JaVale McGee, despite his significant gifts and eight-year pro career, remains a bit of an NBA joke.
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Scratch that. We like the guy, you should really like the guy, but he’s the league’s biggest punchline. Has been for years, dating back to his early days with the Washington Wizards. He’s so much of a punchline that Shaquille O’Neal, not typically on the vanguard of your freshest hot comic takes and memes (Shaq is your uncle’s age at this point, after all), even came typically late to a party in naming McGee his “Shaqtin’ a Fool” MVP two different times in honor of JaVale’s more mercurial pursuits.
After a series of frustrating, injury-plagued seasons, McGee received a camp invitation from the 73-win Golden State Warriors over the summer. Still working to make the team (he’s contributed 11 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 31 minutes of exhibition action), McGee sat down for a feature interview with Bay Area News Group’s Anthony Slater recently in order to discuss, amongst other things, his unease with his online infamy:
McGee’s reputation is a bit more complicated than that. Before the 2011 season, TNT started a segment that turned into an NBA TV show called Shaqtin’ a Fool. Shaquille O’Neal hosts. They uncover bloopers from across the league and then showcase them, while Shaq dogs the victims. McGee became a regular target, even winning the show’s ‘MVP’ its first two seasons.
Shaqtin’ a Fool became popular. McGee was its unwilling star. It morphed into a label he couldn’t shake. Strangers chided him about it in public. McGee privately seethed, most upset, he said, that it was on the league’s network.
“Fans think it’s real, like that’s real life and they think I’m a dumb person,” McGee said. “It’s just really disappointing that grown men, 50, 40 year olds are having America’s funniest home videos of a player. And then making it a hashtag and really just trying to ruin someone’s career over basketball mistakes.”
That’s fair. On the 50 or 40-year old’s side, though, are these:
(The gentlemen talking over the lowlights – Shaquille O’Neal, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Kevin McHale – are 44, 60, 51, 53 and 58 years of age, respectively.)
Slater and McGee’s new teammate Andre Iguodala take great pains to point out, accurately, that McGee is hardly a doofus off of the court. With that knowledge in hand, however, it truly is hard to overlook some of his more outrageous missteps.
At this point, eyes are trained on JaVale when he enters games in the hopes that he’ll provide yet another YouTube-worthy slipups, but early admirers hardly made a point to do as much during his early years with the Washington Wizards. McGee didn’t stand out because onlookers were hoping to create ignominy in his name.
No, JaVale stood out because he kept making a series of previously-unseen mistakes that, frankly, remain laughable to this day. Even in this economy.
The good, or passable, comes with the bad. And as long as the “bad” is limited to the odd boner caught by Vine, then the Warriors (should they retain McGee as the 2016-17 season begins) should be more than satisfied with adding JaVale as a reserve center.
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He’s averaged over 15 points and 10 rebounds, with 3.2 blocks for every 36 minutes he’s played as a pro. And, despite his notoriety for often deciding to throw goaltending (to say nothing of proper defensive placement) to the wind in his attempts to glide through the air, McGee is only 28 and he still has room to grow. Especially now that he’ll be able to work under Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams.
Defensive guru Ron Adams has been harping on him to maintain proper position. McGee has a tendency to lay back and try to set up highlight blocks. Adams is trying to break him of this habit.
“The spontaneity of the game will dictate that,” Adams said. “You can’t script a game. So he kind of likes to do this. We’re trying to get him to be an early thinker, an early positioner, so that the jumps he has to make are much more simple and also the defensive context that we want to keep is more intact.”
As our Eric Freeman noted during the offseason, McGee’s skill set could fit in wonderfully with the defending Western Conference champs. And nothing makes internet ignominy go swiftly away like a well-earned championship ring.
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