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The Drive: On the Greatness of Malik Turner

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe Malik Turner already is great. It certainly depends on how broadly one wants to define the word, but he’s a professional athlete, he’s an active participant in the Seattle Seahawks’ charitable work, and he’s made a million dollars—if not a million dollars take home. I knew a guy who toured the West Coast with his rockabilly band a few times and his big claim to fame was staying the night at the home of Kevin Seconds. I know another guy, this one’s a real loser, named John Morgan, who treasured a four-figure book deal like it were fulfillment of his life’s dream. Maybe it was.

Arguments over greatness in professional sports are the equivalent of arguments over what is art—which is to say stupid. It is as if, cut out of the story of the world, arbiters of greatness desperately wish to regain some control some pride. A lot of people would say Russell Wilson isn’t great. Give him a few years, right?

It’s sort of a measure for measure thing. If Russell Wilson isn’t great, and I’m not great, we’re kind of peers. And that’s good because late at night I hear rats chiseling through the inner wall of my kitchen cabinet. If I were to measure the lives of strangers a little more leniently, allowing for gradations of achievement, and seeing greatness not as an exclusive inner circle but an endpoint on a spectrum, I might also see myself tethered to abjection like the weakest strongman pulling a semi, and Russell Wilson, to paraphrase Dave Chappelle, living a dope life doing dope shit. I might.

But I think Malik Turner might already be great. His life most likely is pretty dope and this is him definitely doing some dope shit.

While I was figuring out where to put the word “definitely” my cat stole my chair. Now I am sitting in a chair a tavern (yes, tavern) threw out because it was broken. I carried it home, duct taped it back together, and it’s fine. It rarely collapses from underneath me. The chair stolen from me was also given away. Alanya and I wheeled it home ten city blocks. We call it Hogfat.

The forced fumble by Turner and the fumble recovery by Travis Homer were worth 3.51 expected points added. Homer’s rush of 29 yards was worth 4.22 points. That’s the difference in the ball game. Two young dudes battling for snaps making plays being great. Just not “Great” because arguing for that would surely stir up a flame war. Even the Bard of Avon found the whole debate pretty fucking stupid.

Shakespeare was making a bawdy joke. Yet his quote, free of context, depth or irony, lives on inspiring Malvolios the world over.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.”

Thrust upon ‘em because Malvolio, the recipient of this two-bit advice, had a wicked crush on the supposed author of these lines, the noblewoman Olivia. It’s all a trick, an appeal to the priggish social-climber’s vanity, and that “thrust” means what you think it means. But ... the joke lives on. Deranged, misunderstood, because people obsess over greatness, the Bard’s bit of laddish humor dupes new Malvolios every day.

I think Malvolio is my generation’s spirit animal. And so I’m gonna write it. Malik Turner’s Great. He was one of tens of thousands of young men with absurd athletic talent but little chance to work that talent for anything worth a damn. His resume was hot garbage because partway through playing for Illinois the Fighting Illini closed their practice field in Champaign and reopened it in Ripple. He had a pin in his foot and couldn’t do a meaningful drill at his team’s pro day but benched 225 lbs 17 times to raise “nearly $1,000 for the non-profit group Uplifting Athletes and its campaign against rare diseases.” Nearly $1,000! NEARLY!! He was undrafted, unsigned as a free agent, cut and cut again. He has the third highest DVOA per target but no hyperlink attached to his name.

Right now, as I write this, Carmelo Anthony is helping the Blazers get blown to smithereens by the Clippers. For some reason, his return to the NBA is a big story. Dave Matthews hoisted the 12th Man flag. Hopefully people in the south end zone brought their parasols. Baby Yoda ... I’m exhausted. It’s been a long day.

What I really want to say is, this guy, Matthew McCarthy ...

deserves a break. Dude just turned 40! I had to squint to see him in Curb Your Enthusiasm. He’s so good! He’s so funny! Michael Dell! A thousand times Michael Dell!

Malik Turner, making a relative pittance, is a glue player for a 10-2 team. He’s great. He’s living greatness. Don’t take him for granted. And that other dude, we’ll call this guy celebrated person X, be they comedian or athlete or actor or entrepreneur or author or activist or director or coach or CEO or doctor or artist or intellectual or politician; this guy, who was great, let them go. Because every Carmelo Anthony you keep is a Malik Turner you never give a chance.