Let me finish before you judge me. And before we get started, just know that I am well aware that it's embarrassing to admit that Keith Van Horn is, or was, your favorite basketball player. Nonetheless, I feel like there is some merit to liking a dude who is considered one of the softest guys to play in the NBA.
To understand my Keith Van Horn admiration, you have to remember that Utah was awesome for a couple of years during the Van Horn/Andre Miller/Hanno Mottola era. Largely due to Van Horn, the Utes advanced to the Elite Eight in 1997 after reaching the Sweet Sixteen and second round the two previous years. Van Horn was stellar during these tournaments; and since Utah was actually decent, they were on TV quite a bit which lead to a certain familiarity. It was that fall that Van Horn would be entering the NBA and I would be starting high school.
Van Horn's rookie season was exactly what is to be expected from the number 2 overall pick. Van Horn averaged 19 points and 6 rebounds a game, good enough for a spot on the All-Rookie first team. Furthermore, Van Horn was a part of the New Jersey Nets nucleus that some people were excited about. Alongside SamCassell and Kerry Kittles, there was a definite future in New Jersey. It was also at this time that I had my big growth spurt; growing from 5'9" to 6'2" in one summer. As a result, I was a "big guy 1" with moderate passing and ball-handling skills.
Being a tallish, 14-year old white kid who liked passing and outside shooting, Van Horn was a natural fit. More so than any player I knew at that time, Van Horn had a game that I could relate to. It was fascinating to see him getting the ball on the perimeter and creating, rather than down low banging like most power forwards. To this day, I'd say my game resembles 1999 Keith Van Horn more than any other player2. While averaging a shade over 21 ppg and 8.5 rebounds, Keith Van Horn was a future star of the league. Someone I could model my game after. Plus, he wore tall socks, which seemed like the coolest thing in the history of the world when I was 14.
But it was not meant to be. Van Horn would post similar numbers for the next two seasons but he could never adjust his game to Stephon Marbury. Soon he would be shipped to the 76ers to become the latest in a long line of Allen Iverson's failed second bananas. When that happened, I lost faith. If he couldn't work with Marbury, he surely couldn't work with Iverson. After a season there, Van Horn was moved again and I couldn't have cared less3. The late-90s Nets (and Van Horn) were the first team that I had really chosen and their dismantling was a disappointment.
Looking back, maybe Keith Van Horn suffered from being American. Were he a foreign player, maybe teams would have expected him to not play defense and be soft on the boards but that's speculation. However, I know that my devotion to Keith Van Horn is what has fueled my affinity towards Euros today. In fact, for my basketball development, KVH served a purpose. Though he certainly wasn't the first big guy to be outside4 doing things normally reserved for guards, he was the first that I could call my own. In the grand scheme of NBA lore, Van Horn isn't revolutionary, notable, or important; but when I can see traces of what I liked about him in my favorite players now, I know that what I felt meant something.
- Playing at a small high school, a 6'2" sophomore is center material.
- Other viable comparisons: Boston Celtics era Antoine Walker, Chicago Bulls era Brad Miller
- Most depressing was his season and a half with Dallas. He was Nowitzki before Nowitzki.
- Or even of his generation. KG, Dirk, etc.