September 15, 2008

Crammed-On Chronicles V: Bostjan Nachbar ON THE WORLD

(2008 Update: This cat managed to remain persona non grata while making beaucoup highlights... for other NBA ballers. After several seasons with no pub and little cash, in 2006-2007 he decided it was time to make a few of his own. Now he makes mad rubles to the tune of $14.3 mill over the next three years in Russia. The hoops world knows who he is, now.)

Say My Name, Say My Name
March 2007

You are Bostjan Nachbar. And since October 14, 2003, it has sucked to be you.

Getting vaulted and assaulted by a player nowhere near his prime in some preseason contest is bad enough. Having some dunk aficionados refer to it as the most athletic jump-over jam in basketball history is even worse enough. But the ultimate shame comes because no one bothers to remember you, the victim. And the few that do can barely pronounce your name. That’s when you get relegated to the unfortunate title of “That Guy.”

“How ‘bout the other night when that Gerald Wallace kid hurled over That Guy on the Rockets?” the typical water-cooler convo would go. “He almost cleared that big Croatian dude!” (You’re from Slovenia.) “For real, when Wallace’s hips got above that Serbian stiff’s ears I damn near coughed up my malt liquor!”

Patrick Ewing. Bob Sura. Dikembe. Kelly Tripucka. Tree friggin’ Rollins. Each and every time Jordan dunked over somebody, those left to tell the tale recall both the moments of sheer will AND MJ’s unwilling bystanders. So what’s the deal with you? Yeah, one might use the excuse that your best years were in Euroleague instead of the high-profile NCAA colleges, so you had no rep worthy of defiling. But mention Frederic Weis and what image immediately comes to mind? Or maybe they’ll argue that the dunk was a case of marginal talent over even less marginal talent, so your actual name isn’t relevant. But that assertion is flawed, too. Everybody that meets Kirk Snyder for the first time asks him about Von Wafer.

So in the collective consciousness of hoop fans known as the Posterized Hall of Shame, essentially, you were Kornel David. Except Korny didn’t have a name that looks like some Wheel of Fortune contestant’s nightmare. You were doomed to become that locker-room trivia question no one could answer.

“Yo, remember when Gerald Wallace was with the Kings and took off from one step in the lane, went all Statue of Liberty on That Turkish Dude and 360’d while clinging to the rim?” “Man, Gerald went at that Hungarian homeboy like a triple jumper at the Olympics.” “What the hell was that mofo’s name that got shat on?”… “Boston Nutbag?”… “Bozo Snackbar?”…“Bustin Noshbagel?”

You are Bostjan Nachbar. Reppin’ the hardscrabble streets of Slovenj Gradec. Your friends, both of them, and your mama call you Boki. It is now three seasons later and, frankly, you’ve had enough.

You didn’t come halfway around the globe to get shown the exits like some misguided AND1 Open Run contestant. You were not just another Eurotrash shooter with no defensive skill doomed to a short and unremarkable NBA shelf-life. Unbeknownst to all, you had patience, perseverance, heart. After a run with the Rockets and Hornets, now you’re with the Nets and have Jason Kidd droppin’ crazy dimes. And you had something no one before had ever bothered to wonder about. Mad Boosties.

It all started innocuously enough, up in Toronto in preseason. You ran a curl around rookie Garbajosa, then rose up and over the vertically-challenged Kris Humphries for the one-handed smackdown. “Are you kidding me? Bostjan Nachbar?” blurted the Raptors’ stunned announcer.

Raps fans were left scratching their domes: “Where did that come from, eh? Better yet, WHO did that come from?”

Next month, you upped the ante, losing Danny Granger on a give-and-go, grabbing a J-Kidd bounce pass, and clearing Jermaine O’Neal along the baseline on the way to the tin for the tomahawk slam.

Rookie Marcus Williams sprung from the bench. He’s seen you in practice. He heard all about your scrimmage dunks on Yao Ming back in your Houston days. He knew what was coming.
By then, Jersey fans not only started pronouncing your name right, they knew you were no fluke. But you weren’t done, by no means.

Over the next five months you would swoop in to challenge some of the most fearsome (and least suspecting) shotblockers in the game. After the All-Star break, you advanced the degree of difficulty, going from the likes of Jared Jeffries and Calvin Booth, to Tyson Chandler, Tim Duncan and Elton Brand.

You saved your Ultimate Highlight, though, for Samuel Dalembert. Apparently your posterizing exploits hadn’t made the press yet in Port-au-Prince, much less Philly. With just 5 minutes left in the game, you drive around a cement-shoed Kyle Korver on yet ANOTHER curl, and raise up like a helicopter over a stunned Dalembert, who didn’t even have time to leave his feet to challenge you.

You punch the ball through the hoop hard enough for the whole arena to hear it, then literally breakdance on Dalembert’s shoulders, pointing to teammates from the rim. Gerald Wallace-style. Eddie House celebrates before you even bring the ball down on Dalembert. He knew what was coming.

Now it’s Daly, not you, who gets his name butchered. Marv Albert exults as he unintentionally hates on the Haitian: “Oh! Soaring over Dal-umm-barr! And lands on him! Wow!”

Now you get mad love – and ink – from both sides of the Atlantic. Not only are people getting your name right, you can get rid of that ‘Boki” moniker your mama gave you, because now you’ve got fans dubbing you “The Boss,” and “The Slovenian Slammer.” The TV network regularly interrupts “Slovenian Idol” to show off your Dunk of the Night from the States. Your cellie’s blowin up these days from well-wishers, bold enough to make personal requests, especially from back home. “Yo, Boss, good luck in the playoffs, but do me a favor and throw one down over Big Z for me, will ya? I bet my buddy from Ljubljana 20 Euros you’d blast one on that lame Lithuanian.”

"People are getting spoiled," you told the local paper. "It's hard to keep everybody satisfied now that I've dunked over a couple of guys. Now before the game I'm getting calls and text messages like, 'We'll be watching you dunk on that guy.' I'm like, 'Look, take it easy!'" Sounds like a good problem to have.

You are Bostjan Nachbar. In just one unreal season, fans went from asking “Who?” to “Who’s Next?” All that’s really left to ask is, “Who’s Left?”


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