This time last year, Shane Battier was hammering a Grand Slam to celebrate a back-from-the-dead 18-point explosion that helped the Miami Heat complete a comeback for the ages, ward off the San Antonio Spurs and become back-to-back NBA champions. After going scoreless in Sunday's Game 5 loss to the resurrected Spurs, though, Battier was celebrating something very different than repeat titles: the end of a long race well run.
The 35-year-old forward, who has long said he was thinking about hanging 'em up when his contract ran out at the end of this season, confirmed in the Heat locker room on Sunday that he is retiring after a 13-year NBA career.
"I've given everything I can to the game and I don't have any more to give," Battier said after logging 11 minutes with one steal, one turnover and one last tangle in the paint (with Spurs guard Manu Ginobili), according to Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "And I'm OK with it."
Battier echoed that sentiment in a farewell tweet on Monday afternoon:
Thank you thank you thank you thank you for all of the messages. It is an amazing feeling to be appreciated. It was a hell of a run and I have zero regrets. Proud that so many could feel a part of this journey, I appreciate your encouragement, love, and support. Cheers to all my friends on twitter!
Battier, who will now join ESPN as a college basketball analyst, ends a 13-year career that began with the then-Vancouver Grizzlies, who made him the No. 6 selection in the 2001 NBA draft, the franchise's final draft before moving to Memphis. Coming off a distinguished four-year stay in Durham, Battier stepped right into the starting small forward slot for head coach Sidney Lowe, averaging 14.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game for a very bad Grizzlies squad. All wound up being career highs; from a counting-stats perspective, it would be all downhill from there for Shane-O.
As Battier's numbers dropped, though, his impact as a defender and floor-spacer began to increase for Grizzlies teams that started to prosper thanks to the development of rising star big man Pau Gasol and the tutelage of eventual head coaches Hubie Brown and Mike Fratello. Battier was part of three postseason runs in Memphis, all of which ended in first-round sweeps, before being shipped to the Houston Rockets in the summer of 2006 in exchange for highly touted draft pick Rudy Gay and ex-Grizzly Stromile Swift.
Young Houston general manager Daryl Morey — a Northwestern- and MIT-educated exec with a background in computer science, statistical analysis and strategic consulting tapped by owner Leslie Alexander to revamp the Rockets' approach — looked at Battier as an undervalued commodity, a player whose contributions never seemed to pop out of the box score, but who often seemed to have success defending top wing scorers like Kobe Bryant and whose teams always seemed to perform better when he was on the floor.
Morey's thought process behind the Battier move, and a glimpse at the advanced statistics underpinning the argument that a guy who rarely topped 10 points a game could be considered a linchpin on a playoff team, became the basis for a February 2009 New York Times Magazine piece by star author Michael Lewis. The lengthy feature heralded the rise of the sort of basketball analysis that would eventually become its own industry through events like the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and rebranded Battier as "The No-Stats All-Star."
After 4 1/2 years and three more playoff trips in Houston — including his first trip beyond Round 1, ending in a seven-game second-round defeat at the hands of Bryant, former teammate Gasol and the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers — Battier found himself on the move again. He was sent back to Memphis at the 2011 trade deadline to help fortify a grind-it-out Grizzlies roster built around the interior heft of Zach Randolph and Pau's little (well, "little") brother Marc Gasol; the wing scoring of Gay, the player for whom he'd been traded back in 2006; and the odd-couple backcourt of Tony Allen and Mike Conley. Battier played his part as a defensive hound and gap-filler in the eighth-seeded Grizzlies' historic first-round upset of the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs before struggling in Memphis' second-round loss to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and the young upstart Oklahoma City Thunder.
After another tough seven-game second-round defeat, Battier hit free agency and decided to move southeast to join up with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat. He proved to be a hand-in-glove fit for a Heat team in need of offensive and defensive redefinition, serving as a capable wing defender, consummate glue guy and reliable floor-spacer, especially from the corners. He helped give head coach Erik Spoelstra the flexibility to turn Miami's offensive scheme from a traditional two-big set in which James and Wade largely took turns facilitating offense into a streamlined, small-ball attack in which Bosh would serve as a nightmare matchup five, Battier would play the stretch four, and James and Wade would have much more room to attack the basket and set things up for themselves and one another. By playing that small four spot, Battier also helped save James the exhausting physical beating of having to handle big power forwards on the defensive end, helping keep Miami's top gun in fine form for long postseason runs.
