Bono, Battier, and NBA Knighthood

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Bono, Battier, and NBA Knighthood

Building on yesterday's hackneyed Kanye West-David Stern-Stephen Jackson analogy, I figured we might as well make this a tradition. After all, it's September, and I just reported on Tyler Hansborough commercial. NBA news is slow. If Yahoo can do a top ten "feel good moments", I think I can compare Michael Jordan to Josef Stalin. (Kidding... his HOF speech wasn't that bad.) Anyway, at least until training camp starts, indulge me. Let's hear it for strained analogies!

Today's edition: Shane Battier. You may like him, you may love him, or you may lionize him (if you're Darryl Morey). Me? I absolutely HATE him. His ties to Duke basketball no doubt lie at the root of my enmity, but there's something else, too. It's just the way he carries himself. Like he's so... above it all. He reads books, you know. He can talk politics. In a world of Ron Artests, Shane Battier is our blissful counterpoint, the one dying hope for humanity. And he can shoot threes!

The perfect analog, obviously, is U2's Bono, who's real name is a decidedly less artistic Paul David Hewson. What is it about Bono that makes him so repulsive? Is it that he aids some of the poorest countries in the world? No no. That's commendable. Is it that he makes awesome, awesome music? Nope. That's not it, either. Truth be told, the problem with Bono is as ineffable as that of Battier. There's just something about him. Still, quotes like this don't help his cause:

"The job of art is to chase away ugliness," Bono says as he twists the ignition key of his Maserati Quattroporte. "So let's start with the roads. Cars are so ugly. America is supposedly the country that brought us the love of the automobile, yet they haven't produced a beautiful car in decades. Americans used to make feminine cars with a sense of humor, but now it's all SUVs. The Germans kind of picked up the slack for a while, but the Italians ultimately were the ones that took them on. But the Italians pick such arrogant names. Do you know what quattroporte means? Four-door. It means four-door." Bono laughs, and I pretend to understand why this is funny.

That's from Chuck Klosterman's fantastic profile of Bono from a few years ago. "The job of art is to chase away ugliness?" Good God. The pretense is suffocating, and yet, if Shane Battier were reading that, he'd almost certainly pause, reflect, and agree wholeheartedly. "I can totally see what Bono's alluding to," he might say with a furrowed brow, "and it's actually quite profound." No, it's not.

And true, Shane Battier has never been knighted like Bono, but last year's massive New York Times profile would have to be the equivalent, no? Michael Lewis, the famed author and metrics fetishist, called him the "No-Stats All-Star."

At the heart of his otherwise-excellent look at statistical analysis in the NBA is this revelation:

Here we have a basketball mystery: a player is widely regarded inside the N.B.A. as, at best, a replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars. And yet every team he has ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win.

Because Shane Battier is more than just the typical basketball player, you see. He studies film. He reads books. Darryl Morey calls him "the most abnormally unselfish player he's ever seen." He's the teammate you had that wasn't really that talented, but who always went the extra mile, always made the extra pass, and always managed to imply, by his mere existence, that everyone else was cut from a lazier, less-scrappy cloth.

He is basketball's Bono.

The above characteristics aren't always infuriating, though. That's where the Bono metaphor really crystallizes. There are plenty of players that work their ass off in the NBA. Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Chauncey Billups, Kobe Bryant--you might say these are the Bruce Springsteens of the NBA. Socially conscious, great at what they do, but far less oppresive about it. They do everything that Battier-Bono does, only they do it better, and with far less pretense.

Instead of saluting those players with similar deifying praise, however, we merely call them "great players." In the same way we call Bruce Springsteen "awesome." With these two, however, fans are forced to endure knighthood, nobel peace prizes, and stomach endless hyperbole.

Like this, from Bono himself, "U2 is an original species... there are colors and feelings and emotional terrain that we occupy that is ours and ours alone." Or Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel on Battier: "I thought he’d be the first black president. He was Barack Obama before Barack Obama." 

And with the allusion to Barack Obama, the ultimate symbol for sophistication and the socially conscious: it's official. He's not just a basketball player, folks. Shane Battier is the NBA's Bono. And gosh I detest him for it.

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