Brian Scalabrine was a fan favorite throughout the course of his 11-year NBA career and despite being out of the league, he may be more visible than ever. He’s played in the Big3 every season since its inception, he’s the color commentator for the Boston Celtics’ local broadcasts, he has his own drive-time radio show on SiriusXM and he even spent one year as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.
HoopsHype caught up with “The White Mamba” to discuss his post-NBA endeavors, his experience in the Big3, how he became a fan favorite, his one season as a coach, why he doesn’t believe in “team chemistry” and more.
You’ve always been a favorite among NBA fans, which has to be a great feeling. When did you notice that you were receiving significantly more support than a typical role player?
Brian Scalabrine: It started kind of early, when I was on the New Jersey Nets. It started like, “Get Scalabrine in at the end of the game!” But then I became a rotational player, so it kind of disappeared. You don’t cheer for a guy to get in the game when he’s played 23 minutes (laughs). It kind of disappeared and then I went to Boston. My first few years in Boston were really tough. We lost a lot of games and I was supposed to be this [notable] free-agent signing and I was supposed to play better than I did. Those first few years were tough and we were losing so much that people didn’t like our team. It’s not that they disliked me, they just didn’t like our team. We didn’t have Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen yet. Then, once we got those guys, we started winning games. I was a rotational player in Boston, but I wasn’t playing a lot – just 10 minutes a night. Then, [the support] picked up again. At first, I felt bad because I didn’t think I deserved to get all of this credit and have people cheer for me at the end of games when my teammates were the ones who played well and built the 20-point lead. I felt bad about it because the other guys were the ones working their tails off and building this big lead and then it would be about me at the end of the game.
That lasted through 2008, but then once we won the championship, I fully embraced it. That’s when I’d be telling guys, “Come on, you guys need to push this lead to 20 points so I can get some burn tonight! We gotta give the people what they want!” After winning the championship in 2008, I figured it was just better to embrace it. I continued that approach after that and did the same thing in Chicago. I like it. I feel like I do represent the “common guy,” even though I’m 6-foot-10 and I’ve played millions of hours of basketball and I’ve put my whole life into this. That’s hard for some people to understand because if they watch me, they might think, “Well, if you put that many hours into this, how come you aren’t better?” That shows you how good NBA players are! I had to work my ass off my entire life just to basically hang on. There are guys who work their ass off their entire life and they can’t hang on. With some of these great players, it’s hard to imagine how they even got to that level.
Also, I think fans saw how much fun you were having and the fact that you don’t take any of this for granted. They think, “That’s exactly how I’d feel if I were in the NBA!” They can relate to that.
BS: Yeah, for sure. All of that is fine, but I’m also working out five hours a day. I appreciate the opportunity, but I’m very serious in watching my film before a game and being prepared and I want to do well. But I do come across as [happy to be here], which I am! I know how fortunate I was to be a 23-year-old kid that was drafted by a team that went to the NBA Finals and made me a rotational player. And to add one more element to that: Jason Kidd made me way better than I ever was. Playing on his team allowed me to play 11 years in the NBA. I could’ve been drafted by another team and been out of the NBA in three months and I would’ve been playing overseas. I probably could’ve had a decent career overseas. I never would’ve played 11 seasons in the NBA if it wasn’t for Jason Kidd.
I’m glad you highlighted the work that goes on behind the scenes. Some fans don’t realize how hard you guys work. That’s why I think it’s crazy when fans criticize players for having a life off the court, like how fans tell Damian Lillard to stop rapping and get back in the gym…
BS: Wait, people don’t like that Damian Lillard is rapping? I don’t understand that.
Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. You see it a lot on social media. I’ve talked to Dame about it and I know it annoyed him when he first started sharing his music. Whenever he posts anything related to music, fans tell him to “focus on basketball” and “get in the gym.” Dame is one of the hardest-working guys too, which makes it even more ridiculous.
BS: Wow. You can only work out so much! There’s a point of diminishing returns. Also, I think what they’re learning now is that it’s better to go harder for a shorter period of time rather than messing around for hours and hours on end.
I want to see those people work in their office for 24 hours a day and never leave.
BS: That’s a great call (laughs).
I interviewed Kenyon Martin recently and we were talking about how the NBA has changed so much in a short period of time. Even from the start of your career in 2001 to now, how much has the game evolved?
