ERIC BLEDSOE AS CYCLOPS
Every great team needs a leader: that player who can galvanize his companions and lead them into the trenches through thick and thin. For some, leadership appears to be an innate quality; a characteristic embedded into their DNA from birth. But, as legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.” Leaders earn the respect of their peers through their dedication and sacrifice and their unwavering belief that failure can breed success.
For the X-Men, they found such a leader in Scott Summers (aka Cyclops). From a troubled youth, Summers overcame his past and learned to harness his power for good, and in doing so became the undisputed leader of the X-Men team. This season, the Clippers have found a Scott Summers of their own in the form of Eric Bledsoe, whose disciplined and dedicated work ethic have helped transform this point guard into a leader in the making.
PATH TO LEADERSHIP
Scott Summers came from a military background. As a kid, he lost his parents in a plane crash and survived the accident along with his brother, Alex, after his parents fastened them in a parachute and pushed them off the plane. After recovering from his injuries, Summers was sent to an orphanage in New York City where became a reserved youth who hid his emotions and eventually ran away from the foster care system. After some troubled times, Summers met Professor Charles Xavier, who saw in him a gifted youth who with the right training and guidance could become a leader and key contributor to the X-Men squad he was putting together.
For Eric Bledsoe, the role to becoming a leader has been one of trial and tribulations, much like that of Summers. The draft rights to Bledsoe were acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder on in 2010, and in his first season with the Clippers he appeared in 81 games, playing an average of 22.7 minutes per game. But, after the Clippers’ acquisition of Chris Paul prior to the start of the 2011-12 season, Bledsoe saw his minutes nearly cut in half, down to 11.6 per game. A torn meniscus also impacted his playing time as he was forced to sit out the first month of the lockout-shortened season. For some players, such a decrease in playing time in just their second season could be viewed as a precursor for things to come, but Bledsoe saw it as a learning opportunity.
Last July, Bledsoe joined the Clippers’ summer league team in Las Vegas for three games where he was asked to the team and improve his decision-making. It appears to have paid dividends so far this season. Bledsoe has seen his playing time jump to 20.9 minutes per game this year, and he is putting up career highs in both field goal percentage (44.1%) and 3-point field goal percentage (36.4%). In a way, Vegas was to Bledsoe what Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters was for Summers: a catalyst to helping them improve their game.
And, just as Summers had Xavier to help guide him on the path towards leadership, Bledsoe has had his own set of mentors that have helped in his growth. Earlier this season, Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro praised Bledsoe’s work ethic and attitude, but also talked about the development he’d like to see from his reserve guard. “I want him to feel the game, learn the game, dissect the game… understand when he makes a mistake, why, and try not to make it again,” Del Negro said.
In a recent one-on-one interview with Jeff Moeller of Game Time Magazine, Bledsoe himself acknowledged his need to slow down the game to improve his play, a sign of the young point guard’s maturation.
“When I say slowing the game down, that is a positive,” Bledsoe said. “I still play my fast-paced style but when the game slows down it allows you to see the little things – the right passes, where to lay the ball up. My first two years I was a little more out of control, I was still learning what to do.”
With the guidance of both Del Negro and teammates like Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul, there’s no telling what the future holds for Bledsoe.
Of course, what Summers’ Cyclops is perhaps best known for is his optic blasts, which he utilizes primarily in defensive situations. While the energy blast he emits from his eyes has the appearance of red light, it does not give off any type of heat signature, but rather a concussive force that can knock down opponents or cut through objects. His optic beam is so powerful that he was once able to knock Thor’s infamous hammer, Mjolnir, from his hand.
While Bledsoe may not be able to conjure up the same type of optic blast from his eyes that Summers can, he does possess a concussive blast of his own in the form of his blocks. Bledsoe has given us some highlight-worthy blocks already this season—just ask Dwyane Wade—but he’s not just a sporadic defender: he’s established himself as a defensive force on the perimeter for the Clippers and someone who can contest players attacking the rim.
Bledsoe currently ranks third on the team in blocks per game at 0.8, behind DeAndre Jordan (1.4 bpg) and Matt Barnes (0.9 bpg), a respectable feat for a 6-foot-1 point guard. Couple that with the fact that Bledsoe ranks second behind Chris Paul with 1.6 steals per game, and it is no wonder that has become one of the key X-factors to the Clippers’ success this season.
So, while Summers eventually became the undisputed leader of the X-Men, his ascension into the leadership role was one earned through hard work and discipline. Summers was an out of control young talent before he met Xavier, but his willingness to accept the tutelage of the professor turned him into the leader and defensive force he is known as. Like Summers, Bledsoe has learned to accept the guidance of his coaches and teammates to help slow the game down and improve his decision-making. Still only in his third year, Bledsoe, 22, is proving that he has what it takes to elevate his play and that of his team.
And, while Bledsoe’s relentless energy and playing style have already earned him such nicknames as “Mini LeBron” and “Baby Bron,” there’s one more nickname this guard will look to add to that list: leader.
Coming Soon: Matt Barnes as Wolverine.
Colin J. Liotta is the co-founder of the website The Sports Hero along with his wife, Bushra, and acts as the Editor-in-Chief. The website combines sports and comics into one place for fans of both genres. See more of Colin's work at www.thesportshero.com