his potential provided has appeared to stick to Beasley’s ribs. “It feels good to be trusted by Spo [head coach Erik Spoelstra] on something other than offense,” he confessed the Miami Herald’s Joseph Goodman, Jr. When was the last time a coach trusted him? “Never. Now.”
From an outside-looking-in perspective, Beasley seems at peace on his ever-increasing role in an organization whose sole purpose is to be the last team standing come June. It’s seen in photos with teammates after games or at LeBron’s house for Thanksgiving. More than anything, perhaps for once in his career, he’s not being treated as a teammate with a scarlet letter plastered on his forehead, but rather “one of the guys.” No evidence of this was more striking than Dwyane Wade’s Instagram reaction immediately following the signing, “Sometimes u need to fall 2 see who will pick you up. Welcome home Beas we got your back…#heatfamily.”
Unadulterated acceptance, mentorship and faith from a person’s most valued confidants are vital for an individual’s psyche. Mike Beasley is the latest example. Through a fourth of the season, he’s playing the most effective ball of his career. He’s averaging 11 points and four rebounds on a career-high 54.6% from the field while converting more shots on fewer attempts compared to last season in Phoenix.
And while his defense isn’t confusing anyone for Memphis’ Tony Allen, Golden State’s Andre Iguodala or even LeBron, there has been more effort on that end of the floor than at any point in his career.
Perhaps Beasley provides Miami a championship spark a la Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Mike Miller, “Birdman” and Mario Chalmers in postseasons past. Perhaps he’ll single-handedly win the Heat a game they absolutely need. Or perhaps he’s already peaked. Time only knows what the future holds for Michael Beasley.
Of his newfound “glue guy,” however, Spoelstra confides, “He’s more experienced now and he’s embracing the opportunities he gets.”
Hitting rock bottom has the uncanny tendency to do that.