Few people will know and fewer have noticed but there’s few gentlemen agreements occurring during NBA games. Most of them will go unnoticed, but some will got us thinking: was that on purpose? Was that a thing?
As I was reading my colleague Yaron Weitzman from Bleacher Report piece “A Gentleman’s Guide to the NBA: When Players Agree to Take Plays Off”, few questions were raised. Is that really a thing? Does players really take some plays off?
On his latest piece, Yaron brought light to the gentlemen agreement subject in the NBA that takes place every now and than during free-throws. Usually a veteran will ask a younger blood if he’s going for the rebound and every now and than, both players, from opposing teams, will take a rest, at least from that rebound dispute, and save themselves from some bumps and bruises. Sounds strange. I know. But it happens. More often that one could expect.
“Sometimes you just feel like resting”Amir Johnson, Philadelphia 76ers center, told Yaron, about those infamous rebounds disputes. “Z-Bo does that a lot.” Johnson said about Zach Randolh, who plays for the Sacramento Kings. “You going? What we doing? We going to wrestle or take a break?” is used frequently.
“Everybody does it”, Greg Monroe, Boston Celtics big man added. “It’s just one less play you have to worry about bumping a knee or something like that.”
Free-throw league average is above 70%, so I can see why it’s easy to take a rebound-dispute-off. However, these guys are being payed millions of dollars. Not thousands. Millions. And fans, as coaches, expect full commitment all the time. Fans miss guys like Nate Thurmond, Elvin Hayes, Dennis Rodman, Wes Unseld, Dave Cowens. The soul guys. The I’ll-leave-it-all-on-the-court kind of guys. There was no days-off with those guys. Those generations didn’t know what gentleman’s agreements were.
All these agreements about taking plays off made me think about this year’s all star weekend game, where finally we could see some competitiveness and effort being displayed by the stars like back in the days when previous generations played and agreements were only a terminology of politicians.
Most guys admit they do rest on free throw rebounds once in a while as it’s exposed in Yaron’s piece. Jordan Bell, Nikola Jokic, Kevin Garnett, Zach Randolph to name few, do it. Garnett is retired now but everyone else on that piece is probably still doing it.
In a league that was first ran by bigs, every rebound used to be a battle. A matter of pride. Sometimes a single rebound would be like a statement. Same powerful and meaningful as a dunk. Remember how Rodman used to kick the air with his feet while grabbing a rebound? Remember how Alonzo Mourning used to grab the ball and stick his elbows out, sometimes right in front of opponents faces? I know and I acknowledge the NBA did a great job to erase those kind of moves. After all, those are considered as taunting but concomitantly there was some toughness in that. I might be wrong, but I don’t believe those guys were up to backing way from a single rebound. Well, maybe David Robinson. He was such a nice guy, he would probably do it if you’d ask him nicely.
When asked about this, Philadelphia 76ers Australian rookie Ben Simmons gave a unexpected answer. “You should be playing hard every time you step on the floor,” Simmons told Yaron. “Guys get paid to rebound. You don’t know if the ball’s not coming to you. When someone says that, or that they’re not really picking me up full-court, I know I got you.” And then he added: “They ask me if I’m going, and I usually say ‘No’ then I go for the rebound. Maybe after that they learn their lesson.”
I understand the importance of gentleman’s agreements and secret codes of conduct, on society as sports, like not stealing the ball on the last possession of the game if the score differential is on double digits. Those kind of gentlemen agreements, ok, I understand.
Some players even admitted that sometimes they do rest on rebounds however they still got to pretend to be fighting for it because of nowadays ultra microscope era, and because of team’s film sessions too. No one wants to be singled out and be exposed. “Sometimes there are guys that come up and are like, ‘Relax, I’m doing it for the coaches,'” Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie told Yoran what players use to tell him when this kind of situations occur.
I’m no one to judge. After all, we all take a rest once in a while on our jobs, so why shouldn’t athletes be allowed to do it? Because they make millions, I know. But still. We should know better. We should know these kind of situations take place in every workplace. So next time you’ll see a young blood fading away from a free-throw rebound during a Tuesday night game transmitted on a NBA TV, don’t judge him. Maybe he’s just being respectful to an opposing team vet. Maybe he’s just being a true gentleman. We all are willing to be a gentleman if the right circumstance will come to us. Well, I mean… all but Ben Simmons. He wants nothing to do with that.