September 17, 2010
For the next few weeks, I'm going to pick an NBA-related subject, A-through-Z, and tell you why it's worth your time, and why it's one of the reasons I love covering this league. Because that's why I wanted to become a scribe who's paid to cover this league. Sharing the things I know and love with those of my kind. All that stuff.
Because I'm lucky enough to have your ear for however long, I don't care that this might come off as a bit twee. A little embarrassing. A little too forthright. I'm OK with that. Hopefully you are, as well.
"E" is for "energy guys."
The thing that gets me about energy guys is the way they're often described in the press. As guys that would play for next to nothing. A shining example of what this game is all about. The type of player that all players, from All-Stars on downward, should aspire to be.
The problem with that is the limitation of the pro game. If everyone played like a energy guy -- not caring about fouling, not caring about sustaining at peak performance for 30-plus minutes -- this really wouldn't be a game worth watching. Sure, there's something noble and fun about playing a game down at the Y, where a hack just leads to the hacked-off getting the ball again up top, but aesthetically it's nothing really worth paying attention to. Like a fantasy league, it's only fun if you're in it.
But we're still full of energy guys, at this level. Thank goodness for that. These guys would destroy you, one on one, but at the pro level you grit your teeth every time they attempt a layup. They're not good, by your usual NBA standards. But they'll change the course of a game. They'll spark that 12-to-4 run, late in the third quarter. They'll put you in the penalty, sure, but they'll also earn the penalty on your own end, with all those attempted put-backs.
They're not a center, and not a power forward. They're the energy guys. And they're still worth lauding.
I know they're millionaires. I know they're supposed to do that. But think about what it takes to get up for these sorts of things. You psych yourself into the game, pregame. You listen to the coach's speech. You hit the court, stretch, and run a layup drill. You listen to another speech, and then the annoyingly long introductions take place. Then another little speech. Then you sit down, and watch your teammates play.
You can pick out ways to contribute, from the bench. You can see where you'd be able to fit in, or prepare for what might leave you looking silly. The starting center could pick up two quick ones, or play the whole quarter. Coach can go small, when the big guy sits, or go with you. And immediately -- after a good hour's worth of nonsense following your preparations in the locker room -- you're asked to come in, and "bring the energy off the bench."
Somehow, you do it. Consistently. That's not a reservoir of Red Bull that set you off. You're not taking trucker pills. This is just something you pull out, sometimes a hundred times a year.
Then, as soon as the other team takes their center out, you have to sit. Until late in the third, usually. Another hour away. But be ready to bring that energy, energy guy.
So keep extolling them, play-by-play men. Keep talking them up. Because despite all the bluster, despite the tired "he does all the little things" (read: he doesn't score, rebound, or pass the ball) virtues, this is a role to admire. Something to think kindly about. Every game, often for a half-dozen teams in a 10-year run, through all sorts of cities, spread out over a usually dreary winter's climate. Bringing the energy, at around 9:30 at night on a Wednesday in Milwaukee, when everyone else is using their energy to tuck their kids into bed.
I'm not sure where the energy comes from, but I'm glad it's there.