In the Chinese tradition of Taoism, there are eight legendary xian who became immortal by following the way of Tao. Each of the Eight Immortals represents a different facet of humanity and had unique powers — as well as unique paths to immortality. For the 2014 All-Star Profiles, I took a look at the Eight Immortals of the NBA. LaMarcus Aldridge is Zhongli Quan, a general who created wealth from what to others was simple, worthless stone.
Where others dare not venture, LaMarcus Aldridge thrives. The midrange is forbidden territory in today’s NBA, anathema to the analytics community that grows more and more dominant among league decision-makers. Yet for Aldridge, that area between the 3-point line and paint is paradise. The barren stone that yields little for others becomes precious under his watchful eye.
But such alchemical ability is hard-earned. In his legends, Zhongli Quan, who had taken up the family practice of military conquest, was forced to flee to the mountains after a defeat at the hands of the Tibetans. There he found — or was found by; fate has a funny way — an old man, who led him to isolation in spiritual sanctuary. For three days, Zhongli toiled to learn what sanctuary had to offer. Then, dismissal. His time learning was done. He could now turn stone to gold and iron to silver. The old man instructed Zhongli to go and serve the people with his new powers. When Zhongli turned to respond, the old man and his sanctuary were gone.
It likely took Aldridge a bit longer than three days to perfect his midrange game, but the results have been the same. Base metals to treasured memories, spoils shared with the masses when Aldridge gets his hands on the rock. And Blazers fans are an appreciative public, bathing in the glory bestowed by the current roster in Portland as it helps ease the pain of past failures. These successes bring their own stresses and doubts, however. The question for the Blazers, and for Aldridge, is how they take the next step and achieve basketball immortality. Zhongli took the long route, becoming a hermit in his old age and retreating from the general population to a cave of his own. He often meditated; once, his meditation was apparently forceful enough to knock down walls. Behind the wall of his cave, Zhongli found a chamber containing a small jade casket. It held instructions for achieving immortality — convenient, but probably a little infuriating, given that they’d been sitting there for the whole of Zhongli’s vagrancy. He followed the instructions, there was music and perfume, and a magical stork appeared and carried him to the shimmering clouds of the immortals.
The contents of the instructions are unknown, lost to the ages. But an approximation of the translation, contextualized for Aldridge and the Blazers, reads something close to the following:
“Congratulations on the fantastic start to the 2013-14 season and for your selection to the All-Star Game, LaMarcus. But to turn the gold you cast to rings that last, PLAY SOME DAMNED DEFENSE.”