This is The Tribune Mailbag, a new series in which athletes answer questions directly sent from our readers. Past editions have featured The Captain himself, NHL enforcer and Twitter savant Paul Bissonnette,and American soccer hero Megan Rapinoe.
Next up, we’re excited to have someone who, without argument, is one of the most beloved players in modern NBA history. Take it away, Brian Scalabrine.
Everyone loves the “White Mamba” nickname, but what are some other names you picked up during your playing career?-Matt
Veal Scallopini kind of caught on for a while. My closest friends just call me Scal.
I’ve had some nicknames that I hoped would stick but didn’t. For example, I liked “The Vanilla Godzilla,” personally. But no other name caught on quite like White Mamba. I mean, it really is the perfect nickname for me.
I’m hoping deep down that it never gets handed out again. I’m hoping that I’m always known as The White Mamba. At the very least, I just want to be considered the second most dominant mamba of my era in the NBA.
Who’s the funniest player you’ve ever encountered?-Khalil
I always thought Eddie House was the funniest guy because of the jokes he would crack in the most tense moments during games.
There was one game when it was crunch time, and KG was at the line. Eddie looked down the bench and saw Big Baby wearing a cast because he’d broken his hand. Eddie turns to me: “Man, we need to monitor Baby’s caloric intake during Thanksgiving. I mean, we should put a camera in that cast to make sure things stay under control.”
You developed a certain persona for yourself during your career almost as a cheerleader as much as a player. Fans really loved it, but did you find this persona changed the way your teammates viewed you?-Andreas
I remember one time Joakim Noah said to me, “Scal, you know, you look like you can’t hoop … but you can really hoop!”
I don’t think I’ve ever earned a nicer compliment.
Most people didn’t see the side of me that was grinding to stay in the league. I was someone who handled his business like a professional, and that was always enough to earn the respect of my teammates.
Well, that and I really can hoop.
What is it like to have spent part of your professional career as essentially human victory cigar? You spent your whole life becoming a serious professional athlete, so was it weird when fans considered it a novelty when you came into the game?-Michael
I wish I would have embraced it more in Boston than I did.
When I was with the Celtics, I thought it was a little disrespectful when the starters would bust their ass to get us at a 15-point lead, and then fans would start chanting my name. I felt like it deflected attention away from the team. I didn’t really get it.
But in Chicago, I really just bought into the whole thing. I decided I wasn’t going to fight it anymore, and gave the people what they wanted. When I got into the game, I’d try my best to get a quick bucket just to rev the fans up. It was a blast.
And that makes me wish I would have played up my role a bit more in Boston. I was a little self-conscious, but my teammates were always supportive, and they’d be trying to get me buckets, too.
Who wins in a cage match between you and Matt Bonner?-Matt
Let me just say this: If you’re going into a fight, you can’t think that the other guy can beat you. I’m betting on me. I’m playing for keeps.
Who was the best trash talker that you ever played with or against?-Robby
Paul Pierce is the greatest trash talker I’ve ever encountered in this league.
Draymond Green holds the crown now, but Paul Pierce was in a class of his own for many, many years.
Paul’s trash talk was devastating because he’s so witty and smart. I mean, the guy is off the charts smart. It’s one thing to say something outrageous or offensive to throw someone off, but I would hear Paul just cut through guys with his words. And the fact that he was so respected made his insults hurt even more. Nobody wants to get told they’re human garbage by The Truth.
You can see why Paul’s had so much success with poker. He understands how to employ psychological warfare to his advantage. To him, that’s all part of the game. He didn’t back down from any player, and there was never a time when he appeared rattled. Guys could try to talk smack back at him but it wouldn’t get through. He was too ice cold on the court.
Do you have any regrets from your NBA career? What’s something you’re particularly proud of?-Vince
One thing I was particularly proud of was my winning percentage as a starter. It was around 62% or 63%. I was proud of that because of the caliber of player I’d be asked to replace in the lineup. In New Jersey, I’d be filling in for Kenyon Martin, and in Boston, I’d be backing up KG and Kendrick. When I played alongside starter-caliber players, the team did well, and that meant a lot to me.
As far as regrets, I wish that I was better off the bench. At least, I wish I had a better mentality off the bench. Some guys can come into a game and assert themselves right away with no issues. But it always took me a little time to get comfortable with the flow of things and really get a feel for the pulse of the game. I wish I could have been able to jump into games and been ready to go.
In terms of raw physical talent, who’s the best player you’ve ever played with?-Michelle
Kevin Garnett, easily.
To play in the league for as long as he has and never really succumb to any major injuries is nothing short of remarkable. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that we’re the same species.
He’s a combination of everything you could ask for in a basketball player.
