Why Adam Morrison is the Godfather of Hipster NBA Players

Morrison was a trendsetter for Hipster basketball players today.
Morrison was a trendsetter for Hipster basketball players today.

Adam Morrison generates all kinds of different opinions depending on who you ask. The most common viewpoint on Morrison is “bust“, and you would be totally in the right to say that. After being drafted third overall in the 2006 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats (and being personally selected by Michael Jordan), Morrison had a decent rookie season which really wasn’t as good as it seemed. Yes, he averaged 11.8 ppg and 29.8 mpg his rookie season, but the advanced stats don’t paint him in quite as positive a light. His PER was 7.9 that season (i.e. horrendous) and he was worth negative-1.5 Win Shares as well. That’s right negative-1.5! That basically means the Adam Morrison COST the Bobcats victories when he was on the floor.

It is not surprising that Morrison was so ineffective his rookie year. He struggled from beyond the arc (33.7 percent 3-PT % on a 27.3 3-PT attempt rate), and he didn’t have the strength or ballhandling to consistently get to the rim (only 11.9 of his shots came between 0-3). Add that with little-to-no post game (which he didn’t have at Gonzaga), and Morrison basically turned into a jump shooter who wasn’t good at jump shooting (and his 45 percent True Shooting Percentage proved that). And, Morrison was terrible defensively. Very, very bad. At 6-feet, 8-inches, Morrison had the potential to be a matchup nightmare for small wings or stretch-fours. The only problem? He lacked any lateral quickness whatsoever. I mean, Hedo Turkoglu looked like an all-NBA player compared to Morrison. And thus, despite advantageous height, his total, utter lack of athleticism killed him from ever being a slightly-below average defensive player (and that is putting it nicely).

But, I love Morrison. Yes, Morrison only played 83 more games and 952 more minutes in the NBA over the next three seasons (he missed his entire sophomore campaign to a knee injury, which only further killed his lack of athleticism). He did win two titles as a bench warmer with the Los Angeles Lakers, but safe to say he had as much contribution to those Lakers teams as Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times did. Case in point, his “contribution” was so ridiculed, that Jimmy Kimmel had a segment on his show featuring “Adam Morrison Highlights“.

That being said, I love Morrison for two reasons. First off, I am a Gonzaga alum, who saw the heyday of the Morrison era my freshman season. The shaggy hair, the thin mustache, the retro socks, the crying on the court after the loss to UCLA in Oakland, etc. I loved all that, and even to this day, that still remains the most enjoyable Gonzaga season I have ever followed in my lifetime as a Gonzaga Bulldogs fan and alum. This recent team was awesome. Kevin Pangos, Kyle Wiltjer, Domas Sabonis (who’s slowly climbing up the ladder as my favorite Gonzaga player ever), Przemek Karnowski (with him and Sabonis forming “Low Bloc” the best nickname for a pair of post players ever)…that team was certainly the best and most talented in my lifetime. They didn’t have the charm of that 2005-2006 team. They didn’t have the big Brazilian JP Batista who literally couldn’t jump. They didn’t have Mamery Diallo who earned a technical foul before a game for dunking in warmups. They didn’t have PMAC, whose mixtape still earns legendary status amongst hardcore Gonzaga fans (please watch it…it is a DELIGHT!). They didn’t have David Pendergraft, the redhead who was completely and utter position-less and yet still somehow contributed. They didn’t have the Battle in Seattle where Morrison banked in a three pointer to beat Oklahoma State, despite having 3 defenders on him (it also happened to be one of the all-time great Gus Johnson-Bill Raftery called games, which are now a relic of ancient times; also, check out Pendegraft and Morrison yelling at each other during the timeout at the :50 mark; I have no idea if they are yelling at each other to get each other pumped up or if Morrison said something to piss Pendergraft off; one of the great mysteries of our time).

So yes, Morrison brings all kinds of nostalgic memories for me as a Gonzaga fan. However, another reason I love Morrison? Morrison was in my mind, the ultimate basketball hipster. He was the ultimate basketball hipster in college, the NBA and even abroad when he was playing for Serbia Belgrade. Whether it was his style, his antics, his game, Morrison embued “hipster” in every conceivable sense of the word in basketball circles, and to me, that is something I have grown to appreciate about his legacy, even if every other aspect (i.e. being the next “Larry Bird”) deteriorates each passing day. Here are the three major reasons why Morrison will always be the “forefather” of “Hipster” basketball players in my mind.

