CHAUNCEY BILLUPS AS IRON MAN

In part three of a five-part series comparing the Clippers starting five to the Avengers team of superheroes, the resilience and will to win of veteran guard Chauncey Billups is compared to Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man.

While Captain America is the undisputed leader of the Avengers, there is one other member of the team who brings his own set of experience and leadership skills to the table: Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man). Stark’s role as a leader was easily overlooked in the film because of his quick-witted comments and self-centered attitude. But, by the end of The Avengers, we finally saw Stark emerge as a true veteran leader for his team. He was the first one on the scene to take on the invading Chitauri, and he made the ultimate game-winning play in the end to save New York City from total destruction. Couple that with what he had accomplished and overcome in the past, and it would be hard for anyone on the Avengers not to respect him. If you take a look at this year’s Clippers team, there is only one guy who fits the mold of Iron Man and veteran leader: Chauncey Billups. Here’s why:

YOUNG AND GIFTED

From a young age, Tony Stark proved he was gifted. He enrolled at MIT at the age of 15 and received PhDs in both electrical engineering and physics. When he inherited Stark Industries after his father’s death, he was a talented young kid with a bright future. But, his future was not a defined path. He spent years building weapons and making a fortune, but as we saw in Iron Man, it wasn’t until he was captured and imprisoned in Afghanistan that his vision for the future became clear. It was there that Stark honed his skills and built his first Iron Man suit. Those months spent in exile helped mold Stark into the hero and leader he would eventually become.

Billups’ path to becoming a leader was similar to that of Stark’s. In high school, Billups was a four-time All-State first team pick, named Colorado Mr. Basketball three times, and was the Colorado Player of the Year as a sophomore and junior. In his two years playing at the University of Colorado, Billups averaged 18.5 points per game and in 1997 helped lead Colorado to their first NCAA tournament victory in more than thirty years. Heading into the ‘97 NBA Draft, there was little not to like about Billups or his game, which is why the Boston Celtics selected him with the third overall pick.

But Billups’ first five years in the NBA were much like Stark’s months in exile. Billups was traded from the Celtics to the Toronto Raptors midway through his rookie season, and from there he would join the rosters of the Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic, and Minnesota Timberwolves. But Billups knew he was capable of more, and after he signed with the Detroit Pistons in 2002, he finally got his chance to shine.

During his tenure with the Pistons, Billups was a two-time All-Star and helped Detroit win the 2004 NBA Finals over the Los Angeles Lakers, a series in which Billups was named Finals MVP. Billups helped lead the Pistons to six-straight Conference Finals, and in doing so established himself as one of the premier veteran leaders of the team. Billups had always been a talented player full of potential, but like Stark, he needed to endure a series of hardships in order to find his path to success; a path that ultimately led him to the Los Angeles Clippers.

A TRUE IRON MAN

Perhaps, what makes Billups so similar to Iron Man is how he responds to adversity in the face of a seemingly devastating injury. Stark was critically injured in an ambush at the beginning of Iron Man, but fortunately for him, a fellow captive named Yinsen helped graft an electromagnet to Stark’s chest to prevent shrapnel from entering his heart. It was a crippling injury, but Stark persevered and turned a negative into a positive. He refused to let his fate be determined by anyone other than himself, something that motivated him to build his first Iron Man suit and escape to freedom.

Like Stark, Billups suffered a potentially career-ending injury of his own last February in a game against the Orlando Magic. With just 5:48 left in the fourth quarter, Billups tore his left Achilles, ending his season. It would have been easy, and understandable, for Billups to walk away from the game at that point. He was 35 years old, had played 15 NBA seasons, and had won an NBA title and Finals MVP. His career resume was one any player would love to have. So, why did Billups put himself through months of excruciating rehabilitation for a chance to come back this season?  For Billups, the answer was obvious.

"I still have a burning desire to win," Billups said after making his season debut for the Clippers last Wednesday in a 101-95 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. "The night I went down, before I even left the locker room, everybody was saying I was retiring. But those were people who didn't know me and my fabric and where I'm from.

“I could understand why they would say that," he continued. "I mean, I'm 35, I've pretty much done it all, made a good living for myself and my family, and did everything I wanted to do. So why would I come back? But that's just not how I'm cut, man. I wasn't going to go out like that -- not to prove everybody wrong, but for my own self."

We saw in both Iron Man, and again in The Avengers, what the physical and mental toll of being Iron Man can have on a person. Tony Stark battled injuries time and again, but his determination and innate desire to succeed helped make him a hero and the veteran leader of the Avengers. And, like Stark, Chauncey Billups’ resiliency and will to win are what make him the true Iron Man of this Clippers team.

Coming Soon: Clippers forward Caron Butler as Hawkeye.

Colin J. Liotta is the co-founder of the website The Sports Hero along with his wife, Bushra, and acts as the Editor-in-Chief. The website combines sports and comics into one place for fans of both genres. See more of Colin's work at www.thesportshero.com