When you’re a young kid, there are a million things you think are cool. You’re into whatever the fad of the week is. If you’re a child of the late ‘80s you fell in love with Alf, Pong, parachute pants and maybe even New Kids on the Block. That is if you had really poor taste. It’s rare that any of these infatuations stick with you for a lifetime, though.
For me, only two of my late ‘80s obsessions lasted into adulthood. One is the Phoenix Suns — which as you can tell, also became my profession — and the other is a love for Bruce Springsteen music. The latter was thanks to a father who would drop the needle of the record player (the precursor to the CD player and distant cousin to the iPod for you youngins) on one of the Boss’ many brilliant works of art every free moment we had in the house on a weekend.
There have been very few times in life that the two have crossed paths. That was until the other night while watching Luis Scola play.
For years I never understood the lyric in the song “Thunder Road,” where the New Jersey rocker describes the object of his affection by saying “You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright.” The line always seemed like an unnecessary insult being directed towards someone he genuinely enjoyed being around. Throughout the years, I asked various people, including my wife, if they’d be insulted by being described that way. Most responded with an emphatic, “yes.”
While watching Scola play versus Minnesota and Oklahoma City recently, the turn of phrase all of a sudden made perfect sense. His low-post game ain’t a beauty, but hey, it’s alright.
It’s not an insult as much as a badge of honor. Despite not having the most attractive, high-flying athleticism in the game, Scola gets the job done with a interesting and engaging combination of earth-bound aerobatics. He performs Cirque du Soleil moves that all take place with two feet on the ground. It’s the most creative scoring you’ll see from a guy who couldn’t put the oop after an alley.
“You still can’t quite figure it out as a defender,” Scola’s coach Alvin Gentry said of his offense. “That’s kind of been his trademark since he’s come into the league. He’s had 40-point games. He can get things going. He can shoot the ball well. He is a real smart player that does a lot of great things.”
Like most Suns fans, I hadn’t watch Scola on a regular basis before this season. When only seeing him on a limited basis, you can’t truly appreciate the intricacies of his game: the pivot-foot ballet that takes place in the paint on a nightly basis.
It’s not just people who haven’t seen his game regularly that are impressed, though. Point guard Goran Dragic, who spent time with Scola in Houston prior to teaming up in Phoenix, is impressed too.
“He has a great basketball IQ,” Dragic said. “He just knows how to do things down on the block other guys don’t.”
His lack of flashy playmaking ability, yet amazing ability to score, is something that is rarely seen in basketball these days. It’s become a game that has become dominated by the Adonis-like athletic figures rather than the crafty and heady players like Scola. If you ask his coach, he might be one of the smarter basketball players ever.
“Not to his extent,” Gentry said when asked if he’d ever seen as heady of a player lacking athleticism as Scola. “There have been guys like that that have been successful in the league. Those are all the guys that are really smart, have high basketball IQs, know angles and are just really smart players. He really understands the game. He’s a warrior.”
So sure, maybe his hair is more suited for the cover of a romance novel or raunchy comedy starring his doppelganger Russell Brand, and his athletic abilities seem more suited to a handball tournament than the NBA, but looks can be deceiving. Sometimes you may not be a beauty but you may just be alright. And in Phoenix, alright is pretty good for the Argentinian forward who has finally found his stride and spot in the offense.