“Alas! How dreary would be the world if there was no Santa Claus!” Francis P. Church wrote those words in the New York Sun way back in 1897, responding to the inquiry of a young girl by the name of Virginia. Today, with the holidays in full swing and the (lockout shortened) NBA season set to begin, we wanted to take a look at the league’s most charitable on-court players â€“ the ones you would much rather be playing with as opposed to against. Whether they are passing up shots in favor of assists, grabbing tough boards, playing tight defense, diving on the floor for loose balls, forfeiting minutes to youngsters and touches to superstars, or simply reveling in unselfishness and team leadership, these are the guys that will sacrifice and give of themselves for the betterment and happiness of their teammates and franchises.
Yes NBA fans, there are Santa Clauses. They exist as certainly as LeBron dunks and Dwight swats and Kobe scowls exist. Just call these guys the Santa Clauses of professional basketball.
10. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
True, the man has career averages of 12.6 points and 7.8 boards through his first three seasons in the league. But more importantly, he also has the best chance of any current NBA player to physically resemble the actual Santa Claus at some point during his lifetime.
9. Ron Artest/Metta World Peace, Los Angeles Lakers
I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. First of all, the man changed his last name to World Peace, which certainly earns him some points in the “Santa Claus” category. Plus, since joining the Lakers in 2009, the artist formerly known as Ron Artest has completely transformed his game. For his entire career he was a guy that averaged between 15-20 points a night, while at the same time picking up mindless technicals, getting in on-court skirmishes, or charging into the stands and attacking fans. He practically redefined how we interpret sanity in professional sports. But once he got to Los Angeles, he toned down his on-court temper (only six technicals and a single flagrant last season), pulled it back on the offensive end (only 658 shot attempts in last season, down from 1,047 in 2008-2009), began recognizing which areas of his skill set were beginning to recede (lessened his 3-point attempts), and played nice with the media off the floor. And seriously, the back of his jersey actually reads “World Peace.”
8. Michael Redd, Free Agent
Where Redd will spend the truncated season remains to be seen, but whichever organization snatches him up will be getting a true professional. Evidence? Look no further than his contribution to the 2008 U.S. Olympic basketball squad (the Redeem Team), in which Redd happily and proudly served the role as veteran leader, three-point specialist (38 percent for his career), and pine-rider. Redd got more use out of those red, white and blue warm-ups than any of his teammates, seeing only 72 minutes of on-court action during the Gold Medal run. And yet he never complained or skirted his role, serving instead as a strong and reliable influence on a roster with an abundance of alpha male personalities.
7. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Imagine how many alley-oops this guy is giving up simply by playing on the same team as Blake Griffin.
6. Mike Sweetney, Boston Celtics
Currently resigned to the far end of the Celtics’ bench, Sweetney has been making sacrifices for years as a member of the Knicks and Bulls, constantly passing up on a few extra donuts or cookies every day, just so that Eddy Curry could preserve his title as the league’s “Chubbiest Benchwarmer.”
5. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
The Celts’ backcourt stud has not only developed into the best pure passer and defensive point guard in the game (second in assists and steals last year), but he has also sacrificed every ounce of his pride, allowing the front office to continually float him around the league and toss his name into whatever half-baked trade offer they happen to be considering that week (see: Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, etc.).
4. Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
What looked to be a career heading for a “bust” label after his first few years in the league (averaging less than seven points and eight rebounds through five seasons), Chandler reinvented himself as a vocal team leader and defensive specialist. He averaged 10.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks a game last season on his way to an NBA Championship with the Dallas Mavericks, while also setting countless screens, playing killer defense and taking pressure off of Dirk Nowitzki on the inside (his win share total was 9.4). After signing with the Knicks this offseason, that defense and selflessness will have to be in full force playing alongside Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
3. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
The young big man has averaged a double-double the past two seasons in points and rebounds, is a ball-hawk on the offensive glass (nearly four a game) swats about 1.5 shots a contest, pushed his nightly assist numbers to over two, and takes a heck of a beating setting picks for reigning MVP Derrick Rose.
2. Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder
The quiet, sage veteran on a team filled with college-aged studs, Collison is the embodiment of the term “role player.” He’s a shining example of professionalism for his teammates, never oversteps his abilities on the court, maximizes his minutes, grabs rebounds, sets screens, and has absolutely perfected the art of drawing offensive fouls. Despite playing only 21.5 minutes a game last season, Collison still managed to finish 24th in the league in overall plus/minus, ranking him highest on the Thunder, ahead of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Kind of makes visiting every house in one night seem a little less impressive, eh?
1. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
The ultimate Santa of the hardwood, Nash has a career average of 8.5 assists per game, hitting double figures in dimes in six different seasons. He’s also sacrificed his own well-being, laboring through countless injuries and ailments and playing in no less than 74 games in each of the past 10 seasons. He even refuses to ask for a trade, despite the organizations consistent efforts of late to strive for mediocrity, parting ways with the likes of Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Jason Richardson.
Which NBA player would make the best Santa?
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