The NBA blogs of SBNation are doing a league-wide series on NBA Cult Classics today. For me there was no other choice...
Brian Scalabrine is a punch line, but he's no joke.
I am a big Brian Scalabrine fan, and not in an ironic way. Yes, I know he's got red hair. Yup, he's not exactly chiseled and he can't really jump as high as most of his peers. But his peers are NBA players. He's made a nice 11 year career for himself in the NBA. Plus, everyone - from teammates to coaches to front office guys to the media - everyone loves him and respects him. That is nothing to laugh at. That is something to appreciate.
"In the course of a game," Scalabrine notes, "if you run the floor every time, if you block out every time, if you show on every pick and roll, if you do everything full tilt, eventually your effort is better than theirs, even if they’re more athletic. I have to play a lot harder than everyone. But I have a bigger motor. One of my gifts is my motor. It’s hard for people to see because everyone thinks they have a motor."
We live in a world where Scalabrine is mock cheered for his accomplishments, where he has become a fan favorite largely because people who cannot understand his worth believe he’s undeserving of everything he’s accomplished, where even columns meant to praise him take subtle shots at his talent. Don’t demean Scalabrine by calling his marginal career "one of the most remarkable runs in pro sports history." He earned his marginal career, and he earned our realization that he did. He squeezed everything from his talent, and anyone capable of that is always remarkable. But the talent, as so many people fail to grasp, first needed to exist.
With all of that said, with all the respect deserved and earned, you cannot separate the man and his totally legit NBA career from the sideshow that surrounds him because of his complexion and the hue of his hair. It is as much a part of his legacy as anything else that he's accomplished. He's Veal Scalabrine. He's Air Intangibles. He's the White Mamba. He's M.L. Carr's photographic negative. He's Scal-ah-bree-nee!
It is impossible to suppress a grin when you see him on the floor.
Why is that? Is it really because "he looks like he could be one of your buddies" despite being 6'9"? Is it a racial thing? Is it because doesn't fit the physical mold of how we picture an NBA player? Yeah, probably a little bit of all that and more.
It wasn't always like that though. Scalabrine had to grow on Celtics fans a bit. He signed for the mid level exception back when that was just $3M a year, but when you give a guy 5 years, that adds up to $15M and all of a sudden people can't understand why this un-athletic white guy that can't score is making $15M - especially when we don't have the cap room to sign more traditional talents.
He didn't exactly fit in with the youth movement of the rebuilding years either. Andrew Sharp of SBN quotes Scal and discusses this issue here.
"For me and my personality and my style of play it’s much better to be on a good team," he says. "What good would it do me being on the Wizards last year?" Well first of all, Scal, you have NO IDEA how much fun I would've had cheering for you on the Wizards last year. If you have to cheer for a bad team, you should at least get to cheer for a giant redhead who's built like Louis CK and shoots threes and seems like an awesome guy.
That's pretty amusing, but Andrew probably didn't watch much of the 2006 Celtics. I would imagine that he was a good locker room presence but who knows how much those kids were listening to him? Brian really started to shine when the team got really good. He became a luxury instead of an albatross. He was on the court mostly to mop up in blowout wins (instead of trying to make up for a missed defensive assignment by Gerald Green or Sebastian Telfair).
Suddenly he didn't have to be a scorer or "live up to his contract" or anything like that. He was just a guy that did lots of little things you need done to win basketball games. He even stepped in to start for Kevin Garnett for a long stretch and the team barely missed a beat. Most of his time was spent at the end of the bench, but like a good 3rd string quarterback, he was always prepared to step in if need be.
Besides, he just seemed to be having fun. If you ever hear him interviewed, he's got a quick wit and and easy smile. He took all the early criticism and the late mock-cheers and handled it all with class and grace and pride.
I don't know, I guess you can't pin down why he was so popular any more than you can pin down what he does on the court in a box score. He was just Scal and that was enough. That was fun but it was no joke. He was a legit NBA player, but he made us smile and he made us cheer and chant and enjoy the experience.
His NBA career may be done, but wherever he goes (please accept the TV gig) I'll continue to be a fan. Because he's Scal.