BS: It’s a crazy shift that happened, but I think the people who were in it kind of knew this was going to happen. I’ll tell you the moment I knew – my “aha” moment: I was playing for the Nets and the Suns come to town. Typically, there’s this standard way of playing, which is double bigs, pretty physical underneath and a pick-and-roll guard. Some guards could shoot behind the screen, but not really. Usually, they were coming off the screen to get another action. So playing against the Suns, I had Amare Stoudemire coming down the paint and Steve Nash was coming off the screen-and-roll. I was the help guy and Steve was staring right at me, looking to see which way I would move. I make a shift toward Boris Diaw at three-point line, Nash bounce-passes to Stoudemire and he dunks it. As I was running back on offense, I was thinking to myself, “That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.” I felt like I was completely at Steve Nash’s mercy.
Taking it one step further, I remember when the shift started happening. Remember when Rashard Lewis signed with Orlando? I was like, “What is he going to do there?” Then, they put him at the four and had Hedo Turkoglu at the three and Dwight Howard down low. That’s another time where I came away thinking, “That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.” I’m guarding Rashard Lewis on the perimeter, Dwight Howard is rolling into the paint and you have to suck in so they don’t throw a lob to him, but then you have Rashard Lewis open and when they throw it out him, I’m on skates trying to close-out on him. Even if he misses the three or if Dwight Howard gets the ball and misses a jump-hook, that’s not a good stop, [you got lucky] against an unbelievable offensive possession that’s extremely difficult to guard.
The skill level of today’s guards and the addition of stretch fours makes defense so much harder. Now, there are even stretch fives! I know some people say, “I don’t like all of the three-point shooting; it’s not that good.” But when you’re out there guarding it, it’s hard to guard. It’s so hard to guard a pick-and-roll happening with a guy diving to the basket with a shooter lifted on the weakside. I always tell people, “You guys may not like three-point shooting, but try to go out there and defend it!” It creates so much space, all because people are trying so hard to stop the three-point shooters. The skill-level of guards right now is just taking the game to a whole new level. A lot of that has to do with no hand-checks and no contact, but the guards are incredibly skilled and now bigs are great shooters, which just provides more space for the guards to do their thing.
Those Phoenix Suns teams and Orlando Magic teams were so far ahead of their time.
BS: Yeah, Stan Van Gundy does not get enough credit for that, only because he didn’t win a championship. It’s the same thing with Mike D’Antoni. If those guys had won championships, they’d be viewed as the forefathers right now. But we all have to recognize that the game shifted and it’s not just because of the Warriors. Listen, they do the best job and having a guy like Draymond Green is insane because he’s such an elite decision-maker, but the shift happened with Phoenix and Orlando – with one big and four shooters. The shift didn’t happen because of the Golden State Warriors and people should recognize that. We can even go back further to when Danny Ainge was coaching the Suns and they had four guards out there with Cliff Robinson. There are a lot of teams that have done that, but then they ran into a juggernaut like Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan and David Robinson or something like that. Just because they ended up losing to a juggernaut doesn’t mean they didn’t shift the game! The small-ball era started way before the Warriors.
Speaking of the Warriors, you were an assistant coach with Golden State during the 2013-14 season. For those who don’t remember, that was the 51-win team that lost in the first round to the L.A. Clippers. Did you sense that the Warriors would soon become a juggernaut?
BS: I thought that beforehand! I was living the dream. I was doing exactly what I promised my wife I was going to do. I knew I was going to be the color commentator for the Boston Celtics and I knew [broadcasting was] what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Then, I was watching the Warriors in the playoffs the year before I got there and I saw this look on Gregg Popovich’s face and that changed my mind right then. The Warriors were playing the Spurs, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were out there, and Gregg Popovich had this look on his face like, “I’m doing everything absolutely right, but I’m down 18 points. We’re guarding the ball exactly how we’re supposed to guard the ball, but these guys are doing things that we’ve never seen before.” It was really quick – the camera panned on him for a few seconds – but when I saw that look, I could tell he was thinking to himself, “Do I need to go against everything I’ve ever been taught and everything I know about basketball? Because these two guards are lighting us up right now and doing things I’ve never seen before.” They also had Andrew Bogut, and I was a huge fan of Bogut. He didn’t have a great regular season, but because of the lack of hand-checking, I felt you had to have really good rim protection. I knew a little bit about Draymond Green at the time, but not [what we see now]; I didn’t know he was going to change the way we play basketball. I have a relationship with Bob Myers and I knew Mark Jackson really well and Pete Myers was working in Chicago when I was playing there, so I knew the guys a little bit. It was kind of a snowball effect. I knew I wanted to join their staff. I convinced myself not to do TV; I wanted to kind of chase the championship and I thought we’d win a championship that year and then maybe I’d go do something else. That look on Popovich’s face is one I’ll never forget. The Spurs ended up winning that series. If you remember, Klay was locking up Tony Parker, but then he fouled out and the Spurs just came storming back.
