Brian Scalabrine is a retired professional basketball player who spent about a decade bouncing from team to team as a marginal contributor. Other than being tall, his physique is decidedly non-athletic: doughy, lubmering, white, maybe even pasty. During his NBA career and especially throughout his stint in Boston, he became a fan favorite for being sort of an everyman on a professional sports franchise, a couch potato in a uniform. Think Philly Phanatic if he was actually on the Phillies. This made it all the more enjoyable when he buried a clutch outside shot in a crucial situation. Scal could hurt you in a big spot. Over the years, his jovial reputation grew and people started to actually see him as a schlub. To his credit, Scalabrine took it well.
Until he retired. It appears that after retirement, fans continued to see Scalabrine as more of a mascot than a professional athlete of the highest caliber. They even challenged his athletic prowess loudly and publicly. The ever gracious Scalabrine accepted the challenge which paved the way for the Toucher & Rich’s ‘Scallenge’ recently held in Boston. Four of Boston’s finest young athletes were hand selected to play Scalabrine in a game of one-on-one to 11 points. Four of Boston’s finest young athletes had no idea what was in store for them.
Brian Scalabrine beat all four challengers by a combined score of 44 to 6.
44 to 6.
Two of the challengers didn’t even score a single basket. The last player, who played division 1 at Syracuse, lost by a score of 11 to 4 and that was Scalabrine’s fourth consecutive game of the day. If it wasn’t so funny, it would have been sad.
These four opponents, and many many more who didn’t make the cut, actually thought they could beat a professional athlete at his own game. Even the worst professional athlete is better than 99.99% of the general population (that’s one in 10,000 which is still probably too high). These four challengers (“Scallengers?”) didn’t even play professional basketball in Europe or D-League in the States yet they thought they could defeat an accomplished 10-year NBA veteran? Scalabrine isn’t even old. He JUST retired and he’s 34. If he was still in the Association, he would be younger than Jason Kidd, Manu Ginobli, Kurt Thomas, the entire NY Knicks roster, and Steve Nash. In Scalabrine’s world, his opponents aren’t even rec league worthy.
I have no doubt that the challengers are good basketball players – there’s some evidence in the video. They are probably the best in their playground, high school team, YMCA, or church league. They were probably told how great they are by their friends, colleagues, girlfriends or wives (or both?). But at the end of the day, they aren’t professionally good. By “professionally good,” here’s what I mean: Brian Scalabrine probably played basketball every day for 6 hours a day from the age of 12. During that 22 year span, he played the best basketball players in the world for 6 hours a day for 22 years – first at USC then in the NBA. He was coached by the best coaches in the world for 6 hours a day for 22 years. Scalabrine was obssessed with basketball to an unhealthy degree for 22 years. If you factor in that he is white and not particularly athletic, he was probably told by many that he had no chance of going pro yet through sheer force of will, he carved out a 10-year NBA career. For 22 years, Brian Scalabrine displayed a relentless determination that most of us cannot comprehend. And so, when Joe Schmo from Framingham thinks he can beat Brian Scalabrine because he won his YMCA rec championship last week, Scalabrine got mad. I would be mad too. Joe Schmo has no idea what good is.
The reason this silly little one-on-one tournament resonates with me is because it is a glimpse into how we think as a society. We constantly feel good about our status as a nation and we tell our kids how great they are at everything. As a high school math teacher for two years, I met students who honestly felt they were going to do the following: professional baseball player (2), professional baskebtall player (2), PGA tour pro (2), Olympic athlete (1). The youngest of that group is now 22 and suffice to say, I do not know any professional athletes. One of the would-be baseball players didn’t even remain on his college team.
Meanwhile, across the globe, a whole generation of Brian Scalabrines are obsessively gearing up to eat our lunch (sorry Brian). While we sit around and pat ourselves on the back for being the greatest nation on the earth, the other nations are destroying our children by every educational metric. It’s an oft-cited statistic that while our kids struggle internationally in math and science comparisons, they lead the way in self-esteem. One day our children will grow up and so will the children around the globe. And when the time comes that they are challenged, many of them will respond like Scalabrine and show people what good really is.
I have never met Scalabrine and I am not an elite athlete but I bet I know this about him: no matter how good he was, he never felt he was good enough. If he did, he might have lost a one-on-one game 44 to 6.