Elite ‘Glue Guys’ 101

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Shane Battier, Glue Guy / Retired - The Players' Tribune

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Some glue guys are made, and others are born.

Myself, I’ve been a glue guy in one capacity or another since I was just a little kid. I viewed it as a matter
of survival. You see, I grew up in a predominantly white part of Detroit called Birmingham. My dad was
the only black guy in town, and I was born mixed race in a neighborhood where races generally didn’t mix.

This was the early ’80s, mind you. There were no mixed brothers on The A-Team or Three’s Company.

When I first started attending elementary school, it was clear that one of these things was not like the other.

At that age when all you want to do is fit in, I always felt a little different. But early on, I figured out a simple concept that would guide me throughout the rest of my life: People like people who help them win. It doesn’t matter if someone thinks you’re goofy or nerdy or different, if you can help someone win at something, they’ll like you.

So you should have seen little Shane on the kickball field, mini afro and all. I was a beast on the diamond, diving for balls, sliding headfirst whenever I could -– and winning. It was never about the credit that I received. It was about the credit the team got. My teammates knew what I had done to help them and that’s what mattered. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but even back when I needed a hall pass to use the bathroom, I was a glue guy.

Funny thing is, despite being described as a glue guy for more or less my entire life, I still find that there’s no perfect way to describe what the term actually means.

In essence, a glue guy must possess a certain je ne sais quoi.

In regards to skill set, glue guys can either perform adequately at every task or superbly at only a few. There’s no ideal size, but too small to be a big guy and too big to be a small guy seems to be the preferred range. There is usually one thing you do really well on offense and one thing you really do well on defense. For me, it was the corner three ball and generally being a pest on defense. I could be really annoying. Just ask the Mamba.

You also don’t occupy any particular position on the court. On a play-by-play basis, you’ll be tasked with closing out on a shooting guard, or holding on for dear life against a center.

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But there are other, less tangible ways a glue guy helps a team win.

One way is by never worrying about looking cool. (Not that I was ever mistaken for cool.)

I knew my value was helping us notch victories however I could. So there were certain things that I did to ensure that my team was always as prepared as possible. For example, I used to ask really basic questions during film room sessions.

“Coach, can we run through that last set one more time?”

“Hold up coach, which direction do I roll out of this pick?”

I didn’t even realize it at the time, but even back when I needed a hall pass to use the bathroom, I was a glue guy.

“Wait coach, which player is supposed to switch here if the point guard drives?”

“Sorry, can you run through that set just one more time?”

Yeah, I was that guy.

Nobody likes that guy. I know that.

But there was always a strategy behind why I did it: I always knew that if I had a certain question about a game plan, there was almost always going to be a younger, less experienced player on the team who had the same question but was too intimidated to speak up. Having that question answered could ultimately pay dividends during a game. If the moment of truth comes and that player is prepared, that’s a plus for our team.

The NBA is a league where, particularly in recent years, everyone judges production based on statistics. That’s fine, I get it. But there are a lot of small things — like asking “dumb” questions — that can’t be adequately measured by conventional stats. There are also plenty of things that are completely unrelated to basketball that most definitely affect a team’s performance.

I always extended my responsibilities as a glue guy to stuff off the court. For example, I was always the team organizer of events, especially when it came to March Madness pools and NFL survivor pick’em contests. There were other things that I could do with my time, but I knew that if everyone put in a hundred bucks for the NFL Survivor pool, on Monday morning every guy would come in hooting and hollering about terrible picks that LeBron made or the genius pick that Udonis made.

I also hosted a regular karaoke event for The Battier Take Charge Foundation, affectionately known at Battioke, where all the guys would have fun and generally embarrass themselves channeling their inner Beiber. This is what a championship duo looks like:

It seems small, but those interactions that have nothing to do with basketball are crucial. Teammates can never be too connected. Every connection strengthens the familiarity within a team. Ask the Warriors — cohesiveness wins.

You don’t know where that connection is going to be tested, but if you want to win a championship, that bond a team feels within the locker room is going to be challenged at some point. Now, of course, I am not saying that the reason the Heat won two rings was because of March Madness pools. But at the same time, they didn’t hurt.

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Now let’s talk about ego.

Because being described as a glue guy is considered a putdown by most. Usually you are called a glue guy because you fail the eyeball test. For me, it was my lack of relative athleticism amongst the best athletes on the planet. However, you can’t operate with some fear of ending up on a highlight reel or looking dumb in front of your teammates. One of the reasons I was able to stay in the league for 13 years was because I wasn’t afraid of looking like an idiot. The narrative simply did not matter to me. I had bigger fish to fry.

