The Professionals in the NBA: Through the ups and downs, these 3 role players have stuck with their teams
Anyone who has worked in an office environment knows about ‘that guy’. ‘That guy’ who has been a part of your company for ages, long before you showed up and will probably remain long after you move on. ‘That guy’ who has a small job to do, but he still does it diligently, day after day. ‘That guy’ who remains loyal to the company’s cause even as the company’s vision changes or their fortunes rise and fall. This isn’t the guy who revolutionizes your company or sinks it; this is the guy who just shows up and does his job, even if he never receives a promotion or even an Employee of the Month award.
It is absolutely necessary for any forward-thinking organization to pursue excellent employees, employees that will either have the talent or the work ethic, or both, to lead the organization to more profit. But every organization also needs ‘that guy’, the person who can be counted on to be loyal, steady the office environment every day, and be ready whenever their number is called for a bigger role. Every organization needs a true professional who does his/her job, not because of the glitz and the glamour, but because the work defines their very selves.
Long-term loyalty is a tough ask in the NBA, and there are only a handful of players who have spent their entire careers with just one team. Most of these players are superstars – or the company’s most excellent employees – and are thus indispensable for the company and it’s image. Currently, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Dwyane Wade and Jameer Nelson, make up a very short-list of All Star players (even Nelson – he made the All Star team in 2009!) who have been with the same franchise throughout their careers for at least a decade. With the exception of Nelson, it is easy to see why the respective teams have given it their all to build around their flagship stars.
The rest of the players above are all future Hall of Famers and their names are almost synonymous with their team. Again, with the exception of Nelson, all of those guys have won championships for their teams in the past, and many of them are in the running to win more championships in the future. But there are a few more names in the list above. True professionals who have remained stuck with their teams through thick and thin from day one and have now been synonymous with the colours of their team for at least a decade. The only difference is that these guys never made the NBA All Star Team and were never considered to be centerpieces. They were never important enough to build a team around, but their company/franchise considered them important in a more intangible way, and returned their loyalty with a long-tenure. These are the NBA’s ultimate professionals, the guys that every team wants to make a part of their culture.
Udonis Haslem (Miami Heat)
Haslem went undrafted in 2002 and spent a season playing in France. A year later, the Miami Heat gave him a chance, and he began his NBA career with another rookie who came in attracting considerably more attention: Dwyane Wade. Little would they know that – 11 years later – the two players would become the longest-serving members of a franchise that would go on to win three NBA championships, make trips to four Finals, and be in the running for more success ahead. Haslem played with a variety of front-court players that passed through the Heat’s swinging doors including Alonzo Mourning, Lamar Odom, Shaquille O’Neal, Antoine Walker, Michael Beasley, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. But as Miami went from being a champion in 2006 to one of the league’s worst teams and then rising again in the ‘Big Three’ era as champions, they stayed loyal to their core. Through this period, Haslem donned many hats for the Heat: he has been a starter, a rebound-specialist, a bruising defender, a mid-range shooting threat, a pure-hustle machine, and the man who keeps the team’s locker-room chemistry together. Wade has obviously been the superstar who made much of the success possible, but for over 10 years, Haslem has been the team’s foundation stone.
Nick Collison (Seattle Supersonics / Oklahoma City Thunder)
Nick Collison was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in 2003, but after missing his entire first season to injury, he officially started his NBA career a year later. Since then, the franchise moved on from the era of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to the era of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Then, the franchise literally moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City and rebranded itself as the Thunder. And through the fall to the bottom of the Western Conference and the rise back up to become Conference champions, Collison was the team’s only constant. Collison has been a backup most of his career, starting only 23 percent of the games he’s ever played in for the Sonics/Thunder. He has never averaged double digits in points or rebounds. And yet, he remains a crucial part of the team’s culture and heritage. He and Durant are the only two current players in the team who also represented them in Seattle. A savvy post defender known for taking charges, Collison now has the eyes of the world on him as he starts in his first-ever playoff games in Serge Ibaka’s absence for the Thunder in the Conference Finals against the mighty Spurs.
Anderson Varejao (Cleveland Cavaliers)
After a successful stint playing in his home country of Brazil and then in Spain, Anderson Varejao was selected by the Orlando Magic in the 2004 draft and soon after was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland was the first NBA team he represented, and, 10 years later, it is still the only team he has represented in his NBA career. Like the others mentioned above, Varejao’s decade in Cleveland has seen more than it’s share of ups and downs. With a young LeBron James leading the growing team, the Cavs went from being cellar dwellers to having the best record in the league. Varejao played alongside several former All Stars, including Shaquille O’Neal, Mo Williams, Ben Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The team even reached the 2007 Finals. But then the LeBron era ended, unceremoniously, with James heading to Miami. The Cavaliers almost had a complete overhaul over the next few years, becoming one of the league’s worst teams. Varejao was struck with various injuries between 2010-2013, playing in only 35 percent of the games over the three seasons. Now Varejao is healthy as the Cavs attempt to slowly climb back up to respectability. This young team is spearheaded by Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng, Dion Waiters, and they await yet another number one draft pick. But Varejao, the all-energy, all-hustle Brazilian, has been their constant throughout.