1. His college days were against-the-grain from what was typical of a college basketball player

Morrison stories are somewhat legendary at Gonzaga. Even before I stepped on campus as a freshman in August of 2005, everyone and their mother had a Morrison story about his freshman and sophomore years living in Desmet, the primary All-Male dorm. Let’s take a look at some of the stories.

  • The most popular one was that Morrison listened to Rage Against the Machine and considered himself a communist. Never mind that he probably was the furthest thing from a communist because he was the one that built up his image as the next Larry Bird for marketing reasons which is probably the least communist thing you could do. But Morrison, in his eyes, was a damn hammer and sickel flag-waving commie up there with Ivan Drago. His communist views (as well as his battle with type 1 Diabetes) were so widespread that they were intimately featured in a SI profile about him his freshman year, a bigger deal in retrospect than when I initially thought (I mean, to have a Gonzaga player, let alone a freshman, profiled in Sports Illustrated was really rare since Gonzaga was known more as the “chic” mid-major school rather than the budding powerhouse that they are known as today). I don’t know if Morrison still holds his communist views as passionately as a 30-year-old today as he did as an 18-year-old freshman, but his political views definitely pushed his hipster-meter to the max.
  • Morrison also was widely known for a lot of his personal upkeep quirks. If you have not watched “The Season” profiling Gonzaga basketball in 2004, drop what you’re doing and start watching Episode 1 NOW (it’s free on Youtube…as I say that, it will probably be taken off soon). One of the most underrated joys of watching the series is how the team and even Few constantly bash Morrison for his dress and his hygeine. Consistently, they bash him for the shirts, he wears, not showering, not wearing a tie, etc. It really is hilarious, especially since Mark Few just does it in the most dry, “Mark Few-esque” way possible. And Morrison really plays with it, and sorta gets annoyed with their comments, but keeps his whole routine because he likes to be noticed, even if he acts like he doesn’t care, but you can tell that he probably does (sound confusing? Yeah it is, but that is the case with most hipsters).
  • Morrison really brought back the whole retro style thing, which to be honest, was kinda cool. Yes, were the Larry Bird comparisons unfair in terms of his game? Probably. But, you had to love the “Larry Bird”-style he brought back to the college game. The striped, mid-socks, the baggy jersey, the shaggy hair, the mustache, etc. Morrison harked back to a style of the 70’s that was widely missed. Morrison reminded you of ABA, Dr. J, and a time where wearing black socks with sneakers was considered sacrilege. Did Morrison look ridiculous at times? Absolutely. His hair always bordered between aging beatnik and possible “Thomas Harris-esque” serial killer. But I liked how unabashed Morrison was in being a “throwback” without actually overtly mentioning he was going throwback while he was in college.
  • And speaking of “throwback” Morrison’s game goes totally against the grain of what is expected today. Morrison struggled to get to the rim both in his college and professional career. He wasn’t the greatest ballhandler or playmaker, and he really wasn’t that much od a dead-eye beyond the arc (yes he did shoot 42.8 percent from beyond the arc his final season at GU, but this was before they extended the line back; and only 28 percent of his shots were from beyond the arc too). Morrison in all ways was a mid-range shooter, and man was he an entertaining one. And it wasn’t like he had some great “Kemba Walker”-esque step back or some great Iso move. He just would catch take a dribble and shoot over in the mid-range, and somehow be really effective offensively. Yes, that kind of game is archaic in today’s “3 or Key” style of basketball play, but it was pretty retro, since many NBA players in the 70’s and 80’s made their bread on mastering the mid-range jumper. Thus, was Morrison probably in retrospect inefficient? Most likely. But you can appreciate the artistry and nostalgia his game summoned.

I could go into way more “Why Morrison was a hipster before hipster was a fad in college” here, but we need to move on. Some highlights I didn’t mention: his affinity for Halo 2 (even as a junior, he would come to the frosh-soph dorms and play Halo 2 on the network against all of us); living in an all-male college dorm for two years (pretty unheard of since most college star basketball players would live in an apartment with just basketball players); and chewing tobacco (yes, he dipped…Grizzly I believe was his preference).

2. Morrison seemed content, but uncaring he was a bench player in the NBA

I am sure being a bench warmer gnawed at Adam Morrison following his rookie year. I know he and Larry Brown struggled to co-exist, and he went to a loaded LA Lakers team that really had no spot or plan for him (really, they just acquired to get Kwame Brown the hell out-of-town before Kobe Bryant murdered him). But, it seemed Morrison seemed content with being a bench guy, and I think that is refreshing because if I were in his boat, I’d be pretty content too making almost 10 million dollars over two years to be courtside to two NBA championships. Seriously. Sign me up for that now.

