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The Enigma

The basketball media is struggling to figure out Andrew Bynum.

by David J. Leonard

What feels as commonplace as a Derrick Rose injury this season and New York Knicks streaks (winning and losing), media and fans joined hands this week to criticize Andrew Bynum. Mirroring the entire season, this week’s criticism has been a recipe of 1-part “your game ain’t right” and 9-parts “your attitude, effort, and demeanor ain’t right.” In fact, his critics have little to say about his game since numbers don’t like. During the Lakers’ seven-game series versus the Nuggets he averaged 16.7 pts/game on 51.2 percent shooting, 12.3 rebounds, and 4.0 blocks. Compared to his 18.7 points/game on 55.7 percent shooting, 11.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks during the regular season, it is hard to see how pundits are bemoaning his performance. Sure, his FG percentage is down, but facing double teams and a defensive intensity unseen during the regular season, his numbers are quite impressive. His stretch vs. the Nuggets wasn’t an exceptional performance ever given his inconsistency, but I cannot imagine any team scoffing at this kind of production.

Not surprisingly, his critics have focused elsewhere, lamenting his attitude his suspect work ethic. For example, with the Lakers up 3-1, Bynum stated, “Closeout games are actually kind of easy. Teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning.” Rather than potentially reading his statement as an effort to motivate himself or the Lakers’ to come out strong, pundits turned into yet another piece of evidence of his arrogance, sense of entitlement, and disrespect for his opponents. In article and after article, his statement was presented as if he said that, “close games were easy” or that the Nuggets were weak and soft. To me, he was simply noting that when teams seize upon the opportunity to finish a series, opponents often whither under the pressure and the prospect of goin’ fishin’. History has actually shown this to be the case, most recently with the Lakers’ Game 4 loss to the Mavericks and the Knicks loss to the Heat. His comments were not evidence of arrogance or entitlement yet it was used to authenticate a narrative that follows his every move.

Andrew Rafner goes all in with his denunciation of Bynum focusing not so much on his game, but his attitude and character:

Andrew Bynum is the worst. And not in a “You’re the worst, but we still love you because you’re so awful at everything you do” kind of way, like Britta from “Community.” He’s just actually the worst.

And why, you may ask is arguably the most talented true center in the league the worst? Well, to put it simply, Andrew Bynum is the worst because of his totally shitty attitude and penchant for making the worst possible decision at all times. … He openly criticized Mike Brown at nearly every opportunity. He took inappropriate 3-pointers during meaningful possessions (not to say that it was any worse than the inappropriate 15-footers he’d been taking for years, but this just LOOKED worse), leading Brown to bench Bynum during the fourth quarter in a March game against Golden State. After being questioned about the incident, Bynum responded by saying “I don’t know what was bench-worthy about the shot, to be honest with you. I made one last [game] and wanted to make another one.” This guy….With Andrew Bynum, it will only get worse for the Lakers. This is only the start. The shitty attitude, the lack of hustle on defense, the stray grey hairs, the insulting quotes before playoff games (see: prior to Game 5, when he said “close-out games are actually kind of easy.” And that “teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning”…. As far as Andrew Bynum is concerned, his attitude seems to be “Deal with it.” But as fans of a league filled with the most likable talent it’s ever had, should we have to deal with it? No. That’s why Andrew Bynum is the worst.

The criticism directed at Bynum seems to be more about his personality than anything. He doesn’t look like he is having fun; he doesn’t seem to possess the ferocity of Dwight Howard or the motor of Shaquille O’Neal, who would often sprint from “box to box” only to get a dunk.

I get it, but my questions: (1) Why does the fan and media care if he is enjoying himself out there; Why do people care if he is smiling, laughing, and looking like the basketball court is the beginning, middle, and end of his life? It is his job, and the demand that he enjoy his job for the sake of fan and media enjoyment is neither fair nor realistic. The criticisms that he shot a 3-pointer as if he is the only player in the NBA ever to take a bad shot, that he isn’t engaged in huddles as he is alone in tuning out instruction from one’s bosses (check yourself at your next staff meeting) are telling.

Any and every moment where Bynum doesn’t embody the expectations of him on-the-court, he seems subjected to wrath and unmerciful criticisms about his game and demeanor. More than his game itself, the contempt for Bynum emanates for his inability to meet the desires for larger-than-life NBA big men whose on-the-court strength and ferocity is balanced out with a teddy-bear type sweetness. He isn’t Shaq or Dwight Howard and the bigger question is, Why do we want him to be?

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