How thin is the line between staying in and falling out of the league? What combination of things helped you stay on the right side of it for so long?-Jared
Here’s how I could have had a two-year career in NBA: I get drafted by a team other than the Nets, don’t make the NBA Finals my rookie year and never get a chance to play alongside Jason Kidd. If that sequence of events goes down, I’d probably have been playing in China or Europe, when the Celtics won a title in ’08.
When I got drafted by New Jersey, we had a bunch of young guys and were generally considered near the bottom of the league. But then we got Jason Kidd, and suddenly we became perennial contenders in the East. Trading for Jason Kidd had nothing to do with me, but it helped me establish myself as a quality depth player in the NBA. Honestly, it changed my whole life.
For the guys who are truly elite — let’s say, the top 20% of the NBA — they’re going to be successful no matter where they land as a rookie. For everyone else, the difference between a long career and a short one can be based mostly on other circumstances. So much of it is being put in the right kind of situation to succeed.
Every year, 60 new guys are drafted with the intention of taking someone’s spot. This isn’t an easy game of musical chairs to win; It takes a lot of good fortune.
You were part of four Finals teams, but didn’t play significant minutes in any of them. For role guys, does it feel like you’re really part of the process, or more along for the ride?-Anthony
Rotations get cut in the playoffs all the time, but I never took it personally. I think other people want to create this stigma that the guys on the end of the bench aren’t as much a part of the team, but within the locker room that’s not how it is. Even if you aren’t starting, every guy on the roster serves a specific role that keeps things moving.
Of course, I recognize that there were some guys who played a bigger role than others, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a team sport.
Eddie House helped the Celtics win that championship in ’08, and there were some games in those playoffs he only got five minutes off the bench or even the dreaded “DNP – Coach’s Decision.” But the way players contribute stretches way beyond a box score. Sam Cassell’s leadership was a big part of the foundation of that team. Everybody has a role.
I was always on teams that were very good, so I didn’t get as many minutes as I probably would have if I was on a rebuilding team. But the trade off of playing for a great team, even if you’re not in the rotation, was completely worth it. I mean, it wasn’t like my goal was to letter in varsity. There were some guys who were just flat out better than me — and that’s fine. I wasn’t ever sitting on the bench all salty about it. I mean, it’s difficult to be bitter while you’re watching some of the best players in NBA history kill themselves to help you win a championship.
You’re putting together your dream Slam Dunk contest, who are your four participants?-Annie
Okay, let’s just accept that the Slam Dunk contest is dead. It’s been dead. And no matter how many gimmicks or gadgets the league throws into it, it’s going to continue to be dead.
I think what the people want to see are one-on-one games. Get a sponsor to put up a $10 million purse, and have the best players in the world go at it.
I’d watch that.
Which guy in the league is the most different from how he’s perceived publicly?-Max
Did you mostly feel secure in your job throughout your career, or were there times when it seemed like you were at the end of the line?-Steven
I always felt insecure about my job, but that’s just the nature of the NBA.
I don’t mean insecure in terms of day-to-day being worried about my job, but more insecure in a way that I knew I could never feel completely comfortable, because then I wouldn’t push myself. There are not many guys in the NBA who ever have the luxury of feeling “set.”
What’s your spirit animal?-Carlos
I’m a wolf.
But not, like, an alpha-male kind of wolf. I’m one of the guys in the pack who does his job, man. If I need to cut off the deer, I cut off the deer. If someone else takes the deer down and I just get a foot, then so be it, I’m cool.
So I guess my spirit animal is a working class wolf.
What’s the biggest difference between the league now versus when you started playing in the early 2000s?-Sam
The emphasis on shooting and three-pointers is a big thing. The advancements in analytics have been important as well, for better and worse.
Honestly, I don’t know if I could have made it in the NBA if I was into the league today. The scouting is so sophisticated, and I’ve always been more of a coach’s type of player. I don’t know if I would have been given a shot. Do I believe in my own abilities as a player? Absolutely. But I’m also realistic, and 11 years in the league isn’t bad for a 6’9″ guy with very limited athleticism.
How much did you have to drink before you gave?-Brandon
Okay, so the issue was not how much I drank, but when I drank.
You see, I had my pre-game meal at 3 p.m. Then the game starts at 9 p.m., and we were celebrating at 1 a.m. A bottle of champagne goes a long way on an empty stomach.
After we won, there was champagne everywhere, and it was great. Everyone should get to experience the joy of spraying champagne on their teammates, even if it’s after winning a rec league championship. If you can do it, do it.
Before I actually took the podium, I had been looking for my wife so we could take a picture with the trophy. And then I heard Kobe was going to go on stage, so my inebriated mind decided I should hijack the podium because … why not?
I mean, that’s the only time in my career I ever stopped Kobe Bryant.