But the one thing that was pretty “hipster” of Morrison was that he gave off an “uncaring” cool about being a bench warmer. He wasn’t pouting, but he wasn’t that Mark Madsen-Mateen Cleaves-esque bench warmer who was always the first one out, slapping butts, waving towels, etc. I mean, to be honest, those guys are annoying, and they get way too much fanfare in my opinion. We know you suck. We do not need you to make us feel less bad about your sucking because you’re the first to give high fives to the starting 5 off the bench. And we certainly don’t need to go batshit crazy when you come in just so you can throw some airballs and bricks from beyond the arc and maybe make 1 out of 10. Whether its college or pro, the lovable end of the bench guys is an overrated arc in our basketball society.

Morrison never seemed to buy into that. Sure, there were a couple of times he got fired up, but for the most part, he was simply a “Well, I’m happy to be here, but I’m bored and I wonder what I am going to do after the game” kind of player. Even in practice, it seemed like Morrison toed the line between “caring” and “not caring”, so much so that he never seemed to get called out on it, but he never really was recognized as the “Ollie from Hoosiers” type of player that coaches recognized or sung the praises of. Check out Morrison toeing that line in a fight that breaks out in practice between DJ “Tacos” Mbenga and Chris “How the Hell Do I make this Much Money” Mihm.

Starting at the :30 mark, you can see that Morrison comes in, tries to break it up as if he cares, but then five seconds later just walks off in a “screw it…this is stupid…I’m breaking up a fight between DJ Mbenga and Chris Mihm” fashion. It’s really the perfect, totally hipster ploy: show you care enough for just enough time to look good in the eyes of your teammates before you are able to do what you really want, which is walk away because the whole moment is asinine in the grand scheme of things (after all, it’s two backup centers fighting).

But, the crown hipster jewel of Morrison’s NBA campaign? His legendary NBA Live commercial which aired on draft day. Bask in its glory below:

The whole things feels like the ultimate fantasy of every middle-aged white corporate executive who wished they could play basketball, but can’t beyond their night rec-league. (“Let’s create a commercial that echoes what really matters to us in basketball! Not dunks! Not great play! Not athleticsm! But EMOTION! PURE COLLEGE BASKETBALL EMOTION PEOPLE! THE NBA DOESN’T GET THAT!”). Even Morrison seems not really in the whole thing, but is doing it a.) because he knows its part of his image and b.) because he’s probably getting paid bank to do this commercial. The whole “I appear I care, but I don’t really” persona of Adam Morrison. And you wonder why I consider him the “Godfather” of Hipster basketball players. That ad above should clinch it for you.

3. His Tenure with Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade

Some people will say that him playing in Serbia was an absolute sign of failure. Personally, I loved it. Euro ball is so underappreciated in general. I would rather watch the Euroleague championships than any high-major conference tournament nowadays. Euro ball is actually great ball to watch, and the fans are so “soccer-esque” that the environment are more batshit insane than soccer games because it is all happening indoors and seems like a firehazard to the max. If you have not seen any European games, Google it or Youtube it or something. I guarantee you that if you’re a basketball fan you’ll slowly come to love it.

And with that being said, Morrison playing in Serbia just seemed like the perfect fit. It was counter-cultural and he seemed to be truly appreciated for his throwback style and game. In the highlights below, check him stepping inside the arc for a highly inefficient long two, get in the face of opposing players who probably don’t speak English, and get all kinds of Serbian fans riled all up. All this, while looking like a guy who plays Magic the Gathering in Comic Book shops but hits the gym five times a week and is in really good shape. Truly a sight to behold and take some time to do so below

The Legacy of Morrison

Again, Morrison without a doubt was a disappointment at the NBA Level. But he needs to be appreciated. Appreciated as the true NBA Hipster pioneer that he is. He cared, but not cared about style, both his personal and playing before it became cool to do so. He was unapologetic for who he was and he left us a lot of great memories and anecdotes to associate him with. There probably will never be another player like Adam Morrison, simply because players will be too self-conscious to ever pull the stunts and stuff he did.

I will write more posts about hipster basketball players in college, the NBA, D-League and even abroad. But in all honesty, I doubt any of them will ever touch the heights of hipster-ism that Morrison set before them.

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