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The Fault in Our Stars

Mike Olson Avatar
March 4, 2022

“The fatal flaw of gravity. When you are down, everything falls on you.”

– Sylvia Townsend Warner

Some superstructures are built to stand the test of time. Or are at least set up to be. When the names Hindenburg and Titanic first entered the lexicon, it was for their strength, size, and durability. In hindsight, we have the luxury of knowing that those indestructible ships were only too easily brought low by a cascade of unforeseen circumstances. You can build something beautiful, but if there’s a weakness at the center of it all, it leaves you wondering how easily it might fall.

Even more troubling, those fatal flaws may not even be a physical thing, at least when it comes to we fallible human beings. Our fatal flaw may be our pride or our vanity. It could be simply falling into a comfortable pattern, like starting everything you write with a pithy quote for over a year. Thank goodness I don’t know anyone who’d be so foolish as to do that.

When it comes to professional athletes and those in the limelight, those fatal flaws can be magnified to epic proportion. These are our media gods, in many ways, and we often delight in watching those who soar the highest brought low.

But sometimes those flaws are just as simple as the Hindenburg. A tiny something deep at the physical core that makes for a weakness that very well could prove to be fatal, at least to a career.

Coming out of high school, Michael Porter, Jr. was the prototypical hoops god. The comparisons varied, but only in which part of his game you were describing. Build like Durant, but with what was possibly even a sweeter shot. The 6’10” small forward was too tall for smaller threes to hang with him, but with the speed and handles to confound anyone bigger than him. When on his game, he’s one of the best shooters the league has ever seen, with a stroke that leaves even the best shaking their heads in disbelief.

So when MPJ went down early in his first college season with a scary back injury, many of his supporters fell away, knowing that an injury of this type rarely means good things for a player’s long term future. The Denver Nuggets took a chance with a lower first round pick, unable to pass up the potential boon a third superstar could bring to the long-suffering franchise. A second back surgery came before he ever hit the floor professionally, making sure that any issues were worked through. Any kinks worked out.

When finally out on the floor, and in his early play, Mike showed up. While he suffered, and still suffers, from several holes in his game, his undeniable talent and skill made up for the delta he could present in his worst moments. Even better, Porter showed a willingness and capability to learn from his mistakes, improve his play, and make sacrifices in his scintillating game for the good of the team. While occasionally still a liability, MPJ was trusted more and more often to play his way through his mistakes, and with that trust, his star shone brighter and brighter.

With that trajectory now pushing him from behind, Denver took a sizable risk in offering Mike a max contract last September, seeing that his potential outweighed the risks that came from his previously ailing spine.

It made the beginning of this season all the more frustrating, watching Porter come out of the gates slowly, his shot not falling, his confidence waning, and his head hanging low. Not far into the season, the Nuggets revealed that Mike’s back was yet again hurting him, and he’d need yet another surgical repair to make things right.

We’ve now made it to March, past the All-Star break and into the downhill part of the season. Porter has been cleared for one-on-one play, and looks to be possibly back in the lineup before month’s end. His addition to a Nuggets squad that has ridden the broad shoulders of MVP Nikola Jokic is a boon and a boost, hopefully narrowly preceding the return of superstar Jamal Murray, recovering from a major injury of his own.

But what do the Nuggets have in MPJ? Do they have a star that will eventually even outshine Jokic and Murray? Or simply a scintillating third that can provide the other two enough relief and release to take them to the promised land? Either of those scenarios are the dream of the franchise and their fanbase. Just as likely, if not moreso, is Porter battling the fatal flaw in his frame for the rest of his career. In that case, the Nuggets have placed an albatross of a bet on Mike that could actually sink those long-term hopes.

Is he the hero? The goat? Or even the GOAT? So many things possible, and all of them resting on a spine that has been a fragile support. If you’re a Denver fan, you’re sure hoping for good things for Porter, both for your aspirations and his estimable heart. Here’s hoping the fault in this star is survivable and small over the long haul.


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