Boom! A sudden bolt of lightning struck the Quicken Loans Arena last Tuesday, as the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted the Chicago Bulls in the Quarterfinals of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The crowd however, was not shocked by this sudden, abrupt occurrence, because the immediate energy came in the form of the eccentric-haired center Anderson Varejao. The same thing occurred miles away and a mile higher in Denver as Chris (Birdman) Andersen checked into the game.
Across sixteen cities in the nation, players of the same role place a huge impact on their respective teams. These bolts of energy come off the bench and instantly add a buzz to the team, providing unmatched energy and creating plays that others can't. Players like Varejao and Andersen can often be seen sprawling on the floor, giving and receiving elbows, soaring for blocks, and stealing commanding rebounds. They are especially helpful when they check in for an older, less versatile player such as Shaq in Cleveland.
Varejao simply looks the part of a mad-scientist-turned-basketball-player. His wild, curly hair flops around on the top of his skull. It, along with his enthusiasm and desire to win, makes him a fan favorite. In Cleveland's 4-1 first round route of Chicago, the 6-11, 260 lb. Brazilian led all big men in rebounds, and was third on the team behind LeBron James and Antawn Jamison. His efficiency rate was +9.6, well above average for bench players.
In the Mile High City, “The Birdman”, Chris Andersen is the most popular bench player in the NBA. Last season, his No.11 jersey outsold all other Nuggets, including Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. The tattooed and Mohawk supporting Andersen pumps up the crowd with every step he takes and gets them on their feet with every block. He isn’t the biggest offensive threat, but give him a step, and Mr. Spalding will get slammed through the rim. Players such as these two give their teams an extra advantage, especially come Playoff time, when every move matters and teams need guys sprawled over each other going for a loose ball.
Elsewhere in the basketball world, players such as Chicago’s Joakim Noah, Dallas’ Brandon Bass, Boston’s Kendrick Perkins, and Milwaukee’s Luc Mbah a Moute can attribute much of their success to their energy. Many of these players also have distinct hairstyles, which they probably cannot attribute to their success.
Last season, Los Angeles received large contributions from Trevor Ariza, an energy player that contributed greatly to the Lakers en route to an NBA Championship over Orlando. His late-game defensive heroics, hustle, rebounds, and clutch points, all pushed LA over the top.
Though the home fans hold these players in high esteem, they are among the most hated players by opposing fans.
"When (opposing) fans boo you, you're doing something bad to their team. That means I'm helping my teams get wins," said Varejao.
And in the Playoffs, opposing fans bring out the boos much more frequently. Take the Bucks-Hawks series for example. In Milwaukee, the fans harassed Josh Smith like a lion to his prey. Unlike Smith, guys who understand their role to bring energy can turn this into another large swig of Gatorade.
If you turn on your TV sets and tune them in to the current Playoff game (they’re always on!), chances are that you will see a scrappy bolt of energy diving after a loose ball or getting cut and elbowed for a rebound. In Cleveland, “Shaq Diesel” will remain the starter and rightfully so. But when they can give Superman a breather and put the Energizer bunny on steroids in, the Cavs are that much closer to an NBA Championship.