During the closing seconds of the Chicago Bulls' 98-79 win over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, he had the ball. And though he stood just over center court, well out of three-point range, every fan in the United Center wanted him to take the shot. For if he drained it, not only would his team's scoring hit triple digits, but everyone in the arena would get a free Big Mac. Bulky in build, crimson of hair ... he is the man Bulls' TV analyst Stacey King has dubbed "the White Mamba." He is Brian Scalabrine.
I wrote about Scalabrine back in January, feeling an odd mixture of bemusement and embarrassment for the 32-year-old, 10-season NBA vet. Bulls fans have all-too-readily taken up the tradition started by Boston Celtics supporters of sarcastically cheering whenever he enters a game (almost always very late in the fourth quarter with his team well ahead.) At the time, I thought...
... you have to figure that, once the game is over and the crowd is gone and the cameras are off and maybe he's back home trying to get to sleep, his position somewhere just above Benny the Bull must gnaw at his soul a bit. Presumably, even slow-footed bench players have some pride.
Well, I'm feeling a little better about the White Mamba these days. It's taken me a little while to catch on to things -- I'm a little slow that way. But I think I've got Scalabrine figured out, and I don't think he's losing that much sleep after all.
You see, Brian Scalabrine isn't really a player anymore. Or should I say he's not just a player. He's more of a player-coach under Tom Thibodeau's regime. And just as Coach T probably wouldn't mind the whoops and hollers that would go up if he, inexplicably, stripped off his suit jacket and took a shot from the arc, Scalabrine doesn't either. He's got bigger things on his mind.
"Scalabrine, mark my words, will be an NBA coach, and a good one," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers earlier this week in an interview with ESPN 1000 radio's "Afternoon Saloon" crew. You have to figure Rivers knows Brian pretty well, having coached him for five seasons in Boston. And what the coach says makes complete sense.
Just watch Scalabrine courtside during any Bulls games. He's almost always the first guy off the bench for high-fives during a timeout and he's often visibly involved in plays -- making gestures and helping the team run plays. He's also reportedly very involved in practices.
Scalabrine didn't take that shot Tuesday night. And as he walked off the floor, he pounded his own chest and took the blame: "My fault, my bad." But he told reporters after the game that he felt guilty about keeping fans from a free McDonald's sandwich. So today he made things right: In a story that rippled across Twitter this morning, Brian promised to give away Big Macs and Coke Zero to the first 100 people who showed up and said his name to ESPN's Marc "Silvy" Silverman at the Rock 'n Roll McDonald's in downtown Chicago.
Clearly, the event was part apology, part radio promotion, but still ... the White Mamba is already working the PR game in his own favor. So, for the few of you who actually shared my sympathy for the guy back in January, don't feel bad for Scalabrine. He's got ambitions beyond the hardwood -- in a coach's office, and it looks like he's already got one foot in the door.