Saturday, 27 August 2011
(Originally published by SLAMonline on 09/30/09 http://www.slamonline.com/online/nba/2009/09/measure-of-dedication/)
Matt Harpring’s plays with heart. Without it, he would have called it quits by now.
By Tim David Harvey
Carmelo Anthony posts up and puts up a shot, it’s just off. He forces his way under the basket and tips and battles for the rebound. He then crosses over-leaving his defender for dust, crosses over again and dunks hard in the grills of three Celtic greens. The crowd goes wild.
LeBron James rolls off the screen and drives hard and fast towards the basket. He takes off just inside the paint with both force and grace. He takes off like he was about to get all 10s and it was mid-February. Except Tim Duncan’s is in the way… or at least he was in the way. He ends up staring at a part of the King he didn’t want to see as ‘Bron completes a dunk that even the San An crowd can appreciate.
Matt Harpring tries to shake off his defender, he hustles left, he shakes right. He roll’s off the screen set by his teammate and sprints into position receiving Andrei Kirlienko’s pass. He picks his spot, releases a jumper and its all butter. It’s simple yet effective. He does this again and again against the Raptors that night. It’s not as flashy as James or Melo, but it still gets the job done and the result is the same. Points on the board, point made.
Understand, this is not an article arguing that Matt Harpring is better than the best, although he does deserve his name amongst the better players in the NBA. We’re not looking at his career in retrospect because here’s hoping this is not finished. Matt Harpring would have called it quits by now if he wasn’t dedicated. It may not look like he stands a chance, but he’s fighting for the glimmer of opportunity.
“The toughest of my life.” That’s how Matt Harpring described last season with all the chronic injuries he endured. True warriors don’t complain in the face of adversity. When hardship stares them down they just get on with it. Whatever Harpring is going through, it must be tough for him to admit its getting the better of him. It’s sad to see that injuries have forced a decline in Harpring’s production. He’s not the type of guy who only averages about two made free throws and a bucket a game like he did last season.
There were encouraging points last season, though, as Harpring recorded 14 points and 8 rebounds off the bench. He’s still driven enough to turn it up when needed no matter the physical cost, which is easier for him to endure then the mental loss. In Utah’s only playoff win against the Lakers, Matt had a strong (for an injured reserve) 10 points. This shows he can still perform and, at the very least, showcased a triumphant hurrah wearing baby blue.
Why isn’t plain, old fashioned consistency and dedication championed too? He’s not your typical baller. Where’s the tats? Where’s the attitude? When was that the measure though? He may not go hard but he plays hard. He’s not a poster on your wall but he sets the standard. Matt Harpring is what he is — your prototype, do-it-all small forward. Small forwards like Matt Harpring are uncommon today, but don’t call him old school. He’s doing his thing right now. He’s not SportsCenter. He’s not Top 10 plays of the week. But he’s there everyday, first one in, last one out. Measure this guy’s worth statistically and you would be selling him short. Quantify all this mans done in sentences and it’ll be hard to find the words he best deserves.
Harpring’s career averages are at 11.5 ppg and 5.1 ppg. He averaged more than 11 points per game for seven years straight. His career season came in ’02-03 when he averaged 17.6 ppg (including a career-high 33 points against the TWolves), proving he can step out of his role and put up big numbers. Think of the years he averaged around 15 ppg with limited touches. Matt makes the most of what he has and what he’s given. It’s a shame his injuries robbed him of 178 games in his career so far, but it’s the stats — such as the 50 career double-doubles — that should really be considered.
The words ‘so far’ will be used here, not ‘once was,’ because let’s hope this guy isn’t done. True professional. True sportsmen. Loyal warrior to his previous teams and Utah Jazz legend. It’s a shame when someone is the model of consistency their whole career only to have their skills taken away from them. Sometimes it feels like all the hard work never pays off, doesn’t it? For guys like Matt, however, the hard work is not an everyday grind, it is a daily routine. Hard work is performed because of duty, not because of reward. The outcome is what’s good for others. Your team, not yourself. We may not see him in the Hall of Fame in a couple of years, but we will see him in the crowd as an honored guest when his All-Star teammates enter the Hall.
It’s not about what you can claim about yourself it’s about what you can obtain for others. The loudest one in the room is the quietest one in the room. Act up and boast too much and people will start to hate. Knuckle down and go about your business quietly and efficiently, however, and you’ll be respected. Matt Harpring isn’t gonna be popping up on MTV anytime soon, but true fans should tune in every time his videos hit NBATV.
You can’t ‘add’ Matt on MySpace but you could pick up a spot on one of his camps for your kids if you hit up mattharpring.com. His ‘Back to Basics’ camp where you’re taught “the right way to play the game of basketball. Flashy? No. Fundamental? Yes! This is Harpring’s legacy. Matt believes in decency and respect. Both are how he acts and the latter is what he has truly earned. This is why Matt has set his camps up in Atlanta and Salt Lake City — his hometown and the place where he now resides. Two places that have given him a lot, and two places where he’s returning the favor. The goals of Matt’s ‘Back to Basis’ camps are to ‘improve and have fun.’ Harpring knows it’s important to have both these elements. You can’t really enjoy one without the other. What Matt is teaching at his camps is what he’s displayed in every game and year of his career.
Back injury, knee injury, ankle injury, then ankle injury, knee injury and back injury all over again. Chronic problems cruelly doled out to a constant performer. Life’s not fair at times and it’s no game. It’s hard work; it’s a test. Time eventually takes away the things you did so well when you were young. It’s sobering, and it’s defeating. The true victory, however, is looking back at everything you’ve done with pride, and the falls become not so bad.
True triumph lies in looking at what faces you as a challenge and not a predicament. It’s staring at the darkness with no light and pushing forward. Its looking at the wall in front of you and deciding your gonna give it all you’ve got. In basketball it’s all about giving it one last shot. Its being knocked down again and again and again and picking yourself up again and again and again. It’s about being mentally capable when you physically unable. It’s about giving it another six weeks. It’s about looking at a foretold conclusion and offering it a re-evaluation.
Matt Harpring physically may not be able to compete in six weeks but one thing is for sure — he has never stopped being able to mentally compete. He’s the rare type of player who wants to give it all because hard work helps those around him not because he just wants to take down his opponent. Matt should be idolized. His positive attitude has never wavered and he will hold his head high even if he can’t carry himself physically for one more go-around. Matt’s personal motto is simple but key, ‘Don’t ever give up.’ Understand?