He grew up right before our very eyes -- we met him when he was just 18. We watched a supernova of raw talent explode, and then collapse back into itself like a black hole.
We saw him turn his back on Seattle, and then ultimately on himself.
He can't take it back. It doesn't work that way. But he desperately wants to change the last chapter; the final act.
And that's why Shawn Kemp is back.
"When all that stuff was going on, I never got a chance to talk to anybody... no one really asked me... there was so many things written about me that wasn't true... talked about me that wasn't true... and that's the thing as a person that bothers me the most," Kemp said.
"Like I said, when you're in that spotlight, and when something like that happens, you get sent off to this rehab place... all these people talking about you as a drug addict... what you find is you kind of go into a shell. You don't want to talk about it because you already know what the person is thinking about it."
Do you remember what it was like before he left? Or have you forgotten that the Reign-Man, the man-child, did things on a basketball court that few, if any, ever did before -- or since.
If you loved what he was, then you were disappointed by what he became: overweight, overpaid, and then overnight, just over.
The last time we saw him was in a courtroom. He'd been picked up in a car with a friend, and a bag of marijuana, a little cocaine, and a loaded pistol.
"I've definitely learned from this," Kemp said. "It's not a place I'm familiar with, and you shall not see me back in this position again."
Today he swears he didn't know about any of the drugs, and promises the incident changed him forever.
"I had already planned to get in shape; I was already working out at that time. And then that happened...
"Of all the things I've done -- been out drinking, used drugs... to never be caught, then all the sudden to be caught when you're not doing something... if that don't change you, nothing will ever change you."
And so he dropped everything 6 months ago and moved to Houston with a trainer. No drinking. No partying.
Just sweat and resolve -- and oatmeal 3 times a day.
He's lost 55 pounds.
"If you're a professional athlete and you've been to the top, you...you know how to get back there," he said.
Still larger than life, Shawn talks openly now about things he's kept locked up for years.
"If anything I could do all over again, I probably should have come out and talked about it a little bit more," he said. "Maybe been a little bit more open. The drug problem has never been that bad. I'm not gonna say I've never done drugs, because I have. But I think my personal demons were more of just my life... mismanaging my life, not just with drugs."
Back when everything was falling apart, Sports Illustrated did a cover story that claimed he had 7 children with multiple women.
Shawn said nothing.
"I mean there's no doubt about it, I have kids. I'm not gonna sit here and deny that," Kemp said. "But I never talked to S.I....they never called me to ask any questions. They put that story in the magazine without getting contact or anything, so...
"I'm sitting her in front of you guys and I'm gonna tell you this: Man, when you're growing up as a kid and they tell you this, they say, 'Hey, if you get in trouble and you have a lot of people around, 10 friends, people close to you and you think they're gonna help you out if something goes sour, everybody goes away.' Yeah...and I mean that."
To see him walk on a basketball court now, is to believe that he can make it back to the top of the mountain.
His face lights up; he grins like a kid, plays hoops like a kid. He's changed.
He's the Reign-man again.
Very soon, he'll work out for a handful of NBA teams. The motive is not money. Shawn's been wise -- he's financially set.
He turns 36 next week, and he says the comeback's not about reputation or redemption. It's strictly between the man and his game.
"I'm shooting for the Hall of Fame Eric; that's what I'm going for," Kemp said. "Obviously I owe something to the game of basketball at this point and that's what I'm gonna try to do.
"You live and you learn...that's what I've learned. I can't go back and change things...or change myself. But I accept things for what they are, the mistakes I've made, the good things I've done...I'm just a kid that grew up and uh, I'm a grown man now and I mean that, I've strived to get where I'm at now, and I'm gonna try to get better."
He's in great shape, he's cleaned up his messes, and he's happy again.
And believe this: whether he ever plays another minute in the NBA or not, the Reign-man is back.