The restructuring worked beautifully, as the Heat became the first team since the 2008-09 and '09-'10 Lakers to win consecutive championships, and the first since the mid-1980s Boston Celtics to make four straight trips to the NBA Finals. That fourth trip ended, though, as the first trip did, back in 2011 — with a disappointing defeat owed in large part to an inability to stop a rampaging Texan offense from scoring, and with perhaps even more questions than answers heading into the postseason. From Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick:
"It was a difficult year," Shane Battier said after his final NBA game, repeating a sentiment he'd privately expressed several times during the season. "It was a trying year from the standpoint that there were very few pure moments. That was the biggest difference between the past two years.
"And we were always trying to conjure something. And for a while there, in the second half, it worked. But you can't win a championship trying to conjure something. It has to be who you are, and it has to be pure, and that wasn't the case for us this year."
Battier was speaking collectively, but it's easy to see the personal and specific in there, too. As this season wore on, though, the veteran could no longer conjure the capacity to fill the role Spoelstra set forth for him two summers earlier. It became evident that the burden of punching above his weight class against the David Wests of the world for the last three years had driven Battier into the ground. He shot a career-low 38.2 percent from the floor, his 3-point accuracy dropped more than 8 percent from a year ago, and he routinely struggled to provide the same sort of defensive productivity that we'd been accustomed to seeing from him. He was excised from Miami's rotation in an opening-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats; reintroduced in a starting, albeit, limited role with some success against the Brooklyn Nets; curbed to just 12.3 minutes per game in defeating the Indiana Pacers; and mostly mothballed in the five-game beating at the hands of the Spurs, capping things off with 11 undistinguished minutes in the Game 5 blowout. The end of the line had arrived.
"My goals when I started this whole crazy thing, they weren't to win championships or make the All-Defensive team," Battier said during a recent interview with Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. "It was to play 10 years and to be able to walk away from the game before the game kicked me out."
He managed three more years than he'd bargained for, earning more than $56 million in salary and coming away with a pair of rings in the process. Not a bad deal.
As he leaves the league, Battier stands as one of 30 players in league history with at least 8,000 points, 4,000 rebounds, 900 blocks and 900 steals, a list that includes nine Hall of Famers (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, David Robinson, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Robert Parish, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, Julius Erving), three active players who will waltz into Springfield when their careers end (Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki), and several other interesting potential Hall cases (including Shawn Marion and Chris Webber). Factor in long-range proficiency — say, guys who made at least 500 long balls in their careers — and the list gets winnowed down to seven: Dirk, Pippen, Marion, Clifford Robinson, Rasheed Wallace, Sam Perkins ... and Battier.
Now, that's not to say that Battier's a Hall of Famer. Only 26 players who have played in the NBA and scored less than 9,000 points have been inducted into the Hall. Eighteen completed their careers before 1970. Three had legendary international careers (Drazen Petrovic, Sarunas Marciulionis, Arvydas Sabonis). Two boasted remarkable ABA accomplishments (Connie Hawkins, Mel Daniels). Two had their curtailed NBA careers augmented by their dominance in the NCAA ranks (Bill Walton, Ralph Sampson). One was, pound-for-pound, arguably the greatest rebounder and defender ever (Dennis Rodman).
Battier (8,408 career points) played in the modern era and doesn't have an especially remarkable international résumé, having been part of not-exactly-Dream Team, non-Olympic U.S. men's national squads that won gold at the 2001 Goodwill Games and bronze at the 2006 FIBA World Championship. He had a strong four years at Duke, earning two All-American berths and winning the 2001 national championship while sweeping the major National Player of the Year awards that year, but was nowhere near the game-changing force that Walton was at UCLA or that Sampson was at Virginia. And while Battier made his bones in the NBA as a tough, smart, versatile defender, twice earning recognition on the NBA's All-Defensive Second Team, he wasn't Rodman, or anything resembling Rodman.
Again: I share that list not to argue for Battier's Hall of Fame candidacy, but rather to note that, while we tend to think of him as an orthodox, conventional, square-back-and-sides type, the sum total of his career output marks him as something of a weird NBA player.
Dirk, Uncle Cliff, 'Sheed, Big Smooth, the Matrix, Andrei Kirilenko, Josh Smith, KG, Vlade Divac, Dr. J, Shawn Kemp, Marcus Camby ... there are a lot of guys on that list whose NBA games featured an odd confluence of skills and, in many cases, offbeat personalities to match. We don't necessarily think of Battier in that same light, what with all the "getting headhunted by campaign operatives" and "aggressively seeking out watery beer," but he's certainly possessed of plenty of his own peccadilloes — Battioke, anyone?
He might've been a no-stats dude with a lack of swag to match, but in his own ways — the possession-shifting, the option-creating, the gem-of-a-quote-dropping ways — Battier still found ways to let his personal brand of freak flag fly. The league will be a little less interesting without his boring brand of weird in it. Vaya con dios, Shane.
- - - - - - -