The Meme That Plays Defense

Brian Scalabrine's cult status is unquestionable, but also more complicated than it seems.
Share |

Image via

I wouldn't have started off with the question, of course, because I'm not an asshole. At some point during the series of interviews I hoped to have with Brian Scalabrine—I assume they would've taken place in the palatial suburban hotel in which he resides during the season—I would've asked him something about how it felt to be a second mascot for the Chicago Bulls, or a human meme, or something along those lines. I was going to be professional about it. But after a few days of gentle prodding, a nice spokesman from the Bulls got back to me with an unfortunate answer, if not one that wholly shocked me. “Brian’s going to have to take a pass on this one,” he said. I don’t doubt that Scal’s got stuff to do: spending time with his family in between games, getting more reps at the Berto Center, finally finishing the second season of "Twin Peaks". But really, I imagine it’s much simpler than that. I imagine he’s probably just tired of talking about himself.

It’s easy to understand why. Turn your TV up the next time Scalabrine checks into a Bulls game—you may have to wait until next season, or you may not—and listen to how the crowd reacts whenever he does anything. There’s no John Hollinger to measure this for us, but it seems safe to say that Scal averages the highest DPT (decibels per touch) of anyone on his team, and possibly anyone on any team. When he gets the ball, even if it’s just to hold it for a second before kicking it back to one of his teammates, people lose their shit for reasons that seem both amusing and condescending; a crowd of hardcore partisans becomes, in an instant, an arena of overenthusiastic parents braying and drunk with pride (and beer) because their kid got into the game. Serious fans respect Scalabrine's “veteran presence,” however vaguely defined that is, and that he doesn’t seem to mind having his minutes jerked around. Casual fans love him far more than they do any other 12th man in the league for reasons that seem easily reduced to tokenism: He’s a big, tall ginger who looks a little like Michael Rapaport.

In short, it can sometimes seem as if Scal’s not just a player but a living meme, better represented by a sliding scale of BuzzFeediness than conventional metrics: LOL (when he blocks, or gets blocked), OMG (when he drives to the hoop in one of those slo-mo bursts of “speed”), WTF (when he squares away in the corner to take a potentially game-winning shot against Indiana), WIN (when he’s on the court in the closing minutes of a blowout) and FAIL (conversely, when he’s on the court in a potentially crucial situation). Compared to his hobbled teammate Derrick Rose, whose vertical simulates human flight more accurately and exhilaratingly than anything else currently available, Scalabrine off the dribble resembles nothing so much as a deep sea diver slowly moving through water, limbs half-suspended in motion. It’s why the only level of play he could ever dominate as a professional was the Italian League, where he freelanced with dazzling results during last year’s lockout. The Scalabrine in competition against teams like Montepaschi Siena and Otto Caserta is truly Herculean. He looks like Kevin Love unleashed on a pickup game at the Y, grabbing rebounds, draining threes, moving to the rim with blazing grace. Same dude. He's that good, but NBA competition is that much better.

The raucous adoration bothers some columnists, who’ve called for a moratorium on all ironic Scalabrine cheering. It's easy enough to understand this response, although there's also a palpable cynicism to it—it collapses on that oldest and most beaten-down straw man of argumentation, “You’re just pretending to like it!” If people are cheering for Scal because he looks like a construction worker—or Michael Rapaport playing a construction worker—and not because of how well he understands team defense, well: fair enough. It’s not like cheering is different for anyone else working for the entertainment empire David Stern has so meticulously built, highlight reel by highlight reel. Look at the de-contextualized monster jams that fill SportsCenter, the Twitter spasms whenever Blake Griffin dunks through someone (and then forgets to rotate on defense).

The spectacle is what gets people in the door; the mechanics are what keep it going. Scalabrine means more to the Bulls as a team mechanic—Coach Thibodeau has called him an extra assistant coach, and again, he knows the defense!—but his simple act of being has generated its own spectacle. The motivation behind this has not escaped him, but his reaction is seemingly magnanimous. “The only thing that I don't like about [the popularity] is the individualism," he said to ESPN. "I'm just not an individual guy." If that’s good enough for him, then it should be fine for everyone else, right?

