The Last Word with Lang Whitaker - Mike Bibby is "old school"
Lang Whitaker is many things - executive editor of Slam Magazine, a contributor for NBA TV, a book author, and most importantly, a die-hard Hawks fan. After starting 2-for-2 in pushing the Hawks into the postseason, he's back for his third season in 2009-10 to share his thoughts on the team exclusively for Hawks.com. Check back every Thursday throughout the season to read his latest musings, and read him every day at www.SLAMonline.com
"old school" is a State of Mind
by Lang Whitaker
Spend any time around Mike Woodson, and you'll hear him reference the phrase "old school." That's lowercase "old school," not uppercase, and that's an important distinction. The latter, of course, references a new school comedy film from a few years ago (e.g. You're my boy, Blue). The former, the phrase Woody frequently drops, is more a state of mind. According to urbandictionary.com, old school is "anything that is from an earlier era and looked upon with high regard or respect. Can be used to refer to music, clothing, language, or anything really."
Such as basketball. And in Woody's case, we're talking about basketball. Guys who bang inside, who take hard fouls, who are fundamentally solid, these guys are generally referred to as old school. I do not consider myself old, but as the years go on, I've started to develop a deeper and deeper appreciation for the old school, guys like Rasheed Wallace, who still treats his bad knee by wrapping it with an Ace bandage. Guys like our own Joe Smith, who doesn't have the athleticism of an Al Horford, but always is in the right place at the right time. These guys can't leap over people, but they get the job done.
More recently -- just over the past few weeks, to be honest -- I've come to appreciate Mike Bibby more than ever before. I don't know why it's taken me so long to realize and embrace it, but Mike Bibby is old school. He's wrapped head to toe in braces and bandages. I've never seen him dunk as a Hawk. And yet our dude abides, giving opponents a steady diet of guile and savvy play. As his career has ticked along and his body has slowly started to fail him, at least from the player he was with the Kings back in the day, Bibby has been forced to rely more and more on years of accumulated knowledge.
There's a certain grace to that. I like unbridled athleticism as much as the next sports fan, but I can also appreciate the cerebral nature required to play the game -- and excel at the game -- when you're floor-bound. I suppose I also find myself more and more appreciative of what Bibby brings because the less athletic he becomes, the more he plays like I would hope to play if I was in an NBA game, relying on knowledge instead of physical power.
Last year I wrote about how Mike Bibby getting playing time was often a case of diminishing returns. We needed him on the floor for his offense, almost despite his defense, and his value was completely tied on a nightly basis to his ability to make his sure his offensive contributions outweighed his defensive retributions. The Hawks always seem to try and find ways to hide Bibby on defense, because other teams try to isolate against him. He can't go 40 minutes a night, but that's why we have Joe and Jamal and Teague ready to back him up.
Bibby's contributions can't be measured only in plus/minus stats and box scores. One Hawks player told me that when Bibby arrived, "He brought swag to the team. He knew how to play, how to win, how to play in the Playoffs. We really needed that leadership." Do I wish the Hawks had a point guard who could zip and zoom all over the floor? Sure. A Derrick Rose or Rajon Rajon or Chris Paul would be awesome. But what we have is Mike Bibby.
And in the end, maybe that will be just fine.
Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes throughout the week at SLAMonline.com. Also, catch Lang every Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. on NBA TV's "The Beat." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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