By NBA TV's Rick Kamla
March 10 -- You all know how much I love the triple-double, but nothing in the fantasy game gives me a charge like my guys playing hurt.
What's cooler than coming into a game with your dude listed as a game-time decision and having him come correct? You tune into the broadcast hoping the announcers will give you any kind of a tidbit on your banged-up soldier, and then they go through the starters...and there's your boy, in the starting lineup, gutting it out. Your confidence is rewarded with the start, but now the question becomes, how effective can he be on one leg? You love the answer. Dude hobbles around and nets a double-double with two and two on the D, helping you win the week. To me, injury success stories are the greatest part of fantasy basketball.
Freaks, I don't mean to sound insensitive, but playing hurt is the way it should be.
That's the way it was back in the day, when Bill Walton and Kevin McHale would be running around on no legs, still giving all they had, and still helping their teams win championships. You had warriors like Michael Jordan playing at zero percent (stomach flu) and still dropping 38 on the Jazz in 1997 Finals and Isiah Thomas scoring 25 points in the third quarter of Game 6 of the 1988 Finals despite a severely sprained ankle. Nowadays, you have Shareef Abdur-Rahim playing with his jaw wired shut and Chris Paul missing one game with a torn ligament in his right thumb.
That's the way it is on the schoolyard or backyard or streetball courts where turned ankles are nothing more than a speed bump on the way to holding the court.
That's the way it is at work -- if you have any work ethic at all. You don't call out with the sniffles. You just don't do it. You take some cold medicine and you press on. I could make exceptions for ultra-colds like mono or pneumonia or even bronchitis, but if you call out with a cold, you are not working hard enough. Period.
Conversely, calling out with a stomach flu is not only acceptable -- it's the righteous thing to do. I don't know about you freaks, but I'd rather do the work of two pukers than have them come to work and infect me (and others) with the bug that makes you so miserable you want to die.
Fortunately, the NBA is loaded with warriors who don't look at illness or injury as justification for a night off. And these same warriors bring 100 percent effort -- and sometimes more -- every single night. It's one thing to play hurt, but when you merge the warrior with the combo platter of statman and winner, it vaults you from great to legendary.
That's how you be like Mike, The Greatest Ever.
[Editor's note: The NBA's top warriors are ranked according to likelihood of playing hurt and percentage of 100-percent games.]
10. Chris Paul, Hornets: We might as well get it started with the baddest little dude to enter the league since Allen Iverson was drafted No. 1 overall back in 1996. In addition to playing through the major thumb injury -- to his right hand, Paul missed only three games with rib and shoulder injuries that now have him wearing a flak jacket for the rest of the season. For the next decade or so, Paul will be a first- or second-round pick because he'll give you 20-5-10 with two-plus steals and zero DNPs. Like Gary Payton back in his heyday, Paul will live in the 80s in terms of games played because he's an animal.
9. Steve Nash, Suns: Well, we saw it again on Thursday, didn't we? The Suns losing another game without their starting point guard and the Spurs sending another clear message to a Western Conference playoff team. According to an online game log, the Suns were 2-5 last season sans Nash. Add in Thursday's loss to the Spurs -- which was never in doubt -- and the Suns are playing .250 ball without Nash since he arrived for a second tour of duty in the Valley. The stats back up my assertion that Nash is the League's most indispensable player. It's ironic, but the Suns' scattered play without Nash just helps his case for a second straight MVP. As for playing hurt, Nash is one of those guys who plays when he can play. There are no games off for Steve Nash. If he misses a game, he is significantly injured. Hopefully that isn't the case with his most recent ankle sprain.
8. Tim Duncan, Spurs: Duncan has developed plantar fasciitis in his foot and it won't be going away any time soon. Basically, Duncan is playing on one leg because he's a highly motivated athlete, but also because he knows the reward for such bravery. He adjusts his game to compensate for the injury, but maintains a Hall of Fame level. You know what else makes Duncan a warrior? Winning three Finals MVP awards. To pull off that hat trick, you need the triple threat of warrior, winner, and statman, which is why Duncan has passed by great on his was to legendary.
