While watching the Portland Trail Blazers' game Saturday in seats supplied to me by the legendary Harry Glickman family, a curious thought ran through my mind.
Why isn't LaMarcus Aldridge better known around the league, and furthermore, why isn't he more respected?
Sure, Aldridge just made his second All Star team. But in comparison to his contemporaries, he is vastly underrated.
Take a look at Aldridge's numbers. If the season were to end today, Aldridge would be averaging at least 20 points and eight rebounds per game for three straight seasons.
So why are those three guys household names, yet Aldridge is still floating largely in obscurity?
Location, Location, Location
Often referred to as the three rules of real estate, location plays a huge role in fame as well.
It is a fact that lesser players in larger markets usually are more famous than the reverse.
It's also why players like David West and Zach Randolph tend to be underrated despite better numbers than guys like Kevin Garnett and Bosh.
Portland is a wonderful town. You are less than two hours away from both the ocean, the mountains and the desert. The downtown area is green and beautiful, and the food is fantastic.
But it is not the largest town on the NBA landscape. In fact, few cities that have an NBA team are smaller. There aren't a ton of skyscrapers and to some it feels like a small city.
Additionally, Portland is on the West Coast. This means that most media outlets located in the East tend to be wrapping up coverage before the Blazers tip off. In fact, most newspapers further East rarely have the box score on their daily sports page.
Location explains some of it, but not everything. The Lakers are on the West Coast as well and are the league's most covered team. Even the Seattle Supersonics enjoyed a ton of coverage in the 1990s and saw Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton become household names despite playing in the Pacific Northwest.
Lack of Star Power
Aldridge is a fantastic player, but not a flashy one. His game is not played above the rim; rather, he relies on excellent perimeter shooting and a much-improved low-post defensive game.
He scores, but he doesn't score in bunches. Despite scoring over 20 points per game in each of the last three seasons (obviously including this one), he only has scored 30 or more points 18 times in that stretch. He's only topped 40 points twice.
You won't see many 40-point games, but you also won't see many games of less than 10 points. He's only had seven in the last three years, including just one in each of the past two seasons.
Aldridge scores about the same amount of points every game and gets about the same amount of rebounds.
He also durable, missing only 12 games in the last three years.
That being said, his numbers are much better than a player with a nearly identical game to a player who called Portland home a decade ago.
Rasheed Wallace enjoyed his best stretch statistically as a professional from 2001-03 when he averaged between 18-19 points per game to go along with between seven and eight rebounds.
Wallace was well-known around the league and went on to play in four All-Star games despite playing nearly his entire career in small markets.
So why was Wallace well known and Aldridge is still relatively anonymous?
Not A Lot of Help from His Friends
During Aldridge's tenure in Portland, he has played alongside really only one legitimate All-Star: Brandon Roy.
Roy was one of the top shooting guards in the league before persistent knee injuries sidelined his career. In fact, some claimed that Roy was the second-best shooting guard in the league behind Kobe Bryant during his prime.
Yet Roy himself was not an overly well-known commodity amongst average NBA fans, despite great numbers and fame at home. Additionally, Aldridge was just starting to develop his game when Roy was still tearing it up, meaning that the overlap between these two players playing at their best was brief and not enough to get into the minds of most NBA fans.
Other than Roy, Aldridge has mainly played with average to moderately above-average talent. Now this doesn't explain fully why he isn't more famous, but it separates him from guys like Wallace and Kemp who played with other big names.
Winning Isn't Everything, but...
The best and most logical reason why Aldridge isn't more famous is that he hasn't played a lot of winning basketball.
The Blazers are playing .500 ball this year and were a lottery team last year. In his six NBA seasons prior to this one, the Blazers have made the playoffs only three times. Not once have they made it out of the first round.
Obviously this is not entirely Aldridge's fault, but it does explain a lot of why he can't get his proper dues.
Big market teams will always draw a lot of media and national interest due mainly to the size of their fanbase. But they aren't the only teams that receive a lot of media exposure.
The Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs were two of the winningest teams of the last decade, and both received plenty of exposure. Their starting lineups were littered with All-Stars and they were routinely featured in prime-time games on big networks.
Earlier in that decade the Blazers and Sacramento Kings were each big-name teams that received lots of exposure and enjoyed plenty of All-Star berths. Both teams played in small markets.
However, both teams won plenty of games.
In the 1990s, the Pistons, Utah Jazz and Blazers were all teams that had players that were household names despite playing in some of the smaller markets. All of these were winning programs.
The Path to Fame
It seems that the easiest way for Aldridge to become better known around the country is simply to win more games.
Obviously this is easier said than done, but it also should help restore some faith in fair play and the idea that all teams have a chance to have equal footing with the big boys.
Sure, teams from cities like New York and Los Angeles will always get plenty of coverage, but it is nice to know that teams from cities like Portland and Detroit can also get some acclaim.
When teams get more coverage, their stars also get more coverage. This allows players that may not be flashy to still gain recognition. This is why Tim Duncan and Karl Malone are considered to be among the best power forwards in league history, despite playing nearly their entire careers in small markets and having less-than-flashy offensive games.
Aldridge may never gain the acclaim that he certainly deserves, but it should be comforting to fans to know that there is a path that could lead to that fame.
It just so happens to coincide with the success of the team as a whole.
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