A few sentences from the normally silent Erick Dampier, and the entire basketball world gets bent out of shape.
“Every time he drives the lane, we have to put him on his back,” Dampier said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “The first foul has to tell him he’s in for a long night.”…”My first foul Thursday night is going to put him on his back,” Dampier said. “I guarantee it.”
Dampier had every right to be upset in himself and his teammates after their performance in Game 2. I’d challenge you to find me any professional athlete who wouldn’t be a little peeved after the way Tony Parker emasculated the Mavs’ defenders. It was embarassing, and the players expect more of themselves on this level. But what makes this quote newsworthy: the fact that Dampier is obviously apalled at team’s play and intends to play physically, or that he openly explained his intentions to knock Parker to the hardwood?
Throughout Erick Dampier’s career, there have been calls for him to play with more physicality and with more intensity. We see passion when he throws down a tip dunk, but rarely see that inspiration when he’s fighting for his defensive position or boxing out. I do believe the effort is there, but Damp’s inability to find consistent success in this league stems from that missing inspiration. In theory, I see these comments as an outlet of sorts for the type of emotional investment that has long been demanded from Dampier. He isn’t a thug. If anything, Damp is frequently accused of the opposite; he’s just a big cuddly teddy bear.
That’s why the underlying sentiment hasn’t been critiqued so much as Damp’s methods. The comments themselves were a bit uncalled for, if only because they served no purpose aside from macho posturing. Telling Tony Parker you’re going to floor him won’t make him shake in his boots, not in a league where the offensive player is traditionally protected. As useless as his comments were, Dampier provided the Spurs with a little something for the bulletin board, and he provided the league office with a telescope focused on solely him. Every move that Dampier makes will be scrutinized, and even the most meaningless of hard fouls may be blown out of proportion due to a thoughtless blown fuse.
I thought Damp’s intentions were pretty clear: don’t allow any easy buckets. Apparently, his quote actually reads as an emotional breakdown in which he openly threatens Parker’s personal safety, that of his loved ones, and possibly the national security at large. The playoff hype machine took this one and ran with it. Yesterday at practice, Damp had a chance to clarify what was said, and he did so without compromising his intent to defend with a little more tenacity:
“It’s just the game of basketball,” Dampier said after practice today. “It wasn’t said with the intent to go out and hurt anyone. Fouls happen in the game of basketball. We want to shut down the lane and not give him any easy layups.”
Nothing personal there. Nothing malicious. Hell, there isn’t even any action. All of this commotion over words, words, words. Just think about that. Maybe Dampier goes through with his threat (unlikely), or maybe he doesn’t. But can’t we wait until the game comes and goes before we make our judgements, hurl our accusations, and mount our high horses?