Don’t get me wrong: I had an ego, Mother Teresa I was not. But the distinction that I made was that as long as I did my job and my teammates and coaches knew my value, I never had to worry about the outside critiques of my game or value. Generally, a glue guy is only as well regarded as the team he’s playing for.

Usually you are called a glue guy because you fail the eyeball test.

For example, I always thought it was fascinating the way people discussed me as a player while I was on those scrappy Houston Rocket teams that didn’t have much playoff success. The general sentiment about my playing style was that I was tough, had great leadership skills, but couldn’t dribble, jump or create my own shot to save my life. Some people viewed me as a liability on the court in certain situations.

Then I go to a team like Miami and we’re winning, and we’re competing for championships, and suddenly Shane Battier is this invaluable player, just an unbelievable glue guy. Always in the right spot. Tenacious defender. Never afraid to dive on the floor for a loose… well, you know the deal.

No one talked about the fact that I couldn’t dribble or jump very high. No one talked about the fact that I was, in essence, the same player I’d been since I’d played at Duke — since I was in kindergarten, actually. I played to maximize my teammates. But narratives have a way of shifting when you’re winning. Sometimes all you need is a different roster or different opportunity, and all of a sudden, all of those deficiencies are wiped away by winning. When you’re winning, they’re “quirks.” That is a real phenomenon. I lived it.

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I’ve listed a lot of glue guy qualities here, but these are the four guys currently in the NBA who I think best embody the role. This isn’t a scientific ranking, I just love watching these guys play:

Jae Crowder
He is an amazing glue guy. With his energy and his toughness and fearlessness he gives a young team in Boston a great amount of heart. There is not one aspect of Jae Crowder’s game that leaves you in awe, but he does everything well and the Celtics are better when he is on the floor. It’s easy to see why Brad Stevens likes leaving him out there for heavy minutes.

Tim Duncan
The quintessential glue guy.

What? Glue guys can’t be first ballot Hall of Famers? Of course they can. Tim may be the greatest defender of all time for the very fact that he is never out of position. Never. If you watch a Spurs game, Tim Duncan is always in the right place to not only to set himself up defensively, but everyone around him. That is why their defense is great every single year. He is very much the glue of that defense.

Sure, Tim gets ‘froggy’ every now and then and scores 30 points a game or grabs 18 rebounds, but he is really a pillar, both literally and figuratively, of the Spurs organization. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are both amazing players and first-ballot Hall of Famers in my mind. Kawhi Leonard is an MVP candidate now. But, let’s not forget why the Spurs have been great for so long: Tim Duncan. When he is on the floor everything seems to fit together and work better.

That sure sounds like a glue guy, doesn’t it?

Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala
Looking at the way the Warriors are playing now, when they’re really rolling, they’ve got Draymond Green at the 1 through 5 and Iguodala at the 1 through 4. People get mesmerized by Steph Curry’s shooting and the playmaking abilities of Klay Thompson, but make no mistake, the key to the franchise’s success is the health of Draymond and Iggy. They allow the machine to function.

Andre was a franchise guy for so long, but only now is he really being utilized to his fullest extent. When I talk about the narrative surrounding a player completely changing after moving teams, he’s a great example. He had an amazing career in Philly as the guy but some people viewed him as an awesome athlete who could never lead his team to playoff glory.

So it really was gratifying to watch his performance in the Finals last year. He was amazing. Oftentimes, being called a glue guy can be considered a backhanded compliment or a slight. But look, glue guys can be dominant players. There is no question that Andre Iguodala was a dominant player in The Finals last year and probably was the difference in the Warriors winning the championship. He is the perfect example of a guy who when he is involved everything works better.

Draymond Green is obviously great. It’s almost funny to look back at the people knocking him ahead of the NBA Draft. So many people focused on his lack of size and the fact that he didn’t have much shooting range. But if you just sat down and watched the guy play at Michigan State, you knew he could flat out ball. Forget the measurable and statistics, the guy is a basketball player.

If you just sat down and watched the guy play at Michigan State, you knew he could flat out ball. Forget the measurable and statistics, the guy is a basketball player.

When he is on the floor he unlocks the amazing versatility and creativity of the Warriors. He also instilled a certain swagger that I think really helped them make the leap last season. He helped that team believe they could beat anyone. The reason why the Warriors look poised to repeat as NBA Champions is because they have two amazing guys who are able to connect all the players on the roster.

Coming down the stretch in the NBA, you’re bound to see plenty of high-flying dunks and slick dimes. But take a moment to check out the guy off frame. Tip your hat to the player who was willing to take the physical punishment of diving for a loose ball or taking a charge to create an extra possession for his team. In the NBA, there’s a stat for everything. But if you want to be a champion, you have to build a team around the guys who care about the only stat that matters:

Corner threes. (What? … I’m biased.)

OK, seriously: It’s wins. Just wins, baby.

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