Ordinary people continue to challenge NBA and WNBA players

Of the millions of people around the world who play basketball, less than 500 are in the NBA at any given time. Fewer than 150 are in WNBA Before retiring in 2012, Brian Scalabrine spent 11 seasons in the NBA, far more than the majority of players who have reached that level. He won a championship as a reserve for the Boston Celtics in 2008. He is 6 feet 9 inches tall and weighs around 250 pounds.

Still, outsiders can’t seem to stop challenging Scalabrine to one-on-one games. Last month a a video that went viral showed that Scalabrine was challenged in a gymnasium by an over-enthusiastic high school student in Taunton, Mass. Scalabrine, playing the teenager for a pair of sneakers, beat him 11-0.

Scalabrine, who has averaged 3.1 points per game for his career, said it happens to him on a regular basis, and conversations with other former unannounced players have revealed it to be the same for them. By his own testimony, Scalabrine, 43, looked “chubby on TV compared to some of the best athletes in the world” and was not known as a rebounder or a goalscorer.

Despite this, Scalabrine survived in the league developing a reputation for rarely making mistakes, versatile in defense and shooting the 3.

“As a white suburban NBA player I have to take it to the next level,” said Scalabrine, a native of Long Beach, Calif., And often dubbed the White Mamba, a play on the Black Mamba nickname. by Kobe Bryant.

“People don’t understand how a little crazy it takes to maintain an NBA career,” said Scalabrine. “Especially when you’re not that talented. You have to be ready. You must be ready for the fight. You have to be like that every day. And if you are not, you are losing your livelihood.

Scalabrine has, to some extent, invited the ongoing challenges. Shortly after his retirement, he took part in a Boston radio station’s “Scallenges” promotion in which top local players faced him one-on-one. Scalabrine won every game by a large margin.

Of course, even the best players in the NBA are challenged, often at youth camps they host. These clips are also going viral, with stars happily blocking photos of children and teens several feet shorter than them. Rarely will the challenger win, as in 2003, when John Rogers, then 45-year-old CEO of an investment firm, defeated recently retired Michael Jordan in a one-on-one match at the camp. of Jordan after Jordan beat 20 other people in a row.

But for players who aren’t, or weren’t, the face of a franchise, they’re challenged in a different way, as Michael Sweetney can attest. The former Knick, who played in the NBA for four seasons from 2003 to 2007, said in an interview that he was challenged “all the time.” In fact, Sweetney, 38, said it happened just a few weeks ago by two former high school basketball players who were at a gym in Florida where he was training with kids in a basketball camp.

“I guess they thought since I was away and retired, ‘Hey, I can probably challenge him,'” said Sweetney, who averaged 6.5 points per game in 233 games. “It was funny because they tried to catch me off guard.”

Sweetney added, “I was like, ‘I’m just letting you know, I’m not going to take it easy. You challenge me, it’s going to be competitive. It ended up being a situation like Scalabrine. I beat one like 11-2 and the other was like 11-1.

The two challengers were surprised, said Sweetney, who is now an assistant coach at Yeshiva University. It was another reminder: when a player is in the NBA, no matter how long, he is, at that point, one of the top 500 basketball players in the world.

“Yeah, I’m retired,” Sweetney said. “I’m probably not in NBA shape. But you’re still talented and people just think if you’re not a superstar they might have a chance against you.

“They don’t know that even the 15th guy on the bench is better than the average person walking down the street.”

Scalabrine, who is a TV analyst for the Celtics, took pleasure in reminding the public. Top NBA players may even have to work harder than the stars to stay in the league, as a missed mission could be the difference between having a job or not.

“I can go to any gym right now and sometimes I can find some of the best players playing,” Scalabrine said. “Can you imagine 15 consecutive years? Maybe even more like 17, 18 consecutive years without ever going through the movements? “

He said professional athletes, even retired, have additional equipment that the average person cannot use. He called it “the dark place”.

“I would always say things, like in a game, ‘If I miss this next shot, my kids are going to die,'” said Scalabrine. “I’d be like that, just to pass, just to put the pressure on so I can lock in and do the hit.”

Many WNBA teams bring in non-professional men to face Cheyenne Parker, a 28-year-old forward for the Atlanta Dream entering her seventh season, diplomatically called a “great competition” because “they are strong and fast.” .

She added, laughing: “But skillfully?” Yeah.”

Parker said she is often challenged – “especially as a tall woman”. She was playing pickup last month in Chicago, where she lives, when an arrogant man started talking to her.

“We start the game and I have my first chance to touch the ball. I like to work my moves during the pickup, so I do this cute little Kyrie move. I screwed it up really bad, ”Parker said, referring to Kyrie Irving, the Nets star known for his ball-handling skills. “I marked it in his face. Everyone said ‘Ohhh!’ It was funny.”

When asked why fans are so willing to challenge fellow basketball players, Parker said, “The same reason a guy I would never want, never give a chance to, always have this confidence to come and approach me and ask for my number. You know? It’s the same kind of confidence these people have that they even think they can beat a professional.

Adonal Foyle, who played in the NBA from 1997 to 2009 primarily as a reserve for Golden State, said he faced similar challenges in retirement when he returned home to the Caribbean. Basketball players are more likely to be challenged than other athletes, Foyle said, because they are more visible. They don’t wear masks when playing and fans can sit on the pitch. But there is also a misconception among fans that athletics keeps players in the league, he said.

“Late career basketball players are like Chinese movies,” said Foyle, 46. “You have this silver fox. He walks in and looks like he’s the one from the grave. And then he starts doing karate. And you’re like, ‘Oh my God. I didn’t know he could do all of this.

What Scalabrine called “the dark place,” Foyle calls “the dumb gene” – the switch professional athletes have when their competitiveness is tested.

“You go to the gym. You try to play with regular people. You are having a good time,” Foyle said. “Someone is trying to run over you. For me, what always worries me is not beating the other person, that’s all my body can take from this stupid gene.

Foyle said he hadn’t played basketball for seven years. Instead, he prefers racquetball, where he “gets beaten by 75-year-olds who think of themselves as geniuses.”

“Partly that’s because I got injured almost every time I went out and played pickup because of that stupid gene,” Foyle said. “You think you can do the things you did 15 or 20 years ago and you can’t. You cannot deactivate this person who defined your life. I thought it was better not to enter the field.

For Scalabrine, the reason his skills are continually challenged exceeds the confidence of the challengers.

“Joakim Noah said it best,” Scalabrine said, referring to his former Chicago Bulls teammate. “He said, ‘Scal, you sound like sucks, but you’re not sucks.'”

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