The hype of Sebastian Telfair

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In August 2002, SLAM magazine put Lebron James and Sebastian Telfair on its cover. Both were high school basketball phenoms, and the heading read “the takeover.” Lebron has more than lived up to his high school hype and then some. Sebastian, on the other hand, although making it to the NBA, couldn’t live up to the hype. A tale of too much too soon.

At the 2000 Adidas ABCD camp, (a basketball camp for the top high school basketball players in America) a then 8th grade Sebastian got to participate in camp practices, and more than held his own. A star was born that camp and Sebastian high school games at Lincoln became New York City events. The games even draw Derek Jeter and Jay-Z. College coaches and NBA scouts started filling the stands at Sebastian’s games as well.

Sebastian was considered a 5-star recruit by, he was listed as the number 2 point guard and number 6 overall best player in the nation in 2004. He appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated and the Slam as mentioned above. Sebastian committed to the University of Louisville and my previous article subject Rick Pitino. He later had a change of heart and decided to declare for the NBA draft instead. At the time high school players were allowed to enter the NBA draft.

Sebastian was selected 13th overall in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Portland Trailblazers. He signed a 3 year 5 million dollar contract with the Blazers. Because of his connections to Adidas and Sonny Vaccaro, he was also handed a 6 year 15 million dollar shoe deal before he stepped foot on an NBA court. He was seen making a cameo appearance in a Teairra Mari, music video wearing a Roc-a-Fella chain. Sadly, this would be the highlight of Sebastian’s career.

Sebastian became the starting point guard for the Trailblazers in 2005 but never averaged doubled digits in scoring. He got injured and was replaced in the starting lineup by Steve Blake, who had more assists and fewer turnovers than Sebastian. When he came back from injury, he remained on the bench.

In 2006 Sebastian was traded to the Boston Celtics. While a member of the Celtics, Sebastian got arrested for speeding, driving with a suspended license and illegal possession of a 45 millimeter loaded handgun in NYC. Sebastian pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a weapon and received three years probation. Four days later after the guilty plea, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck had the nameplate above Sebastian’s locker removed. The arrest and guilty plea gave Adidas the power to tear up Sebastian’s shoe deal. The deal had a morality clause in it, which the arrest and guilty plea violated.

In 2007 Sebastian was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he had his best season as a pro averaging 9.3 points and 5.9 assists per game. Hey stayed with the Timberwolves for two more seasons before he was traded again, this time to the LA Clippers in 2009. In 2010 he was traded again to the Cleveland Cavaliers, briefly putting Lebron and Sebastian on the same team. Lebron at this point was an annual league MVP and Sebastian, well he was a league journeyman going from team to team. Later in 2010, Sebastian was traded back to Minnesota. In 2011, Sebastian signed a free-agent deal with the Phoenix Suns, where he would last for two seasons. In 2013 Sebastian was traded again to the Toronto Raptors, where he would continue for half a season,

Sebastian signed to play in China for one year in 2013. The NBA came calling again, and Sebastian signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the summer of 2014. He lasted 16 games with the Thunder before he was waived. According to an assistant coach with the team, Sebastian didn’t have any off the court issues. He just wasn’t any good on the court, (ouch!) while with them. Sebastian hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since.

On July 11, 2017, Sebastian and another man were arrested on weapons and marijuana-related charges in NYC. A search of the vehicle yielded three loaded handguns, a semiautomatic rifle, a ballistics vest and several bags of marijuana. I guess Sebastian had moved on from being a basketball player to become a mixture of John Wick and Snoop Dogg. NYC has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. The rules have taken down numerous athletes like Plaxico Buress and even rappers like Lil Wayne. Sebastian was found guilty of criminal weapons possession and was sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison on August 12, 2019

Mistakes Were Made:

If you look at Sebastian’s career from a purely objective perspective, he did well for himself. He went from growing up in the Coney Island Projects to playing in the NBA for 10 seasons and making 19 million dollars for his efforts. But, and it’s big, but Sebastian was supposed to be right up there with how Lebron James is seen now in basketball. Multiple all-star game appearances, maybe a league MVP and an NBA championship ring. Sebastian achieved none of that, hell he never played for a team that even made the playoffs.

One has to ponder how different we would view Sebastian’s NBA career if he weren’t on the cover of magazines while he was in high school? Let’s say he went to college played two years, got drafted in the late first round and had the same career…he would be solid pick and stable career no? He had unrealistic expectations placed on him from all the hype he received and never lived up to it. Matter of fact he never could have lived up too it unless he played like a hybrid version of Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas combined. (that wasn’t happening)

When Sebastian came to the NBA, the league wasn’t set up to develop young high school players. There was no team provided meals, no personnel to help kids like him develop. Sebastian was in Portland, all by himself as his mother elected to stay in Brooklyn to take care of his Dad, so he had no family structure as well. A lot of his older teammates were, well jealous of him because of all of the hype and publicity he had coming in the league, not to mention the 16 million dollar shoe contract he had.

At the end of the day, Sebastian was still a kid in a grown men’s league playing against grown men, and he wasn’t mentally prepared for it. The jump from high school to the NBA is such a massive leap that unless you’re a freak of nature like Lebron or a stone-cold basketball psychopath like Kobe its hard to survive. If we are being honest with ourselves, there are more Sebastian stories than Lebron or Kobe stories among the High school to NBA prospects.

Sebastian was 10 years before his time in the NBA. When he came into the league, the game wasn’t as wide open as it is today. The defensive rules were way more restrictive, making it way harder for smaller point guards to get to the basket as they do now. I’m not saying Sebastian would have been a star in today’s NBA, but I feel he would have faired a lot better and not have struggled as much. Sebastian lacked a jump-shot, which was a problem back then and would have been even more of a problem in today’s NBA. If Sebastian had gone to the right team and system instead of Portland, he could have developed into a Tony Parker like player as they had similar skill sets, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

When Sebastian’s hype was at its highest, basketball was immersed in an AAU / And 1 basketball culture. The shoe companies were controlling the culture, and it led to the decline of quality basketball play in the NBA. High school players were going to the NBA strictly based on AAU hype and video clips, and they weren’t ready for the NBA game. Sebastian was probably the most high profile fail of this era. Sebastian story teaches the more important lesson that production will have to meet or exceed your hype or publicity; otherwise you will end up as just another cautionary tale.

Originally published at on August 19, 2019.

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