Player Capsule, Brian Scalabrine: When I’m gone, don’t mourn, rejoice every time you hear the sound of my voice
“If you’re going to have a guy on your bench, his name should be Brian Scalabrine because he’s phenomenal.” – Doc Rivers, May 20, 2010
I find no better place to start Brian Scalabrine’s player capsule than that single quote. Because there are many things Scal isn’t — in shape, an All-Star, and athletic are all things that instantly come to mind — but one thing he always was, no matter what, was unselfish.
He was willing to do whatever Doc Rivers asked of him. Some nights, that meant getting a DNP-CD. Others, that meant filling in as a spot starter and playing 25 minutes or so. Whether it was the former or the latter, Scal showed up to work in good spirits and ready to play. Rain or shine, starter or DNP-CD, uniform or street clothes, Scal cheered on his teammates with an energetic smile on his pasty mug. Say what you want about how you’d be smiling too if an organization gave you all that loot to be an 11th or 12th man (or 13th or 14th man), but there are plenty of overpaid players who ruin locker rooms with piss-poor attitudes. Scal was never one of those guys. It just wasn’t in his nature.
Looking back on Scal’s career, he was treated by most fans like an absolute bum. Because of his pear-like shape, white skin, red hair and overall goofy look, Scal was fairly or unfairly looked upon as some type of species lower but somehow more likable than an NBA player. Fans jeered his every basket as if he were the mentally challenged little kid at the end of the bench, the one who only got in the game during the worst of blowouts. Shirts were made that glorified Scal, but in the most demeaning way possible.
He became the laughingstock of the Boston Celtics, the little dorky runt to make fun of, and yet he still maintained his happy-go-lucky nature. Embracing his perceived bummy-ness with all his heart, Scal smiled as jeers rained down. He made fun of himself. He enjoyed being a fan favorite, even if he was only granted that honor for all the wrong reasons.
On the one night I was lucky enough to cover a Celtics game with press credentials, Scal got absolutely lit up by Dirk Nowitzki. I’m talking LIT UP. Dirk scored just about every single time he touched it, almost as if he was disgusted that the Celtics had chosen to defend him with Scal and wanted to prove a point to Doc Rivers: No red-headed, chunky white boy can guard me. Anyway, Scal got torched and the Celtics lost a tough one, 99-90, after giving up a solid half-time lead. I wrote the following sentence in my post-game recap: “But after Brian Scalabrine subbed in for Wallace, Nowitzki erupted for nine straight points, scoring on each of the Mavs’ next four possessions.” Maybe torched wasn’t a strong enough word.
After the game, Rasheed Wallace complained like an em-eff-er about all the calls Nowitzki got. Sheed wasn’t happy with the refs, who probably did give Dirk the benefit of the doubt on a few whistles. Later in the night, Scal was sitting at his locker room eating some pasta from the postgame spread. He wasn’t talking about the game, not at all. And not because he was bummed about getting his ass handed to him by Nowitzki; he was actually shooting the shit with me and a couple other reporters. (As my friends would say, a huge self-call. Oh well.) Once Scal was finished discussing the New York Jets’ fearsome cornerbacks, one of the reporters finally asked Scal whether he thought the refs had been determined to send Dirk to the foul line.
I don’t remember exactly how Scal responded, but it was said in a very sarcastic tone and went something like this: “Yeah, definitely. As soon as the refs saw me guarding Dirk, they knew he was going to need all the help he could get. They HAD to give Dirk all the calls or else he wouldn’t have scored a single point.” As the reporters cracked up, Scal smiled and continued to eat his pasta. He’d just gotten murdered in front of 20,000 fans, but Scal kept the game in perspective. And don’t think for a second it was because Scal hadn’t cared enough about the game. I saw that game from the tenth row, and Scal did whatever he could to keep Dirk under wraps. He grabbed Dirk, bumped Dirk, put a hand in Dirk’s face, killed himself trying to stay in front of the seven-foot German – he just wasn’t good enough to get the job done. Yet somehow, despite digesting such a thorough and humbling can of whoop-ass, Scal kept a positive attitude. I imagine there is very little in life that would keep Scal from maintaining his rosy outlook on things.
Which is probably why Doc appreciated him so much. Whether Scal was benched, concussed or dealing with whatever other setbacks he went through during his Boston career, he maintained an entirely team-first attitude. He was never the best player on the Celtics, or anywhere close, but Scal would have drank out of a sewage pipe if that’s what Doc had asked him to do. He really would have. And it would have been gross.
But Scal never did have as much talent as a lot of other guys, and since the NBA is a talent league rather than a behavior league, there is only about a 0.00000000001% chance that he’ll again be a Celtic next season. It’s for that fact that this post reads more like a eulogy than a regular player capsule. Scal’s not coming back folks, not as a player at least, and so it is now time to either celebrate or scorn the Scal era, depending on how you feel about him.
How do I feel? Well sure, he was overpaid. And yeah, there were plenty of better players in the league. But when Doc looks down his bench next season and there won’t be a single player named Brian Scalabrine looking back at him, you can bet Doc’s going to miss him.
And you know what? I might, too.