NBA / Sep 11, 2012 / 3:00 pm

Brian Scalabrine: A True Ginger-American Hero

Brian Scalabrine

Brian Scalabrine (photo. Spencer Lund)

God Bless Brian Scalabrine.

What is it about Brian Scalabrine that drums up so much wide-spread acclaim that’s in no way related to his output on the court? His highest scoring average for a season was 6.3, and he barely ever started or played big minutes. He never scored more than 339 points in a season, so why was he so popular both in the online world and on the court, where fans would go ballistic when he was subbed in late in blowouts? His race might have something to do with it – except, there are other more talented, even more charismatic Caucasian players in the NBA’s history that don’t get half the dap from bloggers and fans that Scalabrine does. So what does the “White Mamba” possess that these players don’t?

It’s true that Scalabrine’s visibly demonstrative exhortations from the sidelines are amusing for fans, but that’s not the only reason he became viral as a meme on multiple occasions. An 11-year career with the Nets, Celtics and Bulls that paid him over $20 million was largely based around his ability to keep things loose in the locker room and act as the penultimate “glue guy” for teams that excelled with him as their 12th man.

But there is one rather obvious consideration to remember when talking about Scalabrine: his hair. His red-headed glory is the reason a best friend of mine, Dr. Wilson Smith, sent me an email recently. After hearing about Scal’s retirement from competitive NBA basketball to join the Celtics’ broadcasting booth on a trial basis, he had to write a Brian Scalabrine encomium. Without further ado, here’s Dr. Smith:

Name one red-headed athlete, in any sport, ever? You might have some trouble doing that, as they represent the proverbial needle in a haystack when compared to the spectrum of athletes across all professions. This population is even smaller when you look at the sport of basketball. In basketball, Caucasian players are a minority, and within the minority of white players, gingers are severely under-represented. That’s why the recent announcement by Brian Scalabrine that he is retiring from the beautiful game has significant meaning to me, both as a lifetime lover of basketball, and as a card-carrying Ginger-American.

Brian Scalabrine will never be remembered as a high octane force on the basketball court. Not even close. However, his presence on numerous teams over the course of an 11-year career, including the 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics, cannot be denied. As a white, red-headed male, I don’t see too many people that look like me on television, and especially not in sports. In movies and sitcoms, gingers are usually the bully in high school, or the loser/dork that is never included. In this way, the entertainment industry hits the nail on the head for art imitating life. That’s why watching a real life ginger suit up in an NBA uniform for over a decade has allowed me to dream and believe that my race/hair coloring can not, and will not, hold me back from achieving anything in this world; no matter how many people don’t look like me.

For a little context, other than albinism, having red hair is the rarest genetic appearance found in mankind. This makes us rare to see, and in many cases the “you all look alike” stereotype is tossed around with relative ease. I have never been happier in my life to play the role of this archetype than my wedding weekend in Boston over a weekend in May of 2010.

Two days before I was married to my amazing, ginger-loving wife, I was walking down Newbury Street running errands before our big, blissful day. Our wedding was on May 30th, so walking around Boston on May 28th was a bit of a “shit show” as the locals say, because that night the Celtics were hosting the Orlando Magic in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Because of this, there were a lot more people out in the streets, and there was a bit of energy in the air knowing the Celtics could close out the series and head to the Finals for the second time in 3 years. Walking down in the street, as a 6’3″ ginger, I could feel the excitement all around. As I was stopped at an intersection about to cross the street, a jovial Bostonian comes up to me and motions for a high five, up-top, with a big smile on his face. I happily obliged as I love the age old gesture, regardless if it’s with strangers or friends. After we slapped hands, this complete stranger looks me in the face and says, ‘Go get ‘em tonight Scals! Give ‘em Hell!!’ I didn’t know how to respond, so I just smiled, and started to look around. All of a sudden, there were about 10-15 people starring at me as if I was on fire. Right then and there, a small population of people on Newbury Street thought I was Brian Scalabrine, and was walking around town getting ready for my big Game 6 later that evening.

In the immediate aftermath of “The High Five,” my heart began racing and I was beyond ecstatic. I was surrounded by people who thought I was an NBA veteran, and I was their hometown hero. I quickly walked down the street to continue my errands, but as I turned to look back at “the intersection,” I saw that same 10-15 people still stopped in their tracks, starring at me walk away. One or two even pulled out their cellphones to excitedly call someone, or take my picture.

Nobody on that street corner thought I/Scalabrine was going to single-handedly win the game later that night. Hell, Scalabrine would end up registering yet another DNP-Coach’s Decision for Game 6. But the excitement people had thinking I was THE Brian Scalabrine, was palpable. That’s the Scalabrine effect. He isn’t going to go for 20 and 10 on any given night, but he will pad the stat sheet with game leading high-fives, butt slaps, and rah-rah enthusiasm. Perhaps it’s a strange twist of irony that this stranger on the street gave me a high five, imitating the motion the real Scalabrine would showcase later in the night with his teammates and fans. That’s why regular people loved this guy so much: he was simply happy to be there; happy to suit up even if he never got a chance to play the game. Perhaps this continues the ginger stereotype that we are just also-rans, that we don’t belong at the show and that we can’t really contribute in any significant way. But Brian Scalabrine made it farther than any other ginger before him. He showed us that we could be ginger and proud. For those reasons, I celebrate the career and legacy of Brian Scalabrine: Professional basketball player, and Ginger-American; giving fellow Ginger-Americans hope that anything is possible.

-Dr. Wilson Smith: friend, Ginger, basketball fan for life, Brian Scalabrine doppelgänger.

So you see, Brian Scalabrine isn’t just another iteration of a goofy Mark Madsen. He’s a Ginger, and with the exception of the low-key Matt Bonner in San Antonio, Scalabrine was/is the face of Ginger-American basketball in this country. For one basketball fan and fellow Ginger, he represented a chance to actually be Scalabrine – if only for a few minutes. Brian Scalabrine represents the endless possibilities for Ginger-Americans, he their fiery-haired leader. The fans of basketball salute the White Mamba, the Ginger-Americans look up to him as a shiny beacon of strength, skill, toughness and the belief that even Ginger-Americans can be whomever they want. Even, a professional basketball player in the NBA.

God bless you Brian Scalabrine, and God bless America.

Why was Scalabrine so beloved?

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