Matthew Dellavedova and the Eckstein Effect
By now, the coronation of Matthew Dellavedova is in full swing. In Cleveland’s Game 3 win over Golden State – putting the Cavs up 2-1 in the NBA Finals – the 6-foot-4 guard scored 20 points (three of which came on a wild, and-one shot in the fourth), and up until Steph Curry’s late surge, it looked like his defense would once again get the media shine. It didn’t. But this was a small reprieve. The mob is stronger.
Midway through Game 2, I could already feel the storyline creeping up on me – on all of us: a narrative about Dellavedova’s impact on the Cavs’ potential, unexpected win. Predictably, words like grit and intangibles would be tossed around like confetti. With a player of Dellavedova’s ability, the stat line is never representative. But in this case, writers on the NBA beat were quick to point to the seemingly hard evidence of Curry’s anomalously poor shooting performance. When guarded by Delly – a moniker that already feels like a hot poker in my brain – he didn’t make a single basket, they trumpeted. Somewhat unpredictably, the only sane person in the discussion seemed to be Charles Barkley, who correctly stated the obvious. “Curry will kill [Dellavedova] in the overall scheme of things,” he said.
Now, the media and storylines are like a fat kid and Ring Dings. By nature, reporters crave them, whatever their nutritional value. But this particular line is one of the more insidious in sports, a narrative bolstered by a very specific type of writer, the kind of guy who screams about fundamentals and unerringly ascribes retroactive value to their own talent-deficient sports experiences. For sake of a better name, let’s call this phenomenon the Eckstein Effect.
I’ll get back to Dellavedova, but for those who don’t remember, David Eckstein was the undersized, inherently annoying shortstop who won the 2006 World Series MVP for the Cardinals and spent his career impressing commentators with his grit and hustle, the latter of which consisted, mostly, of sprinting to first on a walk or a hit by pitch. Of course, the sports media machine saw him as consummate teammate, a guy who – as Little League coaches like to say – excelled at “taking one for the team.” Everything he did looked purposeful. The fact that his weak arm apparently required him to take an exaggerated crow hop and heave his entire body toward first while throwing only added to his allure. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve the MVP, but surely the umpteenth verbal B.J. from Joe Buck was reward enough.
It’s probably impossible to ignore the racial semantics of all this, so, fine, let’s just say there’s a precedent here – remember the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, when Isiah Thomas seconded Dennis Rodman’s comments about Larry Bird? And while it pains me to side with a sociopath, Zeke did have a point. But that was nearly 30 years ago, and things have improved (to a degree, anyway): Look, here’s praise of Anthony Davis’ work ethic! Tim Duncan is called “The Big Fundamental“! Instead, maybe it’s time to eliminate the myth of the hard-working guy, the scrapper without the God-given ability who nevertheless makes good. Because it persists, and will be revived at any opportunity, however tenuous the case.
This isn’t meant to take away from Dellavedova’s performance in the NBA Finals; I’m merely trying to point out the absurdity of singling out his hard work in a league overpopulated with hard workers – I mean, Paul George was back on the court 8 months after horrifically breaking his leg. Kyle Korver carries 85-pound rocks in shark-infested waters. Kobe Bryant is fucking crazy. And overall, Game 3 was probably a push. But if Curry has another bad night, it doesn’t matter who wins the series: We will never hear the end of this. Legions of fans will adopt Dellavedova and his style of play as a metaphor for their own hope-struck impotence. He’ll become a Cleveland legend. The firmament will crack and great beasts will rise from the sea, but the party will go on. The hangover will never come, the beer goggles never drop.
All I can say is, Please, Steph, make it rain. I need you. The world needs you. Now, more than ever.