The Dragon is Coming of Age Before Our Eyes

Goran Dragic #1 of the Phoenix Suns drives against Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers on March 18, 2013 at U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
Posted: March 19th, 2013

A long season doesn’t just take its toll on a fanbase. It takes its toll on players too.

One of the players who has taken this season of missed opportunities and misplaced hopes hardest is Suns is point guard Goran Dragic. He wears tough losses on his face while sitting at his locker after games like a boxer wears the scars from previous bouts that have gone the full 12 round while slumped in his corner in the ring.

Despite being a fulltime starter for the first time in his career and posting numbers that many point guards would be envious of, the slender Slovenian with the boyish looks isn’t satisfied. He is the consummate team player and would trade all the personal achievements in for a different outcome for his team on most nights.

It’s why you’d never know he was the highest paid players on the team based on the way he acts. It’s why he lives a modest life and dedicates it to a game that his mother pushed him in the direction of after he suffered a knee injury playing soccer as a child in his homeland.

It’s those selfless sensibilities that make a 99-76 win like the one on Monday night against the Lakers even more satisfying for the people who see Dragic, interact and work with on a regular basis.

As you approach his locker you can feel an ease that isn’t there on nights where the result isn’t as positive for the Purple Gang From Phoenix. When you see him standing there before the throng of media members begin peppering him with questions like a pitching machine on high, you see a smile on his face that feels innocent and cunning all at the same time. A smile that shows just how much a win can mean regardless of the standings or playoff positioning. On other nights that end in less palatable ways, the various digital recorders the reporters hold look like dozens of tiny fingers pointing in accusation but on this night they’re a sign of a job well done.

Just don’t expect the modest Dragic to take much credit despite a 12 point, 10 assist, four rebound, two block and two steal effort where his hustle and court vision helped fueled his teammates.

“It’s great,” he said. “ It brings old memories back from the playoffs against them and it’s always nice to win against the Lakers. They have a lot of good players; and especially this season when we have struggled so much, we need every win we can get. Tonight we played really well. We played together – six guys scored more than ten points. Everybody was involved.”

On a journey that has seen Dragic play the role of yo-yo being in Phoenix, sent away and called back again, he has had his fair share of ups and downs. None have seemed more challenging than losing. But as it’s been said before, "We learn almost nothing in victory, but we learn much in defeat."

Dragic is learning what kind of point guard and leader he can become. His learning process has been a long one this season but he put his new skills on display against his former mentor Steve Nash and the Lakers.

At one point during the game he threaded the needle with more adeptness than a professional seamstress as he threw a pass from roughly halfcourt between Nash’s legs to a cutting Jared Dudley for the bucket. In every great journey there is a coming of age moment where the main character sees what he or she is meant to be. In Dragic’s long season, that pass was his moment.

For a mid March game with very little meaning for a team fighting for the number of ping pong balls they’ll have rather than the number they’ll have next to their playoff seeding, the play felt special. It electrified the crowd in a way very few things this season had before.

The moment felt almost like the scene in the classic show Kung Fu where the master says to his apprentice “When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave.” Dragic snatched the pebble thus completing his apprenticeship.

While one win won’t heal the marks the previous 45 losses have left, it does remind someone like Dragic why he plays the game. His smile, on and off the court, remind us why we love it.

A long season takes its toll on everyone, but sometimes it is the small moments of sunshine that make that make everyone realize the darkness won’t last forever.