YOU COULD CONSIDER the plight of Leon Powe from a number of perspectives, starting with: Even when he catches a break, the poor fellow can't hold onto it.
Powe, who overcame a hardscrabble childhood and reconstructive knee surgery to land a basketball scholarship at Cal, and who overcame two more major knee surgeries in college to forge an NBA career with the Boston Celtics, suffered yet another devastating knee injury in a playoff game Monday night.
Diagnosis: torn ACL. Recommended course of action: one more reconstructive procedure on his left knee. In a contract year, no less.
Overcome, then be overcome. That seems to be Powe's life cycle, pulled from the pages of Sisyphus. That's one way to look at it, anyway.
No matter what happens after his next surgery, at least he got something out of the deal.
He was able to deliver himself from some of the least savory living conditions Oakland has to offer. He spent three years at a world-class university. In his second season with the Celtics, he won an NBA championship ring.
That's a lot of house money. Not to mention his actual salary, nearly $2 million during his three seasons in Boston. That would have been more than enough to fulfill his dream of buying his mother a new house in a nice neighborhood — if only she'd lived to see the day.
But the best way to look at the plight of Leon Powe is from his point of view. Because to do otherwise is to focus on peripheral concerns.
And if Powe had done that, he'd likely still be standing at the corner of Nowhere and Trouble with an empty stomach and a hole in his soul.
Instead, as he told our Jeff Faraudo on Wednesday, "I'm doing just fine. I know what I have to do."
He knows what's in store, the pain, the tedious rehab, the empty feeling of watching the game go on without you. Just a guess — his having been through it twice doesn't make it any less daunting.
But Powe also understands what a lot of us do not, that it's not about the adversity. It's about how you handle the adversity.
You may be familiar with his roll call of unthinkably bad breaks, but it bears reviewing here. He was 2 when he, his mother and his infant brother, Tim, were abandoned by his father. He was 7 when he came home from school one day to find Tim had accidentally burned down the duplex in which his family was living.
Then came move after move, nearly three dozen of them. Powe's mother, Connie, had trouble with substance abuse and the law. She died when Leon was 17, just a few days before he led Oakland Tech's basketball team into the state championship game.
There's plenty more, but those are the lowlights. Then the knee reconstructions began piling up. That's a lot of chances to give up the fight, if that's the way you roll.
"In my family," Powe told the New York Times in 2005, "we don't give up, especially when it gets tough. If you give up, where you gonna go? And I wanted to go to the top."
Adversity is like that. It makes you think. It forces you to make decisions, to choose how you want to handle things and who you want to be. Are you a fighter? A quitter? A leader? A follower? A fatalist? A pragmatist?
Powe has made some spectacular choices. This hasn't escaped the notice of Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
"That's just a tough injury for a kid who has done everything right," Rivers said the day after Powe was hurt. "It just makes no sense. I guess bad things happen to good people sometimes."
Interestingly enough, sometimes that's when good people are at their best.
Contact Gary Peterson at email@example.com.