The Summer of Marcin Gortat

After an epic offseason, can 'The Polish Hammer' make D.C. the beasts of the NBA's East?

An artist's rendering of Marcin Gortat's offseason conditioning program. Credit: Illustration by Jesse Blanchard

What if I were to tell you that there is a professional basketball player that legitimately looks like a villain from He-Man: A sculpted, 7 feet (in battle sneakers) and 240 pounds of absurdist muscle tone, impossible bulges and elite bearding.

And what if I was to further share that this player has publicly advocated for in-game fist fighting as an appropriate way for NBA players to settle disputes? Or that he has an odd obsession with gladiator movies, is actively considering ruling Warsaw with an iron fist when his playing days are done and once ripped a towel in half with his bare hands on national television?

Finally, what if I told you that he prefers to be called "The Polish Hammer?"

Chances are, you would be interested in learning more about this person. So allow me to introduce you to Marcin Gortat, the NBA's only active Polish-born player, starting center for the up-and-coming Washington Wizards and budding superstar of the surreal.

Since breaking into the league in 2008 as Dwight Howard's brutish backup with the Orlando Magic, Gortat has been one of the Association's most interesting characters. His gargantuan physique, Polish accent, occasional mangling of the English language, excitable personality and penchant for dropping truly fantastic non-tangentials in interviews ("Storage Wars is great. Barry's my man. I love Barry") all combine into an intoxicating cocktail of ridiculousness.

But this summer, Gortat took his outsized absurdity even further.

Sure, LeBron stole the headlines and curried karmic favor with his return to Cleveland. And yeah, things worked out sorta sweet for Chandler Parsons, when he increased his annual pay by 1,492 percent with one magical pen stroke from Mark Cuban. And fine, I will concede that Kobe's personal-excellence summit with Arianna Huffington did seem positively delightful.

But the Polish Hammer ruled the offseason like no one else. This truly was The Summer of Gortat. Here's why:

The Huge Contract: On July 1, Gortat agreed to a 5-year, $60 million dollar contract with the Wizards. At the conclusion of the deal, Gortat will have earned $95.1 million over the course of his NBA career. Even if he never plays another game after that, he will have earned approximately $90 million more than the second-highest paid Polish NBA player, the legendary Cezary Trybanski.

Prior to signing the contract, Gortat gave an interview to Sports Illustrated in which he ranted against the state of disrepair found on D.C.-area roads. A gem from said interview: "Every street's got literally holes that you can crack your whole freakin' car. It's just ridiculous."

But with the deal inked and his long-term future linked to those roads, one might expect a PR backpedal. But that's not how the Polish Hammer rolls. Gortat not only remained steadfast in his disdain for the District's thoroughfares, but enhanced that disdain with some new-money braggadocio: "You can fix the streets, or just pay me a lot of bucks and I'm gonna buy new rims every time. Two different ways. I guess they went with option two."

The Armored Vehicle: Having apparently learned a few things from driving in D.C., Gortat took things to the next logical step in June, when he rolled up to his basketball camp in Poland triumphantly perched atop a military-grade Humvee whilst caressing a turreted assault rifle.

 

Taka sytuacja @mgortat13 #basketball #gortat #camp #krakow

A photo posted by Pawel Lakomski (@pawelakomski) on

No public explanation for this behavior is available (maybe this kind of thing just happens all the time in Poland?) But honestly, do we really want to degrade its pure and startling beauty by trying to assign intent to it?

The Pig Incident: During the same trip to Poland, Gortat confounded the world by posing with a pig on a leash at a shopping mall. His Instagram explanation, unedited: "Im telling yalllll ....Im unreal with some things in poland !!! Right here chilling with my puppy in shoping center in poland! @sklepkoszykarza #gettingFreshShoes #gdansk #mecz29czerwca."

Sure.

The Ice Bucket Challenge: Since Gortat was alive on planet earth during August 2014, he obviously participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. But he upped the ante by inventing some sort Ice Bucket Machine – basically a modified Weber grill – to assist him in the act, wearing a shirt that helpfully suggested "Don't Forget Your Balls" and personally challenging the U.S. Ambassador to Poland (this cool guy) to participate. 

Unfortunately, the ambassador hid behind the policies of the State Department to weasel his way out of Gortat's challenge. Undeterred, the Polish Hammer personally tracked down ALS and yelled Polish curses at it for 15 minutes.

The Sexual White Chocolate: As the summer drew to a close, Gortat arrived to training camp sporting an impressive and angular new Mohawk. It enhanced his already-imposing physical presence to new levels of He-Man villainy. But the switch wasn't about power or intimidation; it was about sex.

Martell Webster, Gortat's teammate, has sported a Mohawk for quite some time and Gortat decided to join him. His rationale? "Martell's sexual black chocolate and I'm sexual white chocolate so we have to look the same." I am not quite sure what this means, but basically I assume Marcin and Martell get so much sick trim together.

Historically speaking, athletes have always erred on the side of caution in their interactions with the public and media. That bland approach has practically become a requirement with the proliferation of social media, yet part of Gortat's charm stems from the fact that he seems genuinely oblivious to this trend. He's re-tweeted in favor of blowjobs, pretended to be a member of another team so he could listen in on their huddle and bled swagger like Birdman – while protecting the rim like Birdman.

And he's about to do it all on a team that has a legitimate shot at a deep run in this year's playoffs. The only sure thing in the Lipton-weak East is that the Cleveland Cavaliers should easily take the Number 1 seed. Everything else is up for grabs and, if things break in Washington's favor – John Wall continues to progress, Paul Pierce doesn't disintegrate into corpse powder and Bradley Beal returns from his recent left wrist injury – the Wizards could be playing basketball well into May.

Fingers crossed. The world needs more of The Polish Hammer.