A Good Sport. Nice Guys Finish First.

May 2009.

When the Orlando Magic first came to O Town I mostly just followed the best players down the court. I noticed the ones who could give me a snapshot into what basketball excellence looked like.

Because I only watch sports a grand total of about 3 hours a year, I have no time or interest in analyzing every nuance or level of play. It’s first string all the way for me.

Back then, Dennis Scott or “3D,” because of his knack for making 3 point field goals struck me. Sure Shaq was Olympic size in his star power and talent, but he was too obviously great. Scott’s 3 pointers and his persona got my attention.

I used to scan the court and post-game interviews for the less grandiose guys, the players who stood out in talent and character. And from what I read, Dikembe Mutombo and Luol Deng rank high in the charitable work department, Keven Garnett is considered pretty nice, and so is Dwight Howard.

Yes I admit it. I’m the stereotypical fair weather, half-ass female fan that takes note of ancillary things about a player that don’t mean squat to the hard core types.

Playing well is all that matters right?

Sorry, but character counts on my athlete ranking scorecard.  Being a decent guy may not mean much in the heat of the playoffs or finals, (except in the low maintenance/team attitude department coaches expect), but I have to think it factors into a team’s overall winning power in the long run.

But maybe I’m naive and not hard-edged enough or I’m missing the point, because bad boy or not, if you’re really good at your job, sports or otherwise, you’re good.

The thing is, I expect character excellence in every sector of society. I held Bill Clinton in pretty high regard until he “did not have sexual relations with that woman,” or that woman, or that one.

And if you screw up big, fine, we all deserve a second chance, (although becoming President isn’t quite the time to ask for a do-over.)

But you keep pulling your zipper down or opening your mouth to let idiocy and ego hang out and you could have the highest shooting average in the league and I wouldn’t notice or care.

Falling from grace or Monica or some girls bed, (Kobe), matters.

Yes, these top players “get it done” on the courts but getting it done in life is more impressive in the long haul. And if a player acts like an egotistical, horn dog divo, this pretty much neutralizes a person’s superman (or woman) qualities in my eyes.

But then again, I’m abashedly a fair weather loyalist. While I’ll root for the Magic win or lose, my player admiration moves according to a player’s latest sound bite, charity donation, or bad boy behavior.

But since professional sports isn’t a popularity contest, it’s a game and entertainment, who really cares right?

I do.

You get paid that much to play ball with kids drooling over you because they want to be like Mike, and I want that big fat paycheck to go into the pocket of someone who has more character than cockiness.

I won’t go as far to say athletes should be role models, but the reality is, like it or not, they are, and probably more than any other public persona, more than Britanny or Justin, Bush or Obama, because, come on, everyone expects politicians and pop stars to screw up.

I use my husband as my player bull-shit barometer because he reads, watches and absorbs all layers of the NBA (mostly the NFL) players. He can tell me if a guy has the reputation as a great player and an ass, or a so-so player and a nice guy, or something in between.

But unless you’re in Shaq, LeBron, Dennis or Dwight’s faves, you really have no idea who these guys really are.

I’m pretty awed by Olympic size talent, and the Magic players have plenty of that, but the really talented, multi-million dollar nice guy who is confident but not cocky, who keeps his mouth and zipper in the right place?

Now, that’s impressive.

So, what do you think? Who do you think are the nicest and nastiest players in the NBA?

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