Perception vs. Reality
The way fans see NBA stars doesn’t always align with who they really are as players.
by Allen Powell II
Perception is often mistaken for reality.
LeBron fans will tell you that never has a player done so much with so little. LeBron detractors will tell you that never has a player been so loved for winning the genetic Powerball.
Kobe’s fanboys swear that Jellybean’s son isn’t just the closest modern player to Michael Jordan, he’s actually surpassed Jordan, and it’s those Jumpman-tinted glasses preventing people from admitting reality. Kobe’s haters will argue that he’s only a jumper-shooting, frequently chucking, Jordan-clone, and while he can hoop a little bit, he’s still lamer than Greg Oden’s knees.
Perception drives how fans watch games and interact with players, and ultimately determines which players roll with HYDRA, and who gets an invite to join The Avengers.
Unfortunately, players often are forced into roles and given personas that don’t jibe with reality. Players anointed as “good guys” have their flaws glossed over, while those given a black hat see every failure magnified. Here are five players who need their public profiles tweaked.
1. Kevin Love
Kevin Love is the NBA’s version of In and Out. Beneath the man crushes and non-stop fawning there is a simple truth: Fast food is fast food, and defense-averse power forwards are defense-averse power forwards.
Clearly, there is a lot to love about Love. Opposing players wonder if he has a magical knack for rebounding, even as they marvel at his effort and positioning. An excellent shooter, passer and thinker, Love is a rising star.
But, Minnesota’s rebounding machine also isn’t afraid to sacrifice a few defensive rotations to clean the glass. Despite his physical limitations, Love’s failure to play better individual or team defense is inexcusable. He’s too intelligent and too fundamentally sound to make many of the mistakes he makes.
It appears Love understands that “playing the right way” doesn’t guarantee a max contract, but putting up 20 and 15 with an All-Star berth does. (Hello Carlos Boozer and Zach Randolph.) Plus, dishing out great quotes as if they were pinpoint outlet passes can provide a cover when you rip your team’s bumbling general manager and newbie coach on Twitter.
Every player should look out for his financial future first, but typically that practice is derided by fans and the mainstream media. It seems Love has perfected “hustling” in every sense of the word.
Ron Artest can’t win because he’s always fighting “Ron Artest!”
That’s not an allusion to Artest’s well-documented mental health battles, or some sort of joke about the Malice in the Palace. Nope, it’s an acknowledgment that there is a Ron Artest that exists in real life, and there is a Ron Artest that exists in the minds of basketball fans. Often it’s not the same person.
Last year, Ron Artest gave the League the blueprint for squashing the Durantula by using physical defense and pesky hands to make the NBA’s trendiest superstar look positively mundane.
In the NBA Finals, he locked up Paul Pierce exactly when the Boston Celtics were trying to ride Pierce to victory in Game Seven, all while carrying the Lakers offensively.
Yet, this year Lakers fanatics have denigrated Artest’s game and openly pined for Trevor Ariza. Word surfaced recently that Artest finally suggested Phil Jackson try coaching instead of psychoanalysis by proxy, and in response Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote that the real Ron Artest had finally arrived.
It seems like Ron Artest is only being “real” in some people’s eyes when his behavior validates their preconceived notions of who he is. The common perception is that Artest is a rapidly declining powder keg of drama that is poised to ruin the Lakers’ three-peat. It’s not about assessing the man and player Artest has become, it’s about waiting for him to revert back to the previously established “norm.”
3. Brandon Roy
Before his knee problems worsened many fans and pundits deemed Brandon Roy’s ascension into the rarified air of the NBA’s elite a foregone conclusion. Thanks to a shifty dribble, smooth stroke and pinpoint passing some people even mentioned him in the same breath as Kobe and Wade. Hell, quite a few people liked him better than those two because he seemed like such an affable guy.
But, what many people haven’t noticed is that Roy has a selfish streak and unwillingness to transform his game. His penchant for ball domination stunted LaMarcus Aldridge’s development for years, and turned his team into a pale reflection of the 2001 Sixers or, more aptly, the Atlanta Hawks West.
Last year, Roy whined and pouted about the team’s acquisition of Andre Miller, and even pushed for a clearly inferior Steve Blake to start so he wouldn’t have to change his playing style.
Recently, he complained that the reason he’s looked so slow while dragging his bum leg was because Miller is slow and that makes it harder for him to play!
Roy needs to wake up and recognize who he is as a player, and understand that just because a style of play gives him pretty stats and All-Star berths doesn’t mean it’s actually best for his team. In fact, everybody in Portland needs a wake-up call.
4. Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson follows Brandon Roy on this list for a reason. The two players have similar skills and ceilings, but have vastly different reputations among the public. While Roy is lamented as a potential all-time great sadly lost to injury, Johnson is derided as an overpaid ball-hog who shrinks against elite competition.
While it’s true that Johnson is overpaid, whose fault is that? (What the hell was Atlanta thinking? Was Otis Smith a consultant on that deal?) As Namond Brice once said “I’ll take any n*gga’s money if he just giving it away.”
Johnson is deceptively quick, deadly from anywhere on the court, has a nasty handle and a solid post game. Plus, he can be a cog, or a main piece in almost any offense. Most people forget that he averaged nearly 18 points a game for two years as a third or fourth option in Phoenix before making the move to Atlanta to try his hand at being the The Man.
Honestly, it seems like Johnson is still being punished for that decision. When Johnson complained a few years ago that he needed some veteran help, it wasn’t painted as being a leader; it was celebrated as Johnson getting his comeuppance. Many believed the hubris displayed in his decision to leave the Elysian Fields of Phoenix was being rewarded with a Sisyphus-like existence with the Hawks.
His Playoff “failures” while being miscast in the role of “Iso-Joe” have only hardened opinions. People are so set on complaining about what Joe Johnson’s not, they can’t appreciate what he has become.
After that last line about Joe Johnson, some folks may be shocked that Nash was included on this list. Considering Nash’s offensive artistry and self-effacing demeanor, why would anyone want to talk about his failures instead of his successes?
Haters gotta hate…
Actually, it’s not about hate. Nash is an amazing shooter and passer with underappreciated clutchness. Anyone rooting against the Suns in the Playoffs these past seven years had a gut full of worry every time Nash laced his sneakers up.
But, besides Kobe and LeBron there is not a bigger lightning rod in the NBA than Steve Nash. His name sparks legions of fans to fall down in worship, and also causes a smaller, but very determined group, to hurl insults and hatred at his feet. He is hailed as either the man who made basketball fun again, or the perfect example The Great White Hope.
Nash is both.
It’s true, Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns made basketball fun again for millions of fans. With his deft passing, ridiculously efficient shooting and “mainstream appearance,” (that’s a euphemism for being fairly short and white) Nash was the sort of basketball player that many fans and media members dreamed of embracing. For certain people, his ability to not just compete, but dominate in the NBA made them feel better about the League as a whole.
Yet, for many others, particularly those folks tired of hearing about smart white players and naturally gifted black players, the praise for Nash seemed to require underestimating his teammates and ignoring his deficiencies. It wasn’t that people hated Nash; it was the hype around his game that pissed them off. It only got worse when that hype resulted in two questionable MVPs. Moreover, for some people the ludicrous claims that race had nothing to do with a gloried popularity contest staged by the American media rang hollower than a Nicky Minaj verse.
Nash has been trivialized and lionized to the point where it’s almost impossible to get a true understanding of his impact and legacy in the game. Maybe in a decade or two, historians will be able to truly measure what he meant to the NBA, but not right now.
Perception won’t allow it.