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A Belated Defense of Kendrick Perkins

This piece was written by guest author Jack Rollo, a lawyer and sports & entertainment enthusiast.  Please welcome him to the THIRDandFOUR family.

I would like to thank Chris Ryan for being unable to let something go.  A few months ago, LA Clippers star Blake Griffin threw down a rather impressive dunk on Oklahoma City’s defensive-minded center, Kendrick Perkins.  At the time, many commentators felt that it was necessary to not only praise Griffin’s athleticism, but to mock Perkins — who was simply trying to do his job — as well.  This was disgraceful, and, sadly, representative of the sports media (and media in general) as a whole.  I wanted to write something about it, but I was too busy and time passed.  Now, two months later, Chris Ryan has decided to refer back to Griffin’s “postering” of and “mid-air obituary” for Perkins.  In doing so, he perpetuates the most negative aspects of the media, but has reopened the door for me to say my peace.  So thanks again, Chris Ryan.

Kendrick Perkins plays defense.  And he plays it hard.  Because of this, it is widely known that Perk is a Beast.  Now, it shouldn’t be noteworthy that a man who gets paid millions of dollars to play a game actually works hard on the defensive end of the floor, but it is.  Perkins is limited in his offensive abilities, but he is unquestionably a valuable NBA player because he is a large man (even by NBA standards) who plays defense and grabs rebounds with a fury that far exceeds most others in the league.  This fury led to Perkins trying to defend Griffin on a play where, in reality, Perkins had little chance of defensive success.  Griffin is too big, too athletic, had too much momentum, and was too close to the rim for Perkins to stop him.  Of course, in real time, it’s hard to make that kind of judgment, so Perkins tried and failed.  Griffin threw down an incredible dunk.  Perkins was posterized.

This same fate has fallen upon other NBA players, which makes sense.  If you work on the defensive end, it almost certainly will happen to you.  Some of your opponents will have extraordinary physical gifts, and your attempts to stop them will be in vain.  Of course, other NBA players are never posterized.  They avoid doing so in a rather simple manner: they don’t attempt to play defense.  When an opposing player elevates to dunk, they simply let him do so.  Nobody ever writes their “mid-air obituaries.”  They never look foolish on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Night.

In fact, SportsCenter’s Top 10 probably perhaps best captures the problem I am addressing.  How often on the Top 10 do you see some version of the following: “A monster dunk by Player X.  His team lost by 20 points” or “A monster dunk from Player X, but he had a rough night overall.  He shot 2-847 from the floor and had eleventy billion turnovers”?  If his team got crushed or he had a terrible game, why should we celebrate Player X’s monster dunk?  He had a bad night.  He did not help his team win.  He did not perform his job.  We are celebrating the momentary individual achievement over the team.  We are celebrating the meaningless over the valuable.

And in team sports, one of the most valuable attributes a player can have is defensive intensity.  It is no coincidence that NBA champions frequently have a player on their roster who is there for his defense.  Defense is fundamental to winning, and it’s fundamentals that should be celebrated.  Kobe Bryant best illustrates this point.  Bryant is a star because he is a prodigious scorer, but he is one of the greatest players of all time because of his fundamentals.  He is widely known as one of the league’s elite defenders.  Even his scoring is predicated largely on fundamentals, as he has one of the greatest mid-range games of all time.  This gets ignored.  Watch the Top 10 and tell me how many mid-range jump shots you see.

What I want is for us to celebrate consistent hard work and effort over a single flashy play; celebrate substance over style.  Bryant has his fundamentals because he is a notoriously obsessive worker. Likewise, defensive success is predicated mostly on tenacity.  Perkins, on that famous play, put forth effort and came up short.  There are countless plays, however, where Perkins’s effort will lead to success.  The Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the best teams in the league, one of the most complete teams in the league, and one of the favorites to at least reach, if not win, the 2012 NBA title.  Kendrick Perkins is a major reason why.

We should all approach work and life the way Perkins plays defense.  Work hard.  Be tenacious.  Make the most of the talents we have.  And when we see our personal Blake Griffin charging toward the hoop, have the courage to step in and try to stop him, even if we probably can’t.  Griffin’s dunk on Perkins should not be referred to as “postering” or a “mid-air obituary” or any other crime against the English language.  It should be referred to as a man, Perkins, working hard to do his job and, in one moment, failing to succeed.  Perkins should be praised, not mocked.  Regardless, I would imagine that, because Perkins is a professional, he has shaken off that night and that moment.  I would imagine he still plays defense with heart and without fear.  I hope so.  It’s a lesson that all of us can and should import into our own lives.  Here’s hoping the sports media find some cute terminology to promote that story, too.

– Jack Rollo

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