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The Allure of Taking Risks


Why counter-culture characters are so celebrated in basketball


Showboating is the bane of coaches across the world, who often lament mistakes and missed opportunities caused by unnecessarily flashy play. Yet this opinion is rarely shared by basketball players and fans, who live for the excitement of the unexpected. Even as we acknowledge the primacy of fundamentals, flashy players such as Jason Williams still catch our attention and become cult favorites.


For long-time fans and players, the game can start to look and feel homogeneous. You know every move and every play, and you can often anticipate what is going to happen next. It is little wonder that we are transfixed by players who can pull off the unexpected on a regular basis, be it through a never-before-seen dribbling move or a no-look pass to an open teammate who had gone unnoticed by everyone else.


Beside gameplay, players seem to fit neatly into different molds, be it the lanky slasher, the conservative pass-first point guard or the big man whose bread-and-butter is the pick-and-pop. Yet there are some mercurial individuals who can routinely surprise us through their flair and creativity. Lance Stephenson pops to mind with his passion and unbridled panache, adopting a high-risk high-reward style of play that is simultaneously entertaining and frustrating.


At times, we simply admire the outrageous talent of these nonconformists. Jamal Crawford is an example of a hoops savant, able to dribble and score in a way that even fellow NBA players struggle to imitate. Despite the criticism of pundits, or perhaps because of it, we appreciate how these characters rarely seem to reach their full potential, for there is beauty in their imperfections.


The JR Smiths and Nick Youngs of the world have brought us countless hours of entertainment with their exceptional mix of top-flight athleticism and body control, the ability and willingness to take and make ridiculous shots, and the inexplicable inability to channel these talents into elite-level play. To them, we can only say thank you, for making the game a little bit less predictable and a lot more fun.