But it's not that simple, even if it's also not all that complicated. It doesn’t matter that fans likely wouldn’t care as much if Scalabrine's skin were a couple shades darker, his hair a different hue flaming red—that schmoes like Ryan Hollins and DeSagana Diop have eked out similarly semi-effective careers with a fraction of the attention. Or that framing whiteness as a priori novelty limits our ability to do descriptive justice when it’s merited, which is why people keep searching for reasons not to believe that Kevin Love is the best power forward in the league. That said, it feels a little dirty and not entirely true to suggest that whites are underappreciated anywhere. There’s no real reason to suggest that J.J. Redick isn’t getting the exact amount of attention he deserves. Still, elevating Scalabrine into comic heroism just because he looks like the squarest of them all seems a little dishonest, and definitely a little mean.

How we respond to the way people respond to Scal offers some perspective on the strangeness and thwartedness of watching sports in a "serious" way. It’s nice to imagine that our powers of observation confer upon us an inalienable rightness when viewed next to spectators who are just along for the ride of downing some drinks while rooting for Our Guys to beat Those Guys, or that the serious fans are somehow seeing more and enjoying more than their sozzled, Buffalo sauce-smeared peers. I am not the only person to have yelled at a TV as though it contained a direct walkie-talkie to Joakim Noah’s ear, and could thus relay my instruction to “box out, you shitty idiot.” I am surely not the only person to have delivered that particular bit of instruction, either. But it helps to feel that this is all being done for the right reasons, that we’re not all endlessly pivoting, in parallel, in the dark, regardless of how well we understand, say, Player Efficiency Rating or True Shooting Percentage. It helps, in a basic self-identification sense, to believe that the knowledge serious fans accumulate is not just a tarted-up version of the gee-whiz-guessing and emotional intuition that the un-serious fan relies upon when laughingly howling for Scal.

It’s not a coincidence that when Derrick Rose tore his ACL last weekend, a meme imagining Scalabrine as team savior quickly spread around the Internet, because of course it would never happen; the idea was hilarious enough and could replace any actual discussion of how the Bulls might overcome the absence of the team leader. When they lost Game 2 to the Philadelphia 76ers at home, you can be sure the people clicking “share” on that goofy image weren’t the ones complaining about a failure to box out.

Maybe that’s a little unfair, because in the end there's really nothing wrong with having a little fun. Perhaps looking for the finer points in Scalabrine is missing the point, or missing out on an opportunity to enjoy his delirious incongruities as fully as the laugh-howlers do. Scalabrine, because of his lumpy gracelessness more than his race or any of the other factors that play into his cult, is the most recognizably lumpen-human representative of the sport as it is in front of us. There's something elemental to his goofiness: his presence on the floor shows the game as what it fundamentally is: a collection of dudes running up and down the court, sweating and puffing as they toss a little ball into a hoop. Not a collection of brands and genetic outliers, future Kia spokesmen and abstractly visualized statistical avatars, but men whom we watch while they work. In a stranger world, imagine one of those NBA on TNT ads that begins with Scalabrine dribbling against some spiritual cousin—Shelden Williams? Brian Cardinal? Eduardo Najera?—while the text drapes over the screen: “A man and the ball, doing work.”

Share |


Thanks for taking the time to discuss this. I feel strongly that love and read more on this topic. If possible. such as gain knowledge
imarku professional 8 inch chef's knife

You have some exceptionally skilled craftsmen. I wish you the best of car cover

It’s amazing in support of me to truly have a web site that is valuable meant for my knowledge.rhinoplasty Sydney surgeons

I feel really finicky reading these articles I mean there are writers that can write reasonable stuff.
10 year fixed rate term insurance

This article is actually remarkable one it helps many new users that desire to read always the best stuff.
Shailandra Singh Sequoia Capital

I truly cherished perusing your online journal. It was extremely very much composed and straightforward. Not at all like different online journals I have perused Which are truly not that good.Thanks alot! michael spencer gilroy

Awesome article, it was exceptionally helpful! I simply began in this and I'm becoming more acquainted with it better! Cheers, keep doing awesome!
virgin hair companies

A good informative post that you have shared and thankful your work for sharing the information. Got some appealing information and would like to give it a try. Applaud your work and keep sharing your information.
Chiens perdus

Thanks for sharing this interesting blog with us.My pleasure to being here on your blog..I wanna come beck here for new post from your site.
coque fashion iphone

It will be strong to any individual who uses it, including me. Continue doing what you are doing – can"r hold up to peruse more posts.

