Few players are as interesting as Shane Battier, and thus, people just keep wanting to write about him. Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated has dedicated a chapter of his new book, entitled The Art of a Beautiful Game, to picking Battier's brain. I was able to obtain an advanced free copy of the book, and enjoyed reading it very much. While it's no masterpiece of any sort, the book accomplishes its goal of educating the reader on the mundane and often overlooked aspects of professional basketball. I found it to be as interesting as any basketball book I've read, and the Battier chapter was no different. Here are a few of my favorite exerts:
Battier, for once, receives his due and is credited with four blocked shots. And, other than one unlikely play when the slow-footed Cavs forward Wally Szczerbiak drove right by him for a righthanded floater, Battier didn't get beat all night.
Afterward, he sits in his familiar spot at his locker, feet in the Rubermaid bucket. He smiles for the cameras, reiterates that it is "just one game." If he's excited about holding [Lebron] James to zero assists, he's not showing it. He does become animated, however, when I bring up the Szczerbiak drive.
"He usually doesn't drive," Battier says, incredulous. "Only 31 times all season in the half-court. Thirty-one!"
He pauses, shakes his head. "That's an example of the scouting report not translating to the actual game."
On defensive play-calling:
"Even if I don't know the other team's plays, I'll call it out anyway," Battier says. "All of a sudden, if you have five guys saying, 'Oh, they know what we're running,' that puts them back on their heels a little bit."
So if a team calls, "red five," Battier will start yelling it --"RED FIVE, RED FIVE, RED FIVE" --even if he has no idea what it means (which is rare). "It's sort of the same as yelling, 'Ball ball ball ball' or 'Help, help, help,'" he explains. "If you hear that as an offensive player, you're much less apt to dive into the teeth of a defense. If you're around basketball, you know that when a team's getting its butt kicked, the players are silent. They're passive. That's why I try to be aggressive even vocally. I think it has a psychological effect."
On pre-game warm-ups:
What irks him more, though, is the empty time. For a man who runs to the locker room to save 45 seconds, 10 minutes of going through the motions is an eternity. "If I could just come to the gym, read my scouting report, and then play, I'm happy," he says. "There's so much dead time. We shoot layups for like three minutes, and from 15 minutes to five minutes [counting down on the clock], it's free shooting. I'm already warm, I got my shots up, I'm ready to play." Battier pauses. "I calculated it. At 90 games a year, that 10 minutes of dead time means I've wasted hours and hours of my life just waiting for the game to start. To a person who values efficiency, it just kills me. By the time the game tips at 7:35, it's like, 'All right, finally.'"
On responding to foul calls:
Seeing LaMarcus Aldridge spin to the middle, Battier helps off his man and pokes at the ball. It's the kind of quick, barely there play he makes dozens of times in a game. This time, however, he gets whistled for it. Battier turns to referee Scott Foster, amazed.
You either have great eyesight or you're lucky as hell," Battier says. "You made an unbelievable call. I mean, I never get called for that."
"You got him," Foster says.
"You're right, I did," Battier responds, "but I don't think many people would see that."
Of all the things I see Battier do, this is one of the more impressive. There is a primal response men have during a basketball game when called for a foul. We feel wronged. We complain about it. We are, frankly, obnoxious. But in the heat of the moment, Battier is able to somehow push two very different agendas: voice his displeasure with the call and compliment the referee.
That's just a small tidbit of a fantastic chapter. If you're looking for a good basketball read, definitely give this book a look.