The Toronto Raptors faced the Utah Jazz on Monday. A fun matchup to watch was Kyle Lowry vs. Mike Conley, two players who began their careers on the same team but have since followed very different paths.
Looking at their career stats you wouldn’t know why Basketball Reference has Kyle Lowry‘s Hall of Fame induction probability set at 85.7 percent and Mike Conley‘s set at a meagre 0.2 percent. But that’s currently the case for the Toronto Raptors’ point guard and his Utah Jazz counterpart.
A glance at their respective career numbers shows two very similar players:
Lowry: 14.7 PPG, 6.2 APG, 4.3 RPG, 42.3 FG%, 36.6 3P%
Conley: 14.8 PPG, 5.7 APG, 3.0 RPG, 43.9 FG%, 37.5 3P%
Lowry and Conley even started their careers on the same Memphis Grizzlies’ team! Despite these similarities, they went about their careers in very different ways.
Michael Alex Conley Jr.
Conley stayed loyal to the Grizzlies without a word of complaint, not even a technical foul! He played on the Grizzlies’ “Grit and Grind” era teams that were defined by their toughness and defensive intensity.
When all of the gritting and the grinding came to a screeching halt and Memphis decided to rebuild, all that Conley had to show for it was an appearance on the 2012-2013 All-Defensive Team. Oh yeah, and $141M; but, that’s beside the point.
Despite playing at an All-Star level for so many years he was in the unrelenting shadow of the Western Conference’s elite guards: Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson, James Harden, Alex Caruso, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Damian Lillard.
Conley never got the recognition he deserved. He’s now entering the post-prime portion of his career and having a disappointing season with the Utah Jazz.
Kyle Terrell Lowry
Lowry was so much of a nuisance at the beginning of his career that Houston and Memphis traded him for next to nothing. In his final days with the Rockets, Lowry forced his way out after clashing with Kevin McHale, Houston’s head coach at the time.
Only when he landed in Toronto and met a man by the name of Masai Ujiri did Lowry’s career really begin to take off.
After five All-Star appearances, Kawhi Leonard, an All-NBA team and 76 technical fouls, Lowry became an NBA champion. He was recently selected to his sixth All-Star team and is regarded by many as the greatest Toronto Raptor of all time.
Everything that a retired player appearing on First Take says that they hate about today’s game has happened in Lowry’s career. In order to illustrate this point, I need to draw on a modern, cinematic classic.
The difference between Conley and Lowry is much like the difference between Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon) in The Departed.
Through their careers, Costigan and Conley did the dirty work and “played the game the right way”. Despite the lack of recognition they received, they always did the right thing.
Meanwhile, Lowry and Sullivan were strategizing with their superiors to climb the social ladder. Like Costello, Masai worked with the cold, calculated precision of an Italian mob boss to deliver Lowry and Toronto their first championship.
Masai traded away Lowry’s best friend, DeMar DeRozan, fired COTY Dwayne Casey and acquired Marc Gasol, Conley’s beloved teammate. Gasol is, of course, playing the conflicted Vera Farmiga love interest character in this scenario.
Masai didn’t make decisions to be perceived as loyal or as “playing the game the right way”. He doesn’t care about that stuff. Masai did what he had to do to win.
I know what you’re thinking, Lowry didn’t have control over the moves that Masai made. Sure, but these moves have come to define Lowry’s career. Also, if Lowry had a better attitude and remained in the West, would any of this happened for him? Probably not. He decided his destiny.
The difference between Lowry and Conley’s careers represents the defining feature of today’s NBA: being loyal won’t get you a ring. It takes more than loyalty to win. The modern champion is both a superstar and a politician.
Does any of this ultimately matter? Yes! As we have seen with every insult that Shaq hurls at Barkley, you are either remembered as a champion or a guy who couldn’t get it done.
I’ll leave with you with a quote from Frank Costello: “When I was your age, they would say you could become cops or criminals; today what I’m saying to you is this: When facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”.