My love for Duke basketball has been well documented. From the Final Four team in 1986, a super-fan was born. No one, NO ONE, embodied the good of Duke basketball like Shane Battier. Laettner was the pretty-boy punk; Grant was the superstar; JJ was hated so deeply he is still hated like no one other than Laettner. Battier was the dirty worker – he had to be told to shoot when he was a freshman and sophomore (and honestly, he didn’t need to at that time). Coming in with a class full of talent, he accepted his role and played it for the rest of his career. I can still remember reading about this 5-star power forward coming out of Detroit Country Day (home of another superstar power forward a few years earlier – any guesses?) in Slam Punks and anticipating his greatness in the blue and white.
Fast forward four years and Battier is coming off of an incredible NCAA tournament victory over Arizona, Player of the Year honors from every major publication, and going #6 in the NBA draft. This was the draft I realized college All-Americans were just guys who stayed too long (when high-schoolers could come out). Drafted ahead of him were such Hall-of-Famers as Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler (okay), Pau Gasol (another okay), and Jason Richardson. Awards and accolades meant nothing, and Battier was seen as a hustle guy, too small for power forward and too slow for wing. So he did what he always did – played his role.
The Grizzlies had just moved to Memphis and the rookie was on his way. Taking charges and hitting big threes, Battier and Gasol led the Grizzlies…nowhere; off to Houston and eventually to the Miami Heat. The Evil Empire. Darth Vader, Darth Maul, and the Emperor. Battier was a stormtrooper, or so we thought. But he did what he always did – played his role. He took charges, D’d up on the best player, and grabbed big rebounds followed by big corner three’s off Wade or Lebron drives. Following the Heat Championship loss to the Spurs in 2014, it was over. Battier had played his role long enough.
What was he wearing in those seasons? This is Sneaker History after all. Try this on – Oakley. Oakley Basketball as a rookie. The ONLY player I can remember who wore Oakley on his feet as well as his eyes. Try to find a picture of him in them – I dare you. There is a reason there are no pictures out there. Then he signed with Peak Sports, an up-and-coming Chinese brand that just now seems to be reaching, yeah, their peak.
Once again playing his role, Battier led the way for other NBA players to look elsewhere. At the time, And 1, Nike, and Reebok were the controlling forces. Adidas was just coming back into relevance and Jordan Brand was starting to find a Team groove again. Big money came from China, but the product was unknown. After Battier signed, J.Kidd soon followed, as well as Ron Artest and eventually Tony Parker, George Hill, and now Dwight Howard–a slew of others are in the Triangle, me included. Peak is making some killer court shoes that more than hold their own with the big boys.
Love him or hate him (and like most Duke players, the hate is strong in this one), Battier is that guy we all want on our team. He didn’t have to shoot but could, never backed away from a defensive challenge, went after rebounds like raw meat, and was a guy you could count on to make a play when needed. He wasn’t the biggest, or the best, but more of us could learn from him – know your role and let the game come to you. Happy 37th Mr. Battier and please, lead on.