You wouldn’t know he was a high school Mr. Basketball in Detroit. You might forget he snagged the AP National Player of the Year, Oscar Robertson Trophy, Wooden Award, Naismith Award, and Adolph Rupp Trophy awards on the way to leading Duke to a national championship. You might have overlooked how he initiated a culture change with the Memphis Grizzlies as a young player, challenged the champion Lakers with a starless Rockets team in his prime, and became an integral part of the repeat champion Miami Heat as a cagey veteran.
But Shane Battier won’t blame you for neglecting any of it because he has quietly done it all The Battier Way.
In an era obsessed with egotistical stars, Battier has broken the mold and quietly reminded those of us who notice him, what being an old school basketball player is all about.
The first thing a young basketball player must understand is that he or she is part of something greater: a team. This concept has drifted light-years away from the current NBA stratosphere, with few exceptions (Spurs to name one). The mindset now is that superstars win championships and are entitled to the collective praise or blame for their team’s accomplishments or lack thereof.
You can blame the media, you can blame the players and coaches, and you can blame Michael Jordan for making people believe one player can single-handedly win championships.
Of course we blame UNC guys for everything here.
Battier had been a superstar his entire life when he arrived in the NBA, but he didn’t carry any ego-baggage with him. He focused on perfecting his role as a defensive specialist, while fine-tuning all other aspects of his game. He worked as hard as anyone in practice and always kept the team’s focus as his priority. Energized defense, willing unselfishness, and a signature sweet-spot on offense which doesn’t require dominating the ball (corner threes), made Battier the type of player who could fit on any team in any system. Note to NBA prospects: This is how you forge a decade-plus career in the NBA without overwhelming talent.
The problem is our modern sports culture is oblivious or indifferent to a guy who has been in the league for over ten years, averaging a solid 3-7 shooting from the field. Young players don’t watch Battier and say, “Wow, did you see how he slid in to help from the weak-side and draw that charge?” Or, “How does he always manage to get his hand directly in the shooter’s face without fouling?” Or, “He might not dominate on offense, but he sure does pick his spots and steps up when the opportunity presents itself.”
Maybe the problem is our young generation of ballers aren’t being taught what really wins basketball games by our superstar-obsessive media. Gritty defense, unselfish offense, and basketball intelligence have become lost in today’s generation of Top Ten Plays and hero-ball.
Today’s young players are also fed a steady diet of entitlement from their AAU days, to their one year in college, right up to that first lucrative NBA contract. College coaches feed their egos in recruitment and rarely have more than a year to make an impact on NBA talent (both basketbally and personally) before players opt to enter the draft. Once in the league, the structure and sense of personal accountability to the team lessens even more, with the NBA coaching carousel spinning at such a feverish pace and never ending trades and free agency making stability a mirage.
It is every man for himself.
Outside of the top coaches in the league, perhaps, veterans are the only real source of authority in NBA locker rooms. The problem is this generation of veterans consist of more new-school guys than old-school guys. Not every team has veterans who do it TheBattier Way.
Being able to play one on one, score the ball, shoot the three, handle the rock, and showcase the ability to take over a game is what today’s generation prioritizes. Everyone wants to be Jordan, Kobe, and Lebron. It is ironic, because these grandiose aspirations end up costing young players millions of dollars and sometimes their entire careers.
How many NBA players have the potential to be something close to Lebron or Kobe? Two: Lebron and Kobe. How many NBA players have the potential be something close to Shane Battier? Many and more.
This isn’t a slight to Shane Battier’s talent, it is a compliment to his professionalism and hard work. If average players do things the right way, The Battier Way, with hard work and consistency, they can maximize their value to the point of transcending their limitations. Just ask guys like Kurt Thomas or Kevin Willis, who managed to play in the league into their forties, without ever having superstar talent. Just superhuman professionalism and commitment.
Unrelated Note: It might also serve to preach this lesson to our youth for life outside of basketball.
Youngsters need to understand that you don’t need to be the most gifted guy to become a leader in the NBA. And conversely, you can have all of the talent in the world and still be a detriment to your team. Ahem, Stephon Marbury, ahem.
Shane Battier has never sought out attention, just hardware. His best personal performance was probably in the 2009 playoffs when he guarded Kobe Bryant as well as anyone ever has. But if you asked Shane what was the greatest accomplishment in his career, you can bet he would cite his National Championship Duke team or the Miami Heat championship teams.
The Battier Way is a recognition and commitment to becoming the piece of the puzzle you need to be for the greater purpose of your team. Sadly, most players are puzzled trying to figure out how to make themselves the biggest piece of nothing greater than themselves.