There's always a certain pride when you see one of your fellow countrymen making it on the world's biggest stage. In Australia, we generally aren't in short supply of successful athletes in most sports. However, there's a special place in our heart for those who take on the rest of the world and win. The spirit of the underdog, the battler, all are values we hold dear.
So it probably comes as no surprise to hear that, despite being a die-hard Golden State fan, I've somewhat adopted the Bucks as my second team ever since they drafted Andrew Bogut in 2005 (of course, one can question the logic of barracking for an equally-mediocre second team).
The two of us go way back, although I've never spoken to him and he probably doesn't even remember my face. Specifically, a game in 2002 where he was playing for the Australian Institute Of Sport against the Ballarat Miners in the South East Australia Basketball League, which is a semi-professional, second-tier competition in a country where basketball is essentially a minority sport. In short, the quality isn't brilliant.
My oldest brother was playing for the Miners at this time on a squad that was undersized, to put it kindly. So much so, in fact, that he was their starting center at 6'4". And he's no Charles Barkley.
Anyway, he was given the role of marking the much taller, gangly center for the AIS squad who had been their star, averaging something in the vicinity of 30-15-5 for the season. Even though Ballarat is a country town several hours from Sydney, I had made the trip with my other brother to watch the game, and we had gotten seats right under the bucket.
At first, this hotshot big man was a bit off, missing a couple of easy shots and letting my bro get a couple of offensive rebounds at the other end in succession. At this point, my brother and I decided to start the abuse.
Having grown up between West Oakland and the rougher suburbs of inner Sydney, attending football games with my uncle or rugby games on the hill with our neighbours, we were both quite skilled in the art of abusing professional athletes even at our then-tender age.
From then on, every time he touched the ball at our end we would start delivering insults that are basically unprintable (needless to say they almost all referred to his appearance, parentage and sexual preferences) and loud enough to be heard.
Eventually, after another couple of missed shots and a comment relating to his mother and a bush pig, he just picked up the ball and locked eyes with both of us. No glare or anger—just a stare.
He didn't miss another shot for the rest of the game.
Even a buzzer-beater three fell as he finished with something in the vicinity of 50 points and 20 rebounds. This even after we stopped the heckling halfway through the second quarter.
After the game, when we got a chance to chat with our bro we asked him what it was like to mark Bogut.
"It was like trying to mark a combination of Shaq and Michael Jordan."
In the early part of his career, when he struggled to make the transition to the NBA at first while others in his draft class (notably Chris Paul and Deron Williams) became stars of the league, the dreaded b-word began to get thrown around. I distinctly remember an article comparing him to Darko Milicic.
However, as I read this I remembered that game all those years ago. And then I knew that he would become a damn good NBA center.
He proved me right this year, where I was really surprised to see him miss out on an All-Star call up. Either way, averaging 15-10-4 isn't shabby in anyone's language. And while many are attributing the surge of the Bucks to Brandon Jennings and the trade deadline acquisition of John Salmons, if you don't believe that Bogut breaking out had as important a role towards their success you're a fool.
Now the talk has gone from calling him a straight up bust to saying, "Oh, sure, he may become a decent NBA center but he'll never be a star."
Take it from that 12 year old boy, critics—hating on Andrew Bogut is a one way ticket to being wrong.