Thanks a lot for sharing us about this update. Hope you will not get tired on making posts as informative as this.
dark skin screen lotion

Acknowledges for paper such a beneficial composition, I stumbled beside your blog besides decipher a limited announce. I want your technique of inscription
custom bracelets

It looks like you spend a lot of effort and time on your blog. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles
Penrith math tutor online

Checking any blog may make others just want to come up with a greater number of.
KitchenAid KFC3100ER Chef Series

We only have model kind, aspiring models or real models working as escorts at our Toli Chowki Hyderabad Escort Service Agency.Really high class incall & outcall
easy sketch pro 2

Hi Dear, have you been certainly visiting this site daily, if that's the case you then will certainly get good knowledge.
liability only car insurance

It is really expert to create it attainable for all that we will a minimum of strive our greatest. give thanks for sharing from
porte blindate lecce

The separation between the tip of the inward boot and the heel of the external boot must be no less than one boot length, measured toward the ski.
camini a gas

he Berto Center, finally finishing the second season of "Twin Peaks". But really, I imagine it’s much simpler than that. I imagine he’s probably just tired of talking about himself.
jeux de minecraft |
psn generator

All you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job

Thanks a lot for writing this article today. The information here really helped me a lot. I am extremely pleased to read this today. Keep giving more articles like this one. Cheers.
Asian wedding cards

I have bookmarked your blog. the articles are way better than other similar blogs.. thanks for a great blog!

t would be interesting to hear your predictions on the internal design of this shifter. Why do you think makes it so "complex
branded Kitchen

his minutes jerked around. Casual fans love him far more than they do any other 12th man in the league for reasons that seem easily reduced to tokenism: He’s a big, tall ginger who looks a little like Michael Rapaport.

minecraft free |
free psn codes

I was reading your article and wondered if you had considered creating an eBook on this subject. Your writing would sell it fast. You have a lot of writing talent
branded kitchen

I really appreciate this wonderful post that you have provided for us. I assure this would be beneficial for most of the people.
kitchenette appliances

I want you to thank for your time of this wonderful read!!! I definately enjoy every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff of your blog a must read blog!!!!

It all is impressive to read the paper these types of interesting together with different article content for your web-sites.
Scott Yancey real estate

HD News channles around world and much more. So get the app enjoy it.
branded kitchen

These are actually wonderful some ideas in the blog. You have touched good quality points here. In whatever way continue writing.
unique kitchen gadgets

I wanna thanks to a great extent for providing such informative and qualitative material therefore often. best tool for multiple websites

I don’t suppose many of websites give this kind of information.

I have got the superb information from these blogs finally. braun series 7 790cc pulsonic shaver system review

Wonderful, just what a blog it is! This blog has provided the helpful data to us continue the good work.

Acknowledges for paper such a beneficial composition, I stumbled beside your blog besides decipher a limited announce. I want your technique of inscription... capacitacion personal

I was pinning away for such type of blogs, thanks for posting this for us.quantum success coaching academy

You create sense out of the foremost complex topics. cheap car insurance for minors

This is wonderful and quite informative blog I have learnt so many things from here.million dollar business secrets harv eker

Fascinating information I haven’t been experienced such information in quite a long time.
get a loan now

I do not have words to praise your blog, am quite impressed from your website and wanna see more on this soon, so provide more information this is my special request to you.
Virtual Ceo Lifestyle review

Offered the same level of content as you, the internet would be a much better place. Please keep it up. how to get followers instagram
| get like on instagram

Good blog along with the excellent quality stuff and I’m sure this will be greatly helpful.Inbox Blueprint Review

I’m trampled by your contents carry on the wonderful work.Virtual Ceo Lifestyle review

It is especially decent, though look into the tips during this home address. stock price alerts

Hi I was searching for the blogs for many times, now I have reached at the right place.payday loans direct lenders

This is a really decent site post. Not very numerous individuals would really, the way you simply did.

It's superior, however , check out material at the street address. Obsession Phrases Review

HD News channles around world and much more. So get the app enjoy it.
happy wheels demo
cubefield 2
temple run online
super smash flash
scary games
fireboy and watergirl 5

If your looking for Online Illinois license plate sticker renewals then you have need to come to the right place.We offer the fastest Illinois license plate sticker renewals in the state. We are tied directly into the sate’s renewal database which allows us to process your request almost instantly. miramar locksmith

This is surely a very good blog, thanks a lot for sharing such nice information here.