The Warriors were right on the cusp and if they were a little bit smarter, they could take their game to another level. Unfortunately, maybe I was one year too early on that one, but it was one of those things where you see the game of basketball changing right there. I think LeBron James got it wrong; he should’ve been watching that game because I think he was gearing up to beat the Spurs when he left Miami, when he should’ve been thinking of the Warriors. That [Cavaliers] team could’ve been built differently and he could’ve said, “I’ll be the point-forward or point-center type on this team, so we don’t need all of these bigs.” But he was thinking that he needed to beat Tim Duncan and guys like that, so he figured he needed a lot of bigs. He’s obviously such a versatile player that he could’ve built the Cavs differently at that time [to match-up against the Warriors], but he was so focused on the Spurs that he thought, “I have to get a guy like Kevin Love.” They really could’ve done a lot with that No. 1 pick and built the team to challenge the Warriors.
That reminds me of a great video you did a while ago for Yahoo Sports where you looked at the biggest “what ifs” in NBA history. Would you ever try coaching again or are you planning to stick to media and broadcasting going forward?
BS: I don’t think I could do the coaching again. First of all, before people in the media kill coaches and write stuff, they should really understand what coaches go through and understand that they watch hours and hours of film. There are people who watch a game live and then have all these comments, but some of the smartest basketball minds in the world will watch the game two or three times before commenting on it. It’s an incredible amount of work and you’re married to the emotions of a player. Some of the players are great, but some are jaded. You have to deal with the jealousy between players. Your whole life ends up being this emotional roller-coaster and it’s not even your emotions, it’s everybody else’s emotions. Whether you’re talking about coaches or executives, a lot of crazy stuff goes on.
My life is great. I have a radio show and I do [color commentary] for Celtics games. I know what my schedule is going to look like so I can plan things out with my wife and three kids. I can ask for a day off to expand a vacation (it’s 82 games, but my company will give me a game off to spend a few extra days with my family after the All-Star break, for instance). It’s just a much better life for me. I wouldn’t say it’s for everybody because not everybody is good at [broadcasting]. But for me, it’s a more sustainable, happy life – even though I do miss being around the game, being around the guys. But it takes so much to be a great coach.
You guys won a title in Boston that first year with Garnett and Allen. Teams like the L.A. Clippers, L.A. Lakers and Brooklyn Nets made big additions and are now trying to make that leap from rebuilding team to champion. Given your experience with the Celtics, what are the keys to getting everyone acclimated and becoming a contender?
BS: That’s a good question. Looking at those 2008 Celtics, we were just so locked in defensively. We had Tom Thibodeau there. Kevin Garnett was there and he had Kendrick Perkins alongside him. We had guys who were so good defensively and so smart, so it wasn’t hard for us to start off the season really well. I think a big reason for that was because defense was our identity.
I feel like when you talk about Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, you’re talking about great two-way players. I think it’s easier to get guys acclimated when they are two-way players. I think it’s hard to get on the same page when you have a bunch of ball-dominant players who don’t care about defense. Let’s use two examples: the Rockets and Clippers. I think it’s going to be really hard for the Rockets to figure out their identity offensively. Now, remember, there are 82 games. There are roughly 100 offensive possessions and 100 defensive possessions every game, so they’ll have thousands and thousands of possessions to learn from and to work on things. And you’re talking about players who are really smart and able to adjust. But it’s harder to get everyone playing at the optimal level if they only rely on the offensive end. You can use my Boston Celtics last year as a good example of that. The 2017-18 Celtics – the team that went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals – had a hard-nosed, defensive identity and offensively, they just sort of figured it out and make-shifted it together. Last year, they were trying to incorporate Gordon Hayward offensively, trying to incorporate Kyrie Irving back in offensively and there ended up being a lot of tension between the team because no one could figure out the offensive identity. You want the offense to flow like “we” are on offense; it shouldn’t feel like we’re each taking our turn, like “my turn, your turn, my turn.”
The teams that have a defensive identity will get a stop and then when you flow off of a miss, I feel like the ball moves better and it feels like “we” are on offense. Off of a make or when the other team is on a run, I think it feels more like “me.” Guys start thinking, “I’m going to be the one who stops this run right now.” The players with an offensive mindset feel like they can just answer on the other end, whereas with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, I think those guys react by buckling down even more on the defensive end when things start to go sideways (which happens to every team at times). I feel like the Clippers won’t have any problems figuring it out because they have such good defensive players, and I didn’t even mention Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley! I think they have the recipe for success: Two-way players who can each carry the load offensively along with some other hard-nosed guys. I really don’t think the Clippers will have a hard getting this team to mesh. I do feel like the Rockets will have a hard time getting their team to mesh, and maybe the Celtics will have a hard time, even though they added Kemba Walker, because of the guys that they’ll miss. But of all the rebuilding teams [trying to become a contender], I think the Clippers will have the easiest time.
