Right up there with Wrestlemania, Major League Baseball’s opening day, and any time Serena Williams is on the tennis court, the annual release date for Madden is one of my unofficial sports-related holidays.
With EA Sports always looking to improve the industry’s best sports video game franchise, this year’s Madden has a new feature: the Swagger Rating. Just like speed, agility and throwing accuracy, players will now be rated on their “swagger” — presumably with higher marks going to receivers, corners, quarterbacks and Ray Lewis.
When we found out about the Swagger rating in the Dime office, of course we started debating: If NBA Elite or NBA 2K11 added a swagger rating, which NBA players would get the highest marks?
First things first, you have to remember that swagger comes in different forms (making it tough to clearly define). Some guys are outward explosions of swagger and need that cockiness to survive; think Nate Robinson. Others use their swagger to toe the line of annoying both opponents and teammates/coaches; think J.R. Smith. Other guys have a more quiet, confident swagger that translates into winning championships and making big shots; think Kobe Bryant. Some can blend the outward cockiness with the inward resolve and produce beyond what you assumed they were capable of; think Paul Pierce. And if you take it off-the-court, guys like Shaq, Baron Davis and Dwyane Wade would get especially high ratings for how they carry themselves in public.
In my Dime #52 cover story on Amar’e Stoudemire, I asked Amar’e why he was more marketable than other big men in the League, when it’s widely believed that big guys don’t sell product.
“It’s my swag, man,” Amar’e said. “A lot of big guys don’t have swag — a lot of ‘em are goofy, know what I’m saying? Their swagger looks false. My swag is legit. More so off the court than on the court. On the court I just dominate.”
Taking all that into consideration, I came up with my Top-10 NBA guys with the highest swagger:
1. Paul Pierce
The Pedro Cerrano of the NBA. He’s almost on his last legs, he’s less athletic and slower than just about everybody who tries to guard him, and yet Pierce still gets buckets and drops game-winners because he has the biggest sack in the gym.
2. Dwyane Wade
The definitive D-Wade swag moment happened in March ’09, at the end of a double-overtime epic against the Bulls in Miami. Wade had already hit two buzzer-beaters earlier in the game when, with three seconds left, he went for a steal on John Salmons, got it, and hit a running three at the buzzer to win it. He then hopped on the scorer’s table declaring this was his house. Add on his Kanye West-style off the court and Wade exudes swagger, however you define it.
3. Kobe Bryant
Even if you think he’s just a Jordan copycat, you have to admit Kobe has the act down pat.
4. Shaquille O’Neal
He’ll still tell anybody listening that he’s the most dominant big man in the League, and says it so convincingly that you almost believe him. Still the most charismatic athlete in the NBA, and maybe in pro sports, period.
5. J.R. Smith
The exclamation point on a big Nuggets win is when J.R. starts hitting 30-footers with no conscience and mocking the other team with his little struts and faces. The only problem is he’ll also do the same thing when Denver is down by 25 in the fourth quarter, or in the crucial moments of a tight ballgame.
6. Brandon Jennings
I’ve never interviewed a high school freshman as confident as Brandon Jennings when I talked to him for a feature in Dime #21 years back. He hasn’t changed now that he’s in the NBA. In fact, his swag has grown to another level.
7. Nate Robinson
He needs his swag to survive. If Nate didn’t stick his chest out and bark at opponents like he’s the 7-foot giant and they’re the 5-8 Oompa Loompa, he would never have made it this far.
8. LeBron James
The swag of knowing you’re the best. (Or at least right up there.) LeBron’s critics hate that he does stuff like talk in third-person and seemingly manipulate the media to get what he wants, but the undeniably truth is that he can get away with it.
9. Carmelo Anthony
On and off the court, ‘Melo is just smooth. Even his name sounds like he has swag. One of the few people I’ve met who can pull off the wearing-shades-indoors thing in a dark room.
10. Amar’e Stoudemire
Like the man said, his swag is legit.