7. Kobe Bryant, Lakers: Every player on this list lives and dies with wins and losses, but no one takes a loss any harder than King Kobe the 8th. There are a lot of things I don't like about Kobe, but I recognize the insatiable hunger for wins, which is a big part of being a warrior. And though Kobe has played in the 60s in four of the past six seasons, he has started 60 of 62 games for the Lakers this season, with the two absences coming via suspension. Kobe's in such a zone right now, mentally and physically, it would take a major injury to derail him.
6. Allen Iverson, 76ers: Iverson's toughness is so legendary, I felt compelled to create the Allen Iverson Memorial Warrior of the Week Award in his honor. It is now my favorite bit on the fantasy show. (By the way, Caron Butler is the reigning Warrior of the Week for playing through the flu and sprained ankle last week. That's mafia toughness.) Freaks, for my money, Iverson and Brett Favre are tied for toughest athlete in the world. During the preseason, AI was diagnosed with chondromalacia in his right knee, yet he has started 56 of 60. In addition to being a warrior, Iverson is a winner's winner. His team may not always get the win, but he'll give 100 percent 100 percent of the time. And word is, he was very hard on himself about the USA's bronze medal performance in Athens. Freaks, there are snubs, and then there's getting Iversoned.
5. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks: Dirk has turned an ankle and stayed in the game so many times, I'm getting spoiled. When he left in the third quarter with a rolled ankle the other night, I didn't even worry about him. Once again, he returned to rock the fourth with double digits points in another Mavs' victory. Dirk is so competitive, he refuses to let injuries keep him off the court. Earlier this year he suffered a wrenched back and looked like a 70-year-old as he left the court? Remember that? He played in the next game, and dropped 23 & 16 on Philly. Dirk will start breaking down eventually -- everyone does -- but at 27, he's in the prime of his career and we can expect at least four more years of terrific attendance.
4. Paul Pierce, Celtics: Correct me if I'm wrong, but Pierce was born to play basketball. You have some dudes in the league who are legitimate players, but could take or leave the sport. Darius Miles comes to mind. And then you have those who were tabbed by (insert Higher Power here) to play ball at a Hall of Fame level. Pierce is a baller who loves to play ball, and that's why he never misses a game. That's why he never mails in a game. Let me take you back to September of 2000 when Pierce got stabbed eight times outside a nightclub. About five weeks later, Pierce started the season on time and played all 82 games. If the guy could shrug off multiple knife wounds, why wouldn't he play on a sprained ankle? Pierce, who has played in the 80s in four of the last five seasons, is a pleasure to own because he's as productive as he is durable.
3. LeBron James, Cavaliers: You saw it again on Tuesday night against the Raptors, when LeBron landed on a foot in the first half. He shot only 5-of-17 in the game, but finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists, and led the Cavs to their third straight victory. On the way to his epic 43-12-11 triple-double, LeBron lived through a knee-caving collision with Eric Snow. But of course, LeBron regenerated himself and pressed on with the seriousness of the Terminator. LeBron won't sleep until he raises the Larry O'Brien trophy above his head, and the fantasy world is the beneficiary of that quest.
2. Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves: Freaks, KG has been playing on a bad knee for a couple years now, and it's only a matter of time before that starts to take its toll. But at 29, time is still on KG's side. Karl Malone didn't start sliding until his 18th season, and KG and Malone have a lot in common (warriors, stat-sheet stuffers, questionable in clutch), so the former MVP should have at least seven mega seasons left. For the doubters out there, KG's recent rebounding rampage -- in which he just turned in back-to-back 21-rebound games -- should prove that there's still plenty of life remaining in his "6-11" frame. Again this year, KG will start 80-plus games, give the basketball world 80-plus 100-percent games, and probably pull off a seventh-straight 20-10-5 season -- provided he hikes his dimes from 4.3 a game.
1. Shawn Marion, Suns: You may be surprised to see Marion leading this list, but don't make the mistake of chocking up his streak of five seasons with 79-plus games to luck or good health. Marion clearly has been blessed with both of those (as well as the most eclectic and electric combination of skills in the league), but he's also had to overcome injuries. I can remember a game against the Jazz in which Marion was dumped harshly to the floor on dirty play by John Starks. It would have taken most guys at least one game to find their vacated teeth, but Marion played and played well the next game. He's kinda like Favre in that his inbred toughness acts almost as a deterrent against injury. In other words, he's so tough (and elastic), he can't even get hurt. Like The Matrix, you just can't explain the force of nature that is Shawn Marion.