The ABL has welcomed NBA veteran OJ Mayo. The shooting guard signed with the Fubon Braves, and is expected to lead the ABL newcomers. The 8-year NBA veteran looks ready, having averaged 22.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists for the Dacin Tigers last season in Taiwan’s Super Basketball League.
Staying in Asia
Mayo’s suspension from the NBA lapsed in July of last year, which means he could return to the big league after a three-year absence. And as Mayo began working out with development coach Chris Johnson, a return to the NBA looked possible. He held his own in scrimmages against NBA players such as Jimmy Butler and Victor Oladipo, and he started looking like the Mayo of old: quick on his feet, steady with his jumper. This prompted Johnson to call Mayo “the best story in here [in the training sessions].”
Mayo, though, couldn’t crack an NBA lineup that summer. Thus, began his basketball odyssey outside the U.S. His first stop was Puerto Rico, where he played 21 games for Atléticos de San Germán. Next was Taiwan, where he starred in the Super Basketball League for the Tigers. He then had a brief stint with the Hunan Yongsheng Basketball Club in China’s second-tier NBL.
This summer Mayo could have pursued his NBA comeback again. He didn’t. Instead he chose to continue playing hoops here in Asia, this time in the ABL. It’s a curious decision, but it could very well be a calculated risk. Mayo playing at a high level here in the ABL could be his bridge back to the NBA.
Burdened by hype
Mayo is the ABL’s most high profile import to date. He averaged 13.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in his 8 seasons playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, and Milwaukee Bucks. Despite that Mayo will likely be dogged by what could have been. Back in the mid-2000s Mayo won Ohio Mr. Basketball in back-to-back years, and was anointed as The Next LeBron James. A Bleacher Report feature on the basketball star describes a young Mayo as “a savvy, intensely competitive guard who could score or create with equal effectiveness.”
In the end, the hype, evidently, was just that — hype. On the other hand, The King, who won Ohio Mr. Basketball three years in a row, has become an all-time great. He is also reaping the financial rewards of superstardom with Ladbrokes listing him as the second highest earning sports star in the world. His standing as “the most recognisable active basketball player in the world,” has earned him millions. Mayo, for his part, has had a solid career. But he was unable to live up to all that next LeBron talk early in his career. That is why the career paths of the two players have diverged so much, and why LeBron is one of the wealthiest sports stars in the world and Mayo isn’t.
At just 32, Mayo is still playing, and is searching for basketball redemption. The ABL will give him plenty of chances for that. And if Mayo makes the most out of his stay here, he might even find himself back in the NBA next year.