The Nice Guy Finishes First

A Pro's Pro, Anthony Parker, Wins the Austin Carr Good Guy Award
Anthony Parker
On Sunday afternoon, minutes before the Cavaliers took on the Magic at The Q, an annual award was handed out at center court.

There wasn’t a big ceremony. The award wasn’t presented by a corporate sponsor or some NBA muckety-muck. Even for the player who received it, the award might not wind up at the forefront of his trophy room.

The Austin Carr Good Guy Award – now in its seventh year – is given perennially to the Cavaliers player who is cooperative and understanding of the media, the community and the public. It’s voted upon and presented by the local chapter of the Pro Basketball Writers Association (PBWA).

This year’s well-deserving winner was Anthony Parker.

A.P. joins past winners: Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Damon Jones, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jamario Moon and Antawn Jamison.

For starters, the award itself is a bit of a misnomer. Austin Carr isn’t a good guy; he’s a great guy. With both media and fans, he continually represents the organization with class and aplomb. There’s a reason he’s known as Mr. Cavalier.

And secondly, it’s an award that honors a player for something that’s not valued in pro sports but should be: Simply being a good guy.

With the rise of social media and sports talk radio, we’ve become a stats-driven sports culture in which players who don’t have value for one’s fantasy team means they don’t have value. Bottom-line thinking is important in sports, but it’s tough to go a week without hearing a fan say something to the effect of: “You can put five serial killers out there, as long as we win the title.”

Conventional wisdom says that nice guys finish last; that there’s no room for the good guy in today’s cutthroat world of pro sports. Even casual hoops fans know who last year’s MVP and Rookie of the Year were. The J. Walter Kennedy Award has been around since 1975. Can you name the most recent winner?

(Here’s a hint: His name was Ron Artest when he won it.)

Anthony Parker has had, in effect, three professional basketball lives. He played three NBA seasons – with Philadelphia and Orlando – after being drafted 21st overall by the New Jersey Nets in 1997. He then spent six seasons in Europe – five with powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv – winning three European titles while being named Euroleague MVP twice.

Parker returned to the NBA in 2006, helping the Raptors make the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. After three seasons with Toronto, he signed as a free agent with the Cavaliers before the 2009-10 season.

In almost three years with the Wine and Gold, Parker’s averaged 7.7 points per game. And recently, he’s played his best ball of this season, averaging almost 14 points per contest, shooting at a 59 percent clip.

But A.P.’s value to the Cavaliers can’t be completely calculated by statistics. He’s been rock solid, starting 190 of the 197 games he’s played with Cleveland. He’s a strong, calming, consistent locker room presence – no small role considering the squad’s collection of youngsters and a spate of injury-induced roster changes.

The proverbial “locker room guy” is more important than the average fan thinks. Last year, the Cavaliers lost 26 straight games and they’re just two weeks removed from a nine-game skein.

A lesser locker room might have fractured, resorted to finger-pointing or gone through the motions. But the Cavaliers haven’t done that in either season. And you can point directly to two of its veteran pillars – not coincidentally last year and this year’s winner of the A.C. Good Guy Award.

This year’s Good Guy can talk politics and pop culture. He keeps it light in the pregame locker room, breaking chops with Kyrie Irving or Anderson Varejao. In the postgame locker room, win or lose, Parker can shift gears and patiently handle the hard questions – no matter how negative, invasive or just plain stupid they might be.

A.P. is the epitome of a true professional – a player the youngsters look to in good times and bad. He’s classy, composed and way cooler than he has to be.

Maybe this doesn’t register with fans. Maybe they’d rather have the serial killer starting five. But a team of knuckleheads lacking veteran leadership can easily sink a season and potentially poison the entire organization.

Media members can tell you that the overwhelming majority of players – at least in the Cavaliers locker room over the years – are great guys.

Sometimes, the guys who we portray as saints are complete jerks. And guys that are painted as villains are some of the best guys you’d meet in the business. I don’t like the way Carlos Boozer, Ricky Davis and LeBron James did Cleveland and the organization on their way out, but I’d be lying to say they weren’t decent guys to deal with.

In my nine years with the Cavaliers, I can name all the jerks I've covered on one hand, but don’t have enough room to include all the great individuals. Aside from the A.C. Awardees, some of the best include DeSagana Diop, Donyell Marshall, Ben Wallace, Ira Newble, Ramon Sessions, Darnell Jackson and the late Robert “Tractor” Traylor.

(And it's a crime that Boobie Gibson hasn't won the award during his tenure.)

Two former Cavaliers that I grew up idolizing – World B. Free and Walt Frazier – were as cool and classy in-person as I dreamed and hoped they would be.

All NBA players have skills and smarts on the floor. But not all of them have those same attributes off of it.

Anthony Parker – one of the team’s and the league’s true good guys – has both.