There are many facets to a person no matter what walk of life they chose to undertake. Nobody is ever just one thing, but when you are an NBA player, on-court performance is often the only thing you are measured by. It defines you and perception often becomes an unfair reality dowsed in hyperbole without the true nature of circumstance given its proper weight.
In some extreme cases, lofty statistics don’t seem to hold enough substance, especially if a lucrative contract is affixed to a player. This has been the reality for Carlos Boozer who holds career averages of 16.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 52 percent shooting from the floor. He’s been a productive player for 12 seasons and never averaged less than 10 points per game in his career. He’s a two-time All-Star, a gold medalist and one of the best teammates a locker room can possess.
Despite all of those positive attributes, he’s also been one of the more criticized guys in the NBA since coming to Chicago in 2010-11. With the inception of the new collective bargaining agreement came a magic, but expensive, eraser for general managers and owners: the amnesty provision. The word “amnesty” has been looming over Boozer like a cumulonimbus cloud since it was first typed into the most recent CBA as fans and media thought the Bulls would be better off without him and his contract off the books.
Coach Thibodeau would regularly sit Boozer during the closing minutes of games in favor of a seemingly better defensive option in Taj Gibson. That slight seemed to erroneously fuel criticism against Boozer and the shouts for his dismissal. For the record, Boozer’s defensive rating the last four seasons was 99, 95, 100 and 98 while Gibson’s was 98, 96, 101 and 100. It appears Boozer was able to defend almost equal to or better than Gibson in Coach Thibodeau’s system despite the commonly held belief that he was a matador dangerously clad in red.
It’s unclear where the Bulls would have been these last few seasons without Boozer, but it’s more apparent than many Bulls fans wish to see that he helped more than he hindered. He averaged 15.5 points and 9 rebounds in 30.4 minutes during four seasons with the organization. Boozer stayed relatively healthy for his duration in Chicago outside of an unfortunate gym bag incident that began his first season in the Windy City. He was a mentor to Joakim Noah and reassuring voice to Derrick Rose and the rest of the guys in the locker room. Those characteristics, coupled by his actual production, provide reasons enough to keep him in red, white and black.
But after three years of a growing cacophony of amnesty talk, the rain finally came shortly after the Bulls acquired Pau Gasol and Boozer was let go on July 15. The former Duke product had no idea where he would land for his thirteenth season but it was the Los Angeles Lakers who wisely bid and won Boozer’s services for the 2014-15 campaign.
“Going through the amnesty process was kind of a weird process, but the Chicago Bulls were great about it. They talked to my agent and I the entire time. I knew I had two days for teams to bid on me and I really didn’t know which teams were interested. I had no clue” said Boozer on the phone.
Boozer would go on to say he was glad it was the Lakers who claimed him because he’s always admired the purple and gold from afar. He had a brief conversation with Kobe Bryant and is excited to play with Mamba during the final stages of his career.
“Kobe’s one of the best players to ever put a jersey on, and one of the best competitors in the history of sports, and one of the best leaders. I don’t think he gets enough credit for that” he said.
The ever optimistic Boozer expressed that he and the Lakers may surprise people next season, especially those who may doubt them on paper. He’s ready for a leadership role in the locker room alongside Kobe and hopes to help guys like rookie Julius Randle learn the NBA game.
“I’ve been a leader everywhere I’ve been,” a confident Boozer said. “My whole thing is trying to get better, each day every day. I think Randle is a stud and I enjoyed watching him play in college…He has all the tools to be a great NBA player. I’m looking forward to working with him. I’m looking forward to teaching him some of the things I’ve learned along the way. But I’m excited to play with all my teammates. We’ve got some talent on this team. We have some guys with stuff to prove, myself included, and I think we’re going to surprise some people.”
One could take that as standard player interview jargon, but Boozer is a guy who has made a habit of making the best out of any situation. From the criticism in Chicago, back to when he was an even more hated man in the city of Cleveland than LeBron James (before this summer’s homecoming), Boozer has never let the pitfalls associated with his profession create a negative narrative in his psyche or approach.
“I’m just a resilient type of guy. I don’t look at [the criticism] like oh they’re picking on me,” Boozer professed. “I’m like ‘well let me prove them wrong.’ That’s just the mentality that I have. Right now I have a lot of people doubting me and doubting my game. I take heed of that and I’m looking forward to the challenge of trying to prove them wrong. I’m looking forward to playing without having any shackles — without having anyone restricting me with a chance to reestablish myself. That’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to.”
While extremely complimentary of the Bulls and fond of his time there, it appears Boozer did feel he could have been used better. Still, he gets no satisfaction in dwelling on the negatives of any situation, and he called the Bulls a “first class organization.” It’s just on to the next one like a song from his favorite hip-hop artist Jay-Z.
Part of that mentality is also derived from Boozer’s spirituality. Multiple tattoos celebrating Christianity adorn his body. He chose not to share any specific meanings but did explain that some of the ink he’s gotten serve as reminders and motivation for how he wants to live his life.
Boozer’s contract with L.A. will expire after this season but he hopes to play “four to six more years” before retirement, which may still keep him very close to the game of basketball. When asked about what he plans to do when his playing days are done, he told us, “I think I’m leaning towards being an agent. I want to be able to help kids reach their goals and dreams — like my agent was able to help me reach mine.”
It is not uncommon to see players become agents and the cerebral Boozer would probably make a good one. He also alluded to an interest in front office work which would put him on the other side of the table in negotiations than if he chose to go the agent route. He kindly put his GM hat on for a minute when he was asked to give his All-NBA team.
He listed LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard as the guys right now he sees as the five best. He was most definitive about LeBron, Durant and Howard. “I think you start with LeBron and KD…and I think Dwight Howard is the best center in the league” he said. “I don’t want to disrespect anybody” an almost apologetic Boozer continued. “There are a lot of great players, but that would be my All-NBA team.”
Even in making that relatively common assessment, Boozer remained respectful and cognizant of how his words might get twisted, and could be misconstrued as throwing other players under the bus. He seems to always be paying attention.
Still, there is more to Boozer than just basketball. The veteran player with designs on contributing to the game after retirement, views his role as a father as the most important aspect of his life. “My kids man…those three boys are my biggest accomplishment by far off the court. I want to spend as much time with them as I can” he said like a gushing parent.
His kids are into everything, “From basketball to football to baseball to hockey” and he credits them for keeping him young. He took his kids to a couple of hockey games in Chicago but he lives in Miami in the off-season. Boozer expressed the challenges of finding an ice rink in Miami but happily admitted he found one for his kids to enjoy. “I don’t know if you have kids man, but being a dad is pretty amazing” he said.
Again, nobody can be described in a singularity. Boozer’s dedication to fatherhood and being a professional in all aspects sticks out to me even past his ability on the floor, but there is still more.
His story is still a work in progress. His body of work so far can’t be forgotten, and the best may still be to come.
What do you think?
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