A lot of teams are meeting up for group workouts and doing team-bonding activities right now. For example, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets were out in L.A. recently. Do you think spending time together like that can help a team’s chemistry too?
BS: I’m not a “chemistry” guy at all. I don’t believe that dudes who hang out together are automatically going to have success together on the court. I’m a believer in “fit.” I know people associate those two together, but let me give you an example of what I mean. Obviously, John Stockton to Karl Malone worked, but I don’t know if those guys hung out together and went out to get drinks and all of that stuff, you know what I mean? I think it worked from a basketball standpoint because they were a good fit together. Here’s another example: Shaq and Kobe worked. Shaq would’ve worked next to a lot of dynamic players, but Shaq and Kobe worked. Shaq was a guy who was kind of known for not putting in the extra time and Kobe would be in at 5 a.m. and be done working out before a single guy even arrived to practice. They didn’t hang or party together or anything like that, but they were clearly still this dominant duo that was near impossible to stop. They just fit.
You can get together and make s’mores and sing “Kumbaya” in Los Angeles, but I don’t believe any of that stuff matters. I believe what matters is the fit on the floor and whether the players complement each other. Even looking back at Miami when the Big Three went down there, they didn’t fit together for the first 20 games. But once they found their identity – with Chris Bosh taking a few steps back and Dwyane Wade taking a half-step back and LeBron James taking a half-step forward – those guys were a juggernaut, man! And not only that, they got after it on the defensive end of the floor. I get it, they got along. But if they hadn’t gotten along and had never hung out together, that team was still going to be really good! It fit basketball wise. But listen, I have this conversation with a lot of basketball people and while that’s my perspective, I might have it wrong. I’m sure there have been times where teammates sing “Kumbaya” and make s’mores on the beach and it works so much better than it did before, but I think it’s about the basketball fit.
You’ve played in the Big3 since it started in 2017. I think it’s great that guys have a chance to continue their playing career in this league. What’s that experience been like for you?
BS: I think things have changed over the three years I’ve been in the Big3. At first, it was just great to get back and play with the guys – playing against a high level of competition again. I live in Boston. It’d be one thing if I lived in Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, Atlanta, New York or Chicago where they have great runs. But I live in Boston and there aren’t a lot of NBA players or even a lot of pros who play overseas. So as soon as I stopped playing in the NBA, the competition level completely dropped off the face of the Earth for me. I joined the Big3 and, at first, it was like, “This is great, man! I’m going against some of these guys who are still in shape and getting after it!” It was challenging.
But now? It’s gotten even harder because they’re getting a lot more players from overseas. These are guys who are playing in China and Japan, and they’re coming off of six months of playing every single day, playing 40-to-50 games. When the Big3 first started out, there were a few guys like that, but most of the players were guys who hadn’t played much for 3-or-4 years. The experience has changed, and I think the level of play is off the charts right now. It’s at a much higher level than it was when we started. And some of the fringe NBA players, guys like Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudemire and Nate Robinson, are using the Big3 to try to get back into the NBA or to help them make more money overseas. The play has really, really elevated.
What are the biggest adjustments when you transition from five-on-five to three-on-three?
BS: The big men really do dominate in this league. In five-on-five, you can sort of wear big men out by moving the ball, getting them in a lot of pick-and-roll actions, running the floor and things like that. For instance, if you have a slow big that crashes the offensive glass, you can really take advantage of him in transition. In five-on-five, there are different ways to counter a guy who is strong, but maybe too slow. But in three-on-three, when you look at a guy like Greg Odon or a guy like Al Jefferson or a guy like Will McDonald (who we have on our team), once those guys go to work, if they a miss a shot, they don’t have to sprint back on defense. With the rules in the half-court game, the big men really, really seem to dominate. They have a huge impact and really help their team win, which is very different than in the NBA right now. [In the NBA], big men are just trying to figure out a way to stay out there on the floor. It’s completely different.
Basketball, Interview, Media, NBA, Evergreen, Featured, Interview, Media, Top, Amare Stoudemire, Brian Scalabrine, Damian Lillard, Draymond Green, Dwight Howard, Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, Klay Thompson, LeBron James, Rashard Lewis, Ray Allen, Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns