I asked a group of friends recently what the first thing they think of when they hear the name Shane Battier.
Three people immediately said “Dukie.”
Two people said “Defense.”
And one person said “Smart.”
You can throw another one on there, now. NBA Champion.
Battier obtained another championship to go with his high school and college trophies on Thursday, and in doing so, validates a career that has been unremarkably spectacular, ordinarily amazing, and silently brilliant. Battier came to the Heat as the smart guy who loves tech, the guy featured in an article about being the “No-Stats All-Star,” who defended Kobe Bryant as well as possible, even while knowing he was going to get lit up like a Christmas tree. He was the guy who hit the shot to give the Grizzlies their first franchise playoff win, and the chemistry glue that helped the Rockets to that crazy win streak a few years back.
He was never supposed to be a household name.
And yet here he is. What’s sad is that what it took for Battier to get to that level of notoriety was his work on the offensive end, some of which was an outlier. Battier’s 3-point shooting hit the Thunder, as it did the Celtics before them, like a lightning bolt, a development they can’t believe happened to them. It was an Act of God, basically. What gets lost in that percentage was this point I’ve made several times: the formula the Heat uses is eerily similar to what the Rockets did in ’94 and ’95, and the Lakers in the early 2000’s. A superior inside presence forces the defense to collapse, and a quality passer finds the open shooter on the perimeter. You don’t need crack shooters if you’re that wide open. These are NBA players. They know how to fill their role. Battier knew he had to knock down those shots. And he did.
All the while he handled a series of mismatches that would discourage and bloody any player. Brandon Bass’ superior size and strength. David West’s similar physicality. Kevin Durant’s singular offensive ability. And yet Battier went to the well each time, and made just enough of an impact to create a difference. He wasn’t the reason the Heat won. But he was a huge part of the reasons why LeBron James had an opportunity to be the difference.
Battier never wanted the attention and fame that comes with being a part of this “Hollywood” Heat team, but in a way his addition represents the change in maturity we’ve seen from the Heat. Throughout the season, Battier has been constant in the locker room, always with the intellectual comparison or philosophical quote, giving reporters gold as always. He doesn’t get caught up in the nonsense.
In the videos from after the win, in the champagne drenched celebration in the locker room, there was Battier, looking strangely satisfied in a way we’ve never seen, looking out of place in the crazy exuberance of the victory. And as everyone sprayed champagne and screamed, you couldn’t help but notice that Battier was wearing goggles.
Always thinking ahead.