NBA Swag: Who Has It, Who Doesn't?
The word "swag" gets tossed around a lot when it comes to professional athletes, particularly NBA players.
The word means something a little different to everybody, but swagger is confidence, almost arrogance, when it comes to one's abilities. It's sheer bravado.
Again, it's a little different for everyone, but I've always looked at it like this: If you threw any NBA player into a random street ball game anywhere in the country, would he belong? Some players don't have the flash or the bravado to fit in. That's not a bad thing; it's just the way it is. They don't carry themselves in that way.
The question is, who does? Who in the league has swagger, and who doesn't? Let's find out.
Most Swag, No. 5: Kobe Bryant
This choice comes as no surprise to most NBA fans. Kobe Bryant has been one of the cockiest players in the league since his rookie year, but he's also been one of the best. He's always going to inspire some strong opinions one way or another, but no one would question his confidence.
The very thought of anyone else on the Los Angeles Lakers taking a last-second shot has become heresy, in large part because of Kobe himself. No one in the league trusts himself more.
He might be getting a bit long in the tooth, but that confidence will always remain.
Most Swag, No. 4: Kyrie Irving
If the whole “Uncle Drew” thing didn't seal Kyrie Irving's placement on this list, then his fourth-quarter heroics this year definitely did.
Irving has basically become automatic at the end of games. Just check out this game-winner against the Toronto Raptors. He genuinely looks bored out there. There's no stress, no anxiety.
He just dribbles up and takes the three because he knows that he's going to make it. It's like he thinks finishing the game is pointless because he'll always hit that shot. That's how it seems, anyway.
And that's called swagger.
Most Swag, No. 3: Paul Pierce
Boston Celtics fans have seen it countless times at this point.
The score is tied, or maybe Boston's down one or two with seconds left. Paul Pierce gets the ball and squares up against his man. He slowly dribbles down the clock and then fires a three with a hand in his face.
Swish. Game over.
And every time, Pierce finishes the sequence by jogging down the court laughing and shaking his head. It's like he's saying, “You knew it was coming. I knew it was coming. And there was no way you were going to stop it.”
Every single time.
Most Swag, No. 2: J.R. Smith
J.R. Smith would be the clear-cut No. 1 if not for a certain someone.
Smith has spent his entire career playing like he's in a street game, so the earlier street ball analogy fits pretty well. Smith has never seen a shot that he doesn't like. I picture his inner monologue during games to be something like this:
All right, J.R., you've got the ball. Good. You should always have the ball. Now I know you're double-teamed right now, but I really think that your best option would be to take a stepback fadeaway three with a hand in your face. You'll make it. Of course you will. You're J.R. Smith. Hmm, I wonder why Steve Novak is standing alone in the corner with his hands up. Does he want the ball or something? I'll have to ask him after the game. Right now, it's J.R. time.
The crazy thing is, Smith genuinely seems to think that every one of those shots will go in. It's confidence on a whole new level.
And when it works out, it's pretty spectacular.
Most Swag, No. 1: Jason Terry
The undisputed king. No one else comes close.
We could spend hours talking about how Jason Terry irrationally thinks that he'll make every big shot or how opposing teams' fans absolutely hate him strictly because of how cocky he is.
Or we could just talk about the fact that Terry got the Larry O'Brien Trophy (given to the winner of the NBA championship) tattooed on his arm before the start of the 2010-11 season.
It's one thing to predict a championship. It's another thing entirely to get that prediction tattooed on your body.
The fact that the Dallas Mavericks actually won the championship that year only serves to make things better.
Congrats, Jason, you're one of the all-time greats.
Brandon Jennings/Nick "Swaggy P" Young
The two toughest omissions. Both Jennings and Young are full of swag, no doubt. But both players are, like J.R. Smith, irrational confidence guys—they assume that every one of their (usually questionable) shots will fall.
Because Smith is, and probably always will be, the king of that category, Jennings and Young were passed over for other worthy candidates. It's no knock on them. Though the fact that Young takes his nickname so seriously is hilarious.
Almost made the cut until I realized that he's not so much full of swagger as he is crazy.
Least Swag, No. 5: Jeremy Lin/Landry Fields (tie)
Exactly what Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields are trying to do here may forever be a mystery.
But it's very, very uncool and definitely enough to make the list.
Least Swag, No. 4: Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan is a phenomenal player, and no doubt he's confident in his abilities. He's a two-time MVP, and he has four rings.
That'll do it.
But at the same time, Duncan might be the least cocky player in the league. Only one player in the league—Kobe Bryant—can match Duncan's career resume at the moment. LeBron James is closing in, but there's no one else.
Yet if you didn't know basketball, you'd never, ever guess that from the way that Duncan carries himself. You'd think he was just another role player. Humility obviously plays a part, but it goes beyond that.
Whether he's working on a triple-double or having one of the worst performances of his career, Duncan just wears a blank face.
Throw in the fact that he loves Dungeons & Dragons and has a tattoo of Merlin on his arm (per ESPN), and you're looking at a man with little swagger.
Least Swag, No. 3: Shane Battier/Mike Dunleavy (tie)
Mike Dunleavy and Shane Battier are fantastic role players and two of the more cerebral guys in the league. But they both recently forfeited any claim to swag that they may have had.
In early November, Battier told ESPN's Tom Haberstroh:
I’m undersized every night, but I like to think I’m quicker in the mind. If we’re playing Jeopardy, I like my chances against any power forward in the league. Print that.
Dunleavy soon rebutted Battier's claim, saying (via Fox Sports' Chris Tomasson):
I don’t know if he could beat Duke players. He probably could beat everybody else. I don’t think he could beat me. … I think what he meant to say is (Battier) can beat any player in the NBA besides any who went to Duke. I think Grant (Hill, also a Duke alum) could give him a run for his money.
The two traded a few more shots, all of which were Jeopardy!-related.
I have no idea who would win between Battier and Dunleavy, but I do know that Jeopardy! and swag are not at all related.
Least Swag, No. 2: Andrew Bogut
Andrew Bogut is one of the most entertaining players in the league, but his actions aren't exactly brimming with swagger.
It all boils down to one particular incident—the infamous air fives Bogut gave out when his teammates ignored him after a free throw.
Though it was one of the funniest things to happen on an NBA court in the last 10 years, it's also a surefire way to end up on this list. Nothing quite like giving yourself high fives at the free-throw line.
(Side note: Hopefully, Bogut has made better friends in the Golden State than in Milwaukee. By the looks of it, though, he hasn't.)
Least Swag, No. 1: Cole Aldrich
Generally, it would be tough to make this list without playing many NBA minutes, but doggone it, Cole Aldrich found a way.
When Aldrich was riding pine for the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, he made it a habit to do a high leg kick after every big Thunder bucket. It's one of the goofiest things you'll ever see a professional basketball player do. Here's some video evidence, just in case the picture alone doesn't do it justice.
Just a remarkable performance from a remarkable player—and something that firmly lands you at the No. 1 position on the “no swag” portion of this list.
Steve Novak's championship belt celebration is delightful, but I think even he'd have to admit that it's super nerdy.
If only because Darko Milicic belongs on all dishonorable mention lists.