Espo: Would you leave your significant other for Marcin Gortat?
Published: February 03, 2011 @ 8:41am
Washington Wizards forward Al Thornton (14) goes to the basket as he is fouled by Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat (4), of Poland, during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 21, 2011, in Washington. The Suns won 109-91. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Mrs. Espo and I have one of those "celebrity pass lists." You know the ones made famous by the television show Friends where the two in the relationship select five famous people in case they meet them?
I recently added a name to mine. He's bald, can rebound, is humorously outspoken, has a unique nickname and plays in the low post for the Phoenix Suns. (Oh, did I mention that unlike the lists on Friends our ‘pass' list has nothing to do with cheating on each other? We've agreed on five athletes or entertainers that we're allowed to ditch a date for if we ever had a chance to hang out with them.)
If this were the mid-1990s you'd think the person I described above was Charles Barkley. In 2011 that description belongs to a slightly different type of player: Marcin Gortat.
That's right, the 6-11, 240 pound ‘Polish Hammer,' who looks paler than a 1946 NBA team photo, has quickly earned himself a spot alongside Barkley, Conan O'Brien, Bruce Springsteen and Jerry Colangelo as people I'd ditch Mrs. Espo for in a moment's notice.
Most of you are probably wondering why. The reason is simple, really.
Since arriving in Phoenix on Dec. 18 as the most intriguing part of a six player trade with the Orlando Magic, Gortat hasn't shied away from calling out his teammates in the media. Roughly two weeks into his Suns tenure the center was questioning the team's defensive effort and saying 'things can't be worse'. His great sound clips haven't stopped since.
While some view his comments as a questionable thing for a newcomer to do, I view them as the kind of honest assessment the Suns organization needs.
Gortat has the right outlook when it comes to his outspoken nature as well. He views it as seizing an opportunity to be a leader.
"I was a vocal leader on the national team and sometimes in Orlando, obviously I didn't have a position to be a vocal leader there," he said. "I'm trying to help the team. If I see a player who's making a lot of mistakes defensively I'm going to try to help him. There are a lot of players who are helping me offensively. That's why I've been brought here, to help. I'm going try to be vocal and show by example on the floor being productive and doing all the dirty work."
That mentality is the same one that led a 10-year-old Espo growing up in the Valley to idolize Barkley. Gortat's honesty, infused with humor, and his play in the paint has captured my attention in a similar but less childish way.
Most wouldn't be as brash as to compare him to Barkley, but that doesn't mean Gortat doesn't have the makings of a fan favorite.
Phoenicians fall in love with the blue collar type of athlete who works hard, is quirky, says entertaining things, has charisma and a decent amount of success on the court or field. Gortat fits that mold.
He is no stranger to the effort it takes to be a world class athlete. As the son of an Olympic boxer father and a mother who played volleyball for the Polish national team, he's been exposed to it his entire life. It's why, even though he spent three-and-a-half seasons as nothing more than Dwight Howard's heavy bag, he's beginning to blossom into a high caliber big man in the desert.
It's even more impressive when you realize that he didn't pick up a basketball until the age of 17. Prior to protecting the paint he protected the net as a soccer goalie. It's a sport he attributes a lot of his success in the NBA to.
"I think it was the biggest factor so far," Gortat said. "I think my hands are way better after seven years of playing soccer. I would say soccer made me a bit tougher because, when you are falling on the ground 150 times a day as a goalie, you become a tougher guy. Laterally, I think I move way better than a lot of basketball players thanks to soccer."
If you're like me and think it would be entertaining to see Gortat in net, don't hold your breath. There apparently is no visual evidence of it ever occurring.
"If there was a video, I'm telling you right now, it would probably cost a lot of money," he joked. "At that time I didn't know I was going to be a big basketball player in the NBA and being the only one from Poland. If I knew back in day I would probably have taken a bunch of videos. I don't even have one picture. I don't have anything."
If that isn't enough evidence that the Polock has a fantastic sense of humor try this on for size. A few weeks ago as a guest on Sports 620 KTAR's Doug and Wolf show, Lon Babby said Gortat had quite a unique clause in his contract.
"There was a clause in Gortat's contract," the Suns president of basketball operations said, "that made me smile which says he puts his guarantee in jeopardy if he engages in dueling."
As soon as I heard it I became intrigued by the idea. An NBA player who duels in his free time? It's quite the stark contrast to most in the league, but it seemed too good to be true. It's such a novel thing. I wonder what would happen if I put on some clothing worthy of the Renaissance Festival, snuck a white glove into practice, slapped him across the face and challenged him right there on the practice court.
Alas that dream will never become reality. It turns out that Gortat doesn't even know what dueling is. Luckily his response to the question was even more entertaining than the original premise.
"Unfortunately I don't know what that word means, dueling," he explained. "If you would say something about speeding, driving fast with a car, that would be a different story. I'm not planning on fighting and being Spartacus or whatever."
Despite a willingness to be vocal and ham it up with the media, Gortat also has a humble side to him. He isn't afraid to admit much of his current success is tied to the teammates, in particular his point guard.
"Steve Nash is the offense of the Phoenix Suns. He creates everything for everybody. The team without him would be fifty-percent worse, honestly. Each player is bringing something different to the table. Steve is obviously a great point guard. We have a lot of great shooters that are helping me. They are stretching the floor for me."
So while Mrs. Espo puts guys like Rob Thomas, Brad Pitt, Michael Jordan and other attractive actors and musicians on her list, I'll include a bald Polish guy with a giant tattoo on his arm in mine. Between the double-doubles he's been collecting on a nightly basis recently, his funny stories and outspokenness, I'd like to think it'd be quite the entertaining evening.