We Dance to All the Wrong Songs
As some of our most tried and true idols begin to lose some of their luster, now more than ever we must focus on the construction of the mythology of tomorrow. Even in its darkest hours, this will always be a league of heroes, both big and small, worthy of celebration. In serious need of breaking into that canon is the mythical beast that is Ronny Turiaf. During his first year and a half in the league, he perfected the role of the bench cheerleader. Now, in just his second full season, this is the year he makes the leap from local fan favorite to league-wide cult hero while revolutionizing what a "hustle player" should be.
When Ronny Turiaf's promotion to the starting lineup was first announced, my immediate concern was not of his absurd foul rate or even the fulfillment of the TOIH prophecy, but of how the bench would handle his absence. By which I mean, not so much how the second unit would adjust to not having Ronny around to provide the spark, but how the cluster of individuals still in warm-ups would sustain its influence on the ebb and flow of the game if Ronny was checked in rather than busting loose on the sidelines during key stretches.
We hear about a player's off-court issues or on-court personality, but the Turiafs of the world remind us of the oft-ignored side-of-court dimension. For the majority of last year I thought of Ronny as a human-like mascot that was allowed to wander onto the floor occasionally for reasons unknown. But in his role as a sidelined sideshow he is by no means a purely ornamental decoration; there is both utilitarian and aesthetic value to Ronny's out-of-bounds outbursts.
While previous bench favorites such as Mark Madsen rarely succeeded at eliciting more than giggles, Ronny's celebrations are capable of consistently providing a shot of adrenaline for the fans, himself, and his teammates. I firmly believe that he more than once spirited the crowd and team to victory last year from the end of the bench.
All that said, my initial trepidation about the effect of an increase in playing time and the corresponding loss of much needed towel-waving time was clearly misguided. First off, he hasn't quite worked out that foul rate issue, guaranteeing he'll continue to have at least 20 minutes a night not-so-firmly planted to the pine. The fact that he enthusiastically takes credit for every foul in his vicinity, while badass in its distinct way, might not be helping that situation. More importantly, however, what Ronny accomplishes on the court can't really be viewed in any way except as an extension of his sideline antics. Whether it's by committing an uncalled technical after every dunk, roaring with each blocked shot, or nearly coming to blows with teammates over loose balls, Ronny has thankfully discovered the basketball equivalent of this:
Which, considering the traditional interpretations of his role in the team hierarchy, is a revolutionary accomplishment. Perhaps unfairly based on the überwhiteness of dudes like David Lee, the prototypical energy guy has always been tied to Protestant work ethic, hustling on rebounding and defense, and above all else, selflessness. In essence, playing basketball "the way it was meant to be played" and giving the 11-foot-rim crowd boners. While Ronny undeniably incorporates all those features in his game, he has also injected equal parts swag and absurdity, escaping the banality of those that came before him.
The fact that his heart was literally too big to play basketball only enhances his myth. He both watches and plays the game with an enthusiasm so contagious that even Kobe can't help but shift from smirk to smile in his presence. Ronny transcends to a higher order of being than hustle players by bringing a spirituality typically reserved for our stars to a role typically reserved for minutes-grubbing materialists like Brian Cardinal. He does the dirty work that traditionalists ooze over with a style that demands attention and respect, making him the olive branch extended across the aisle, capable of bringing joy to all sides.