I used to be a big Cardinals fan. It’s not that I still don’t root for the Cardinals, I always have and always will. But there was a time where I made sure to see as much baseball as I could and the main reason was that I got to watch Albert Pujols hit. Pujols was a generational hitter and his production was exciting when he was a St. Louis Cardinal. Every time Pujols was batting I stopped what I was doing expecting to see something special.
I was never a big football fan. Like a lot of people, I watched it occasionally when St. Louis got a team. I was a Missouri basketball fan, but the Tigers’ football team was often terrible through my childhood, and I never got the attachment. Then Kurt Warner took over the offense for Dick Vermeil, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the television. Every time the Rams were on TV from 1999 to 2001 was appointment television, a chance to see something special.
My first love is basketball. I can watch it any time and any place. I’m currently watching UCLA play Wisconsin in a random neutral court game that matters little in the landscape of college basketball, but it’s on, and I’m enjoying it because it’s hoops. I grew up infatuated with Michael Jordan, like most kids my age, and he was always amazing to watch. But Jordan was never mine. As much as I cheered for him and the Bulls, they were never my team, just an adopted one.
I grew up watching Missouri basketball and the Tigers have always felt like my team. And Mizzou has never had a player who was appointment television. They’ve had a number of very good players and even NBA players. They’ve had a ton of guys who made watching Mizzou Hoops fun and plenty of players I have always and will always love.
For the first time in my lifetime Mizzou Basketball had Albert Pujols on their roster. Michael Porter Jr, combined with a top 10 recruiting class and a shiny new coach in Cuonzo Martin, sold out Mizzou season tickets. Tiger fans packed Mizzou Arena on a Friday night in early November against Iowa State the way they packed it for the last matchup versus Kansas with two top-10 teams on the court. The energy and excitement was so evident I felt it through my television.
The ball tipped, and the crowd roared because for the first time we had the icon on our side. Then two minutes and seven seconds later Martin checked MPJ out of the game.
Like that, it was over.
Little did we know that for several days, and possibly weeks or months, Porter had been dealing with a lower back problem, that things didn’t feel right. So he took a seat and watched as his teammates blitzed the Cyclones to open the season.
I don’t get too high or low when it comes to news about the sports teams I follow. I tend to take the approach that they’re still my team regardless of who is in uniform. When today’s Porter news broke, I got a few text messages and my response was generally: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Basically it’s how I felt and for the most part how I still feel. Missouri is still going to field a basketball team, and I’m still going to get excited about watching this version of the Tigers.
There’s an interesting mix of players who are all trying to figure each other and their coaches out, and the hope was MPJ would sort of cover up a lot of their problems early while they got all the kinks worked out. That’s not going to happen. Instead we’re looking at Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon and asking them to be ready for a primary role. We’re asking Jordan Barnett and Kevin Puryear to lead the young kids and win for the first time in their collegiate careers.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.
I’m not sad for myself. I’m disappointed that I won’t get to watch Michael play this year, sure, but I’m sad for Michael. He wanted this. He wanted to be the guy who helped Mizzou return to relevance. He said again and again how he wanted Mizzou to be his legacy, explaining he didn’t want to be just another great player who was a Dukie or a Wildcat. He even toyed with the idea of returning for his sophomore year if things didn’t go as planned this season.
I think it’s safe to say, things did not go as planned for anyone. Jontay reclassified to play in college with his older brother, and neither got to share the court at the same time.
I don’t want to shut the door completely on MPJ returning to play next season for Mizzou, only because I know Mike is a different kind of kid, one who values his family and really does want to play for his dad and with his brother and in front of his brothers, sisters, and mother.
If anyone is going to break the mold, its going to be someone like Michael Porter Jr. I think the chances he comes back are greater than most in media.
If I were advising Mike, though, I’d have a very different approach. This back injury goes to show how fleeting athletic prowess can be and how quickly it can vanish.
Mizzou fans will always be grateful to Porter because he chose us. And in choosing us, he brought his brother and a young exciting point guard in Blake Harris. He talked friend Jeremiah Tilmon into crossing state lines to play for the Tigers and his own hometown hero in Martin.
Mizzou was able to assemble its best recruiting class ever because of him, and that excitement carried over and helped seal the deal on Mizzou’s best 2018 signee, Torrence Watson. The energy for Mizzou basketball was kickstarted thanks to him.
So to Michael Porter Jr. I say, go get healthy and make your decision. No matter where you’re suiting up next year, you’ll have Mizzou nation at your back cheering on all of your successes. And only lamenting what could’ve been had the story book kept writing itself towards a happy ending instead of this incomplete one.