March 11, 2002

The Myth of Hustle: Why Duke Will Win It All and the Dallas Mavericks Will Not

Do you remember Orlando Magic a few years ago? Doc Rivers won the Coach-of-the-Year award in his first season by getting his star-less team to play with “heart and hustle.” To everyone’s surprise, the Magic almost made it into the playoffs finishing with a 41-41 record. For me, the moral of that magical season was that “heart and hustle” only gets you so far in the NBA. Hustling may help you steal a few victories during the NBA season but when the games begin to count and everyone starts to hustle, teams that lack superstar talent and athleticism fall mercilessly by the wayside. That’s been the sad story of the Utah Jazz, one of the hardest working teams of the past decade. Malone and Stockton hustled their tails off but in the end they were no match for Jordan, Olajuwon, Duncan, Shaq, or Kobe. Hustle plus superstar talent and athleticism beats hustle plus above average talent and athleticism every time. Enter the Dallas Mavericks (the Utah Jazz of the new millennium). They hustle. That's the shtick of most white basketball players in the NBA (and the Mavericks have six of them). White guys hustle, even when it doesn't really matter. Oooh, look at him run, look at him dive, look at him hustle. Come playoff time, however, most teams hustle, and it is then that true basketball superiority is revealed. The Mavericks know that they need more than hustle, which is why they traded for Nick van Exel. They are aware that a hustling Nash and Nowitzki will never beat a hustling Kobe and Shaq, a hustling Stojakovic and Webber, a hustling Szczerbiak and Garnett, or a hustling Iverson and Mutumbo. Which brings me to the beloved Blue Devils (don't ask me how). Duke has been out-hustled three times this season but will not be out-hustled again, because Jason Williams will not let them. Unlike Nick, Jason is the answer for the Blue Devils. Save an injury, he will dominate the tournament, win the MVP, and lead his team to the national title. You only need to recall Jason’s dissatisfied face last year during the team’s celebration. Duke won, but Jason Williams, bothered by a nagging ankle injury, did not play like Jason Williams. For Jason, the whole year has been about this moment, redeeming last year’s mediocre performance during the championship game. Add Carlos Boozer, who did not play last year due to his own injury, and you have two superstars determined to hustle every minute of every game. And whether you like it or not, a hustling Williams and Boozer (not to mention Dunleavy and the rest) beats everyone. Yes, everyone. Duke wins. Mavericks lose. Because in the end, everyone hustles. And when everyone hustles, hustling negates hustling.

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