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Batman Forever: Battier Gets His Due

Maybe people will start noticing now.

Shane Battier doesn’t put up big numbers. He doesn’t show up on highlight reels with nasty dunks. He’s been called everything from a glue guy, to Mr. Intangibles. But he’s so much more than that. Battier is a sensational defensive player. And after spending his afternoon harassing Kobe Bryant—and forcing the MVP candidate into a miserable 11-33 shooting performance—it’s about time people recognize it.

“That’s Batman, man,” said Chuck Hayes after the game. “He [Battier] did a great job. Kobe’s a tough guy to cover, but he made him work. Every shot he made him work.”

True to form, Battier deflected most of the praise.

“Chasing that guy [Bryant] around, you want a Budweiser or two after the game, cause you’ve earned it.

“I saw how good Kobe was my rookie year when I was in Memphis. Everyone makes a big deal about his 81 point game against the Raptors, but he gave me personally about 63 my rookie year in three quarters. And nobody really talks about it. So he would have surpassed 81 that day. Look, the guy is unbelievable.”

What was the lesson you learned that day?

“That you have to go to church more. That’s probably the only way that you can slow him down.”

It’s not all divine inspiration. Battier has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. I’ve mentioned this before—and ESPN.com’s John Hollinger pointed it out as well after the game—but Battier is a master at darting his hand right in front of a jump-shooter’s eyes the moment the ball is about to be released.

“I was taught at a young age to contest every shot,” says Battier. “If you can’t block it, at least get a hand in their face, or get your hand around the ball just to give the [shooter] one more thing to think about. I know as an offensive player, I don’t like when people are around my hands and my face, so I just try to be a little annoying and keep a hand in the face, like every good elementary kiddie-ball coach teaches you.”

Of course, if it’s so simple, why doesn’t everyone else do it? Battier can’t answer that question, but for him it’s all a matter of survival.

“I’m not feeding my family and my dogs on my athletic ability and my highlights and dunks. So I gotta feed them somehow and defense it as good as any.

“I want people to think I’m as slow and un-athletic as possible. Every time I step on that floor, I want people to think I don’t belong in the NBA. I think that gives me an advantage.”

You’re not doing a very good job of convincing people you don’t belong these days.

“Trust me, I’m not physically imposing, and I will still say I’m slow and un-athletic. So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

Fine, Shane. Whatever works. Just as long as everyone else realizes the truth:

He belongs. Does he ever. - Jason Friedman


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