When Magic Johnson retired (the first time) in 1991, I’ll always remember his words at the press conference….he said he was retiring “from the Lakers.”
I thought it was so sick that he didn’t say basketball, or the NBA…but his team, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Like a longtime employee, you work till you hit a ripe old age then sit back and collect the company pension you worked so hard for. I’m sure he got that from his dad, a man who worked at the same auto factory for decades.
On Wednesday, a much smaller story than Magic’s went across you tickers and mobile apps…Jeff Foster Retires.
Jeff was a throwback in every sense of the word. He was a ‘lunch pail’ kind of guy who came hard to work every night and never thought about his own offense. Just look at his Wikipedia page…the grainy black & white photo says it all. It’s like they confused him with a player from the 1950′s.
It’s a fitting image because Jeff Foster played his entire 13-year career on one team.
Now that’s old school…..and unheard of today unless your name is either Kobe, Dirk, or Tim.
Foster was drafted by the Pacers in 1999. He earned his playing time through hard work and eventually started on a few contending teams alongside Jermaine O’neal.
A recurring back injury cost Jeff the remaining few years he could’ve squeezed out of that 6’10″ frame, but maybe that’s a good thing. If he would’ve been thrown into some 3-team trade this summer to make salaries match I’d have been really disappointed.
Speaking of salaries, Foster never got that ridiculous paycheck that most ‘bigmen’ that can run and chew gum simultaneously get. Here are his salary numbers, courtesy of Basketball-reference.com:
As was the case with most players, Jeff made the bulk of his money later on in his career when his body was already breaking down. That’s fair seeing that he didn’t really get paid till year five, despite playing a huge role on the team in the early 2000′s. The Pacers deserve props for not moving him the past few years when he was making $6 million or so. Truth is, it probably would’ve cost them a draft pick or two. Honestly, $5M/yr is the going rate for a solid and dependable center who can start for you. It’s what the mid-level exception was meant for.
Over the years, Indiana found a way to keep Jeff’s contract on the books despite rebuilding, more than once. The 13-year vet played through the post-2000 Finals run re-mix and also the aftermath of the Ron Artest debacle in Motown. Two contending teams were stripped and then remade under Foster’s tenure.
The man who began his career backing up Rik Smits ended it playing behind Roy Hibbert. Jeff, though, was much more than an All-Star center’s understudy. He was the quiet rock on the bench during both eras of Indiana turmoil. If Larry Bird, President of Basketball Operations for the Pacers, ever showed emotion it would be now. He coached Jeff his first three years and then was the executive who decided to keep him around the following ten. I bet he saw a lot of that old Celtic front line in Foster. He probably had flashbacks of Greg Kite and Fred Roberts barreling down the lane.
Will we see the likes of this ever again? you never know…..I see a lot of Foster in current Pacer power forward Tyler Hansbrough. In an era of big contracts and player movement, I wouldn’t mind seeing this type run again. It’s a pretty fresh tagline in today’s NBA.
Jeff Foster didn’t retire from the NBA on Wednesday, March 21st…..he retired from the Indiana Pacers.