Leaving It On The Floor
I was never much into watching basketball. Why watch a sport I’d rather be playing? Sure, every once in a while I’d break down and catch a few games here or there, but for the most part I didn’t care unless it was the NCAA tournament or playoff basketball.
That all changed in high school.
Homework was a chore for me. Usually, I didn’t feel challenged, so I had to toss something on in the background to help concentrate. Since the Celtics weren’t that good, that usually meant I could throw them on in the background and work, looking up every few moments to catch a good shot or nifty pass flying across the screen.
Eventually, I developed into a fan. Unlike most kids my favorite player wasn’t the showboating, ballhogging Antwan Walker or the young and dynamic Paul Pierce. They were stars and I couldn’t care less. My favorite player was the hard working sixth man Walter McCarty.
Walter almost never started a game. Instead, he’d be brought in midway through to give someone else a rest. He might only play 10 minutes a game, but for those 10 minutes, I was rapt. Here was a guy who wasn’t good enough to be a star, but every time he was out on the floor, he was the hardest playing man on the court.
Paul Pierce and Antwan Walker had incredible skills, but most of the time they were on the floor, they were more interested in looking pretty than playing hard. Walter, however, would come on theat floor and throw his body around like his health was the least important thing about playing the game. He’d slide out of bounds after balls he had no chance at. He’d bump and grind against big men who were twice his size and could manhandle him easily. And, perhaps most iconically, he’d dunk the ball with such vigor it made my adrenaline pump just watching.
“I LOVE WAL-TAH!” the announcers would cream when he pulled off a great play. But no matter how much the announcers loved him–no matter how much I loved him–he was back on the bench only moments after he made it onto the floor.
Walter McCarty was everything I wanted in an athlete: hard-working, detail oriented, and a team player. He was the kind of guy you didn’t notice unless you were looking for him most of the time. And he remains, to this day, my favorite NBA player of all-time.
Watching the Celtics this year has been a revelation. Kevin Garnett has always been one of the hardest working players in the game, but because he wasn’t on the Celtics, I never really bothered to pay attention. With his arrival this year, the Celtics transformed into the championship team they are. It wasn’t necessarily his playing that did it, though that helped; it was his mentality.
Every Celtic player on the floor is out there every minute of the game giving it their all. Paul Pierce has become a great defensive player, running back after points to help stop the next shot. And it’s all thanks to this new mentality.
When I see the Celtics play, however, I don’t see Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen out there playing hard. I see Walter McCarty. In each and every one of them, I see Walter’s intensity, his drive, his desire.
I know Walter is no longer with the Celtics, but there is nothing that makes me happier than to see an entire team playing basketball the right way; the Walter McCarty way.